Costa Rica: Arias tries to bust port workers union

On Feb. 26 the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) charged that the government of Costa Rican president Oscar Arias Sánchez had in effect “illegally established a ‘yellow’ (unrepresentative, undemocratic, employer-run) trade union” for the 1,500 dockworkers at the Atlantic coast city of LimĂłn. The government’s interference in the union—”in contravention of…conventions 87 and 98″ of the United Nations’ International Labor Organization—is intended to bring about “the kind of privatization that has led to joblessness and misery in LimĂłn’s sister port of Caldera” on the Pacific side, the ITF said.

The Caldera port was privatized in August 2006 under President Arias, who began his second four-year term in May 2006. (He previously served as president 1986-1990 and won the Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to broker a peace deal in Nicaragua.) So far Arias has had less success with the “modernization” of the Board of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Shelf (JAPDEVA), the state agency which administers the LimĂłn port.

The JAPDEVA Workers Union (SINTRAJAP), an ITF affiliate, opposed the privatization efforts with a strike in October 2006. But the union, which is part of Costa Rica’s Catholic labor federation, Rerum Novarum, remained fairly conservative until a caucus led by the socialist-oriented group Luchemos! (Let’s Fight!) won union elections in 2007 which made Ronaldo Blear the SINTRAJAP general secretary. The new leadership built support for its anti-privatization efforts from the Costa Rican labor movement, from environmental groups and from the leftist Frente Amplio (Broad Front) political party.

The Blear leadership was reelected to a second two-year term in January 2009, but it was removed from office by two workers’ assemblies held on Jan. 15 and Jan. 29 this year. Luchemos! supporters said the assemblies weren’t attended by the majority of workers and represented a “coup d’Ă©tat” arranged by JAPDEVA management. The elected SINTRAJAP leaders and leaders of other unions protested by occupying the labor minister’s offices for six days in January. In late March legislative deputy JosĂ© Merino del RĂ­o and deputy elect JosĂ© MarĂ­a Villalta FlĂłrez-Estrada, both of the Frente Amplio, requested an injunction from the Constitutional Court to restore Blear and other leaders to office. The court hadn’t ruled as of Mar. 27.

President elect Laura Chinchilla Miranda, a member of Arias’ National Liberation Party (PLN) who takes office on May 8, is expected to continue Arias’ neoliberal economic policies. Labor rights supporters can sign on to an ITF letter of protest to President Arias at:

(ITF website, Feb. 26; Diagonal, Spain, March 24; Costa Rica Hoy, March 20; Teletica, Costa Rica, March 27)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 28

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