STISSS Occupies Hospital to Protest Worker Firings; ARENA Completes "Privatization Ticket"
The STISSS health care workers union peacefully occupied the Primero de Mayo Hospital in San Salvador yesterday, protesting recent measures taken by the Salvadoran Social Security Institute (ISSS). The tactic was used often during the worker and doctor led strike that effectively stopped the privatization of the health care system earlier this year. This time, 40 STISSS workers showed up 7:00 in the morning to take over the hospital's administration, adorning it's outside walls with colorful union banners. The workers maintained the functioning of the hospital throughout the day, but barred the entrance of military and police personnel. STISSS general secretary Ricardo Monge said the occupation was in response to continued, illegal firings, especially those of two workers fired last week in San Salvador, supposedly for bringing FMLN propaganda into clinics. Monge said that the union will continue to fight for the reincorporation of 61 workers fired during and after the strike, as well as for the re-negotiation of the union s collective bargaining agreement.
> Amid reports of FMLN poll numbers rising, ARENA presidential candidate Tony Saca finally selected his vice-presidential candidate for the 2004 elections: Ana Vilma de Escobar, former director of the ISSS. Escobar headed the ISSS during the first health care strike that began in 1999, and has been a controversial figure because of her role in government attempts to privatize the public health system. Doctors from the SIMETRISSS union immediately condemned Saca s choice, recalling Escobar s decision to send in riot police during a hospital protest in 2000. The heavily armed police ultimately attacked workers, while children and pregnant woman in the nearby hospital were severely affected by the onslaught of tear gas. Responding to the widespread surprise and concern about her vice-presidential candidacy, Escobar said her former role at the ISSS would not be an obstacle to victory, and promised that ARENA had no plans to privatize health care, water, or education. The unions rebuffed her statements, labeling Saca and Escobar the "privatization ticket."
The candidate for the CDU-PDC center coalition, Hector Silva, was in the US last week in search of funding for his campaign and good relations with the US government. Though Silva is third in the polls, his selection of former ARENA ambassador to the US Ana Cristina Sol as his running mate has won him some support from the Right, both in El Salvador and in the US. During their visit to Washington, Silva and Sol met with Cass Ballengar, a Republican congressman who has repeatedly condemned the FMLN, as well as Daniel Fisk, Sub-secretary of Hemispheric Affairs at the State Department. In June, Fisk accused the FMLN of receiving orders from Cuba, and claimed that the party celebrated after the September 11 attacks. But during his meetings last week, Silva reportedly said nothing of US intervention in the Salvadoran elections, instead focusing on his own support of CAFTA, which he called "a great opportunity for El Salvador". After the meeting with Fisk, Silva refused to discuss his position on opening relations with Cuba and said, "the most important thing for us is to have good relations with the US government". At a small public event in the Salvadoran community, local activists showed up to condemn Silva for his unfortunate intervention in the health care strike, and for selecting a running mate who was complicit with ARENA atrocities and US military support during the worst years of the war in El Salvador.
> Finally, the US embassy in San Salvador held a Veteran's Day ceremony on Tuesday, commemorating the "millions of Americans who have defended freedom". The embassy s business attaché Philip French took the opportunity to thank President Flores and the Salvadoran military for sending the Cuscatlán Battalion to Iraq. The 700 Salvadoran troops remain in Iraq despite the dramatic rise in foreign causalities there, and despite the overwhelming rejection by the Salvadoran people of the US-led war and occupation.
> That s the news this morning from El Salvador&
> (check out the FMLN's new webpage: http://www.schafikpresidente.com.sv/)
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