Jan 25, 2011

Moín Port, Limón, Costa Rica

From the earlier Administration, Costa Rica has inherited a series of outrageous cases of corruption that could easily dunk it among the countries with abhorrent levels of corruption. The former president - who got a second term in less-than-legal ways in a country where reelection was prohibited after a couple of brothers, the Tinoco brothers, nearly extinguished all shreds of democracy - pushed his influences up and down forcing the rigging of a referendum to pass the conflictive CAFTA, which - as foreseen by its oppositors - brought nothing but worse labor conditions and none of the rise in employment levels as promised, he signed a permit and a National Interest Decree to allow a Canadian Mining Company to dig an open pit gold mine not 3 km from the border with Nicaragua, delimited by a river - San Juan river - which flows into the Caribbean sea. This even after the prior Administration signed a permanent moratorium to anykind of industrial mining in the country, in order to defend the environment. This after the same Company (Crucitas - Industrias Infinito) had opened another pit near the Pacific Ocean, and had to abandon it due to a rupture in the membrane of pool containing cianide.

This former president - Oscar Arias - and his brother took all sorts of aids and used them to pay their friends and cohorts. When his brother, the then Prime Minister, Rodrigo Arias, was questioned, they twisted arms to get the Attorney General to dismiss the case. Just as an example, a donation from the Government of Taiwan to build 150 social interest houses, was all spent on consultors and advisers, and not a penny was left for the houses.

The building of roads was given in rather rigged procedures to certain companies, that cashed the money and laid a road that doesn't even match up to the current traffic requirements, over crumbling lands, cutting people living there (there's a case of a family that was left without water supply, electricity and phone service, because the company cut pipes and powerlines. The family, depending on the production of milk, has slumped, since there's not a working fridge to keep the milk and cheese they used to produce and live on), and the landslides happening around had already taken the life of a woman. A "highway" that charges about 60 times more than any other paying highway in the country. The reply? "You don't have to travel through it if you don't like it." Is it only me noticing that's not a matter of which road I take, but where is my tax money being spent?

It's certainly interesting how Mr. Arias traveled often before assuming being elected, to China - in secret -  only to continue when elected - bringing on the official trip his whole family, enve those who weren't working in the Government - to end up severing ties with Taiwan, halting the aid recieved from them - aid China didn't pick up, reason for which a bridge fell in a small town, killing many - to then have telecommunication contracts awarded to Huawei (in an interesting move, where all competitors, promoted by Huawei, decided to not participate to declare the licitation void, only to have Huawei present their offer in the last 20 minutes), and put a Free Trade Agreement in motion with this particular nation, for which, in exchange, they built us a new National Stadium, with Chinese workers (including architects and engineers), who then stayed around for all the new buildings privatelly awarded to the Chinese company. I bet that does wonders for the economy, particularly in the construction industry.

Thing is that there was yet another "mine" to squeeze, the Caribbean Port. This port is in the hands of the State, and sadly, it has one of the country's strongest unions, SINJATRAP. As part of a cunning scheme to pass it to private hands, for years the Arias brothers and their posey made sure funds were cut from this port, to the point of leaving it  in really decadent, shameful conditions. To add insult to injury, the Caribbean province has been let slide down, slumped into levels of abandonment no one has seen since Katrina. Most of the province grew thanks to the port, but as things have been left to rot there, people had to go back to the people-exploiting plantations, where the corruption and the types of abuse towards workers and to the whole human and natural environment are proper of a horror story... or China. Knowing the importance of the port, the union has struggled to keep it there, in the hands of the State, and thus keep a place where the Caribbean workers are not exposed to the abhorrent hunger and profit lust that comes from the privately owned companies.

The Arias brothers made an attempt earlier, to bribe the workers of the port, offering to distribute among them a total of US$131 million if they agreed to let the port be given in concession to private companies. The Union stepped up and said that no private concession was needed, but instead of distributing a BRIBE of US$131 million, if they were willing to invest US$80 million in the port, they could pump it up to modern standards and have it working like a clock. As response the Government decided to get rid of the Union's board, and ILEGALLY elected a new board that did its biding. Now, this should not come as a surprise, specially after Mr. Arias promised to the ILO to strenghten unions in Costa Rica and improve labor conditions, but did the entire opposite, or that he condonned several ilegal moves during the referendum campaing about the CAFTA, many of which were included in a memorandum known as "Memorandum del Miedo" (Fear Memorandum). However, Unions don't scare so easily. All unions got together to fight the legal board to be instaurated, and finally, with lots of hardworking and international claims of help, it was instaurated.

A Government promoted campaing to soil the Union was started, accusing them of corruption, claiming they wanted to slum the whole region into poverty, of obstructing progress. The Union continued to say the same: "Save the taxpayers US$51 million, don't spend that money on bribes, spend it in improving the port, and leaving it in the hands of all Costa Ricans". The Arias, furious, refused. It was the bribe or nothing, and made an intense campaing - almost like a coca-cola ad - to sell people the idea that the only way to pull the port and the whole region up was by giving the port to a private concession. 

This people know about private concessions. They know about the United Fruit Co. making them work to death, torturing them if they dared to form a union, refusing to pay them in money, but giving them tickets they could only exchange for goods at their own stores, at absurdly high prices. They finally have a place to work, which is State owned, where they get a good salary, can get organized in a Union, have the right to sick days and sick leave, to vacations, and are not worked to death, and for some coins they are being cooed into going back to the mistreat?

The Union had elections recently, and the old board was reelected again, to which the president, Ms. Laura Chinchilla, portegée of the Arias brothers (well, their puppet, as they have often undermined her authority, by starting political campaings to get Rodrigo elected for president for 2014-2018 the same day she was taking the Presidency from Oscar, and holding political meetings and press conferences to keep their agenda and define politics before Ms. Chinchilla is even asked), claimed her Administration has no Plan B for the case the concession doesn't go through. They put their eggs in the rigged board, and the President herself held press conferences to campaing for that board, claiming the same thing her pupetmasters have: "Limón has no other choice, it's the concession or deeper down in poverty". The Union workers decided by an appalling majority, to save the port, to keep the old board and keep the port in State hands, and the rigged board - elected originally in an ilegal, rigged, secret meeting - claims the elections have been arranged to favor the old board. The President claims her hands are tied and there are no other options available for the port but the concession.

What about the US$80 million to pump it up to shape? Or would that go against the wishes of the campaing donors and other patrons, who would resent not having that strategic port in their hands?

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