San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Sunday’s March The Largest Ever

Last Sunday’s march was a resounding success. At around 11:30 a.m., as an airplane from the “yes” campaign flew overhead with a provocative banner, a protester from the cultural platform announced: “The ‘yes’ people send us little messages by airplane because they don’t have people to fill Paseo Colón.”

It was the largest manifestation in Costa Rica I have seen in my whole life, at least in 50 years of memory. I participated in dozens of marches in the 1970s and 80s, including the Alcoa march with my high school friends in 1970. Sunday, protestors packed the broad avenue of Paseo Colón from La Sabana Park east to the Metropolitan Cathedral (a distance of about 22 city blocks).

The peaceful, cheerful, noisy, creative, laughter-filled manifestation was much larger than the 1990 Poll Tax Riots in London that led to Margaret Thatcher’s resignation after her decade-long neoliberal experiment in England (just to give you some food for thought). In my opinion, this protest has been superseded only by the arrival of the Pope in Managua in 1983, and the closure of the Sandinista electoral campaign in 1990.

The difference between this week’s protest in San José and the two aforementioned cases in Nicaragua (where I was also present), is that in the latter two gigantic state and ecclesiastic apparatus were set in motion to mobilize masses of people at the margin of their true will. They achieved numbers by exerting pressure of all kinds, from the threat of excommunication to threat of job loss.

Those who participated Sunday did so on their own behalf, despite governmental opposition, and its whole machine, including practically all the press and commercial television, and despite the pressure, the threats and the fear campaign. The patriotic committees (neighborhood groups organized to inform citizens on the negative effects of the U.S. trade agreement) got people to come from all over Costa Rica, including Talamanca, where representatives of indigenous communities left in the early morning for the seven-hour journey to San José. Nobody forced or pressured them to be there.

That is an essential difference.

By Manuel Arguëllo, a Costa Rican citizen and professor at the NationalUniversity (UNA) in Heredia, north of San José.


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