Healing the Body Politic: El Salvador's Popular Struggle for Health Rights--from Civil War to Neoliberal Peace

Healing the Body Politic: El Salvador's Popular Struggle for Health Rights--from Civil War to Neoliberal Peace

Healing the Body Politic: El Salvador's Popular Struggle for Health Rights--from Civil War to Neoliberal Peace

Healing the Body Politic: El Salvador's Popular Struggle for Health Rights--from Civil War to Neoliberal Peace

Synopsis

Incorporating investigative journalism and drawing on interviews with participants and leaders, Sandy Smith-Nonini examines the contested place of health and development in El Salvador over the last two decades. Healing the Body Politic recounts the dramatic story of radical health activism from its origins in liberation theology and guerrilla medicine during the third-world country's twelve-year civil war, through development of a remarkable "popular health system," administered by lay providers in a former war zone controlled by leftist rebels. This ethnography casts light on the conflicts between the conservative Ministry of Health and primary health advocates during the 1990s peace process--a time when the government sought to dismantle the effective peasant-run rural system. It offers a rare analysis of the White Marches of 2002-2003, when radicalized physicians rose to national leadership in a successful campaign against privatization of the social security health system. Healing the Body Politic contributes to the productive integration of medical and political anthropology by bringing the semiotics of health and the body to bear on cultural understandings of warfare, the state, and globalization.

Excerpt

In this book I recount a series of underreported struggles over health rights in El Salvador that date to the beginnings of the civil war in the 1980s. I examine the potential for a nondualistic theory of the body politic, or what Bryan Turner (1992) has called “a biopolitics of the somatic society.” Used in this way, body politic refers to the implicit moral ecology and sense of social contract that gives meaning to representative governance and political legitimacy in nation-states. While much of my narrative focuses on a rural health movement that arose during the twelve-year civil war and its interactions with the post-cease-fire state, in a remarkable shift after 2000 the political agenda of health rights erupted onto the national stage in El Salvador, with massive street mobilizations to stop neoliberal reforms that have impacted national politics and resulted in one of the few cases in which the World Bank backed down from a privatization agenda. With the revival of health reform as an issue in American politics and the new emergence of the international People’s Health Movement, health rights are becoming a centerpiece of global activism; this book aspires to inform those struggles.

My account traces a historical trajectory in which health and healing served as key sites of engagement during two decades of struggle over the nature of the Salvadoran body politic. I first visited El Salvador in 1985 as part of a small medical task force assessing damages sustained during a military invasion of the University of El Salvador’s medical and allied health schools. I returned to document impacts on public health from the 1986 earthquake, and then moved to San Salvador in 1987 to report on the region for U.S. newspapers. My articles in American Medical News and the Philadelphia Inquirer on the military’s attacks on rural clinics led to regular work as a stringer for the New York Times San Salvador bureau during 1989. After receiving death threats in a chaotic period of urban warfare in November of that year, I moved back to the United States and entered . . .

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