“You don’t sell public health care – you defend it!”
Today, December 27th 2012, is a black day in Spanish social services history. The Madrid Assembly approved a law which allows the “externalization of the management” of various hospitals in Madrid. This means privatization with public monies heading into private management pockets and patients being expected to pay for medical services or being obliged to take out costly medical insurance as in the US.
Spain has free medical services and this is the first step toward privatizing medicine in this country and making life even harsher for the 5.6 million unemployed and people who have lost their jobs and their homes, as well as those upon whom the Rajoy government is forcing wage cuts.
The President of the Comunidad de Madrid, Ignacio Gonzalez, who has been instrumental in forcing this legislation through, has had the gall to say that he is willing to enter into a dialogue with striking doctors protesting against this neoliberal axe coming down on the socialized medical services in Madrid. It will not be too long before other regions in Spain follow suit as the central government prefers to save the bankers by having the public pay for their errors and embezzlement. The EU bailouts will eventually fall on to the shoulders of the public with higher direct and indirect taxes and by having their social services and right to a decent education for their children cut to the bone.
On December 16th thousands Spanish public health workers and other people marched from four main hospitals in Madrid to converge on a main square in the capital Sunday, protesting the regional government’s plans to restructure and part-privatize the sector.
The marches, described as a “white tide” because of the color of the medical gowns many were wearing, finally met mid-afternoon in the central Puerta del Sol. On Monday, the region’s health councilor will meet with a committee responsible for coordinating professional services and union representatives to try and agree how to achieve €533 million (US$697 million) in savings.
In early July the EU agreed to bail out the Spanish banks with US$123 billion on the condition that the Spanish government implements austerity packages to cut public spending. Bearing in mind that it was the banks’ greed and risky lending to overpriced real estate projects which sparked the financial crisis in Spain, combined with a national debt that is more than 60% of the GDP, the public is now having to pay for these “misjudgments” which will eventually force Spain into the status of a third world country again.
During the protest march doctors, nurses and public health users — grouped into four columns —marched from leading hospitals located in the north, south, east and west of the capital.
“Our health care system is going to be damaged,” said Alberto Garcia, 26. “Patients are doomed to get a much worse service and this will just make us poorer.”
Health care and education are administered by Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions rather than the central government and Madrid proposes selling off the management of six of 20 large public hospitals and 27 of 268 health centers to private corporations.
The Spanish Debt
Spain’s regions are struggling with a combined debt of €145 billion (US$190 billion) as the country’s economy contracts into a double-dip recession triggered by the 2008 real estate crash. By electing a neo liberal government such as that of Rajoy and the Francoist Partido Popular, the Spanish voters are really getting what they voted for. At least Rajoy is true to his “principles” and he is rewarding the Spanish population with:
• Police brutality
• More taxes
• Impunity for most bankers
• Medical services being privatized
• Human dignity being stripped away month after month
Just look at the figures. The Spanish capital needed just US$697,000,000 to save the public health service but the banks which effectively screwed themselves and the country got US$123,000,000,000. Madrid only needed 0.57% of this amount to maintain the integrity of its health system and prevent it falling gradually into capitalist hands. What about families with children who are destitute? Is there no compassion left when it comes down to saving the “too big to fail banks”, by denying bankruptcy which is one of the fundamental pillars of capitalism. It cleans out the system of the diseased and weak.
No-one can tell any right thinking person that this is not a political-ideological decision. With just one iota of political will this total injustice could have been avoided.
Some Enlightening Comparisons
Venezuela: Here in Venezuela we are watching in horror as Spain is gradually morphing into Greece II and at the same time observing how in our country: houses are being built for poor families; a national health service is being constructed piece by piece; banks are too scared to take unnecessary risk too feed their greed since they know that they will be immediately nationalized.
Hundreds of Venezuelan families who sold everything and moved to Spain in order to escape the Chavez “tyranny” are now homeless, jobless and cannot get back to their home country. They are appealing to the Venezuelan government to repatriate them, give them work and put them on the list for a home of the Grand Housing Mission currently underway in Venezuela. How ironic is it that 95% of Venezuelan residents in Spain voted against President Chávez in the October 7th presidential election – and now they are begging to be saved from their own folly – just like the bankers.
While we empathize with the Spanish people and the looming loss of their health-care system to the capitalists, many must accept part of the blame by voting in Rajoy and his neoliberal gang of thug ministers.
The UK and NHS: What is happening in Spain is inevitable and a similar situation is developing in the UK where the Welfare Reform Bill has passed the two Houses of Parliament and signed into law by the Queen. This implies at least partial privatization of the National Health Service but the silver lining of this dark cloud for the British public could mean that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties could be banished for many decades from government for this betrayal of British voters. Just use Google to discover that no-one – Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour – would have voted to privatize even part of the UK National Health Service.
Higher education is now out of reach except for all but the wealthy (university applications are down by 54% this year) and the beloved National Health Service could also soon be sacrificed to the neoliberal ideology of David Cameron who is ensuring that public money is poured into private coffers.
Rajoy and his gang in Spain will also be dumped in the next elections by the voters. If you are in service to the banks and big business expect the end of your political career to come sooner rather than later in the financial maelstrom of the crumbling European Union edifice.
- Defending Public Healthcare in Madrid (counterpunch.org)
Bolivia’s ‘process of change’: the balance sheet for 2012, and challenges to come
By Katu Arkonada | La Epoca* | December 18, 2012
2012 has been a year of transition for the process of change in the Plurinational State of Bolivia, notwithstanding the many events, problems and contradictions encountered by the executive branch during the last 12 months of its administration. A year of transition because we have left behind the 2010-2011 biennial of consolidation following the 64% victory of President Morales in the December 2009 election and are now entering a new biennial, 2013-2014, which will take us very rapidly to the presidential elections of December 2014.
By way of a balance sheet
2012 was without a doubt the year of the consulta [consultation] in the TIPNIS [Territorio Indígena and Parque Nacional Isiboro-Secure], the year when the government probably lost an international battle against a major marketing strategy designed in the offices of a certain opposition and some NGOs, but won the war for legitimacy in Bolivia. The result is overwhelming, leaving no room for doubt: of the 58 communities consulted (84% of them, since 11 refused to participate in the consulta), 55 (79%) approved the construction of the highway. This result dismantles the postmodern and Rousseauist analyses that knew little of the history and actors of the TIPNIS, classifying them as good savages living in the woods without needing anything more, and demonstrated to us that the majority of the communities of the TIPNIS want a greater state presence for access to health and education primarily. In any case the conflict has not ended and no doubt during the next two years the opposition will campaign against the construction of a highway in a country so colonized and plundered that it still has no road connecting two of its nine departments.
But 2012 has also been the year of the economy. Bolivia continued to grow at an annual rate of 5.2% (above the rate in Brazil, Mexico or Uruguay, to cite three examples), and the per capita share of GDP increased in 2012 to $2,238, double what it was in 2006 ($1,182). As for foreign trade, exports in the first quarter of 2012 exceeded the total of all exports in 2007: $5.068 billion compared with $4.822 billion, and the international reserves reached $14 billion — almost 50% of the Bolivian GDP, giving the country the highest level of reserves as a percentage of GDP in all of Latin America.
Similarly, public investment in 2012 will exceed $2 billion, as opposed to $879 million in 2006, and the public external debt totals $3.704 billion, down from $4.947 billion in 2005. By June 2012 three out of every 10 Bolivians were receiving conditional direct transfer payments (bonos), producing a redistribution of wealth that has reduced poverty by almost 12 percentage points in five years (48.5% in 2011) and extreme poverty by 13 percentage points during the same period (24.3%). Another factor in poverty reduction was the rise of the minimum wage in 2012 to 1,000 bolivianos [USD$1 = 7 BOB], compared with 815 BOBs in 2011 or the 440 BOB in 2005 when the MAS was first elected.
Another important factor to mention, when analyzing the past year, is the accomplishments in foreign policy, particularly the actions carried out in the negotiations with Chile for sovereign access to the sea, and the legal demand that Bolivia is going to make in The Hague , as well as the recent application to become a full member of Mercosur, the fifth largest economic entity in the world. And we should also note Bolivia’s leadership within ALBA  and the G77+China in such multilateral negotiations as the UN Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 or the COP [Conference of Parties] on Climate Change. Never before has Bolivia had a sovereign foreign policy, changing the paradigm from neoliberal diplomatic conduct to one of Diplomacy of the Peoples.
Lastly, we cannot complete this brief end-of-year balance sheet without mentioning the recently uncovered case of corruption in the Ministry of Government [the Interior ministry], a ministry that correctly confronted a political mutiny in June and that has now done what a government leading a democratic and cultural revolution had to do, acting forcefully to detain all of those involved and pursuing the matter irrespective of who it might bring down. It is probable that we don’t (yet) know all of the ramifications of this case, but for the good of the process they must be brought to light and the harshest punishment meted out to anyone involved, and if they are a member of the government the penalty should be even greater, to demonstrate the latter’s integrity and coherency.
Challenges for 2013-2014
Notwithstanding the recent events in Venezuela, Chávez’s victory in winning election for six more years and the more than probable victory of Correa in Ecuador in February (almost certainly without the need for a second round), means that the process that is going forward in Bolivia will be menaced even more by those who feel threatened by the anti-imperialist and anticolonial policies being advanced by President Evo Morales. No doubt great efforts (and much money) will be spent in striking at one of the weakest links in the ALBA and the processes of change in the continent, and in attempting to consolidate an opposition alternative to the MAS government.
An initial step in the continued deepening of the process of change should be the victory in January of Jessica Jordán, the MAS candidate for Governor in Beni. A victory in this Amazon department on January 20 would be a definitive blow to the Media Luna and the hopes of repeating in Bolivia the Venezuelan scheme of the Mesa de Unidad. Obviously this will not be an easy victory in one of the most conservative regions of Bolivia, in which the hacendado power still has a great capacity for action and mobilization, but the very fact that first place is in dispute is already a victory in itself and a palpable demonstration that things are changing.
Not to be overlooked, as well, are the middle classes that the MSM  is attempting to woo with a moderate management-oriented discourse. However, in October 2012 it was revealed that the Municipality of La Paz was spending only 26% of its budget [dedicated to public investment – RF], far below the 50% average across the ministries. We can conclude that if the MSM is not capable of managing a city hall, it will have a hard time managing a state. But within that middle class layer, and in expectation of the results of the 2012 Population Census, we are going to have hundreds of thousands of new voters who in 2009 were too young to vote and now need to be won over with a discourse that must go beyond the proposals for change and be accompanied by a political program that involves them in the construction of this country’s politics.
Finally, the bases that have been built and consolidated in the process of change cannot be overlooked. It may be that those bases that are closest are not at risk, but it is necessary to strengthen them, to continue expanding the hard core, the popular and subaltern sectors that are the soul [ajayu] of this revolution, because without them the revolution would collapse piece by piece, but with them we will be able to begin thinking of the Patriotic Agenda 2025, converting the political and decolonizing revolution into a post-capitalist economic revolution.
The author, who describes himself here as a “militant in the process of change,” is a researcher at the Universidad de la Cordillera, a frequent contributor to the Bolivian edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, and works with the Ministry of Foreign Relations of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. He is of Basque origin.
 The lawfully mandated consulta (consultation) of the communities directly affected by the proposed highway project, which was the subject of much controversy and two recent marches by dissident indigenous activists, concluded its proceedings on December 7. The overwhelming majority of the communities that participated in the consulta approved the construction of the highway between Villa Tunari and San Ignacio de Moxos. See: http://www.la-razon.com/nacional/Consulta-cierra-promesa-fondos-ecologica_0_1738626180.html. For a discussion of the issues involved, see my translation of a book by Bolivian Vice-President Álvaro García Linera, Geopolitics of the Amazon, published in five parts at Life on the Left, and on several other sites. — RF
 The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America [Spanish: Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América] is an international cooperation organization based on the idea of the social, political and economic integration of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
 In November several senior counsel in the Ministry were implicated in an attempt to extort money from a U.S. citizen, Jacob Ostreicher, who came to Bolivia four years ago and invested in rice production in Santa Cruz. He was indicted for money-laundering in June. The Bolivian suspects are alleged to have offered his release in return for his payment to them of $50,000. See Desbaratan red de corrupción y extorsión en la que operaban dos asesores del Ministerio de Gobierno, and Morales asegura que hay “infiltrados” que buscan desprestigiar al Gobierno.
 The four departments of the so-called Media Luna (literally, “half moon”) comprising the eastern portion of Bolivia have been centers of conservative resistance to the Morales government, their governors often collaborating in opposition to La Paz. In Venezuela the rightist opposition to Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution coalesced behind a single presidential candidate in the recent national election, when he was defeated by Chávez.
 MSM, the Movimiento Sin Miedo [Fearless Movement], a center-left opposition party that currently controls the mayoralty in La Paz.
 2025 will be the bicentennial of Bolivia’s independence from Spain.
- Bolivia signs Mercosur incorporation protocol and becomes sixth member (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Bolivia nationalises electric utilities (nzherald.co.nz)
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq put enormous strains on the United States, from impacting individual lives of Americans to draining the U.S. Treasury. But the conflicts had the opposite effect on the companies that armed the U.S. military.
From 2002 until 2011, the profits of the five largest defense contractors (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon) “increased by a whopping 450 percent,” according to Lawrence J. Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Ten years ago, the profits of these five companies were $2.4 billion (adjusted for inflation) collectively. By 2011, their profits had soared to $13.4 billion. During the period in which the profits of weapons makers were going up 450%, the U.S. defense budget rose 55%. During the same time frame, the median annual income for American families actually went down almost 6%.
During earlier wars in American history, the government used to impose a “war tax” on contractors to ensure that they did not gain excessively from the misery of others fighting the conflict. But that wasn’t the case last decade, noted Walter Pincus at The Washington Post.
“My most radical idea—and it should have been done 10 years ago—is for an excess-profits tax on defense contractors while we have troops fighting overseas,” Pincus wrote. “As I have often noted, Afghanistan and Iraq are the first U.S. wars in which taxes were not raised to pay for the fighting. Instead, the cost has been put on a credit card.”
To Learn More:
Excess-Profits Tax On Defense Contractors During Wartime Is Long Overdue (by Walter Pincus, Washington Post)
The government of Syria has been ordered by a U.S. federal court to pay $338 million in damages for supporting a terrorist group that kidnapped Americans two decades ago.
One of those kidnapped, Marvin Wilson, sued the Syrian government along with the family of Ronald Wyatt, who died of cancer several years after their release from the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish nationalist group in Turkey that has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department since 1997.
The two men were part of an archeology expedition searching for remains of Noah’s Ark in Turkey when, in August 1991, members of the PKK captured and held them for three weeks.
The plaintiffs sued the Damascus government claiming it had allowed the PKK to operate from Syrian territory, and provided financial support and training to the terrorist group.
District Court Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that Syria was “vicariously liable” for the kidnapping, and ordered the government to pay $38 million in compensatory damages to the plaintiffs and another $300 million in punitive damages.
“The brutal character of the kidnapping in this case, the significant harm it caused both the hostage plaintiffs and their families, along with Syria’s demonstrated and well known policy to encourage terrorism all merit an award of punitive damages,” Lamberth wrote.
During their ordeal, Wilson and Wyatt were force-marched for 18 hours and repeatedly beaten by their captors, according to the plaintiffs.
- Judge Orders Syria to Pay $338M in Terrorism Case (legaltimes.typepad.com)
- Israeli group wins $338 million judgment against Syria over kidnapping of Americans (righttruth.typepad.com)