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Solís administration, striking dockworkers at loggerheads over port concession

October 23, 2014

Both President Luis Guillermo Solís’ administration and the Atlantic Port Authority’s union, SINTRAJAP, dug in their heels after negotiations at Casa Presidencial ended in an impasse on Thursday.

Labor Minister Victor Morales released a statement following the meeting asking the stevedores union to lift the strike immediately, leaving no room to renegotiate a clause that grants Dutch company APM Terminals the exclusive rights to handling container traffic at the $1 billion “mega-port” for 33 years. Morales met with SINTRAJAP leaders, Broad Front Party lawmaker Gerardo Vargas, and Legislative Assembly President Henry Mora of the ruling Citizen Action Party.

“The president has been very clear on this matter. Clause 9.1 of the contract with APM Terminals should be respected. That is the criteria that this administration stands by,” Morales said in a statement.

Despite the line in the sand over the terms of the concession, Morales said the government remained open to dialogue with SINTRAJAP.

President Solís released a statement Thursday evening reiterating that Costa Rica would respect the terms of the contract as a “country that long ago opted for the rule of law and peace.” Solís said that his administration would commit financial resources and training for workers who may lose their jobs at the port.

On Wednesday morning, SINTRAJAP paralyzed the docks in Limón and Moín only to be ejected from them that evening by police with the support of Casa Presidencial. Sixty-eight people were arrested in the operation.

On Thursday morning, the docks reopened with foreign contracted labor under police guard. Public Security Minister Celso Gamboa said that police officers would remain at the port as long as needed to ensure their normal operation. The docks in Limón handle some 80 percent of Costa Rica’s international trade.

SINTRAJAP leader Ronaldo Blears said the union would take action against Gamboa for the police operation and claimed that other unions would join the stevedores in solidarity. Blears added that nothing the government said would intimidate them and that the strike would continue indefinitely, according to Luis Miguel Herrera, a reporter for the daily Nación in Limón.

On Thursday, representatives from the U.S. Embassy in San José traveled to Limón to meet with both sides of the dispute, according to embassy spokeswoman Alexis Sullivan.

Meanwhile, the National Technical Secretariat of the Environment Ministry (SETENA) announced that it would push back a report of its findings on the environmental viability of the “mega-port” to March 2015, according to La Nación. Documents presented by the Costa Rican Federation for Environmental Conservation alleged that there were irregularities in the project’s environmental impact study that favored the project. SETENA’s approval is the last remaining legal hurdle the port expansion project must overcome after winning several appeals by SINTRAJAP to block the contract’s original language.

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