August 10, 2010
Salvadoran Students Demand Justice on 35th Anniversary of 1975 Massacre, Monday, 09 August 2010
On Friday, July 30, hundreds students from the University of El Salvador took to the streets, accompanied by professors, staff and other sectors of the social movement. The march, filled with street theater, papier-mâché tanks and a 9-foot gorilla, was a commemoration of the university student massacre that occurred on July 30, 1975. Thirty-five years ago, university students took to the streets to protest military incursions on the Santa Ana campus and the repressive policies of the military dictatorship in power at the time. The peaceful march was attacked by Salvadoran army soldiers with gunfire and tanks, perpetrating the attack with other repressive State security forces. While there are no official numbers of how many students were killed and wounded in the massacre, it is estimated at least 30 students died and over a hundred more were wounded.
This year, student organizations including the Roque Dalton University Front (FURD), the Revolutionary Student Brigades (BRES) and a number of other groups organized the march and all-night vigil that followed. This year, marchers and organizers demanded trials to bring justice to the victims of the 1975 massacre and a repeal of the country's Amnesty Law - passed just after the end of El Salvador's Civil War in 1993 and considered by many Salvadorans to be the biggest obstacle to respect for human rights in the country.
Survivors of the massacre participated in this year's commemoration, speaking at the vigil along with campus leaders, musical groups, theater groups and a religious service. Students kept the vigil lively until dawn, singing revolutionary songs and crying out in unison, "The massacred will be avenged!"
FMLN and Ministry of Health Push for Affordable Medicines
In late February of this year, El Salvador's Minister of Health Dr. María Isabel Rodríguez submitted legislation to the Legislative Assembly to drastically improve Salvadorans' access to health care by reducing the bloated prices of medications. The proposed law, known as the "Medicine Law," would redefine how the country regulates both prescription and over-the-counter medications, reducing the exorbitant prices that severely limit El Salvador's cash-strapped public hospitals and clinics from stocking essential medicines and that prevent Salvadorans from affording medicines that can save their lives. The Assembly's Public Health Commission is currently debating the law, which has the support of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) legislative deputies but is currently being blocked by all right wing parties.
According to a study by the University of El Salvador, medications are more expensive in El Salvador than in any other part of the world, where medicines are routinely sold at 300% of the actual value. These extremely high prices result from an absence of regulation at every level of production and distribution of medicines, leading to the creation of strong pharmaceutical monopolies along with other anti-competitive business practices. According to the Ministry of Health, the current oversight system is marred by conflicts of interest: of the 10 members of the country's Chemical Pharmaceutical Oversight Board, 6 are tied to the pharmaceutical industry. The Ministry's proposed law would create new, impartial bodies to regulate the prices, quality, approval procedures and distribution of medicines.
The country's pharmaceutical industry predictably opposes the new law along with many other sectors of El Salvador's private business class. The current divisions in the Salvadoran right wing that have pushed many legislative groups and parties towards populist stances, have also prevented these groups from voicing outright opposition to the law. However, right wing parties have proclaimed that the free market is the best regulator of prices and quality, echoing the traditional positions of the pharmaceutical industry and business class. The FMLN has denounced the right wing parties for refusing to engage in any debate or discussion of the proposed oversight and regulatory mechanisms for medicines and the pharmaceutical industry, thereby defending big business interests. Despite months of deadlocked discussion in the Assembly's Public Health Commission, the FMLN maintains the Medicine Law as a high priority and has pledged to continue pressuring right wing parties for its approval.
El Salvador and Cuba Increase Cooperation
Following his July visit to Cuba, El Salvador's Foreign Affairs Minister Hugo Martinez announced two pending cooperation agreements with the Caribbean country, slated to be signed by President Mauricio Funes in late August or September when he visits Cuban President Raul Castro. The cooperation agreements concern the areas of education and public health and lay out guidelines for Cuban education and health experts to train and advise Salvadoran officials and workers. In addition to the agreements, El Salvador and Cuba will also sign a convention to permit direct flights between the two countries in order to promote the tourism industries of both countries and create more opportunity for cultural and professional exchange.
Until June 1, 2009 when President Mauricio Funes re-opened official relations with Cuba on his inauguration day, the country had been without diplomatic relations with Cuba since the 1959 revolution. Under the new Funes Administration, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expanded the scope of diplomatic relations with the objective of building more cooperative partnerships that can benefit Salvadorans, moving away from the trend of previous administrations to base diplomacy on strict ideological lines. Over the past year, the new administration has taken important steps to develop and strengthen relations with Venezuela, Cuba, China and Vietnam, among other countries.
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