San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Limón Port Privatization Plan Hits Major Snag

The Constitutional Branch of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) threw a curve ball at the Limón revitalization project this week, when it called for the reinstallation of the former leadership of the Atlantic Port Authority’s union (SINTRAJAP) and nullified a decision by the current union’s leaders to accept a concession for the privatization of the port.

President Laura Chinchilla said the decision was “one more bump in the road” and “a blow to democracy,” the daily La Nación reported.

The decision effectively restores to power the faction of SINTRAJAP that opposes privatization of the Caribbean coast Limón and Moín ports. The privatization of the ports is a key piece in the government’s plan to attract investment to the ports and to the city of Limón.

SINTRAJAP has long been blamed by the business community for the ports’ inefficiency and delays in the transfer of goods through the country’s principal port.

Since the former leadership of SINTRAJAP was ousted in January by the union’s general assembly – a move deemed illegal by the Sala IV – a number of international workers’ organizations have voiced their concern over the situation.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation accused the government of “undermining the union” and pursuing “undemocratic and potentially illegal plans.”

The U.S.-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Trade and Labor Affairs alleging noncompliance with labor laws and illegal government interference with union elections.

“People from the United States believe Costa Rica is a paradise,” said Robert McEllrath, international president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). “But Costa Rica has been transformed into a country in which the police break down windows and doors of areas in which workers are assembling in peace … and in which the social welfare of the workers and their families are relegated to second place behind the gains of transnational companies.”

Government officials, who offered to pay union workers $137 million to accept the concession, said the precise effect of the court’s decision is still unclear. SINTRAJAP elections to chose a new leadership will be held in January.

–Chrissie Long

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