The protest launched with the goal of bringing attention to the approval of the Costal Community Territories project (TECOCOS – Ley de Territorios Costeros Comunitarios), though planned to be peaceful, became violent with the intervention of the Public Force and the arrest of eleven people.
The events took place on Monday, February 24 in the area near Chomes in Puntarenas.
At ten in the morning, a group of demonstrators, the majority of which were from the coastal areas of Guanacaste and Puntarenas, positioned themselves across from the San Gerardo gas station to rally against the government and congressmen.
The protest, while peaceful at the outset, became violent when riot police were forced to intervene in order to open the way for vehicles, which had been blocked in one direction.
At 2 p.m., a contingent of some 30 anti-riot officers burst onto the group of protestors, who had closed the road with barricades. The demonstrators’ resistance caused the Public Force troops to use tear gas to disperse the group.
The situation was further complicated when a group of protestors took refuge in the restaurant San Gerardo, located next to the gas station. Within the restaurant, some of the individuals that the police tried to arrest resisted, and that started the violence.
Chairs were thrown amidst curses, kicks and punches, nightsticks flew in every direction, officers fell, tables were overturned, children and women cried, all while some clients watched and ate their lunch.
According to the witness Antonio Hidalgo, a 70 year-old person with the last name Araya was struck by police in the brawl. “They hit him with sticks like an animal.” Meanwhile, Axel Reyes Chavarría a 16 year-old, crying and visibly upset, explained that an officer had hit him while he tried to leave the place. “I was inside and trying to leave when the officer hit me in the cheek, and he grabbed my neck,” he said.
Laura Mendoza, owner of the San Gerardo Restaurant, expressed her concern for the violent way that the police entered the business. “I was working and some foreigners came in with a dog [a bulldog], and with the people’s excitement the animal started to get nervous. To prevent him from attacking people they removed the dog; that was when the police came in. I had clients here, even ones from San Jose. I tried to explain [the situation] to them but they shoved and threatened me,” she explained, in anguish.
The ex-vice presidential candidate for the Broad Front Party, Dagma Facio, who participated in the protest, said, “I could not imagine that there was going to be violence…this is not Costa Rica.” When asked what will happen in the future for those who support the TECOCOS project, Facio stressed, “We will be back; we are not afraid.”
For his part, Wilmar Matarrita, one of the TECOCOS project supporters, described the way the Public Force’s intervened as “…brutal. People were brutally suppressed by the police,” he said.
Following those events, a moment of calm arrived. Nevertheless, a group of protestors remained in place, demanding that authorities free the eleven individuals who had been arrested.