Costa Rica protests: What you need to know

Protesters may disrupt life in Costa Rica on Monday.

Protests against Costa Rica’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are expected to impact life across the country today. Here’s what you need to know:

Background: Costa Rica’s deal with the IMF

To make a long story short: Costa Rica was already on uncertain financial ground in 2019, and the pandemic tanked tax revenue in 2020 while increasing government expenses. Costa Rica’s fiscal deficit reached 8.3% of GDP last year, the highest since the 1980s.

In January, Costa Rica and the IMF agreed in principle to a three-year, $1.75 billion loan meant to help stabilize the country’s finances. As part of the deal, Costa Rica has agreed to financial measures — including some new taxes — to reduce debts and repay the loan.

Who is protesting and why?

The Movimiento Rescate Nacional (National Rescue Movement) was formed last year, when the Costa Rican government first indicated it would negotiate with the IMF. Led by former lawmakers, they firmly oppose new taxes and believe the mismanagement of public funds has led to the country’s current financial woes.

As mentioned, Costa Rica has now reached a technical agreement with the IMF. But that deal still needs final approval from IMF executives, and Costa Rica has to uphold its end of the bargain, too. If Rescate Nacional can block Costa Rica’s IMF-related legislation, the deal would be off.

What happened during the 2020 protests?

Rescate Nacional established widespread roadblocks as part of its anti-IMF protests in September and October 2020. The demonstrations blocked important highways, often for hours or entire days. This impacted tourism, shipping, and other economic activities, which contributed to a growing negative perception of the movement.

Protests in Costa Rica are almost always nonviolent. Unfortunately, these were (in some cases) an exception. Demonstrators clashed with police, most notably during a march at the Presidential House when 11 police officers were injured.

At the time, Rescate Nacional’s leaders claimed protests had been infiltrated by organized crime groups. But leader Célimo Guido is being investigated for alleged crimes related to the demonstrations.

The demonstrations finally ended when the government agreed to meet with various stakeholders to negotiate cost-cutting measures. However, the Executive Branch deemed that insufficient to stabilize finances and pursued the IMF deal anyway.

What should we expect today?

According to Guido, Monday’s protests will again involve roadblocks dispersed across Costa Rica.

“We are not going to reveal the whole strategy," he said last week, though Guido implied there will be fewer blocks than in 2020’s protests. Speaking to media on Sunday, Guido again declined to specify where Rescate Nacional may establish blockades, saying that he doesn’t want to tip off police.

Of course, it’s one thing to announce demonstrations, and another thing to actually hold them. It’s possible that after last year’s violence and backlash, there will be significantly fewer protesters today.

In a related rally, the National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP) has planned a gathering Monday morning in downtown San José near the Central Bank.

What should you do about it?

Protests in Costa Rica are largely nonviolent. However, the U.S. Embassy recommends avoiding large gatherings whenever possible.

If you are driving, use Waze to check for roadblocks along your route, and plan a backup. Leave extra time for delays. Be sure to follow reliable local news outlets like La Nación to track unexpected developments.

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