Officials counter Caja protest with squads of female cops

A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
The star of the protest was this mother-to-be who painted “This is not what I want” on her stomach. She was photographed and taped repeatedly. Meanwhile David
Sancho displays a sign in front of towering Caja building. It reads: “We do not fear the repression of the government but the silence of my people.”

Thousands of protesters in two marches descended on the street in front of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social in downtown San José Thursday.

Unlike a protest last week, this protest ended without any arrests or clashes between police and demonstrators. That may have been because the Fuerza Pública fielded an exclusively female force.

Members of the crowd, which was made up of primarily public university students, had numerous issues that they wanted to address. However, preserving the financially unstable public healthcare system was the priority for most.

“We are defending the social security system that has been

Ready to rumble de-financed by recent governments, which have been intolerant of civil demonstrations,” said Wilson Arroyo, a student organizer.

In addition, many protesters were enraged by what they said was how police harshly cracked down on a protest last week about the same issue in the same location.

To ease these tensions and prevent another violent end to this protest, the Fuerza Pública deployed dozens of women-only squads and patrols to keep control over the demonstrations. In all, there were about 150 women police officers on duty.

Although some protesters donned ski-masks, hoods and bandanas to hide their identities in case of a confrontation with the police, the marchers peacefully came to the site, protested and departed without arrests or incidents.

“The movement does not want violence,” said Arroyo, who is 21-years-old studying at the Universidad de Costa Rica to become a social studies teacher.

Two marches came to the building on Avenida 2 from opposite directions. One came from Parque Merced close to the center of San José and the other came from the Universidad de Costa Rica in San Pedro.

The protest was primarily conducted by students from public universities like the Universidad de Costa Rica, the Universidad Nacional and the Tecnológico de Costa Rica as well as some from private universities like ULatina. Still, several public employee unions came to protests as well.

These groups largely gathered in defense of the Caja Costarricense de Seguridad Social, or simply the “Caja.” This is the financially troubled public healthcare program through which the vast majority of Costa Ricans obtain basic medical care.

Many protesters see the government’s lack of intervention as an indirect attack on citizens, especially the poor.

“I am indignant,” said law and political science student Vivian González. “The government has distanced itself from the unprotected lower social class.”

Ms. González, who one day strives to work in politics, also carried a sign that said “a people that elects the corrupt is not a victim. It’s an accomplice.”

ULatina student David Sancho also echoed these sentiments and blamed corrupt officials for the problems.

“What will happen without the Caja will send Costa Rica into poverty,” he said.

Some people also carried banners protesting older or broader issues that were seemingly unrelated to the Caja or police violence. Many protesters carried banners protesting free trade agreements, high taxes on farmers and some people even carried rainbow flags indicating solidarity with the gay community.

“Protesting in the streets is the only way that they will hear,” said Sancho.

By about 2 p.m., most of the protesters had dispersed and the remaining 1,000 or so students peacefully marched back to the Universidad de Costa Rica.

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