San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Violence Erupts in La Carpio

CLOUDS of tear gas filled the streets of the impoverishedshantytown of La Carpio, west of San José, onMonday evening as violent protestors shot at police andboth sides hurled softball-sized rocks at each other.At least 30 people were seriously injured in theriot, seven by gunshot wounds. Six were police officersand one was a 14-year-old boy.Dozens of young children suffered severe respiratoryproblems because of the gas, according to theRed Cross. Numerous protestors and residents alsosaid a 5-month-old baby had been asphyxiated, butthe Red Cross denied any deaths had occurred.THE violence erupted just before 5 p.m. whenpolice attempted to break up a blockade residents haderected on the only road going into the neighborhood.The blockade was in protest of the garbage companyEBI BERTHIER, which manages the EnvironmentalTechnology Park of San José, a landfill thatborders La Carpio.Residents demanded the company fulfill promises to pave local roads, build a communityassembly hall and assist them in obtainingland titles.MEDICS wearing gasmasks and helmetsattended to the wounded as rocksthumped against the tin roofs and poundedthe pavement around them.At one point, a medic rushed past thebarricade of riot shields and into the crowdof hundreds of protestors. After a fewmoments he ran back with a baby in hisarms, wrapped in a filthy blanket.The injured were taken to a makeshiftmedical center at a nearby Channel 13relay station, where the Red Cross alsoattended at least 70 people for respiratoryproblems related to the gas, which spreadwith the wind into the homes of numerousinnocent bystanders.Those bystanders said they were nervousand scared.“We’re waiting to see what happens,”said one woman, taking refuge in a smallgarage during the riot. “They’re asphyxiatingeveryone.”OFFICERS on the scene said they hadreceived orders from Public SecurityMinister Rogelio Ramos not to use teargas, but that it was necessary to defendthemselves.“He’s there. He’s not here,” said onemasked officer who asked not to be identified.“He doesn’t know what’s happening.”Shortly after, a protestor walked awayfrom the mob toward police with his handsraised. An officer stepped from behind thepolice barricade with his hands in the air,imitating the protestor.When the surrendering protestor wasonly a few feet away, the officer cursed athim and hit him full force in the face, sendinghim to the ground. The man laid on thepavement for a few moments before otherofficers dragged him off and handcuffedhim.THE barrage of rocks increased.Officers returned fire with tear gas andpicked up the rocks that landed aroundthem and threw them back at the mob.Several officers sustained gunshotwounds and hobbled away with the supportof their comrades. One was shot in thethigh, and propped against a wall as RedCross medics tried to control the bleeding.Another was carried away by four otherofficers, his body completely limp.Police then retreated.Protestors rushed forward in a columnthat filled the entire street, whistling andscreaming, but maintaining some distancefrom the officers.IT was then that Ombudsman JoséManuel Echandi attempted to negotiatewith the leader of the mob, who identifiedhimself as Didiehr Soto.Little progress was made. Echandipromised them he would work to see thatpolice officers left the neighborhood, butmost in the crowd wanted to advanceright away.Soto said they could use Echandi’spresence to ensure that police didn’t fightback. Echandi said he would not permitthat and returned to the police barricade.Police then ran back further, and thecrowd cheered in victory and lit a hugebonfire in the street, then danced around itas officers and government officialswatched from hundreds of meters away.PUBLIC Security Minister Ramossaid during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting thatresidents were also demanding money ofEBI.“What these people wanted was for thecompany to give them ¢1.5 million($3,456) each month for them to use fortheir own purposes. The company refusedto give them the money, saying it had noobligation to do so,” Ramos said. “It iscontributing through the competent institutionsin education and health care.”Around the time the landfill opened in2000, EBI promised to deposit money intoa special account to be used for communitydevelopment projects such as roadimprovements, new health clinics, sidewalksand expansions to area schools (TT,Aug. 11, 2000).EBI had been making payments.Howe-ver, La Nación reported on Tuesdaythat EBI manager Juan Carlos Obando saidthe company decided to suspend the paymentsbecause of suspected misuse of thefunds.A representative of the non-governmentalCentral American Water Tribunalthis week said EBI’s landfill, where mostof the waste from the San José area isdeposited, is causing irreversible contamination of the community’s drinking watersupply.RAMOS said a recent Supreme Courtruling preventing general immigrationsweeps has hindered the ability of police tocombat crime in the area.“In La Carpio and other parts of thecity there are important risks in terms ofsecurity. Along with this there is a concentrationof people of nationalities other thanCosta Rican. For that reason, it’s importantto take into account the immigrationaspect,” the minister said.On Jan. 30, Costa Rican police conducteda controversial immigration sweepof La Carpio just after a Nicaraguan immigrantliving there slaughtered several of hischildren and shot his pregnant wife beforekilling himself.The Nicaraguan Embassy respondedby requesting a full investigation of thesweep to determine whether there had beenhuman rights abuses by police (TT, Feb. 6).The Supreme Court ruled last weekthat the sweep was unconstitutional, andordered Costa Rica to pay damages to 65Nicaraguan immigrants, La Nación reported.THE riot also prompted a meetingbetween Costa Rican Foreign MinisterRoberto Tovar and Nicaraguan ChancellorNorman Caldera, who visited San JoséWednesday.Foreign Ministry officials said Tovarexplained what had happened in LaCarpio, “with the goal of guaranteeing thetranquility of its inhabitants…and especiallyto avoid that innocent personsbecome victims of attacks by gangs orgroups of organized criminals.”The conflict made the front page ofNicaragua’s two major newspapers, LaPrensa and El Nuevo Diario, for severaldays this week, with headlines such as “LaCarpio Militarized,” and “Ticos Were theAgressors.”However, former Nicaraguan ForeignMinister Emilio Álvarez told The TicoTimes the riot shouldn’t significantly affectthe two country’s relationships, anddefended the police action.“Countries have to establish order intheir own national territory,” Álvarez said.HE said the problems in La Carpio tellof the need to establish a clear immigrationpolicy between Costa Rica and Nicaragua,and that the political will to make it happenexists.The situation will not affectNicaragua’s support for former CostaRican President Miguel Angel Rodríguezas the next Secretary General of theOrganization of American States (OAS).Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolañossaid in El Salvador on Tuesday thatNicaragua will vote as a bloc with the restof Central America (see separate story).After discussing praise bestowed onthe country by major financial institutionssuch as the World Bank, Costa RicanPresident Abel Pacheco said Wednesdaythat economic gains and internationalrecognition mattered little if the countrycan’t respect social order.“It’s quite shameful for Costa Ricathat…a few small groups, unaccustomed tolife in democracy and without heedingCosta Rican law, are attempting to destroyour climate of stability,” Pacheco said.OMBUDSMAN Echandi met with LaCarpio community members on Tuesday todiscuss a resolution to the conflict. Areportfrom his office said they decided to hold avote for community leaders. Afterward,according to the report, the leaders willcome up with an agenda of needs.However, the ombudsman made itclear to the residents that outbursts such asMonday’s are not acceptable, and insistedthat law enforcement officers conduct an“investigation of the facts.”The Public Security Ministryannounced Tuesday it will conduct a thoroughinvestigation to determine who isresponsible for shooting the six police officers,all of whom are in stable condition.“We will not let them have impunity,”Ramos said.Ministry officials also said 12 peoplearrested Monday, suspected of inciting violence,have been placed in preventivedetention.Of the 12, according to the ministry,five are Costa Rican and seven areNicaraguan.(Tico Times reporters Fabián Borges andTim Rogers contributed to this article.)

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