LA UNION, on the Costa Rica-Panama border – The hills of Costa Rica are alive with the sounds of war drums: And Nicaragua had better take heed.
Actually, the drums echoing at least twice a day from every hill and valley in this country of 4.6 million people – roughly 20 percent of them Nicaraguan – are merely school bands readying for the Sept. 15 Independence Day festivities. All percussion, all the time - drums, chimes and batons all led by the emblematic oxcart.
But the rhetoric coming from Nicoya from Presidenta Laura Chinchilla and others was downright bellicose and belligerent for a nation that abolished its military in 1949 and turned its main fort in San Jose into a butterfly museum.
Seems Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega – you may remember him from such scandals as the Iran-Contra Affair – declared he might go to the World Court to try to reclaim the Nicoya Peninsula and the Province of Guanacaste, which have been in Tico hands since 1824.
Ever one for imagery, he made his rhetoric on July 25, a Costa Rica national holiday celebrating “El Grito de Anexion,” when back in ’24, leaders in Nicoya and Liberia petitioned to quit Nicaragua and join up with Costa Rica. Too much strife in Nicaragua, they said, too many revolutions per minute and Sandinistas shooting at U.S. Marines and on and on. They wished to be left alone to tend their cattle, sugarcane and at that time mules.
Today, July 25 is celebrated by closing schools and banks across the nation, but it is a minor holiday, nothing like Holy Week, where everything shuts down as the mainlanders go to the beaches – perhaps one of the countless surf-and-snorkel destinations of Nicoya itself.
But recently under the hot Nicoyan sun, thousands of Ticos marched half a mile, assembled in front of the nearly 500-year-old Iglesia de San Blas and listened to fiery and determined speeches on defense of the homeland.
The Presidenta, with an homage to John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in front of the Berlin Wall months before his assassination, said, “We are all Nicoyans. We are all Guanacastecos.”
The assembled Ticos wore variations of the national dress – white denim porkpie sombrero, white tunic – or horizontally striped polo shirt – with red bandana. Typical boyero (oxcart driver) style.
Mr. Ortega issued his threats in olive-drab military fatigues. No camo. Hatless. No beret.
The reaction was that 11 mayors, assorted deputados (senators) and the Presidenta herself signed the “Manifesto de Reconfirmacion de Anexion.”
Opposing parties on both sides of the border accused their chiefs of state of grandstanding, taking the spotlight off very real problems at home – Nica poverty and drug-running, Tico graft and border closures and failing educational systems in both countries. Kind of like landing a man on the moon while surreptitiously invading Cambodia back in the day.
But Nicaragua and Costa Rica already have some territorial disputes on and under the table.
The Nicaraguan military has taken over a previously unwanted and uninhabited swamp island in the Caribbean claimed by Costa Rica.
And Nicaragua also has some unresolved submarine territorial disputes on the ocean floors also claimed by Costa Rica, Panama, even far-off Colombia.
And there´s the San Juan River, which acts 120-mile border between the two nations.
Nicaragua has navigation rights, which thwarts Costa Rica drug interception in the river. The ever-shifting San Juan also is home to thousands of squatters (aptly named “precarious”) on numerous islands and both shifting shores.
It’s also a component of another Ortega pipe dream – a transcontinental canal dug from the Pacific over to Lake Nicaragua and on down the dredged San Juan to the Atlantic.
As with seemingly everything in Central America – paved superhighways abruptly ending nowhere, national stadiums where the lights keep going off – the canal would be financed by the formerly red Chinese.
It may seem difficult to saber-rattle in a country that got rid of its army 69 years ago. And a country that is so politically correct that there´s no smoking in public places and a guy follows the oxen leading the Independence Day parade toting a scoop shovel.
Luis Fernandez Mendoza, president of the Chamber of Deputies, said, “We will fight with our hearts, with our arms, with our souls.”
Well, not really our arms, but Big Daddy´s.
As with the high seas drug busts that do take place, the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard have the boats and horsepower to do the job.
As for hunting (illegal in Costa Rica; talk about politically correct), snatching turtle eggs, or shark-finning, Costa Rica does not have the bodies or resources to halt such poaching.
And Costa Rica has strict gun controls. You actually have to take a course and have a background check to get a gun permit.
But it is armed to the teeth in machetes.