A mass student protest filled the streets of San José Oct. 22, opposing new budgetary terms being imposed on Costa Rica's public universities. The demonstration, which was also attended by staff and even rectors of the universities, was called after the Ministry of Finance ordered an increase in the percentage of the Special Fund for Higher Education (FEES) that goes to capital expenditures—which effectively means a cut in salaries for teachers and staff. Banners read "The education of our children is not up for negotiation" and "Hands off the UCR," a reference to the University of Costa Rica. University authorities and students did meet for several hours with government officials after the march in search of an agreement, while thousands of supporters maintained a vigil outside the presidential palace. President Carlos Alvarado, elected as leftist last year but now accused of imposing a neoliberal program, was among those who met with the protest leaders. Coordinated marches were also held in cities around the country. (Tico Times, El Mundo, Semanario Universidad, Costa Rica)
Sergio Rojas, a leader of the indigenous Bribrí people in Costa Rica, was slain March 18 in an attack by unknown gunmen at his home in the indigenous territory of Salitre, in Buenos Aires canton of Puntarenas province. Rojas was president of the Association for the Development of the Indigenous Territory of Salitre and coordinator of Costa Rica's National Front of Indigenous Peoples (FRENAP), and had long been leading a campaign for the recovery of Bribri traditional lands. He was reportedly shot 15 times in the attack. An investigation into the murder has been opened by the Judicial Investigation Police.
Panama announced June 13 that it is breaking its long-standing diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of establishing relations with China—a clear political coup for Beijing. The Panamanian statement said it recognized "only one China" and considers Taiwan to be part of it. The change was spurred by an unavoidable fact: China is the second most important Panama Canal user after the United States. Last year it sent 38 million metric tons of cargo through the interoceanic waterway, accounting for 19% of its traffic. The announcement of the diplomatic switch also comes just as Chinese enterprises began building a container port, with natural gas terminals, in Panama's Colón province, on the Atlantic side of the canal. "I think Dominican Republic and Nicaragua will soon follow," Mexico's former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, tweeted soon after the announcement.
The International Court of Justice on on Dec. 16 recognized Costa Rica's sovereignty over a 2.5-square-kilometer disputed territory on the border with Nicaragua, one of the main claims fought over by the two countries at The Hague-based court. "The sovereignty over the disputed territory belongs to Costa Rica," Justice Ronny Abraham stated. The ruling found that an artificial canal opened by Nicaragua in 2010 through Isla Calero, also called Isla Portillos or Harbour Head Island, was within Costa Rican territory and not part of the common border between the two countries. Justices also unanimously found that Nicaragua violated Costa Rican territory by invading Isla Calero with military personnel, by dredging canals in Costa Rican territory, and by violating Costa Rica’s navigation rights on the Río San Juan. Nicaragua was ordered to compensate Costa Rica for damage caused to its territory.
A decree by Costa Rican president Luis Guillermo Solís authorizing payments to former banana workers sickened by the pesticide Nemagon became official on Dec. 1 with the measure's publication in the government's gazette. Under the decree the government's National Insurance Institute (INS) will pay out from 25% to 100% of the medical bills for workers who suffered physical or psychological damage from Nemagon, with the percentage based on their years of exposure to the pesticide. The decree currently covers 13,925 former banana workers; cases are pending for 9,233 of the workers' children and 1,742 of the workers' spouses. More than 11,000 other applications were dismissed.
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.
A longstanding dispute over the privatization of the port at Limón on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast led unionized dockworkers at the port's Limón and Moín terminals to walk off the job on Oct. 22 for the second time in two years. The open-ended strike left three ships stranded at the two terminals, which handle some 80% of Costa Rica's foreign trade. Facing his first major labor crisis since he took office on May 8, President Luis Guillermo Solís, of the center-left Citizen Action Party (PAC), responded quickly. He sent some 150 police officers to take control of the terminals late on Oct. 22; 68 people were arrested in the operation. The port was reopened the next morning, with foreign contract workers under police guard. Union officials denied that the port was operating normally, and as of Oct. 25 negotiations hadn't started between the union and the government.
Amid the current UN climate talks and massive march for action on climate change in New York City, the New York Times runs an oh-so-naughty op-ed by Nadine Unger, an assistant professor of atmospheric chemistry at Yale, entitled "To Save the Planet, Don't Plant Trees." Now, if she had reversed the title as "Don’t Plant Trees To Save the Planet," she might have had a bit of a case. We ourselves reject the "carbon trading" scam that gives corporations a license to pollute if they plant trees—despite the fact that they often don't even plant the trees, but just grab forested lands from indigenous peoples, and (worse) the burninng of fossil fuels releases carbon that had been more thoroughly "locked" than that in trees, which do eventually die and rot. This is indeed a point that "carbon trading" and "biofuels" boosters seek to obfuscate. But this is not Unger's point. Instead, she is literally loaning legitimacy to Reaganoid nonsense that "trees cause pollution." To wit: