Demonstrators and government officials are preparing this week for what is promised to be a large demonstration throughout San José Thursday. The march is a response to police action during last week’s protest against budget cuts to the public health care system, or Caja, that led to the arrest of 36 demonstrators.
According to student leaders, Thursday’s march has three objectives: to support continued public funding, to condemn the use of police force during protests and to stand up for liberty of expression. To achieve these goals student organizers are asking for one thing.
“The most concrete objective of the march is the dismissal of Mario Zamora’s administration at the Public Security Ministry,” said Victor Valverde, a member of the Federation of Students of the University of Costa Rica (FEUCR), who are helping organize the march. “His administration is what is responsible for all of these acts of repression.”
While there is no group exclusively organizing the event, both FEUCR and the National University’s student federation, FEUNA, have been coordinating to ensure a large student turnout. Both student groups have asked the universities to cancel exams for the day so students can attend the protest.
Both Zamora and President Laura Chinchilla came out in support of police actions last week stating the importance of keeping the streets clear to alleviate traffic. Officials stated that they are taking precautions to prevent this protest from flooding the streets.
“It is important to point out that the right to protest also has to respect people’s right to transit,” said Zamora at a press conference at Casa Presidencial on Tuesday. “We are working together with the universities this time in order to know where the march will be and what areas will be affected.”
Thursday’s demonstration has a well-publicized route starting at 9 a.m. in Parque de la Merced, in downtown San José, and finishing at the Caja where a vigil will be held into the night. While university organizers have provided police with details of where they will be, they have rejected the idea that police actions during the last protest were justified by traffic in the streets.
“The government keeps using this idea of the freedom of transit as an excuse,” said FEUCR member Diego Miranda, “but given the current conditions in the country I don’t believe you can place the right of transit over liberty of expression or the right to social protest.”
Officials are taking further measures to ensure a peaceful demonstration by using mostly women police officers to monitor the event – a method that Zamora claims has worked in the past.
“In the most fervent demonstrations this method has been shown to work more efficiently and calmly,” he said. “We want to use a resource that has been proven to work in the past.”