BALTIMORE – Dr. Evelyn Martinez de Calderon told a crowd here, Feb. 28., that 5,500 medical doctors in El Salvador are still standing strong despite death threats aimed at smashing their five-month strike against privatization of the nation’s health care system.

In introducing the speaker, Share Foundation Advocacy Director Erik Manuel Giblin praised her courage and urged the crowd to write their lawmakers and the White House in support of the Salvadoran people’s struggle.

“We recognize that we are fighting a big global monster,” Dr. Calderon said. “The five richest families in El Salvador have the support of the government and the corporations that would like to come in and take advantage of privatization.”

But polls show that 89 percent of the people support the strike by medical doctors and union health care workers. On Feb. 6, an estimated 300,000 Salvadorans dressed in white marched in San Salvador and other towns in solidarity with the strikers.

Another march is set for March 15, eve of elections to El Salvador’s General Assembly now narrowly controlled by the ultra-right Arena Party. Fearful that the surging street protests might spur voters to unseat them, the ultra-right is turning to death squads to terrorize the people. As many as 50 striking doctors have received death threats from terrorists calling themselves “Commandos of Extermination.”

Dr. Calderon, a gynecologist, stressed that the health care strikers are non-partisan. But, she added, “There is one party that stands against privatization, the FMLN.” She was referring to the Faribundo Marti Liberation Nacional that waged a bitter struggle against the Arena death squads during the years of the Iran-contra conspiracy. The Arena Party was founded by the late Roberto D’Aubisson, who planned the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the murder of eight Maryknoll nuns and tens of thousands of Salvadorans during the fascist dictatorship backed by the Reagan-Bush administration.

That era presumably ended with the signing of the Chapultepac Peace Accords in 1993. “It stopped the bullets flying,” Dr. Calderon said. “We have had three ‘democratic’ governments. They paint a picture of peace and calm. But it is all a shell. We are going backward. We have a terrible infant mortality rate. People are being killed. I saw my neighbor killed by the police.”

Calderon, herself the mother of three young children, said the doctors have set up sidewalk clinics “to show the people that they are not the enemy, the government is the enemy.”

If the Arena government succeeds in privatizing health care, she warned, “they will move on to privatize education, our water system. They’ve already privatized electricity, the ports, the pension system. … This whole drive to privatize is linked to the so-called Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). They want to extend NAFTA to Central America.” Opposition is so overwhelming the Bush administration was forced last month to move the CAFTA negotiations from San Salvador to Cincinnati.

Currently, 40 percent of Salvadorans are protected by government health care programs. About three percent are covered by private health care plans. Since 1997, health care advocates have struggled to push through a reform plan to provide health care for all Salvadorans. “The President took that proposal and put it in a drawer. No one saw it again,” Calderon said.

Yet last Nov. 14 the General Assembly bowed to the pressure, enacting a new law, the “State Guarantee of Health and Social Security,” outlawing privatization. Ultimately, Arena was able to buy off smaller rightwing parties and the historic law was repealed.

The people reacted with fury, redoubling support for the doctors, occupying clinics and staging non-violent marches and rallies.

President Flores, Calderon charged, seeks to divert $70 million from the $270 million Social Security trust fund to bankroll five private, for-profit HMOs. “This is money that came from me, from my parents, my neighbors. They are going to take that money and give it to private companies to start HMOs. They consider health care to be a commodity. They are telling the people, ‘If you don’t pay, you die.’”

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