The Arias administration this week unveiled a plan to find a private concessionaire to build and manage a $500 million mega-port on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.
The mega-port proposal is part of a plan the government explained this week with the intention of coming to terms with Limón port workers, who have been protesting the government’s plans to modernize and privatize administration of the nation’s existing Caribbean ports: Limón and Moín.
The government sat down at the negotiation table with union port workers and put a stop to last week’s violent protests in Limón, allowing for cruise ships to once again stop over in this Caribbean port city.
“We’re glad that the cruise ship (Amsterdam) arrived in the LimónPort (Oct. 27). This is the behavior that is expected in any civilized country in the world,” Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides said in a statement, adding that he hopes cruise ships will never again have to avoid Limón because of protests.
The Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) had its eyes on the port city last week after the Carnaval Victory cruise ship, carrying 3,000 passengers, cancelled a planned stop in Limón Oct. 25 because of violent incidents during protests against the Arias administration’s privatization plans as well as against the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA). ICT estimated the ship’s cancellation cost Limón tourism operators and vendors more than $200,000.
The cruise ship Amsterdam landed in Limón Oct. 27 after the protests ended following negotiations between the Atlantic Port Workers Union (SINTRAJAP), the Atlantic Port Authority (JAPDEVA) and the Labor Ministry.
Anti-CAFTA protests were held nationwide last week without incident, except in Limón (TT, Oct. 27), where the street protests led into protests by port workers who have been demanding that the government pay workers promised extra pay and not privatize management of the ports. Port workers have been protesting for about a month by working very slow, a method known as tortuguismo.
JAPDEVA secretary Walter Robinson told The Tico Times Monday that the paychecks for $860,000 in extra pay for port workers, which had been agreed upon in a collective labor contract, had been sent.
Officials from SINTRAJAP, JAPDEVA and the Labor Ministry met again Monday, along with Inter-Institutional Minister Marco Vargas, to discuss the government’s new proposal in light of SINTRAJAP’s demands.
Though the proposal still calls for privatization of port management, it sets up a council with JAPDEVA and SINTRAJAP representatives who will oversee the privatization process. It will also require that the government and port workers sign a letter of understanding that will lay out pension plans, severance pay, and a job creation plan for workers who lose their jobs the result of privatization.
“This administration’s central strategy is to create jobs,’’ said Minister Vargas. The plan would integrate local small businesses into the new port operation, he said.
The plan calls for the construction of a mega-port that would allow giant ships carrying loads of up to 4,000 containers to embark in Costa Rica after making transcontinental trips. Smaller ships would then distribute goods throughout Central America, according to Vargas, who said he hopes construction and administration of such a port could be concessioned out within five years.
The plan also calls for a $70 million modernization of the existing Caribbean ports, which are the country’s two largest ports. Both of those projects would also be concessioned out to private companies under the plan.
SINTRAJAP president Ronaldo Blear said the union is “analyzing” the government’s new proposal.
“We’re ready to converse, though we’re not in favor of all of the government’s proposal points,” he said.