San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Union: Arias Administration Plays Dirty With Port Plans

Some labor groups are castigating the administration of Costa Rica’s President Oscar Arias for an action they describe as the “bribing” of dockworkers for their votes in  negotiations to privatize the Caribbean ports of Limón and Moín.

Likening the Arias administration to a dictatorship, the National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP) released a statement Tuesday, saying, “The Arias brothers used full force to promote, encourage and abominably bribe … the workers of the Atlantic Port Authority (JAPDEVA) to accept the privatization of Limón and Moín.”

“The Arias brothers” refers to the president and his brother, Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias.

Tensions between Oscar Arias and union leadership in Limón began to flare in 2006 when the president announced plans to privatize the ports. Fearing massive layoffs and skyrocketing unemployment in the region, workers groups fought adamantly against the deal.

A week ago, Rodrigo Arias celebrated the results of a meeting in which most of the 700 dockworkers of JAPDEVA agreed to accept a total of $137 million in severance pay in the process of converting the ports from a public entity to a private one.

“We’re celebrating this because we think it is a decision on the right track to allow the Caribbean ports to be operated by concession – an accomplishment that gives our country and all of Limón more competitiveness, more efficiency and will attract more investment and generate more work,” Rodrigo Arias said.

Despite getting a thumbs up from many workers, the union’s leadership lashed out against the agreement and threatened to file a complaint in the courts, a move that could drag out the privatization process for several more months.

Rodrigo Arias, who said he had predicted this response, offered, “The decision made today is (one) made by the workers. It was a decision made by the majority, after much thought and under much pressure.

One wonders, why have a union? Isn’t it to protect the rights of the workers? If so, why isn’t the union in agreement with what the majority of workers decided freely?”

Nevertheless, ANEP Secretary General Albino Vargas called the $137 million severance pay “immoral, completely illegal and clearly corrupt,” and he said that “it buys the conscience of the people.”

While the Arias brothers battle the workers groups, the president is seeing his approval ratings fall. A report by Unimer published in the daily La Nación this week showed the outgoing president with the worst confidence ratings since he took office four years ago. According to the study, confidence in his leadership fell 24 percent from November to January.

–Chrissie Long

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