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Cargo traffic snared at Costa Rica-Panama border as truckers stage protest

August 26, 2013

A group of 17 semitrailers are blocking passage through the main road at Paso Canoas, the Costa Rican stretch of the border with Panama.

Truck drivers began the protest on Saturday to denounce alleged “excessive inspections” performed by officials from Panama’s State Border Service (SENAFRONT). According to the protesters, SENAFRONT officials have been levying hefty fines for vehicle violations in recent days.

The result of the demonstration is a long line of semis waiting to cross the border, with 200 cargo trucks on the Costa Rican side and some 500 trucks in Panama. Non-commercial vehicles and buses are not being blocked from crossing the border.

The drivers also claim that SENAFRONT officials have confiscated keys to their vehicles, despite the fact that Panama’s legislation grants motorists up to 30 days to pay a fine.

The Panamanian daily La Estrella on Monday reported that truck drivers also said that officials are requiring that Tico drivers with citations return to Paso Canoas.

“The nearest facility to pay a fine is more than 30 kilometers from that location, and they are only open Monday-Friday during business hours,” Juan Carlos Segura, a protest leader, told La Estrella.

Meanwhile, drivers are having to spend up to three days at the border while they search for an authorized location to pay the fines.

“This causes serious losses, especially to those transporting perishable goods such as meat, fruits or vegetables,” Segura added.

Francisco Quirós, director of Costa Rica’s Chamber of Cargo Drivers, said they are evaluating the situation, but they believe SENAFROT “seems particularly focused on trucks with Costa Rican license plates.”

He said that officials from that agency “take up to four hours to perform inspections on Tico trucks.”

Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli said at a public event on Monday that “it seems that the Costa Rican-Panamanian border is a place outside the [control of the] government of Costa Rica,” referring to what he believes is disinterest by the Costa Rican government regarding the border situation.

“We will defend the interests of Panamanians who also are being harmed, because there is an agreement that Costa Rica simply has not met,” the president added.

Martinelli said Foreign Minister Fernando Núñez traveled to San José to discuss the issue with his Costa Rican counterpart, Enrique Castillo. 

In March, Costa Rican truckers blocked for nearly a week commercial transit at Paso Canoas, citing the same issues. Those protests cost some $2 million in losses, according to estimates by Panamanian truckers.

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