Costa Rica: port strike ends, issues remain

The Costa Rican government and unionized dockworkers at the city of Limón on the Caribbean coast reached an accord the night of Nov. 5 ending a strike that started on Oct. 22. The strikers agreed to return to work on Nov. 6 in exchange for the government's promise that the port's management, the Board of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Shelf (JAPDEVA), wouldn't penalize them for striking; people arrested for damaging containers on Oct. 24 will still be subject to prosecution. The accord did not address the strike's issue—a 33-year concession for the port granted to the Dutch company APM Terminals, a subsidiary of the giant Danish shipping multinational A.P. Moller-Maersk Group. The parties agreed to continue negotiations on this issue, although the government insisted that clause 9.1 of the concession contract, which concerns APM Terminal's monopoly on handling containers, was not negotiable.

It wasn't immediately clear how the parties reached the agreement ending the strike. Ronaldo Blear, the secretary general of the JAPDEVA Workers Union (SINTRAJAP), pointed to the role played in the talks by Montserrat Solano, the government's defender of the habitants (a position equivalent to the ombudsperson in other countries). The leftist Frente Amplio ("Broad Front") political party reportedly pressured SINTRAJAP to settle; the party is close to the union. The government too was under pressure. Although it managed to keep Limón's two terminals open with foreign contract labor, shipping companies had been complaining about delays. According to the government the port was operating at 60% capacity, but the union put the number at 40%. There had also been a threat of broader strike support. Union spokesperson José Luis Castillo told a local radio program in early November that SINTRAJAP was negotiating with similar Latin American organizations to keep other ports in the region from receiving ships that had sailed from Limón. (El País, (Costa Rica, Nov. 5, some from DPA; La Nación, Nov. 6; Tico Times, Costa Rica, Nov. 6)

In related news, relatives of the late US unionist Gilberto Soto issued an open letter on Nov. 5, calling on the Salvadoran Attorney General's Office (FGR) to reopen its investigation into Soto's murder, which took place exactly 10 years earlier in Usulután, El Salvador. A Salvadoran-born naturalized US citizen and an organizer for the US-based International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), Soto was murdered after he had arrived in the country to meet with port workers from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, and with Central American drivers who hauled shipping containers; this was in connection with a proposed joint project to document systematic violations of workers' rights by Maersk. Citing a publication by the Office of the Prosecutor for the Defense of Human Rights (PDDH), the open letter charged that there were irregularities in the initial investigation. IBT president James Hoffa and Richard Trumka, the president of the largest US labor federation, the AFL-CIO, signed on to the letter, along with a number of labor and human rights organizations. (La Prensa Gráfica, El Salvador, Nov. 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, November 9.