We’ve had some military drama over the last couple of weeks here in Costa Rica, a nation, you’ll recall, with no military. So when a neighboring country, in this case Nicaragua, starts to step on toes, it does make one a little nervous. From news bulletins, we learned that the Nicaraguans had started dredging the eastern end of the San Juan River, which forms the international border between the two countries, and was dumping the resulting sediment onto Costa Rican soil. According to a farmer whose property was being damaged by the dumped materials as well as by the unauthorized clearing of trees on his land, the man in charge of the dredging project is none other than Eden Pastora, formerly known as Commandante Cero (Commander Zero) during the Sandinista Revolution and later a Contra rebel leader. Interestingly, Pastora spent eight years in exile in this same area of Costa Rica, after breaking with the new Sandinista government in the early 1980’s.
Marco Reyes, the owner of a large farm on the Costa Rican side of the river, claims that the trouble started earlier in October when a number of armed men led by Pastora entered his land, informing him that the land belonged to Nicaragua. When Reyes objected and stated he was in Costa Rican sovereign territory, the Nicos, as Nicaraguans are known, harassed his workers and killed several of his cows.
As the situation has developed, it appears that Nicaragua was hoping to carve a new channel for the San Juan in order to open the river to more tourism, but in the process, chopping off a piece of Costa Rica for themselves. Naturally, Costa Rica lodged a protest with the Nicaraguan ambassador to Costa Rica and sent some 90 members of the National Police, a sort of army-lite, to a small village just south of the disputed river area. A Tico Times report says the police force was dressed in military fatigues and carried M-16 assault weapons, but apparently most of their duty involved periodic flyovers of the area to assess environmental damage. As of last Friday, the dredging had been moved to the Nicaraguan bank, according to one report, on the direct order of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, but a number of police were still stationed in the small town of Barra de Colorado as diplomatic efforts to settle the dispute dragged on. The river has served as a border between the two countries since a treaty in 1858 but has been a point of contention on many occasions. It’s times like these when it is nice to have a big, strong friend like the good old U.S. of A.
And it’s Halloween weekend in the States and although Costa Rica considers that a “foreign” holiday, they still find a way to celebrate. It seems to be a part of the Pura Vida lifestyle here to celebrate for just about any reason and since kids of all ages love to dress up and hide behind masks, Costa Rica has its own Día de la Mascarada Costarricense. A decree in 1997 made the fiesta official but masks have been part of the cultures of indigenous people such as the Boruca and Bribri Indians since pre-Columbian times. So Sunday will see parades full of colorful masks and costumes in cities across the country, along with dancing and music in the central parks. In Aserri, the party will last all day with a Feria de Tamal (Tamale Market) and fireworks in the evening.
But there’ll be no masks for Layne and me as we join the festivities at Kay’s Gringo Postre for a Halloween dance party tonight. Putting a costume together here just seemed beyond us this year. The best I could do was to buy a lovely seed necklace from an elderly Tica in a small home along our walk the other day. That, along with a yellow hibiscus in my hair, will have to suffice to turn me into a “Sweetie from Tahiti,” as my beaded capri pants and top will attest. Layne says he plans to go as “a Gringo.” How’s that for creative? Just as we left the woman’s house, we encountered this spirited horse and rider, a typical Costa Rican high-stepping steed. But the caballero was cooperative enough to stop and pose for my photograph.
As we enjoy the music tonight, we will remember fondly the many great Halloween parties at our friend Ruth’s home in Auburn when we adults all dressed up in the most outlandish costumes and half-scared the kids who came to the door for candy, unprepared for crazy costumed grown-ups. Happy Halloween to all!