Snapshots of a peaceful Monday protest by Costa Rica’s public employees
Hundreds of public employees, teachers, students, taxi drivers and motorcyclists on Monday morning marched from at least four locations in the capital to wage a variety of complaints against government officials. Most protests concentrated near San José’s Central Park.
Members of teachers’ unions began the march with a blockade at the La Hispanidad roundabout, east of San José. Shouting through megaphones, teachers denounced a reduction in extra salary bonuses and boasted that “at least 80 percent of the country’s public schools canceled classes” on Monday in support of the temporary strike.
The group of about 500 was joined by students from the University of Costa Rica and workers from 45 community health centers, or EBAIS, in San José and Cartago, east of the capital.
Motorcycle owners caused a ruckus in front of the National Insurance Institute (INS) in Barrio Amón to protest recent increases in the the price of vehicle circulation permits, or marchamos, which came in at a rate well above public salary increases announced in recent days. INS officials closed their doors to the loud protests in front, and reopened just after midday, when the bikers had moved on to rally with other protesters. Eastbound city traffic was rerouted all morning on 7th Avenue, while vendors offered the bikers and Transit Police beverages and snacks.
In La Sabana Park, west of the capital, striking workers formed a loose picket line in front of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute, where union leaders gave speeches in tandem. Police officers were scattered along the walkway, looking unconcerned, while down the block, a mass of public health workers marched down 42nd Street and turned up Paseo Colón to the Finance Ministry, accumulating supporters as they went. Police cut off traffic, and pedestrians watched from the sidewalks.
Luis Chavarría, a union representative from the Social Security System, or Caja, said workers are upset at Finance Ministry officials over recent tax increases, and for the privatization of some Caja services.
“It’s about social security,” said one protester. “People have to know that the system is completely broken. It is just that simple.”
Given the range of grievances, the atmosphere was remarkably festive: Music blasted from speakers, activists blew vuvuzelas, and hawkers weaved among the marchers, vending fedoras and flags. By the time the protesters reached Iglesia La Merced, the crowd was boisterous with shouting, dancing, and bursts of pre-recorded labor songs. After a long pause, the march resumed down Second Avenue, building in intensity as it went.
Nearby, student demonstrators from area schools gathered in the Plaza de la Cultura. The scene looked like a children’s festival: Body puppets frolicked among grade school dancers, clowns walked on stilts, and a marching band ringed the square.
Hordes of people packed together to watch the buskers, snapping photos and clapping along.
In other provinces, support for the strikes was moderate, but several communities faced problems with blocked streets and the suspension of some public services.
In the Caribbean province of Limón, a dock workers’ strike forced a tourist cruise ship to skip the port, while municipal workers refused to collect trash.
Additionally, some 200 protesters blocked traffic on the bridge over the Pacuare River on Route 32, a main access to the province.
In Alajuela, north of the capital, groups boarded at least three buses that joined protesters in San José. Outside two local hospitals, small groups of demonstrators waved banners and chanted slogans.
In the only official response to the protests from the administration of President Laura Chinchilla, Presidency Minister Carlos Ricardo Benavides said the government recognizes the public’s right to demonstrate, but “no one has the right to interrupt essential services.”
Benavides sent an order to top officials at all public agencies to dock a day’s wage from employees who failed to show up to work on Monday.
Aside from traffic jams and closed public agencies and schools, the morning passed with no major incidents or injuries.
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