Colombia’s Health Ministry placed hospitals and hospital staff nationwide on special alert in case of an “emergency situation” resulting from ongoing protests across the country.
A “green alert,” the least urgent on the emergency spectrum, was declared Tuesday, supposedly because of a series incidents cited by the Health Ministry in its official press release.
According to the government’s statement, hospital transport was delayed or blocked in four total instances due to protest activities. No harm was caused by the disturbances, but the threat was apparently sufficient for the government to take special precautions.
Organizers of the health sector’s ongoing national work stoppage, however, believe other motivations are behind the alert.
“This is a tactic the government always uses to force us to […] distance ourselves from the protest stance we find ourselves in at the moment,” said Hector Alviz, president of the national health workers union (ANTHOP) and primary organizer behind the national health protests.
Hospital services, he said, continue to be offered at “the highest possible quality,” specifically because of measures taken on the part of ANTHOP leaders to guarantee that protests do not conflict with emergency care and other important hospital functions.
“The last thing we want to do is complicate service for our patients; we’ve always made that clear, and we’re grateful that the sick, the patients who have arrived at our hospitals, have lent us their support, and helped us facilitate their service.”
Alviz feels the green alert is not warranted by the current state of service, which he claims remains unaffected by protests. Instead, he sees the government’s emergency declaration as an effort to undermine lawful protests.
Alviz acknowledged that the government has not indicated that hospital service is the problem. Still, he said, “in the context of the government’s threats [to prosecute health workers who “interfere with” access to healthcare], and the police’s reactions so far to our protests, it’s obvious what is happening.”
The green alert, he explained, requires hospital directors to “establish rigorous shifts […] that obligate medical staff to be on call, not only in the hospital grounds, but also outside of them, to give immediate direct attention to patients.” Even under normal conditions, the demands placed on hospital workers are substantial. And at the moment, with hospitals are already understaffed, the burden rests entirely on the workers the union has already assigned to work extra hours to compensate for strike activities.
“They are trying to break the strike,” said Alviz, “to dampen our resolve. It’s a show of force to force us, the workforce, to be more involved in production than in our protest efforts. They don’t want to say it, but that’s what it is.”
The police reactions Alviz mentioned, on the other hand, involve more direct displays of force. According to union officials, there have been several instances of “repressive force” and “aggressive violation of protest rights” at hospitals across the country. Police, said Alviz, “have entered hospital spaces — where they should not be, for obvious reasons, especially not when they come armed to the teeth — and even treatment areas to disrupt peaceful and lawful protests.” He described one case in particular, at a hospital in Barranquilla, in which hospital directors, who are not part of the national strike, had to negotiate with “heavily armed” police forces in order to get them to leave “before they themselves could interrupt the hospital’s activities.”
“We’ve asked the government to stop these hostilities and sit down for meaningful dialogue,” said Alviz, “but despite this persecution on the part of the police, we are still committed to our protest, to the rights of workers, and to access to good treatment, equal treatment and affordable healthcare for Colombians.”
The Ministry of Health declined to comment on how long the green alert would last, or whether the national government is taking any measures to ensure local and national police forces do not interfere with hospital function.
- Ministry of Health press release
- Interview with Hector Alviz