Funes: “ARENA doesn’t care about the health or food supply of the people”
On November 28th, the clamor of the Salvadoran public embodied in mass protests organized by hospital worker unions and community health organizations successfully pressured representatives in the Legislative Assembly to approve an $80 million loan to finance the government’s Health Reform.
However, the celebration of the victory was bittersweet, as the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party clung to the political power they still wield in the legislature and reassigned $10 million that were destined to improve the information sharing system of public hospitals and clinics, gutting funds for what Eduardo Espinoza, the Vice-Minister of Health Policy, calls the “backbone of the health reform.”
ARENA’s legislative representatives, who can block the 2/3 majority needed to approve loans by one vote, stalled the approval of the funds for months, demanding over $12 million in line-item reassignments and that $7 million of a separate loan be immediately disbursed to the Mayor of San Salvador and ARENA 2014 presidential candidate, Norman Quijano. President Mauricio Funes classified their position as "political blackmail." The reassignments were accepted by the Ministry of Health and the other legislative groups in hopes of getting the crucial financing approved before the loan offer expired at the end of this year; however, the $7 million for Quijano was not and ARENA continued to stall, demanding documents they already had been given. Public disgust over their actions, palpable on social media sites and in mass protests at the Legislative Assembly and ARENA party headquarters finally forced them to vote for the loan's approval.
Now, as the Assembly moves on to debate the approval of a loan to stimulate local agricultural production, ARENA legislative representatives are demanding funds be earmarked for PROCAFÈ, a private foundation financed and directed by coffee plantation owners that received $23 million in government contracts during the 20 years ARENA held the executive office.