In my last post I mentioned the simmering border problems between Costa Rica and Nicaragua involving the Rio San Juan border. After six months of conflict the OAS (Organization of American States) has just made a ruling that allows both countries to claim victory. Our new Costa Rican president, Laura Chinchilla, wore white in honor of the peaceful settlement. Even Daniel Ortega agreed with the ruling to refrain from actions that aggravate the conflict. Nicaraguan troops were ordered to disperse, which they did, setting an international precedent that countries that choose not to have a military (Costa Rica) will have their sovereign rights upheld by international diplomatic bodies.
Although negotiations aren’t over, both countries have agreed to sit at the table and engage in bilateral discussions to solve their continued differences. I agree wholeheartedly with Chinchilla’s statement, “Today is a day of jubilation. Our country has won a….victory thanks to our best weapons…of peace, international rights and a multilateral system.” This is a powerful message that was trumpeted around the world, but barely heard. Two countries solved conflict using a peaceful diplomatic dialogue instead of killing each other in the process. It can be done, if only the rest of the world would listen and act accordingly.
Continuing in a political, but more historical vein, our El Porvenir volunteer orientation was handled by Anita Setright, long term expatriate, totally bilingual, university history professor. Dreading a replay of last year’s tedious 12 hour orientation meeting, I’m pleasantly surprised by the historical and very personal view she gives us of Nicaragua.
Anita originally entered Nicaragua in the 1980’s as a young college student with Witness for Peace, a politically independent grassroots organization committed to non-violence and still in existence today. During the Sandanista/Contra wars she became an ambulance driver, collecting and delivering dead and injured soldiers on the killing fields. Barely more than a teenager, she met a young Nika soldier and fell in love, both young and idealistic. They eventually married, had two children, adopted two more, and she has lived in the country over a quarter of a century. She admitted to being so young during this traumatic time that both she and her husband “were all messed up”.
He was fourteen when he was caught passing out Sandanista pamphlets, and a price was put on his head as being a threat to the dictator Somoza’s government. He headed for the hills, was given a gun and a quick course in guerrilla warfare. Though he survived he didn’t see his parents again for five years. What kind of life was that for an adolescent when he should have been with family, going to dances, having girlfriends, going to school? They became adults by defaut and they both survived as did their marriage and their love for each other.
After a quick rundown of the changes of power and the revolution from Somoza to the present, we are given our assignments and schedule for the week with warnings. Although the government of Nicaragua says that it is the second safest country in Central and South America, don’t go out alone or at night. Although we will be in the bread basket of the country, don’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Don’t drink the water. This country is a mass of contradictions.
We end the day with a view of Managua; a tour that emphasizes destruction, first from the devastating earthquake of 1972, and second from the continuous wars and abject poverty of the Nicaraguan people.
Next time – a totally different life in the “campo” of Casas Viejas.