The central government waited a bit more than eight hours before heavily armed riot troops took over the Caribbean ports of Limón and Moín Wednesday.
As they had promised, the dock workers union called a strike. It began at 9:15 a.m. when workers closed the gates to the docks. The tactical squats of the security ministry moved in at 5:50 p.m. There were 68 arrests, mostly for impeding the work of the police.
Officers ran the names of many strikers through the Poder Judicial data base to see if there were outstanding warrants or other reason to jail them.
The strikers, members of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Japdeva y Afines Portuarios, have justified their actions on constitutional grounds.
They say that the proposed APM Terminals container handling facility will be an illegal monopoly of that type of shipping. That theory appears to be the base for another round of court cases. The union has been unsuccessful in other legal actions.
Celso Gambo, the security minister, said there was no room for negotiations. That sentiment also was expressed by President Luis Guillermo Solís. who spent Wednesday touring a hydro generating facility.
The strike met with strong negative reactions from the commerce sector. Enrique Egloff, president of the Cámara de Industrias, said that the ports in Limón are key for the productive sector and that 80 percent of import and exports pass through there.
“It is not possible that a small group decides for all of a province and a country,” he said in a statement.
Three cargo ships were tied up at the docks, and they are likely to reman there until work begins again. In the past, some police officers ran the cranes and loading machinery, but officials deflected questions about when port services would begin again.
The strike was inevitable after a meeting between Casa Presidencial officials and union representatives proved unsuccessful Monday.
The big losers are the firms that ship perishables through the ports. These include bananas and pineapples. The Fuerza Pública said that there had been millions of colons lost Wednesday due to the strike.
At the Moín docks police detained 45 men and eight women. At the Limón docks 13 men were detained as well as two women.
Solís said on his Facebook page that Limón is more than a port and it is much more than a union. He promised, as he has in the past, to guarantee the security there and promised to keep the ports functioning and the access roads open.
The central government sees the $1 billion container terminal as a boost to the economy of Limón and a way to make the country more competitive internationally.
The government’s lawyers are likely to see a judicial order that calls the strike illegal.
APM Terminals still has some hurdles to clear on environmental issues, but the firm hopes to begin construction early next year.