A labor leader from the Caribbean province of Limón was convicted this week on vandalism charges resulting from street protests staged in 2010 against the construction of a new port there.
A court in that province found Paulina Briones Mora guilty on Tuesday of setting a semi trailer on fire. Judges sentenced her to five years in prison, however she was released pending the final drafting of the ruling.
Labor leaders and some politicians denounced the conviction, while the court said it would not allow vandalism during protests.
In 2010, dock workers from Limón’s current ports and some local residents demonstrated to oppose the $1 billion port expansion project granted to Dutch company APM Terminals.
Briones was the only defendant convicted out of 21 who stood trial. Three others missed their dates so the three-judge tribunal will hold a new, separate trial against them.
All defendants were acquitted of the separate charges of resisting arrest and obstruction of public roads.
Judges said they do not oppose citizens’ right to protest, but that they can’t “under any circumstance approve of acts of vandalism or public disorder.”
César Campos Vásquez, owner of one of the five semi trailers burned by the mob on April 29, 2010, identified Briones as the person who got on his truck and instigated a group of demonstrators to set it on fire. He also identified the woman when police arrested her a few hours after the riots and then again at a photo lineup, judge Luis Diego Alpízar Marín explained.
“She is the only one out of 24 defendants who was properly identified by a witness, and based on this evidence this tribual qualifies her participation in these acts as total and absolute,” reads part of the tribunal’s ruling.
Broad Front Party legislator Gerardo Vargas Varela, a Limón representative, told the online daily El País Wednesday that the court’s ruling on Briones was a political act that represents the criminalization of social protests.
“What hurts the most to all of us limonenses is realizing that those who murdered [environmentalist] Jairo Mora are still free on the streets. But Paulina, who was just standing up for Limón, was convicted,” a visibly upset Vargas stated.
The lawmaker promised to help Briones.
“Paulina you are not alone, we will fight to demonstrate your innocence,” he said.