As the government goes on a public relations blitz leading up to the celebration of the Annexation of Guanacaste on Thursday, national unions and other social actors are offering their support to demonstrators fed up with a lack of resources and growing inequality in the peninsula.
On Tuesday morning representatives from several national unions, including the National Association of Educators (ANDE), the University of Costa Rica Employee’s Union (SINDEU), and Independent Union of Public Workers (SITECO), joined with the Guanacaste Forum, and the People’s Voice Association at ANDE’s headquarters in San José to pledge their support to the protests scheduled on Thursday, July 25, in Nicoya, and demand the government take aggressive action to address socio-economic inequality in the region.
The unions hope to mobilize hundreds of demonstrators in support of the protests. ANDE President Gilberto Cascante told CRHoy.com that they would be sending 22 buses full of supporters to Nicoya from San José starting at 6 a.m. Thursday.
“Events on the 25th of July should not just be traditional dancing, fireworks, and comfort food for the benefit of the cameras. When you have the president in your house – the only time during the entire year for Guanacastecos – it’s important that we communicate our frustration, our needs, and the biggest problems facing our province,” said Salvatore Coppola, representative for the Guanacaste Forum and a professor at the UCR.
Some of the principle complaints listed by the Guanacaste Forum addressed growing inequality and poor job prospects in the peninsula. With luxury hotels and scenic beaches alongside shantytowns and dirt roads, Guanacaste is the most economically unequal province in Costa Rica.
According to the Forum, 21.8 percent of the region’s population lives in poverty compared to a national average of 14.3 percent.
The speakers also addressed the injustice of poor infrastructure in the peninsula, highlighting the relative lack of health care in the peninsula, poor transportation infrastructure and the highest electricity costs in the country, despite generating 45 percent of Costa Rica’s electricity.
Unions present at the event this morning reiterated that the protests would be “lively” but peaceful.
Roberto Herrera of SINDEU said that students and staff would not participate in violence and asked the Public Security Ministry and law enforcement not to “provoke” demonstrators.
“The government shouldn’t be afraid, the communications minister should not be afraid […] the people will act in an orderly, peaceful and disciplined manner. It is simply the people of Guanacaste demonstrating peacefully,” said Xiomara Rojas Sánchez, SITECO secretary-general.
Many union representatives insisted that the July 25 protesters were not directed by any political party, a response to accusations last Tuesday by Communications Minister Carlos Roverssi that the Frente Amplio, or Broad Front Party, was orchestrating the demonstrations in Guanacaste for political gain.
Environmentalists joined their voices to the choir of outrage. Natalia Salazar of the People’s Voice Association said that their organization was marching to protest water pollution, especially the region’s high levels of arsenic and its possible relation to high rates of chronic kidney disease in the greater Cañas area.
Roy Wong, an investigator with the Costa Rican Social Security System, told The Tico Times that the rates of kidney diseases in the Cañas area are approximately 18 times higher than the national average.
Leading up to the Annexation celebrations, the Chinchilla administration has used this week to promote its accomplishments and new promises for the region.
According to several press releases, the government has pledged $1.2 million to build new facilities for the Centers for Education and Nutrition, and Comprehensive Child Care Centers.
The government also allocated over $220,000 in infrastructure upgrades in Guanacaste, including paving roads, wayfinding improvements, and flood control and prevention.
Correction Wednesday, July 24: This post originally named the Citizen Action Party (PAC) instead of the Frente Amplio, or Broad Front Party, as the political group named by the Communications minister as the alleged organizer of the July 25 protests.