Costa Rica's police are facing criticism for having entered the University of Costa Rica Wednesday night after thousands marched in San Jose to demand the withdrawal of a controversial tax reform bill sent to Congress earlier this year. The march took place on the third day of an indefinite strike organized by labor unions.
According to Javier Cordoba, editor-in-chief of the university paper, the police entered the university and beat several students, including a journalist at around 7 p.m. local time. Tensions started after a group of students blocked the main avenue. Security forces were able to lift the blockade, however, after students began leaving the street to assemble back in the school, the police chased them.
Officials, including President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, said the government will conduct an investigation into the police's actions and clarified they were not ordered to beat students.
Henning Jensen Pennington, the school's director demanded a public apology by the president and condemned the violation of the university's autonomy. The university has decided to suspend all academic activities to allow students and workers to join peaceful demonstrations.
The secretary general of the National Association of Public Employees (ANEP, for its Spanish acronym) Albino Vargas celebrated the "extraordinary" participation arguing it proves that the people also "reject the tax reforms."
"Today there is a social movement developing and we issue a call for dialogue. We don't need to negotiate; the project must be withdrawn for the country's peace, for social dialogue, and for the austerity that is affecting the majority — the majority is against it," Vargas stressed.
The Law on Strengthening Public Finance proposed by the executive includes the creation of a 13 percent value-added tax to replace the current sales tax. This would allow the government to expand tax collection to the service sector, which has grown considerably. The other controversial issue is a 50 percent reduction in loyalty bonus payments and limits in salaries and time limits for severance payments in the public sector.
Unions and the general populace are also rejecting a 2 percent tax levied on staple goods.
Costa Rica's President Alvarado criticized labor unions saying the strike is "illegal" and has called on union leaders to call it off before starting a dialogue. There are no estimates on the costs of the strike, which began on Monday. The president has downplayed the effects, but public education and health sectors have halted all non-essential services.
The unions insist that there are alternatives for strengthening public finance and lamented government inaction on the 38 proposals sent by union representatives directly to President Alvarado in July. The unions' Just and Solidary Tax Reform focuses on ways to combat tax evasion and fraud, as well as increased taxes and new taxes on companies and banks that generate extraordinary profits, eliminating "luxury" pensions for former presidents, and reducing state financial support for political parties.