Goverment, union agree on $70 million dock deal

The central government has agreed to invest $70 million to modernize the cargo port of Moín in Limón province as a condition of dock workers ending their strike.

That was an agreement that was reached late Monday after a marathon day of negotiations that started at 10 a.m.

The agreement, signed at 11:45 p.m. by both government and union leaders, was released at 2:35 a.m. It said that the government would cause the Ministerio de Hacienda to present a law to the legislature within 30 working days to finance the project. There was no indication where the government’s $40 million share would originate.

Some $30 million is supposed to be provided by the Junta de Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo Económica de la Vertiente Atlántica, the government agency that runs the docks.

The deal appears to be a victory for the Sindicato de Trabajadores of the Junta. They have been concerned by a new $1 billion concession granted to a Dutch firm. The firm plans to construct a $1 billion container-handling facility.

Still to be heard from is the Dutch firm that now will face significant competition from the government docks. Eventually the docks built by the Dutch firm were supposed to be turned over to the government.

The two-page agreement included one page of just signatures, and some of them were of lawmakers who had urged the government to negotiate. Among them were signatures of Carmen Granados of the Partido Acción Ciudadana and Walter Céspedes of Movimiento Libertario.
The government also agreed to add more money to the improvement project if that became necessary.

The union also agreed to support the modernization and the restructuring of the institution, presumably the Junta, to make it more efficient.

The modernization plan is supposed to be one already drawn up by the Junta. The government agreed to call a special session of the legislature in order to have the law approved, if necessary and to prevail on its political allies to support the plan.

The agreement also calls for an adjustment of tariffs for handling cargo. But there was no further description of by how much.

The union struck Tuesday morning specifically over the plans for the container port concession. There was no activity on the docks for two days, causing significant losses to exporters of perishable produce. Hundreds of police moved in to secure the docks at midnight Thursday. Then Limón erupted into violence as gangs burned trucks on the way to the docks and did more vandalism.

More police were able to discourage the violence after about three dozen persons were arrested.

The Limón and Moín cargo ports are among the most inefficient in the world. About 80 percent of the country’s imports and exports go through the port, including most of the pineapples and bananas.

Carlos Ricardo Benavides, the minister of the Presidencia, led negotiations for the government.

The government had said that private contractors and some workers who did not go out on strike appear to be loading and unloading cargo at the docks in a normal manner. Union leaders disputed this.

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