A swift, one-day strike last week and the threat of blocking some of the country’s main ports is what it took for the government to submit to the wishes of dozens of protesting fishermen on the country’s Pacific coast.
“Our main objective was fulfilled, which was that they remove Ligia Castro,” said Eduardo Espinoza, executive director of the Puntarenas Fishermen’s Chamber. Castro, the head of the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (INCOPESCA), was ordered to take an immediate, indefinite vacation, which might last until the new administration takes office at INCOPESCA after the presidential election Feb. 5, according to Espinoza.
Fishermen were upset with Castro for increasing their fuel costs. Another result of a meeting between Rodolfo Coto, Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Fernando Gutiérrez, Minister of Science and Technology, a representative from the Labor Ministry and the fishermen, the afternoon of Jan. 19, was a reduction in the fuel tax INCOPESCA charges them on government-subsidized fuel, Espinoza said.
For the moment, fishermen will pay ¢2.20 ($0.004) per liter of fuel, instead of the ¢2.85 ($0.006) INCOPESCA was charging them, he explained.
In a month, however, the tax might cease to exist after the Agriculture Ministry starts injecting ¢40 million to INCOPESCA each month, a plan it committed to during the negotiations, he said.
Owners of more than 24 large and small vessels blocked the Pacific port of Puntarenas on Jan. 19, vowing to prolong the protest indefinitely – including threatening to block a cruise ship filled with tourists from entering Puntarenas on Friday – and extending it to the ports of Caldera, Quepos and Golfito, farther south, if the government ignored their requests (TT, Jan. 20).
In the northwestern province of Gua-nacaste, approximately 300 fishermen and their supporters protested in the province’s capital, Liberia, earlier this month (TT, Jan. 13)
They asked that Article 9 of the country’s Fishing Law – which prohibits fishing in marine protected areas – be changed to allow some fishing in these areas, a request Environment Minister Carlos Manuel Rodríguez took to last week’s government Cabinet meeting, where it met with support from President Abel Pacheco and his ministers.