“OUT with Riteve!” “Long live Costa Rica!” The message was loud and clear at a protest Monday in front of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MOPT) offices in San José: between 100-200 protestors from the agricultural and transport sectors, unified under the Civic Movement, want Riteve RyC, the Spanish-Costa Rican company with an exclusive contract for vehicle inspection, out of the country.
“The country is demanding that Riteve leave,” said Ricardo Araya, Civic Movement leader and National Farmers’ Foundation (FENAC) representative. “It’s a monopoly with the goal of making a profit that’s replaced a public service. It’s like putting a thief in charge of watching over money in the bank.”
Riteve won bids to take over mandatory vehicle inspection, a service formerly provided by the Costa Rican government, in 2001. The constitutionality of this contract was challenged in the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV), which ruled in Riteve’s favor (TT, Sept. 3, 2004).
FOLLOWING almost two hours of protest on blocked-off streets in front of MOPT offices, with banners blowing in strong winds and music from a typical cimarrona band in the background, nine Civic Movement leaders met with Public Works and Transport Minister Randall Quirós to present him with a letter requesting three things: the suspension of the Riteve inspections now required for vehicle owners to obtain a circulation permit, lower taxes on gasoline and repairs to the country’s roads.
Quirós responded that gasoline taxes are under the domain of the Finance Ministry and the Environment Ministry (MINAE), not MOPT.
Regarding the termination of Riteve’s contract, Quirós said MOPT tried to end the contract two years ago, but the Comptroller General’s office ruled it could not be broken (TT, Sept. 3, 2004).
“It’s just not viable,” Quirós said. “If we could have terminated the contract, we would have already.”
Finally, in response to the Civic Movement’s complaints about the country’s road conditions, Quirós pointed to $100 million MOPT initiatives under way to repair them.
THE Civic Movement is unsatisfied with these responses, said Civic Movement leader Eddy González, president of the Costa Rican Mechanics Association. The group is now setting a date to hold more protests in municipal buildings and Riteve offices in about 60 areas of the country, he said.
In August 2004, discontent over Riteve drew national unrest as truck drivers blocked the nation’s highways and border crossings and daily protests were staged against the company (TT, Aug. 27, 2004).
Meanwhile, in response to Monday’s protest, Riteve stands behind the Sala IV’s ruling that it is not a monopoly and has the right to continue operating as a private company contracted by the government to provide a service, said Riteve spokeswoman Vilma Ibarra.
Protestors, however, argued this type of “privatization” is an example of the negative consequences that would follow ratification of the Central American Free- Trade Agreement (CAFTA) between Central American countries, the United States and the Dominican Republic.
Banners and flyers distributed at the protest equated Riteve with CAFTA and argued that both equal corruption.