An estimated 300 farmers on Tuesday morning marched to Casa Presidencial in the southeastern San José district of Zapote, and the Legislative Assembly, against perceived threats to dozens of farmer’s markets that operate across Costa Rica.
Agriculture and Livestock Minister Gloria Abraham has stated repeatedly in recent days that a bill currently before the Legislative Assembly would not eliminate the markets.
“[Under a proposed bill] the farmer’s market program would be strengthened and declared of public interest,” the minister reiterated.
Farmers claim the proposed legislation aims to close the National Production Council (CNP), a government agency tasked with regulating the country’s 79 farmer’s markets.
CNP union leaders interpreted language in the bill, specifically a phrase that referred to “reforms and staff reorganization,” to mean the dismissal of all agency staff.
According to the bill, the Comptroller General’s Office would oversee the CNP reorganization process, prompted by a ₡30 billion ($60 million) debt the CNP has with the Finance Ministry.
José Oviedo Chávez, secretary general of the National Union of Farmers, told The Tico Times that the bill also would establish the opening of the market to big import companies that would easily overtake small producers’ capacity. He said that would leave some 12,000 people jobless.
Current legislation allows only small farmers to sell produce at the farmer’s markets.
Tuesday’s demonstration had little effect on President Laura Chinchilla, however, as she and her ministers held a weekly staff meeting at El Buen Pastor Women’s Prison, south of San José, not at Casa Presidencial.
Alberto Font contributed to this story.