The Fuerza Publica (national police) confirmed the arrest of 44 people for xenophobic attacks in downtown San José on Saturday when a group of more than 400 Costa Ricans descended on the Parque La Merced, a park known for Nicaraguans to gather.
“It is regrettable (the demonstration), because it is an incitement to hatred and violence,” said Randall Picado, regional director of the Fuerza Publica in San Jose, who confirmed that they seized eight Molotov cocktails, four daggers, a baseball bat, and knives.
The police chief said that the altercation occurred after a group of people gathered in the park to sing the national anthem and to erect the Costa Rican flag.
“They came, they sang the anthem, they put up the flag, but suddenly a group of them started surrounding the park and singing xenophobic songs against Nicaraguans,” said Picado.
“Nicaraguan who looked at them were immediately attacked. That caused several altercations that we had to intervene,” added the police chief.
The situation extended from La Merced to other parks of the capital, added the police chief. “We have been intervening in almost all the parks and we have already taken 20 detainees,” said Picado early Saturday afternoon.
During the last week, false news about Nicaraguans in Costa Rica began to circulate on social networks, claiming, for example, that they burned Costa Rican flags or that the government built them (refugees) homes, all lies.
Picado explained that, a few days ago, through social networks, people were urged to join a rally this Saturday: “Several anonymous groups, with clear xenophobics and violent manifestations, have been summoning the Costa Rican population to take the La Merced park.”
Casa Presidencial confirmed it is attentive to the situation. For his part, Security Minister Michael Soto declined to declare or give reports about the disturbances until Casa Presidencial pronounced itself. He indicated that he would be attending a meeting on the topic convened by President Carlos Alvarado.
Hemos estado reunidos en Casa Presidencial determinando acciones ante las manifestaciones de violencia ocurridas hoy en San José.
En minutos daremos un balance a medios de comunicación y a la ciudadanía. pic.twitter.com/aMXq3saFWM
— Carlos Alvarado Q. (@CarlosAlvQ) August 19, 2018
44 Arrested: 38 Costa Ricans and 6 Nicaraguans
At 7 pm, Minister Soto, at a press conference in Casa Presidencial, confirmed the closing of the La Merced park, saying it was best in view of what happened on Saturday.
“We are planning to keep the park closed. We think it is a timely option to try to calm the situation and take control. We are going to have a permanent (police) presence to avoid crimes or attempts against people,” said the minister.
Soto added that police are not going to be soft with this group, because if violence occurs again like this Saturday, they feel the full force of the law.
“We are in a country of laws, we can express ourselves, but that does not mean that other people should be assaulted. Costa Ricans are not like that (like this group of protesters), we are characterized for being peaceful,” he added.
The Minister added that during the police intervention 44 people were arrested, 38 of them Costa Ricans and 6 Nicaraguans.
At 30 Nicaraguans suffered injuries in the meleé.
“Some (of the detainees) have a criminal record that allows us to have a profile; others belong to groups with ideologies that are not typical of the Costa Rican idiosyncrasy, for example, some had tattooed swastikas (Nazi symbol),” he said.
Criminales extranjeros en Costa Rica
The protest was organized by a Facebook page called “Criminales extranjeros en Costa Rica” (Foreigner Criminals in Costa Rica) that has 15,544 followers. In one of their publications, they asked the attendees to come up with “something to defend themselves”.
“All Costa Ricans are organizing to put the Costa Rican flag in La Merced park, because it is Costa Rican territory,” the publication reads. According to the census conducted in 2011, approximately 290,000 Nicaraguans live in the country, most come to Costa Rica looking for work.
Currently, thousands of Nicaraguans fleeing the violent repression at home, are seeking refugee in Costa Rica.