Costa Rica education minister resigns under Evangelical fire for LGBTQ policy

By Alvaro Murillo

SAN JOSE, July 1 (Reuters) - Costa Rica's education minister Edgar Mora resigned on Monday following protests against policies including his support for gender-neutral bathrooms, in a sign the cultural issues that dominated last year's presidential election remain divisive.

Protesters included members of the Pentecostal Christian-aligned opposition party, as well as transportation and education groups. They criticized Mora on multiple fronts, including his proposal to allow transgender students to use the bathroom according to the gender with which they identify.

The 2018 election cycle was marked by clashes between Pentecostal Christian candidate Fabricio Alvarado Munoz over his criticism of same-sex marriage and what he called "gender ideology" that he said was promoted by the center-left ruling party.

Though the center-left candidate prevailed, with the election of President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, nearly 40% of the final vote went to its conservative opponent.

Costa Rica is famed for its laid-back way of life and progressive environmental policies. But it is also a bastion of traditional Catholic values, with a fast-growing evangelical community. Former minister Mora identifies as an atheist.

The protest against Mora's policies included blockades which cut off access to one of Costa Rica's Caribbean ports, creating up to $10 million in daily losses, according to Laura Bonilla, spokeswoman for the Chamber of Exporters business group.

Protests began last week. At the time, Alvarado Quesada refused to push Mora out. The minister walked away from his role Monday after the news of the blockades.

"I hope that after my resignation, an avenue of dialogue will open," Mora said in a press conference Monday afternoon.

But leaders who had taken to the streets said Mora's departure would not be enough to end the protests.

The blockades were carried out by transport groups who joined with educators and students. Elected members of the opposition who took office in 2018 also supported the movement which also opposed Mora's policies to change the way students were evaluated.

A leader of the truck drivers, Quirico Alpizar, told the press that Mora's ideology violated Christian doctrine.

(Reporting by Alvaro Murillo; Writing by Rebekah F Ward; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Lisa Shumaker)