MANAGUA – Hundreds of Sandinista-affiliated health-care workers marched on the capital Oct. 17 to demand a 2008 budget increase of $42.7 million for medicines and salary increases for some 30,000 health workers.
The protest was the second in less than a week by Sandinista union workers. On Oct. 12, thousands of teachers marched on the National Assembly to demand a 20% salary increase next year – a $53 million increase for next year’s education budget.Nicaraguan teachers currently earn salaries averaging $133 a month.
According to Gustavo Porras, Sandinista lawmaker and head of the party-affiliated union the National Workers’ Front (FNT), the money to pay for the budget increases in health and education should come from budget funding that is currently earmarked to paying down the internal debt, which includes the monstrous debt incurred from the banking scandal from 2001, a banking bailout known as the CENIs scandal.
Porras said health-care workers won’t sit by and watch the government continue to pay for bank fraud when the population needs medicine and dignified salaries.
“Workers don’t think this internal debt should be paid,” Porras said.
The government of President Daniel Ortega sent its $1.4 billion budget proposal to the National Assembly Oct. 15, calling for $245 million for health, representing a 12% salary increase for hospital and heath-center workers. Though much of the budget is designated to social spending, $235 million is earmarked for payment towards the internal debt.
The government’s recent accord with the International Monetary Fund locks in the budget at $1.4 million, preventing the government from increasing the amount of deficit spending.
It is not clear whether last week’s labor protests, the first during the Ortega administration, were meant to pressure Ortega or opposition lawmakers. Some think the Sandinista unions are only performing a mock protest of the government – far from the pressure tactics employed during past administrations.
Others, however, think the street protest are not directed at Ortega at all, but rather are a way for the President to pressure opposition lawmakers in a way that he can’t as head of state.