Port Strike Ends with Government Concessions

September 30, 2005

IN the nationwide struggle to improve the country’s ports, the Caribbean ports of Limón and Moín came to the forefront late last week when the government agreed to several union demands in order to end protests that had brought operations to a crawl. This week, however, the precise nature of the government’s reaction remains unclear.The protests involved port workers working at a snail’s pace for five days, resulting in delayed ships and perishable cargo on the verge of being lost. They also forced companies such as Del Monte to send bananas through Panamanian ports to keep the fruit from rotting.They ended Sept. 23 with the government agreeing to modernize the ports’infrastructure in order to meet growing needs and make them globally competitive, Public Works and Transport Minister Rándall Quirós told The Tico Times.“I guarantee that as far as my participation” this was the only point negotiated, Quirós said.Yet the daily La Nación has reported that according to unnamed sources, the government also ceded to union pressures to fire the head of the Atlantic Port Authority (JAPDEVA), Alberto José Amador.Quirós acknowledged that firing Amador was a demand of the unions, but said it was not negotiated. However, he would not confirm to The Tico Times whether Amador would or would not remain in his post today, the day La Nación’s sources said would be his last as JAPDEVA head.President Abel Pacheco said after his Cabinet meeting Tuesday that the Cabinet – the only institution with the power to order Amador’s dismissal – did not agree to fire him this week or last week.Quirós did agree to buy more freight lifts and a crane known as a straddle carrier. However, a commission of union and government representatives will evaluate these needs. The equipment will be paid for by JAPDEVA.Various companies in the Caribbean have said they will no longer use Caribbean ports and instead ship through the Panamanian port of Rambala, the daily La República reported.Moín and Limón ship 77% of the country’s imported and exported goods, while the Pacific ports of Caldera, Puntarenas and Punta Morales ship a combined 23%. The ports on both coasts have been nationally and internationally criticized for their severe deficiencies in infrastructure, causing serious delays and loss of goods (TT, Sept. 23).At Caldera, which business leaders told The Tico Times is the nation’s most troubled port, the Finance Ministry’s new automated TICA (Information Technology for Customs Control) system finally showed results this week.The daily La Nación reported tax collection at the port is up 38%, an improvement authorities attribute to the new system.Tica got off to a bumpy start with technical glitches when it was implemented July 4. Protests by importers caused a five-day paralysis of the port (TT, Sept. 23).The ministry plans to implement TICA at other customs stations nationwide, including Central Customs in San José on Monday.

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