Out-of-control protests and raging flames in the Caribbean port city of Limón frightened away a cruise ship full of tourists this week.
Protests against the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) gave port workers and others in this city on the verge of civil unrest another reason to hit the streets in intense protests.
Even after anti-CAFTA protests subsided, port workers pledged to keep on protesting against the Arias administration’s plans to privatize management of the Caribbean’s two ports, Limon and Moín, and demand payment of extra wages they say they are owed.
Monday night, a firefighter suffered second-degree burns while putting out flames started by a Molotov cocktail, according to the region’s Police Director Luis Hernández.
Tuesday, while thousands in the rest of the country marched peacefully against CAFTA (see separate story), port worker Hurtado Gómez was arrested for allegedly setting afire a moving semi-truck trailer while the driver was still in it, forcing the driver to bail as the truck went up in smoke, Hernández told The Tico Times.
Wednesday, National Police detained four suspects for trying to block boats from entering the port of Limón, and another suspect for trying to cut the ropes that kept a boat tied to the dock, Police Captain Jorge Moya told The Tico Times.
That same day, officials announced that the luxury cruise ship Carnaval Victory, carrying 3,000 passengers, had cancelled a planned stop in Limón and continued on to Jamaica via Panama.
The cancellation meant the loss of an estimated $110,000 for Limón tourism operators and vendors, who bank off of the 1,500 or so tourists who tour the city and surrounding area each time a cruise ship stops there, the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) said in a statement.
“All it does is affect hundreds of Limonenses who support themselves by selling handicrafts, leading tours and providing other tourist services,” said Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides.
The ICT said it fears that cruise ships “Amsterdam” and “Coral Princess,” which are supposed to arrive in Limón this weekend, might pass up the heated port city as well.
Wednesday night, reports of gunshots brought the Red Cross to the Limón neighborhood Cieneguita, where protestors were throwing rocks and wood at police. No one was hurt in the incident, said Red Cross spokesman Alexandor Porras, and Moya couldn’t confirm any shots were fired.
Moya said 17 people were arrested throughout the week, several of them minors who were released. The Limón Prosecutor’s Office reported having received 13 protestors accused of making threats, blocking roads and resisting arrest.
In response to the violence, the government sent hundreds of national police to take control of the port city.
Though anti-CAFTA protests were planned for Monday and Tuesday, union port workers announced Tuesday that they would keep protesting, not against CAFTA, but against the government’s plan to privatize management of the ports and the government’s failure to pay port workers a total of $860,000 as promised.
Port workers in Limón and Moín have been working extra slow, in a form of protest known as tortuguismo, since Sept. 25.
A judge ruled Monday that the tortuguismo protests are illegal, paving the way for workers to be fired if they don’t resume normal labor.
Atlantic Port Authority (JAPDEVA) labor union spokesman Leroy Pérez said Wednesday the union is analyzing the ruling to see whether to continue the protests or not. Tortuguismo continued at the ports yesterday.
Despite earlier statements from the administration that it wouldn’t negotiate with the unions while they protest, Labor Minister Francisco Morales met with the head of the JAPDEVA union (SINTRAJAP) Wednesday night.
Morales told The Tico Times JAPDEVA is ready to pay workers the extra wages, and that the government has prepared a counter proposal to the union’s proposal to modernize the ports without privatizing them (TT, Oct. 6).
However, Morales said there is still disagreement on one issue: the union is demanding no workers be punished for their actions during the protests.
“We’re very close to reaching an agreement,” the minister said.
JAPDEVA spokesman Israel Ocontrillo said the workers will be paid before the end of the month, and that next week, the government will begin talks with union workers about privatization plans.