Workers World: 200,000 protest privatization in El Salvador

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Tue Nov 12 21:32:32 MST 2002

Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Nov. 14, 2002
issue of Workers World newspaper


By Leslie Feinberg

It was the largest march in the history of the country. At
least 200,000 Salvadorans shut down the capital city of San
Salvador tight as a drum on Oct. 23, filling the streets in
their second march to support a health care strike in its
34th day.

In virtually one voice, the massive demonstration demanded
the scrapping of the voucher privatization plan that the
country's president, Francisco Flores, has vowed to set in
motion. Marchers also demanded that Flores sign progressive
legislation outlawing the privatization of health care.

The health care workers' unions, together with the Farabundo
Marti National Liberation Movement (FMLN), drafted the
proposed law that would establish the state's responsibility
to make quality health treatment accessible to all
Salvadorans near their homes, regardless of ability to pay.
Under the weight of popular pressure, the Legislative
Assembly buckled and approved the bill. But Flores has
balked, threatening to veto the progressive legislation.

The huge Oct. 23 protest against privatization of the
industries that labor built and that working people and
peasants need in order to live--including health care and
electricity--drew 4 percent of the population. The
equivalent in the United States would be about 11 million

Privatization's broad impact on many layers of the
population was evidenced by who took to the streets on Oct.
23. The turnout included doctors, nurses and other health
care workers, patients, students and teachers, public-sector
workers and women vendors, retirees and bus drivers,
sugarcane and coffee workers, peasants and church groups,
FMLN legislators and the communities they represent, and
groups from the wide-ranging Salvadoran progressive
movement, according to an Oct. 24 account by the New York
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador

A unified contingent of students and professors marching
together was so immense that it shut down an estimated 80
percent of classes at the University of El Salvador. Reports
came in from satellite campuses in the country's interior
that it wasn't possible to rent enough vehicles to bus all
the students who wanted to protest in to the capital.


So many health care workers poured out of their jobs, and so
many of their patients joined them to take part in the
manifestation of anger, that whole hospitals were shut down.

But when marchers tried to converge on the affluent
neighborhood where the president lives, they were met by
riot police armed with automatic weapons. Police had
barricaded the route forward into the wealthy residential
area with razor wire, two armored cars and a water cannon.
An army helicopter hovered above and the smell of tear gas
preparation wafted in the air.

Not everyone who set out to march in the capital that day
made it that far. Three police roadblocks in other parts of
El Salvador reportedly detained many bus caravans. When cops
turned back 12 busloads of potential marchers at the Puente
de Oro, the people took over the bridge in protest.

At the same time, thousands of peasants blocked three of the
major transportation arteries into the capital and shut down
the highway to the airport. They were protesting
privatization as well as the U.S./Central American Free
Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the Free Trade Area of the
Americas (FTAA)--imperialist-brokered agreements that
benefit Yankee capitalist globalizers at the expense of
workers and peasants throughout the hemisphere.


Flores plans to allow transnational corporations, much like
the dreaded HMO's in the U.S., to drain profits from the
public hospitals while leaving them without funding.

According to the CISPES report, "Union leaders refer to the
plan as 'Pay or Die,' as it would make health care a luxury
for the privileged few with the capacity to pay for it."

In response, labor unions of doctors and other workers at
the Salvadoran Institute of Social Security (ISSS) hospital
network have shut down the entire health network across the

The government withheld paychecks from workers after winning
a court decision that ruled the strike illegal. But because
many striking employees clocked in but refused to work, the
administration stopped paying everyone--including scabs who
had crossed the picket lines.

The starvation measure reportedly resulted in dozens of
scabs walking off the job and joining the protest marchers.

The first march to support striking workers, on Oct. 16,
brought more than 50,000 health care providers, their
patients and supporters into the streets against
privatization. But police blockades stopped marchers from
reaching the Presidential Manor.

On Oct. 12, an estimated 28,000 Salvadorans had barricaded
highways, bridges and border crossings at 11 strategic
points across the country to protest privatization of the
ISSS as well as CAFTA and the Plan Puebla Panama.

At the heart of the PPP is privatizing the infrastructure--
particularly the generation and distribution of electricity--
in a mega-deal whose profits will be funneled to U.S.

On Oct. 22, the government illegally fired Alirio Romero--
the secretary-general of the electricity workers' union,
STSEL--and four other labor union activists. The STSEL has
been on the frontlines of battles against privatization and
the PPP. Since March, 29 STSEL union members have been

Union leaders are demanding that the government halt the
firings, rehire all the illegally terminated workers, end
plans to privatize electricity and sign the law banning
privatization of health care.

If the government refuses to meet these demands, union
leaders vow to join striking health care workers by calling
a national electricity workers' strike. In the words of
Romero, the workers will "shut off the lights in all of El

- END -

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