Campus Picks Up the Pieces After Concert Riot

August 1, 2008

Administrators at the Universidad Latina, the second biggest college in Costa Rica, worked this week to return the campus to normalcy after rioting concert-goers destroyed school property on Sunday.

“They robbed very few things, but destroyed a lot,” said U Latina President Arturo Jofré. “We didn’t lose a lot in the labs.

Because of this, we were able to start classes at the normal time on Tuesday.”

The rioters were riled about not being allowed into a university-sponsored concert that featured several bands, including Los Pericos, an Argentinean ska band as part of the candy bar Snickers Urbania festival currently touring Latin America.

The crowd threw rocks and debris, breaking the majority of the windows of the school’s three buildings at its campus in eastern San José. They then broke into the university’s cafeteria, where they stole food and beverages and used chairs to destroy cafeteria equipment and windows. Rioters also ripped several of the school’s landscaping lamps out of the ground.

Jofré estimated that the malcontents looted only three or four computer monitors.

“The intention of these kids was to destroy for the sake of destruction,” Jofré said.

The concert attracted a large crowd, primarily because three Snickers candy bar wrappers were the only price of admission.

The university authorized Snickers to admit up to 7,000 people, even though the space holds 10,000, because of safety reasons.

An estimated 3,000 were not allowed entrance, inciting the rampage.

In addition to targeting the school, the mob vandalized nearby homes, businesses and vehicles.

Among the affected businesses along surrounding streets were a children’s clothing store, a mattress shop, at least one bank and the Latin Break café.

“It is impossible to say how many people came into the store,” said Cesar Madrigal, brother of the owner of Latin Break. “They destroyed practically the whole store.”

A total of 35 people were detained. Jofré said 13 or 14 already have been charged, and the rest of the cases are being processed and charges selected.

Jofré warned against blaming the concert or the group as a whole.

“Out of the people outside, 90 percent did nothing,” Jofré said. “They watched or they left. It was a small group, but with 80, 90 or 100 people engaged in this type of activity, you can do a lot of damage.”

After students began throwing rocks, the police were called, and they used gas in the open area to dispel the crowd, Jofré said. Officials originally reported the gas came from smoke bombs, but witnesses claimed police used tear gas.

Despite the violence, no serious injuries were reported, said the Red Cross.

It is remains unclear, however, whether police deployed gas in response to the rioting, or if students rioted in response to being gassed.

According to University of Costa Rica students Gabriel Granados and Erick Faith, the crowd outside tried to push forward to gain admittance. Granados said he shot video that shows the canisters police launched held tear gas.

“There were 2,000 people outside,” Granados said. “They tried to break in. The concert was cancelled, and everybody went crazy once the gas came in. The gas entered into the concert grounds as well.”

“The people who were just relaxed, waiting in line, got gassed as well,” Faith said.

Regardless the order of events, local businesses say the university did not prepare sufficiently for the crowd.

“We question the university’s decision to hold a concert of this magnitude in such a central location,” Madrigal said. “The crowd was drinking and doing drugs. Thank God no one was hurt.”

U Latina officials say the 60 security guards hired by Snickers couldn’t have done much more.

“Based on Snickers’ experience in this type of concert, we allowed them to do this for free,” Jofré said. “The (security) company that Snickers hired, which has a lot of success in this country, said they had sufficient security.”

As a result of the riots, the concert was canceled before Los Pericos played.

The culprits most likely were not students of the university, says Jofré, but he fears what message this might send to Costa Rica’s young people.

“We need to worry about the state of our youth’s mentality. There is a societal problem in a small sector with deep inner hatred.”

Jofré thinks the school will receive help from the municipality and from Snickers in reconstruction efforts. And the windows will be back in place soon, he said.

U Latina students resumed classes this week.

 

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