By Susan Rosenthal
(Chapter 9 of SICK and SICKER)
March 11, 2012
As a new generation takes up the fight for a humane world, it is essential to review the lessons of the past.
The last great upsurge in struggle, during the 1960s and early 1970s, achieved significant advances in health care. Americans won Medicaid and Medicare, and Canadians won a national medical system. There were other victories, like the trouncing of the US in Vietnam. And there were bloody defeats, like the military coup in Chile. Vietnam proved that even the mightiest power can be brought down. Chile also offers valuable lessons.
“The health sector in any society mirrors the rest of that society,” wrote Vicente Navarro in What Does Chile Mean: An Analysis of the Health Sector Before, During, and After Allende’s Administration. The following review of Navarro’s account highlights the experience of Chilean health workers who fought a revolutionary struggle to create a truly democratic health care system.
A Class-Divided Society
Navarro describes Chile as an underdeveloped nation. Yet it was still a capitalist country and in many ways not so different from the United States or Canada.
In 1970, Chile was an urban, industrial society. The top 10 percent of the population controlled 60 percent of the wealth, while the working-class majority (70 percent of the population) held only 12 percent of the wealth. Similar class disparities exist in the US and Canada, being much more extreme in the US where the top one percent controls more wealth than 95 percent of the remaining population.
In Chile, as in all capitalist countries, class divisions are reproduced in the medical system.
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