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Two Weeks After Strike Ends, Lockout of El Salvadorean Doctors/Workers Continues

Thursday, June 26, 2003
Salvadoran Government Refuses to Allow Striking Doctors, Workers to Return
Fully two weeks after the end of the healthcare strike, striking workers and doctors are still locked out and cannot return to work. Yesterday, more than 400 strikers took over streets in downtown San Salvador to protest the government lockout and demand compliance with the agreement signed on June 13. The agreement states that "all doctors fired since September 5, 2002 will be reinstated to their positions." However, the government has refused to reinstate doctors unless they sign a new contract, which would effectively eliminate their seniority, wipe out their pensions and make them easy targets for later firings. Instead, in a move designed to erode the union s membership, they have offered a bribe of up to $20,000 for unionized doctors to resign. President Flores has also refused to meet with Medical College president Guillermo Mata even though the agreement mandates that Mata be a part of a follow-up commission.

Healthcare workers, too, denounced the government s non-compliance with the agreement. Although many striking workers have been allowed to return, 160 workers who still face criminal charges for strike-related activity are waiting for a bilateral government-union commission to individually resolve their cases. Union representatives accuse the government of stonewalling the process, such that in two weeks only thirty cases have been resolved; at this rate, it would take until late August to reinstate all of the workers. Many of those workers who have returned were placed in different jobs, despite the agreement that returning workers would return to their original positions. In a joint press conference this afternoon, the doctors and healthcare workers unions pledged to step up their protest activities in the coming week if the government continues to violate the negotiated agreement.

With nine months to go before the 2004 presidential elections in El Salvador, the FMLN maintains a nearly ten-point lead, according to the latest opinion surveys. In response, ARENA has decided on a campaign strategy of violence, fear, and intimidation. On June 17, an FMLN leader in Cabañas historically an ARENA stronghold but the site of important FMLN victories in the March 2003 legislative and mayoral elections had his car booby-trapped with an explosive device, but escaped unhurt. FMLN offices across El Salvador have received threatening phone calls and letters, and presidential pre-candidate Schafik Hándal has received multiple death threats. Many within the FMLN fear that this campaign could be even more bloody than last year, when six FMLN activists were assassinated and dozens more injured in election-related violence. Meanwhile, the National Civilian Police has yet to define a plan to guarantee the safety of opposition candidates and their supporters. Former police chief Mauricio Sandoval, who has been tied to death squads in Ahuachapán, is one of three ARENA presidential pre-candidates.

Portland Central America Solidarity Committee
616 E. Burnside, Portland, Oregon 97214
503.236.7916, < info@pcasc.net>

CBLOC, the Cross Border Labor Organizing Coalition,
meets the first and third Wednesday of each month
at 7:00 in our office at 616 E. Burnside.