San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Truck Drivers Accuse Police of Aggression

POLICE working before dawnWednesday broke up many of the roadblocksthat had paralyzed the country fortwo days, in some cases throwing tear-gasgrenades into the cabs of semi trucks andbreaking windows to get protesting driversout.Public Security officials said 75 truckerswere arrested during operations inCartago, east of San José, in Limón, on theCaribbean coast, and in the northwesternCentral Valley towns of Alajuela andHeredia.More than 50 had been released bypress time yesterday, some with orders tosign in once a month with authorities.Truck drivers claimed police werephysically aggressive with the protestors.“We were there peacefully,” saidGerardo Moya, a trucker who had beenparked on the road to Cartago. “They camethrowing tear gas grenades and insultingus… There’s one guy here with black eyes– the police beat him.”PUBLIC Security officials denied this.“We went ahead with special, carefullyplanned security measures and the resultsare successful from every point of view.There was no violence or injuries,” PublicSecurity Minister Rogelio Ramos said in astatement.Ministry officials consulted by TheTico Times said the use of tear gas was“minimal.”Police in Ochomogo and Limón resortedto window breaking and tear gas aftertruckers there ignored their orders to disband,according to press reports. Otherblockades around the Central Valley dispersedmore peacefully after the newsspread of the police actions.According to Judicial Branch spokeswomanSandra Castro, some protestorswill likely face charges of delaying publicservices and obstructing public roads.Delaying public services can be punishedwith sentences of between six months totwo years in prison, while obstructing publicroads can be punished by between 10and 30 days in prison.At least one writ of habeas corpus infavor of the truckers was filed before theConstitutional Chamber of the SupremeCourt (Sala IV) by a man named VíctorFarulla.FOR two days before the policeaction, protesting truckers lounged in andbeside their trucks blocking the nation’smain highways and bringing internationalshipping to a halt.Their demonstration against themonopoly that the Spanish-Costa Ricancompany Riteve has over mandatory vehicleinspections was peaceful, even dull,according to some truckers – until policeofficers intervened.In those two days, they ducked underneathor in the cabs for cover when itrained, slept in beds behind the seats, listenedto radio reports or watched portableTVs to follow their union leaders’ negotiationswith the government, relaxed in hammocksslung under their trucks and ateplates of rice and beans the unions provided.Rather than indiscriminately blockingtraffic, the truckers left a route betweenlines of trucks so that ambulances, pressvehicles and motorcycles could getthrough.ON Tuesday, Rafael Chaves and about70 other truckers waited alongside thehighway to Zapote on the east side of SanJosé. Chaves was on his cell phone withleaders of the strike and a contact who wasat the government negotiations, he said.In the afternoon about 60 of themreceived the order to drive toward Cartagoand block the Inter-American highway atOchomogo. He and 10 others remainedbehind waiting for others to join thembefore going out to block a different highway.Some motorists seemed to support thetruckers, judging by the number of honksand waves Tuesday afternoon.An Unimer poll published in LaNación said 52% off those surveyedWednesday approved the truckers’ blockades.The margin of error is 4.7%, accordingto the poll.Tuesday, Chaves told The Tico Timesthe police weren’t interfering because theyknew the truckers were right.After the police action Wednesdaywhere Chaves and the others had parkedtheir trucks near the Saprissa stadium inTibás, north of San José, Chaves hadchanged his tone.“The police are totally repressive – it’sa great loss for democracy in this country,”he told The Tico Times.An estimated 3,000 truck drivers wereinvolved in the protest, according Chaves,athough other estimates said as many as1,000.Many of them had cell phones, a meansof communication that, according toMoya, was indispensable in the organizationof the nationwide protest.

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