San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Delay Tactics, Child Protests Mark Porteador Controversy

Whistle-blowing, sign-wielding child protestors. Opposition legislators pulling delay tactics from under their sleeves. Public officials hitting protestors with fines.

They are all part of the latest chapter in a political battle between porteadores, as private transportation providers are called, and official red taxi drivers, controversy that has already cost the nation dearly in traffic delays due to street protests.

Tooting whistles, blowing noisemakers and chanting “we’re legal,” private transportation providers and their children stirred cacophonic dissent at the Legislative Assembly Tuesday to a law that would make the services they provide illegal.

“We want them to let us work. Our children have a right to eat,” said Yessenia Ramos, a 32-year-old porteadora from the southwest San José suburb Desamparados, whose three children waved protest signs in front of the assembly.

The protests, in which dozens of porteadores brought their children to emphasize the consequences of possible unemployment, were against a bill being discussed in the Legal Affairs Commission of the assembly.

Tuesday’s protests at the assembly came as hundreds of private transportation providers parked in the streets in protest on the highway to Cartago, east of San José, in Alajuela, west of the capital, and Quepos, on the central Pacific coast.

It was the second nationwide protest private transportation providers organized this month. An estimated 1,000 turned out for protests Sept. 6, causing vehicular chaos on the nation’s roads and highways (TT, Sept. 8). However, this time around, the Public Works and Transport Ministry handed out dozens of tickets for illegal parking and other violations, according to MOPT spokesman Juan Carlos González.

Porteadores like Ramos said Tuesday’s protests were smaller than expected after MOPT publicly threatened fines and towing for those blocking traffic.

González said MOPT officials handed out 35 tickets to protesting porteadores, mostly for illegal parking, but also for having license plates that didn’t match vehicles.

In front of the assembly, National Liberation Party legislator Alexander Mora told protesters he didn’t want to put them out of work.

“We’re studying … a complementary provision that would create legal jobs,” said Mora, president of the commission discussing the bill.

Last week, MOPT offered to create licenses to allow an additional 2,773 legal taxi drivers and provide “alternative employment for private drivers if the law is passed,” provisions that private transport providers rejected (TT, Sept. 15).

Mora said he didn’t know when the issue would come to a vote in the commission, as stall tactics from an opposition legislator have already delayed the bill.

Carlos Gutiérrez, a Libertarian Movement party legislator who is also on the commission, said the amendment would put an estimated 10,000 private transportation providers out of work, and leave them with no income for their families. The legislator is using delay tactics to get other members on the commission to negotiate.

“I have a hundred motions to delay this thing,” he told The Tico Times Tuesday, flipping through a folder full of motions outside of the commission’s meeting room.


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