TONY BLAIR toured Latin America last week preaching the virtues of the market and neo-liberal economic policies. As he did, those very policies were bringing misery to millions across the continent. But workers and the poor are fighting back.
ARGENTINA: Blair pledged his backing for the government's ' reform' package, voted through the country's senate last week. That package means 13 percent cuts in public sector workers' salaries and major cuts to pensions.
After four years of recession and seven previous 'reform' plans, some 16 percent of all workers are unemployed and one in three people live below the government's official poverty line.
The new austerity plan has been demanded by the International Monetary Fund as the price for loans to stave off a financial crisis. Workers and the unemployed reacted to the cuts plan last week by throwing up road blocks across the country, affecting more than 40 cities. Last week's protests came weeks after a general strike against the cuts paralysed the country.
More strikes were planned on Wednesday of this week. 'In the face of growing repression we must mobilise and strike,' said union leader Victor de Gennaro.
ECUADOR: Two premature babies died last week after police fired teargas into their special hospital unit. The gas was targeted at a protest march by health workers, who were in the fourth week of a strike demanding more funds for healthcare. The gas seeped into the Isidora Ayora hospital in the capital, Quito.
'The entry of gas contributed to the deaths of two premature newborns,' said the hospital director. The government has been cutting back workers' salaries, and health and education spending, in order to meet an IMF-backed austerity plan.
The 26,000-strong health workers' strike ended on Monday of this week after the government appeared to make significant concessions.
GUATEMALA: A one-day strike shut down much of the country last Thursday. Protests erupted against a government tax 'reform' which would put up the price of many basic goods.
Dozens of protesters were injured and hundreds arrested in clashes with police. Small farmers and peasants in Guatemala and neighbouring countries face a severe drought. This has led the United Nations to declare a food emergency. The effects of the drought are made worse by the neo-liberal polices being pushed by the government.
The richest 2 percent in Guatemala control almost two thirds of all national wealth. Some 90 percent of people live below the government's official poverty line. As the Guatemalan strike was taking place, Tony Blair continued to praise the 'courage' of Latin American governments which embrace neo-liberal policies.