Mass Mobilization against Healthcare Reform Storms Through Colombia

A march of medical workers, labor unions, students, and other activists took to the streets across Colombia throughout last week to mobilize opposition against the Santos government’s proposal to reform Colombia’s healthcare system.

Leading the march was the National Association of Interns and Residents (ANIR), which represents healthcare workers.

Colombia’s largest trade union federation held a meeting last Tuesday to discuss the reform to the county’s health system and endorse the march that took place the following day in cities across Colombia.

ANIR spokesman Daniel Torro said: “We want to gather the whole Colombian society tomorrow in the demonstration to spread awareness, and to make them aware that we cannot continue like this. We cannot continue with this health model and we must cry out for a new one, in which the right to healthcare is a rule, and not the economic interests of a system that has already collapsed.”

The press event, held at the headquarters of the Central Union of Workers in Bogota, also included testimony from Mario Hernandez of the National Alliance for a New Model of Healthcare, Sister Maria Ires Delgado of Patients of Colombia, and CUT president Luis Alejandro Pedrasa.

All of the  speakers strongly criticized the reform which they see as further bolstering of Law 100, which was passed in 1993 during the presidency of Cesar Gaviria is very unpopular with the country’s labor movement.

Law 100 is described by the CUT as imposing a “mercentile model of healthcare” upon the people and establishing a “perverse business cost” within the healthcare system.

CUT says that the new reform that has been introduced by Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria represents a “profoundly antidemocratic” move that will “deepen the horrors of Law 100.” The CUT also has raised concerns that the reform will open up Colombia’s healthcare to healthcare multinationals and others who wish to profiteer to charges.

The labor federation made a call to action, saying that “we have been mobilizing against this project and will continue to do so until president Santos withdraws Congress his reform project…Therefore, the National Movement for Dignified Healthcare, the CUT, the Colombian Teachers Federation and National Alliance for a New Model of Healthcare along with various social organizations call for this next Wednesday November 6 to be a great day of national mobilization in defense of the fundamental right to health and the preparation for a large national civic strike.”

Central to critics opposition to the proposed reform is the existence of private healthcare providing entities (EPSs in the Spanish initials), which they argue are a conduit for private business to profiteer from the healthcare system.

Sister Maria Ines Delgado, a Catholic nun and spokesperson for Patients of Colombia, said that the country had been lied to about the situation with EPSs. “We have a completely negative interpretation of this reform. We have been lied to about the termination of the EPSs – they have not been ended, in fact they are going to be enforced and made more important,” said Sister Delgado.“This is a big threat for patients, with the power going to another level, because they would have to be taken out and move the resources to another level. I believe that this is the most absurd reform that we have ever had in our country.”

She added that her organization will be joining with Pastors and the Archdioceses within the church in defending the rights of the patients against the reform.

Also scathing in his criticism of the proposal was Senator Jorge Robledo. He described the proposal as the worst healthcare reform since the original introduction of Law 100. “It maintains basically all the greatest vices that have existed up until now,” said Senator Robeldo.

He made clear his view that the prevailing “Washington consensus” economic model was the driving force behind the changes. “This is the model of the World Bank and the model of neoliberalism and the consensus of Washington and of the free trade agreements,” he added.

Robeldo pointed to a ‘Dogmatic Club’ led by health minister Gaviria “who believe that if there is no gain for the financial capital, then it is impossible to do anything in the world. They can’t conceive of a world in which every sector of the state does not pay a toll to the financial capital.”