As expected protests snarled traffic and blocked highways

A man trying to get to work in San José Monday characterized the traffic situation as a nightmare. The reason was another of those strikes and marches by unions.

Similar marches and blockades took place at multiple locations in Costa Rica. At midday, the traffic jam on Ruta 32 from San José to Guápiles and the Caribbean coast was reported to be seven kilometers long.

There were marches in Siquirres, Puntarenas and in the canton of Osa.

The reason varies, but Casa Presidencial had complaints of its own.   Carlos Ricardo Benavides, minister of the Presidencia, stood in for President Laura Chinchilla. He said although protesters have the right to vent their complaints they do not have a right to block traffic.

The litany of complaints are mainly economic. Motorcyclists gathered in front of the main building of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros to complain about the cost of obligatory insurance. The government has set the top rate at 80,000 colons, about $160.

The state insurance firm closed its doors to the public for several hours Monday due to the protest.

Later in the day the insurance firm announced an accord with the Comité Civico Naiconal de Motorcyclistas. The insurance institute would apply to the insurance regulator for a lower insurance rate based on 2011 amounts and it will try to establish a separate class for motorcycles with small motors. In addition, the institute would set up courses to help prevent motorcycle accidents.

Some motorcyclists have no respect for traffic laws, jump red lights, weave among cars and trucks and frequently drive at high speeds down the oncoming lane.

The motorcycle committee appears to be the only protesters who received some satisfaction. Casa Presidencial will try to dock the salaries of those public employees who participated in the strike and march.

Benavides expressed official displeasure that a strike by Limón dock workers caused a cruise ship captain to cancel a port call, thereby keeping 2,000 tourists from the Caribbean community.

The government acted early Monday to ease some of the metro area congestion caused by the protests. Two bailey bridges at the Circunvalación washout between Hatillo and Pavas were opened, one for east and one for west traffic. That was effective later in the day when traffic resembled a Sunday. Not only did the bridges help, but many individuals stayed home to keep an eye on children whose teachers were striking or for other reasons. So afternoon traffic was unusually light.

Ironically, some of the 20 unions that participated are those who are responsible for some of the complaints. Public employees are treated well, and that results in higher prices. One of the complaints was about gasoline that was more than $5 a U.S. gallon. The state petroleum monopoly, Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo S.A.  has been criticized for highly favorable work contracts provided employees and the union. For example, the firm is obligated to provide vehicles to union leaders.

Most agree that the public work force is overstaffed.

A lot of the complaints are beyond the government’s ability to solve mainly because it is broke and paying nearly 50 percent of its bills with borrowed money. Although some were protesting taxes, no firm proposals have yet been advanced this year by the finance ministry.

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