Court Rules Against Anti-Union Coup

Costa Rican Court Rejects Illegal Coup of Longshore Union ILWU President calls high court's order 'an important step forward in the never-ending battle to protect workers'

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (August 26, 2010) -- Costa Rican longshore workers are celebrating yesterday's ruling in their country's Constitutional Court that throws out an illegal, government-run coup of the democratically elected SINTRAJAP longshore union leaders.

The ILWU Coast Longshore Division has advocated on behalf of the legitimate SINTRAJAP leadership, led by General Secretary Ronaldo Blear, for the past six months and is calling the ruling an important step forward in the never-ending fight to protect workers from exploitation. 

"The return of the legitimate union leadership is a victory for hard-working people everywhere, who count on having the democratic right to join a union and improve their standard of living, ensure their safety and strengthen their communities," said ILWU International President Robert McEllrath.

"It's an important step forward in the never-ending battle to protect workers from forces that would like to return to the days before union rights, when poverty and unsafe working conditions in the workplace were considered an acceptable cost of doing business."

Paddy Crumlin, ITF president, chair of the ITF dockers section and MUA national secretary wrote to SINTRAJAP General Secretary Ronaldo Blear Blear earlier this year.  He expressed outrage on behalf of the dockworkers of the world at the Patrick style attack on the union and its members, pledging international support.

In January, midway through Blear's two-year elected term as General Secretary of the SINTRAJAP union, a series of meetings, orchestrated by the Costa Rican government, took place in Limón, Costa Rica, which culminated in the removal of Blear and his fellow executive board members and the installation of a executive board led by Douglas Brenes.

Under the sham Brenes board, agreements were made that cleared the way for the concession of the ports to private interests in exchange for 80 billion Colones, which is the Costa Rican equivalent of US $137 million.  The three January meetings that culminated in Brenes' installation and these agreements were declared null and void yesterday by the Constitutional Court, the Costa Rican equivalent of the United States Supreme Court.

 Despite the Constitutional Court's final and binding order, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla held a news conference to announce that she will "insist on the private concession of the ports of Limón" but will "seek dialogue" with the reinstated leaders.  Other government officials have expressed "shock" and "anger" regarding the decision and indicated that a dialogue with the reinstated leadership of SINTRAJAP is highly unlikely.  Thus, it remains unclear whether or not the government intends to respect the Constitutional Court's landmark ruling.

"The road ahead will likely be long," said McEllrath, "but we are prepared to support the legitimate SINTRAJAP board in their fight to keep their docks safe and productive, and to ensure their communities keep the good, union jobs that sustain them."

On hearing of the breakthrough MUA Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith congratulated the ILWU"on this important first step in the struggle to maintain the democratic rights of Costa Rican dockworkers.  

"Forward to victory together," he wrote. "All the best in struggle."

The SINTRAJAP union includes about 1,500 members who work for the JAPVEDA port agency in the Caribbean province of Limón, which is the poorest and most racially diverse province in Costa Rica.

The ILWU Coast Longshore Division represents 25,000 men and women on the docks of the West Coast of the United States.