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Limón holds community peace march in response to recent shooting

The streets of Limón filled with life and music this past weekend – although not the traditional Carnaval parade one might associate with the Caribbean port city in October. Instead, community members dressed all in white on a gloriously sunny day full of promise for a Peace March in reaction to recent violence in the region.

Marchers gathered at Parque Vargas at 10 am on Saturday, Oct. 15 to begin their Peace March around the center of city. Local government representatives including former legislator Rafael Barrientos Germe and current Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)  President Winston Norman were among those who joined the procession.

Margaret Simpson, the director of the Public Library in Limon, explained that while the community has been discussing gang tensions and violence for some time now, the march was prompted by the Oct. 2 attack at the beach in the southern Limón community of Cieneguita.

“Cieneguita had been working on cleaning up their environment in anticipation of the cruise ship season which began on Oct. 1,” Simpson told The Tico Times, adding that many local families had taken advantage of the cleanup to take their families to the beach on a sunny Sunday. “Two young men were standing on the corner by a yellow car when two men on a motorcycle drove by and started shooting at them.”

According to the daily La Nación, as many as 90 bullets were discharged during the attack; of the five people killed, four were innocent bystanders, including 11- and 15-year-old children and a 38-year-old teacher.

Simpson said that residents mobilized at once.

“The community of Limón got together instantly to support these families and decided it was the right time to organize the peace march,” she said.

A sign from a peace march in Limón on Oct. 15, 2016.
Natasha Gordon-Chipembere/The Tico Times

As the march got underway, members of local churches hoisted banners proclaiming, “Limón, Tierra Bendita (Limón is a blessed land),” alongside members of the Ombudsman’s Office whose sign declared, “Sobre el poder de la fuerza esta el poder de la palabra (Over the power of force is the power of the word).”  Local merchants milled around Parque Vargas selling hats and flags reading “Queremos Paz: Yo amo a Limón (We want peace: I love Limón),” while others moved through the crowd handing out free white banners provided by the Rotary Club of Limón, stating, “Somos Mas los Que Queremos Paz! (“Those who want peace are the majority!”).

The spirit was focused and thoughtful, with lots of chatter. The procession was made up of all levels of the Limón community including schools, colleges, churches, store owners and cab drivers.

Following instructions from local leaders on the stage placed at the seaside entrance of Parque Vargas, marchers got into formation.  In between the church groups and local officials were several musical youth groups. There was a full drumming section of young limonense boys and girls who set the rhythm for the entire 90-minute peaceful march. The Caribbean Bikers Association followed behind with the members of the Coast Guard and Police in full uniform who brought up the rear.

As the parade moved through the center of Limón, there was a steady presence of onlookers and supporters, taking pictures and videos and waving on those walking in the hot sun, moving to the rhythm of the drums. Police worked to support the marchers, navigating traffic and redirecting street crossings as the hustle and bustle of Saturday morning continued alongside the march.  Though there has been talk of the Costa Rican government sending a heavy police presence to Limón, this was not obvious along the route. The few police who were present were smiling along with the people.

There was a wide mix of generations, all dressed in white and waving peace flags.  After the march, the community gathered again at Parque Vargas near the stage to listen to various presentations about the current situation. Speakers reinforced the idea that Limón is a peaceful community with an invested citizenry who will not tolerate violence in the day-to-day life of this hard working city. Discussions opened with a general prayer to bless the event.

I was able to get some impressions of the march from two well-respected elders of the Limón community, Dorothy Calvin Murdock and Christina Bolton, who wore white T-shirts and listened to the speeches from the stage. Both of them sang with my mother and her sisters in the St. Mark’s Church Junior Choir, and it was a serendipitous reunion.

They told me they felt that the successful event, the result of a joint effort by the local municipality and civic organizations, showed that everyone seems fully invested in the idea that Limón must be maintained as a peaceful community. Though the shootings were magnified in the Costa Rican media, it did not have any noticeable impact on the steady stream of tourists in the Caribbean region, they added.

The primary goal of the event, beyond the demand for maintaining peace in Limón, was the collective expectation that the Costa Rican judicial system will enforce laws so that Limón can avoid another tragic experience such as this one.

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