Peru doctors start indefinite strike after eight months of failed negotiations

After eight months of unsuccessful negotiation and the non-implementation of a 15-point agreement signed by Peru’s Health Minister Hernán Garrido Lecca last January, nearly 20,000 doctors launched an indefinite strike early Monday morning, closing down hospitals and clinics.

Government news agency Andina reported that the majority of state-run hospitals are operating as usual and that only 30 percent of doctors did not show up for work Monday, Peru’s Medical Federation, or FMP, contended that 20,000 doctors — 100 percent outside of Peru’s capital, and 95 percent in Lima and Callao — adhered to the strike call.

While doctors maintain they are willing to negotiate their demands with the government, the FMP and the country’s Medical College have conditioned the strike’s end to Garrido Lecca’s ouster or resignation.

“We are faced with this conflict,” said FMP President Dr. Julio Vargas La Fuente, “because , the day after the agreement was signed, the government employees should have had every single one of the approved requests implemented.”

“I believe that common sense, fair treatment and respecting professional associations’ legal mechanisms should be priorities for top level state employees,” added Vargas in comments to Radio Uno. “And especially (in relation) to the FMP because we have been mocked for eight months, we have the right to protest… the agreements signed by the Health Minister must be respected.”

Vargas said emergency room and intensive care patients would still be cared for during the work stoppage.

Of the 15 points included in the January agreement signed by Garrido Lecca, none have been implemented, he said.

“This is mocking us,” said Vargas in comments to daily La República. “Here the government has institutionalized always postponing making a commitment with agreements… but the peruvian doctors aren’t willing to tolerate it.”

The doctors’ main demands include the establishment of a unified health system to guarantee free and integral health care, bonuses for doctors working in Peru’s jungle, highlands and border regions, care for retired doctors, opening director positions for tender, and, among others, increasing the health sector’s budget.

Talks turned sour last Thursday after the government failed to offer the FMP a counter-propsal to its 300 million soles, or approximately $108 million, budget plan that, according to the FMP, is needed to resolve the health sector’s problems.

Then, on Sunday, Vargas added Garrido Lecca’s ouster to the existing 15-point list of demands. The FMP claims Garrido Lecca refuses to implement necessary economic policies and that he had thousands of pamphlets printed to demonize the FMP’s actions as a “criminal strike.”

“In other words, he is saying that we are criminals,” said Vargas. “This is why we are demanding the Health Minister’s destitution… That, or he admits to his spectacular failure and resigns.”

The FMP leadership is clearly becoming more political, argued Peru President Alan García’s top Cabinet Minister Jorge del Castillo in response to Vargas’ additional demand.

“They have made their demands political,” said del Castillo. “It is no longer an economic request. Now they are asking for the minister’s destitution and that is a political pretention that has nothing to do with the issue. This has not been, is not, and never will be the basis of our negotiation.”

“I won’t participate in any conversation (until the strike is suspended),” he added. “They have been warned… and with the (salaries) we will stop paying, we will hire other doctors that do want to work. The strike has been declared unjustifiable and Monday will be declared illegal.”

Del Castillo added that he would personally file criminal charges against doctors who endanger lives by not attending to emergencies.

On Sunday, García said his government would not increase doctors’ salaries because that would mean cutting into funds set aside for hospital projects.

“I too could fall in fear and tremble,” said García, “And give in to the temptation to solve problems the easy way, I could double the doctors’ wages and not build 15 hospitals … but people who don’t work (for the State) would have to pay double the amount in taxes and the only thing we would achieve by this is that, for internal reasons, prices would be dramatically increased.”

But, according to Vargas, though the government is trying to argue otherwise, in none of the 15 points has the FMP demanded higher wages.

“It shouldn’t be that there are amazing profits (the strike comes amid economic growth close to 10 percent) and that the health services, the hospitals and the medical posts are in their current state of subdevelopment and that the wages remain so inadequate,” said former Health Minister Uriel García in comments to daily El Comercio.

“There is a permanent backwardness and this can’t be,” he added. “It’s the same in education and other public services. The economic model is not appropriate and this is the reason for the strike.”

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