The protests in Costa Rica that shake the country, an example of stability in Central America
Costa Ricans have been mobilizing for 15 days to protest the economic measures announced by the government in the face of the worst crisis in the country.
The relative calm of Costa Rica, commonly identified as a haven of stability and social justice among its Central American neighbors, was broken more than two weeks ago.
Since last September 30, the country has been involved in citizen protests and blockades of dozens of roads and strategic border posts for the country in which hundreds and thousands of people participate every day.
The trigger was the government’s intention to negotiate a loan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to face the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, but which would result in a tax increase, among other measures.
And although the executive backtracked on his plans and called for dialogue, the protests continued .
In fact, the tension continued to increase in the clashes between police and protesters, with a balance -after 15 days of mobilizations- of more than a hundred injured and as many people arrested.
What motivated the protests?
The Costa Rican economy is going through one of its worst moments in the last 40 years, with a fiscal deficit for this year that the government expects to be close to 10% of the Gross Domestic Product.
The covid-19 pandemic only exacerbated this crisis in a country where tourism is one of its main income and that saw unemployment soar from 12% to 24% after the arrival of the coronavirus.
Faced with this situation, the government announced in mid-September that it was in negotiations with the IMF to access a $ 1.75 billion loan to stabilize the country’s finances.
But the agreement contemplated measures that unleashed the indignation of part of the population, such as the sale of some state assets, the freezing of salaries for officials and, especially, the temporary increase in various taxes .
Thus, since the end of September, Costa Rica has seen unusual images on a daily basis in the country, such as the blocking of some of the main border crossings with Panama, burning of vehicles or clashes with sticks and tear gas between police and protesters.
Backtracking on the proposal
The tension escalated to such an extent that the president of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado , ended up announcing on October 4 that he would not go ahead with the initial proposal to the IMF.
The president said he had seen “with pain” the sources of violence in the streets and condemned the acts.
“None of this has to do with the ideal of peace in our democracy (…) The blockades that hit people, production and put lives at risk must stop now,” he said on the national network.
“I make a call to the sectors that support the institutional channels so that we open a national dialogue to resolve the economic emergency facing the country. In that dialogue I will get personally involved ”, he added.
This coming Saturday will start a dialogue table made up of various sectors, but to which the social group Movimiento Rescate Nacional, the main promoter of the protests, was not invited.
Why do the mobilizations continue?
However, despite the government backtracking, the protests continued.
The National Rescue Movement demanded to suspend them that the president commit in writing that he will not go to the IMF for the remainder of his term, which will end in mid-2022.
In a document with 14 conditions, the group also demanded that the executive not contemplate the sale of assets or more indirect taxes, as well as that there be no criminal prosecutions or sanctions against the protesters.
But Alvarado rejected the demands and said that he will not dialogue with this group until he ends the blockades.
Meanwhile, the riots around some mobilizations increased in recent days.
Last Monday, several people were injured during a protest in front of the Presidential House in San José, in which pieces of concrete were even seen flying .
“Infiltrators” in the protests
Last week, the former presidential candidate and until then leader of the National Rescue Movement, José Miguel Corrales, asked to end the protests due to the violence that originated around them, for which he blamed an alleged infiltration of criminal groups in the demonstrations.
“I apologize, especially, to those who have been direct victims of the violence unleashed and to all those who have lived days of anxiety and fear,” he said in a video published last Thursday.
However, another of the main leaders of the movement, former congressman Célimo Guido, dissociated himself from Corrales’s statements and blamed the security forces for the violence for, he said, infiltrating agents in their demonstrations.
This Tuesday, Costa Rican Security Minister Michael Soto acknowledged the presence of plainclothes policemen in Monday’s protests after an agent was identified among the population thanks to a video posted on social networks.
However, Soto assured that he was an anti-drug police whose mission was to identify people related to drug trafficking in the mobilization, and denied that the camouflaged policemen were the ones who caused the violent events.
Although the National Rescue Movement requested Soto’s resignation for this reason, the government is confident that it will be able to solve this profound and unexpected crisis thanks to the national dialogue that begins this weekend.