NICOYA, Guanacaste – Nearly 500 demonstrators marched on Nicoya’s central park Thursday morning to voice their frustration with President Laura Chinchilla, but the president was not here to hear them.
As protesters rallied in front of La Anexión Hospital in Nicoya, on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, on a humid morning under overcast skies, Chinchilla’s office announced that she would not be speaking until 5 p.m. this evening. Traditionally, the president’s annual speech in Nicoya to mark the annexation of Guanacaste, a national holiday, takes place early in the morning.
Soon after news of the schedule change, The Tico Times spoke with the Broad Front Party’s presidential candidate, lawmaker José María Villalta, who was at the march.
The candidate had harsh words for the president’s decision to change the hour of her speech last minute.
“It’s a slap in the face to the people. If the president hid behind barricades in Alajuela, today she’s hiding from the people,” he said, referring to Chinchilla’s not-so-public appearance during Juan Santamaría Day on April 11, when ordinary citizens were blocked from hearing her speak to a group of gathered bureaucrats.
“If I were president, I can tell you one thing I would not do is turn my back on the people,” Villalta told The Tico Times.
Villalta pointed out that he attended the march Thursday morning as a private citizen, and that his opposition political party was participating as a social actor, not an organizer of the march, as Communications Minister Carlos Roverssi accused last week during a press conference.
The legislator noted that the protest was a response to three years of unfulfilled promises and perceived mistreatment of Guanacaste, the second poorest province in Costa Rica after Limón.
Villalta saw the wide range of voices present a boon for the march. “Diverse voices show that this march isn’t an isolated event but symptomatic of the terrible abandonment felt here in Guanacaste,” he said.
Marchers represented unions, student organizations, environmentalists and social actors from across Costa Rica calling for clean drinking water, lower taxes, better health care and infrastructure, and justice for Jairo Mora, a slain sea turtle conservationist.
“All these problems have solutions. Nothing here is impossible to address,” he observed, listing the need for improved conditions in pubic hospitals, infrastructure investment for all Guancastecos – not just large farm owners and luxury beach hotels – and a more equitable tax base.
“What’s important is that the voices of Guanacaste are heard,” he added.