It has been a week of very sad, strange events on both sides of Costa Rica.

Up in Monteverde, with that beautiful view west over the Nicoya Peninsula and Pacific Ocean, Wolf Guindon returned home (along with his sons Berto and Benito) after forty-eight hours in the Calderon Guardia Hospital emergency room in San José. It was finally determined that he had a blocked catheter, causing a serious urinary tract infection, along with dehydration. They didn’t keep him (except waiting in the waiting room) or do much besides giving him the antibiotics that he needed along with some sleeping pills. It was a most frustrating hospital visit, the family hoping he would be interned and helped on a more sustained level.
They all came back to Monteverde exhausted, Berto now sick with pneumonia, something he is susceptible to. Lucky and I had been pretty relaxed for the few days they were all gone, yet her own bronchial/possible heart issues didn’t really subside. She was still feeling punk when the house filled up and Wolf’s necessities took over again.

From his return on Wednesday, poor Wolf continued to have a hard time eating, always followed by vomiting, and everything tasted metallic, including the water he needs for the several pills he has to swallow. Even though he was trying to follow doctor’s orders, it was a challenge for him to keep anything down and he was beginning to give up on eating altogether. It was hard to know what pills had a chance to be absorbed in his system by the time he was throwing the rest of his stomach contents into a bowl. He had a number of visitors, all received warmly, as friends and family are more appreciated as the days get harder. One of the highlights early in the week was a visit from Wolf’s cousin Sue Roth, her daughter Brenda, her son Dennis and his wife, Adele. I met Sue on other occasions in the US and it was wonderful to spend time with her and her fun family. Fortunately they managed to catch Wolf on a pretty good day before things changed. By Friday afternoon, Wolf’s family decided to take him to the local clinic and insist he get some IV fluids or he was going to become dehydrated again. His inability to eat was very worrisome, particularly when you gave him a hug and felt his bones.

Ricky Guindon and brenda, Sue, Adele, Dennis Roth

Melody and I took Wolf to the clinic where he received an IV bag laced with Gravol. It was a different man that walked (well, kinda stumbled along on Melody’s arm) out of the clinic a couple of hours later. When we got home he was able to eat and keep things down, the metallic flavor was gone and he even sat up and played dominoes for awhile with Lucky and me. He spent Saturday in fine form, eating, joking, telling tales, and we all went for a short shopping excursion to Santa Elena. We thought that he was going to have some good days.

I had to leave on Sunday morning and am now back in Cahuita. Roberto and I have a trip to Panama coming up for my visa requirement of 75 hours outside of Costa Rica every 90 days. I left the family all recovering, even Lucky feeling a little better. My final night in Monteverde was spent at the Friends House dancing the stately yet somehow slightly provocative English dances. Led by Jonathan and Heather, two very talented teachers at the Friends School, we stepped and swirled to their instructions and their taped music library that covers several centuries of traditional (and recently written but sounding old) music for English dances. It’s always a pleasure to tickle my bit of British blood and join with a mixed crowd of Monteverdians, young and old, community founders and visitors, and dance like a character in a Jane Austen book, without the hoop skirt. Doing the dances, you appreciate the moments when the young sons and daughters of a proper class, normally expected to maintain a decent social posture, could have found a chance to flirt, gossip and make illicit plans while sashaying past each other.

It is now Monday and I phoned Lucky to see how things are. Unfortunately the stabilizing effect of the Gravol seemed to wear off right in the middle of Sunday Quaker meeting’s hour of silence. Within a few hours of my leaving, Wolf was unable to eat again, burping up the metallic taste and raising the flag of concern once more. I guess they took him back to the clinic but since he didn’t respond to the IV as well this time, the family is considering the next step, probably involving a trip back to San José.  Poor Wolf and Lucky that alone all the Guindons.

In a week or so, I’ll go back to Monteverde to stay with them and do whatever I can, specifically while Benito goes to a conference of traditional peace churches in the Dominican Republic. Central America could use as much peaceful influence and conflict resolution as possible while relations between Nicaragua and Costa Rica break down and the rhetoric gets nastier. I’m curious about how much the rest of the world is watching what has recently blown up from a relatively simple breach of border etiquette into what is now considered an invasion by Nicaragua on Costa Rican soil.

This conflict began two weeks ago with the dredging of the San Juan River by the Nicaraguans in the extreme northeast corner of Costa Rica to make river navigation possible. There is a piece of land known as Isla Calero, 150 square kilometers sitting between the mouths of the mostly-Nicaraguan controlled San Juan River and Costa Rica’s Rio Colorado. Until recently it was a neglected zone, home to poor fishermen and their families living a peaceful, if subsistence life.  As the story of the illegal dumping of the bottom sludge onto Tico territory, along with tree cutting and subsequent environmental damage, played out in the media, it seemed like both the government and the press were sensationalizing the seriousness of the situation in a war of words. It appeared to be the kind of distraction used to take minds off of more serious issues and to get patriotic blood boiling on both sides of the border.

Now the radio, newspapers and no doubt television is filled with the language of war and images of military and police movement. Politically, the countries that are aligned with Nicaragua share anti-American leaders as well as much deeper interests – Venezuela and Iran are both involved with Nicaragua in a long-held dream to construct a canal from the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean, along the San Juan River basin, to rival the Panama Canal. On the other hand, the Organization of American States (OAS), with minimum exceptions amongst its members, has backed Costa Rica’s ownership of Isla Calero which is ground zero for the conflict. Swords are sharpening in all camps while diplomacy and negotiations struggle along to avoid military action.

As tensions build, you have to wonder what the larger interests are here, besides that of the canal-builders from oil-rich countries. Daniel Ortega, once a Sandinista savior of the campesinos against the powerful interests of the corrupt Somoza regime, is now considered by most as an equally corrupt, power-hungry despot. He is coming up to an election and somehow starting a war, they say, is good for vote-getting. As the country has been embracing tourism and foreign investment, quite successfully, it is hard to imagine how turning it back into an unstable region of military conflict is going to win him votes although raising nationalistic ire always seems to be considered politically astute. Here in Costa Rica we aren’t hearing many of the voices of the people of Nicaragua, only the politicians and military.

Peace LilyRecently Ortega charged Costa Rica and the countries (Columbia, Panama, Mexico, US, etc.) that support her with being corrupted by the interests of the Narco-traffickers – particularly Columbia, where much of the cocaine trade originates before it makes its way to the drug-thirsty US of A. Although I don’t understand what this has to do with anything on tiny Isla Calero, he has touched a nerve. Costa Rica has certainly been affected in negative ways by the movement of international drug cartels (I would add they have been affected by the movement of international pharmaceutical companies too, but that is a different drug and a different story.) There are few here who wouldn’t agree that there has been a significant increase in crime within her borders, much of that related to heavy-handed, serious business drug running (as well as increasing poverty and the gap between the rich and poor, but once again, a different story….) I doubt that any of these governments are innocent of profiting from the spoils of the drug and, subsequent, arms trade.

Columbia herself can’t say much about such a charge, but their interest perhaps lies more deeply in a continuing struggle with Nicaragua over San Andres Island. Like most islands throughout the Caribbean, San Andres changed hands at different times between England and Spain but it was Nicaraguan territory when, in a treaty written in 1922, it was passed to Columbia. Nicaragua wants it to be returned, and Ortega has raised patriotic fervor while talking about the desire to regain San Andres along with some other islands in the area. Columbia wants the OAS to support them in the case of a more militant demand by Ortega. And it is because of their own lack of an army that Costa Rica is turning to other nations to help them if Ortega refuses to back off and military action is deemed necessary.

Here in Costa Rica, there has been a steady influx of Nicaraguans for decades. The migrants from the north do much of the low paying and hard labor here. There is no denying the negative opinion that many Ticos hold towards the “Nicas”. While the Ticos have been justifiably, but almost arrogantly, proud of the fact they abolished their army in 1948, their neighbors were engaged in civil war and struggles that has produced at least two generations with both a more aggressive nature and a more politically-engaged mind. As long as I’ve been coming to Costa Rica – twenty years – I’ve heard Ticos say that any particularly nasty crime “must have been committed by a Nica.” Sometimes they are, but, of course, not always.

Now, in 2010, Costa Rica is filled with Nicaraguans, too often considered a lower class and barbarian, and as the tensions rise, there are increasing reports of racist and xenophobic behavior on the part of Costa Ricans against Nicaraguans in their communities. A Molotov cocktail was thrown at the Nicaraguan Embassy in the city. A soccer player, originally from Nicaragua but with years of playing and living here in Costa Rica, was verbally abused by spectators, in a very hateful manner, when he made a poor play in a futbol game. It’s amazing how quickly human nature plummets to a pack mentality when given the opportunity.

As Roberto says, the media here is using a language that provokes these kinds of tensions, speaking disrespectfully of Nicaraguans. Costa Ricans listen to these verbal attacks and those with their own tendencies for violence and stupidity are reacting in the streets – and thus acting no better than the brutish behavior that they so quickly accuse the Nicaraguans of.

 It is very hard to imagine that armed conflict is going to break out just a couple of hundred kilometers north of here, but as the days pass, it feels like it may be a reality. It is hard not to get caught up in the rhetoric that screams from the daily headlines of the newspapers and believe that these two small countries are going to come to serious blows. It is hard to imagine that a war could begin that could involve any number of nations with their own agendas and affiliations to protect. As we head down to Panama, I’m very grateful we are going south, not north, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about what is happening to this beautiful area of the world that has managed to stay out of serious military conflict for many years. 

It is equally hard these days to know what my great friend Wolf is going to have to endure. I feel that his main problem now isn’t strictly with organic physical issues but rather is drug-induced, and the combination of meds is wreaking havoc with him. Drugs may be close to the heart of both of these conflicts, but the struggle of greed and power versus the struggle of one man to survive is distinct. Please join me in holding Wolf in the light, and let’s collectively work and pray for peace.