Political threats issued over Ruta 32 widening deal

Lawmakers are coming under intense pressure to approve a $465.6 million no-bid deal to finance the widening of Ruta 32 from Limón to a point about 107 kilometers west at Río Frio.

A group calling itself the Fuerza Caribe issued a threatening statement Wednesday, and demanded that the two presidential candidates say if they are for or against the project.

The organization under the names of Johnny Vargas Arrieta and José Francisco Delgado Orozco, called on Limón and Sarapiquí voters to reject any political party that obstructs the project.

The measure, which is approval for two loans, has been reported out of committee and now is in the hands of the full legislature.

The principal opponent is Manrique Oviedo Guzmán, a legislator of the Partido Acción Ciudadana. He has said that the price the country was ready to pay for the highway job was $165 million too high. He based his comments on a Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo estimate provided by a private firm. The lawmaker has raised the issue repeatedly.

The deal is unusual because there has been no engineering work. The job consists of making the two-lane highway four lanes and also building a number of overpasses.

The Laura Chinchilla administration does not have a great track record on highway construction.

However, Casa Presidencial quickly issued a press release validating the Fuerza Caribe as the voice for organizations and civic groups in the area to be served by the road.

Nearly everyone supports the idea of a wider road. This stretch received heavy traffic from all over the country because it leads to the docks at Moín and Limón Centro. However, the Chinese government, which is putting up most of the money, wants quick action on the loans. It has designated state construction companies to do the work.

The Export–Import Bank of China would make two loans, one for $100 million and one for $296 million. Costa Rica is putting up $90 million, including an extra $20 million for expropriating property and relocating public services.

The larger loan would be at 4 percent interest, and the smaller one at 2 percent.

Because there are no engineering or design studies, the actual cost of the project is hard to determine. Some have said that the amount allocated for expropriating property is insufficient.

The Fuerza Caribe wants the president to keep the legislature in session until the twin measures are passed. The lawmakers’ terms will expire May 1. Individuals identified as residents of the Limón area have been at the legislature carrying signs supporting the highway.

The award would be direct to the China Harbour Engineering Co. Group and China Road and Bridge Corp. under terms of the Chinese loans.

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