Office of the Ombudsman Requests Investigation of Police Suppression of TECOCOS Protest

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The Office of the Ombudsman (Defensoría de los Habitantes – the government entity charged with representing the public interest) has requested that the Public Ministry (Ministerio Público) initiate an investigation in to the suppression of a protest during the traffic blockade on Monday, February 24 at the entrance to Chomes, Puntarenas, which was created by residents of coastal communities.

At the same time, a detailed report was requested from the Public Security Minister, Mario Zamora, regarding police suppression that left more than a dozen injured (including one elderly person and a youth) and eleven arrested.

Luis Gerardo Fallas, a public defender, stated in a letter to the Public Ministry that there is a need to determine whether or not authorities committed abuse during the incident.

Fallas requested the justification of the use of tear gas, chasing people and forceful removal of the closing made by Public Force officials.

In addition, Fallas explained that he requested documentation of the efforts made by health authorities to provide medical attention to the arrested people, many of whom required it.

There were at least 50 different communities that have a stake in the approval of the TECOCOS law, which would benefit around 60,000 families who live near coastal areas.

The Ombudsman requested the investigation after receiving a complaint from the resident Stella Chincilla, in which she described what happened and presented a video as evidence.

The note reminded officials that an agreement existed between legislative factions (except for the Libertarian Movement) to pass three laws during this period, in which TECOCOS was included. However, by an Executive agreement, preparations were made to approve the other two, leaving this law behind. The legislation is extremely important for residents of Costa Rica’s coastal areas.

“That as part of the protest, the highway was blocked, in response to which the Public Force intervened, at first negotiating with protesters for the opening of one of the highway’s lanes. However, even though the protesters allowed the opening of one of the lanes, the Public Force chief gave the order to anti-riot police to intervene, using tear gas against the participants even within the gas station, including one of the bathrooms where one of the protesters was hiding. They used the gas, acting with clear police brutality,” detailed the complaint.

The note states that the protesters suffered physical aggression on the part of the police officials and that despite the refusal of the owner they invaded a restaurant, located in the gas station, attacking protesters including a 75 year-old man named Ignacio Velasquez, who was physically assaulted by the police.

The note to the Ombudsman highlights the fact that two officials from their department went to the police headquarters in Chacarita, where the protestors were being held, to “…check the condition of the arrested people, their attention and treatment that they were receiving,” and that even though at first the officials were denied information, “…after a half hour of waiting outside, an official who identified themselves as a legal adviser gave them some information, but did not allow them to see the conditions of detention.”

The Ombudsman also asked the Public Security minister for a detailed report in which, among other things, “The technical explanation regarding why the decision was made to use tear gas near a gas station, an educational institution and some commercial establishments; The legal explanation as to why the blockade was removed, why it was decided to pursue the protesters and even arrest them, with the consequent aggressions on both sides; An explanation as to why they allegedly broke into a commercial establishment, without any kind of warrant or authorization by the owner, or a call to 911 requesting medical care.”