On October 19, hundreds of Costa Rican workers carried out a national strike against the neoliberal economic policies of the government of President Carlos Alvarado. Citizens, workers, students and members of several social movements once again took to the streets across the country to express their discontent with a possible agreement between the government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for 1.75 billion dollars.
Trade unions are also opposing the Public Employment Law bill that is expected to be debated soon in the Legislative Assembly. According to the unions, it is a regressive law that seeks to approve a 12-hours working day, which promotes exploitation of workers, rather than the creation of new jobs. The National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP), the Association of Secondary Education Teachers (APSE), the National Union of the Employees of the Social Fund and Security (UNDECA) [in charge of public healthcare], among others, have warned that the bill is unconstitutional as it has not been consulted with the unions.
The capital San José was one of the epicenters of the national protest. Demonstrations were held in at least 13 different parts of the city. A massive march was carried out in Plaza de la Democracia in front of the Legislative Assembly. Several peaceful marches were also held in provinces of Alajuela, Cartago and Heredia. The call for the national strike was given by the national trade union center, the Central of the Costa Rican Workers Movement (CMTC).
In an official statement, the CMTC highlighted the need to “combat the policies, bills and measures promoted by the government of the Citizens’ Action Party (PAC), the deputies and business sectors, which seek to make work precarious and act against social justice, eliminating labor rights, trade unions and negatively affecting social security at times when we most need to strengthen it.”
Olman Chinchilla, the president of the CMTC, said that “we do this for Costa Rica, for our country, in defense of our strategic institutions, for labor rights and to show that we want absolutely nothing from the International Monetary Fund.”
Costa Ricans have been mobilizing since September 30 in rejection of the government’s proposal to negotiate a loan with the IMF. On September 17, the national government announced the loan to overcome the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to repay this loan, Alvarado’s administration presented an economic plan that would increase taxes, freeze wages, sell some public assets and cut various public expenses, among other measures.
The plan received broad rejection from the opposition parties, trade unions from diverse sectors and various social and progressive forces. They criticized the government’s intentions for not asking wealthy sectors to make contributions to curb the effects of the pandemic and announcing an international loan, which would increase national indebtedness and impoverishment of the working class. In response to it, thousands of Costa Ricans blocked several major roads and highways across the country for two weeks to demand that the government stop negotiating with the IMF. Many of these protests were violently repressed by the national police with tear gas and water cannons.
Given the widespread public disagreement, on October 4, Alvarado withdrew the proposed agreement with the IMF from the discussion and called for a national multi-sectoral dialogue to seek solutions to the country’s fiscal problems. On October 16, protests were put on pause in order to initiate the dialogue process with the president, who demanded that the protests be stopped and the blockades be lifted before the dialogue.
However, this dialogue initiative, which was scheduled for October 17, failed because 13 of 25 economic sectors refused to take part. Social and progressive political movements subsequently called to resume the protests.
On the night of October 20, President Carlos Alvarado and the president of the Legislative Assembly, Eduardo Cruickshank, in a new attempt to establish the multi-sectoral dialogue, sent an invitation to 70 organizations from nine sectors to join the dialogue in the central building of the Supreme Electoral Court on October 23.