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Home Action Action History 2004 Act in Solidarity with Colombian Health Care Workers
Act in Solidarity with Colombian Health Care Workers PDF Print E-mail




The Association of Colombian Hospital Workers (ANTOCH), a 27,000-member labor confederation, has called for action in response to the privatization of health services in Colombia and the escalating violation of human rights in Colombia. The confederation opposes President Uribe's plans to cut 25,000 health jobs, while dramatically cutting back health services to the population.

ANTOCH's strong stance against privatization has made it a target for government and paramilitary violence. In the last 5 years or so, more than 300 ANTOCH members have been displaced from their homes, 30 have been unjustly imprisoned, 15 have disappeared,and 84 have been assassinated. For example, ANTOCH member Carlos Barrero Jim?nez was murdered on July 23, the day after he participated in a protest against a hospital closure.

The onslaught against organized labor in Colombia is visited on other unions besides ANTOCH, of course. According to the International onfederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. On average, right-wing paramilitary death squads or the military murder three trade unionists a week in Colombia. Over 4,000 trade unionists have been arrested, 1,000 injured and 10,000 fired. Of these, the vast majority are public sector workers, mainly health care workers and teachers.

Please take a moment to read and respond to this action alert.


Since the early 1990s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) have forced Colombia to adopt destructive neoliberal economic policies. Since then, the government has faithfully implemented these policies, which include trade liberalization, decentralization and privatization of public services, removal of capital controls, and fiscal austerity. Following
constitutional changes in 1991, 40% of public spending was
decentralized. By 1995, more than 113,000 public sector jobs had been cut. Uribe's government has budgeted for the privatization of more than 280 government-owned enterprises.

One element of these policies is the restructuring of the health care system. Restructuring entails cutting back on services, laying off thousands of health care workers, and closing hospitals and health care centers. ANTOCH believes that the governments ultimate goal is to dissolve Colombia's health care system so that, once a bilateral trade agreement goes through with the U.S., the hospitals and health centers
can be sold off to managed care multinational corporations.

Already this privatization scheme has harshly impacted the country's health system.

* Today 51% of the population is not covered by the health system;

* President Uribe is closing some of the country's biggest public
hospitals, with disastrous results for both the ill and the workers. At Cartagena's Lions Club Hospital, whose closing was announced in July, workers labored for more than 40 months without receiving a paycheck; and

* The remaining hospitals have what union activists call corridors of death,where patients who cannot pay for their care wait for their death on stretchers.

The workers have responded to the plans of the government with protest, mobilization, work stoppages, preparation of a strike, and other actions permitted by the National Constitution. In response to the union's actions, the government has adopted measures ranging from declaring the protests illegal, trying to eliminate labor organizing, and arresting or killing ANTOCH-affiliated workers.

On October 11th, ANTOCH and its member unions will begin a two-week sit-in in front of the UN office in Bogot?, urging the IDB and the Uribe government to stop the restructuring of the Colombian health system. They will also be calling on the government to stop its repression against Colombian trade unionists.

ANTOCH has called for international solidarity for the rights of health care workers, and for the health rights and human rights of all Colombians. Around the Americas, in such places as Lima and Tegucigalpa, workers and indigenous peoples will be demonstrating in front of the IDB on October 11th. In the U.S., unions and others will be sending in post cards to the IDB and the Uribe government.


1. Send in postcards to the Inter-American Development Bank and Uribe government urging an end to the destruction of health care for the Colombian people, and of massive lay-offs of health care workers. The Center for Economic Justice can provide you with as many pre-printed post cards as you like if you are in the U.S.; write us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . If outside the U.S., we will mail you the template. Please distribute these cards to your networks, and aim to have them reach their destination by October 11th, timed to coincide with the beginning of the health care union's action in Bogot?.

2. Organize a demonstration in front of the IDB office or the Colombian Embassy in your country.

3. If you are in the U.S., you can also contact your senators and
representative. Urge them to cease funding to the Colombian government, to stop human rights violations against union activists, and to stop the privatization of health care that is crippling the Colombian health system. Senator ____, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510 / Rep. ____, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. 20515. You can call all
of them via the Capitol switchboard at (202)244-3121.

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