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May 9, 2003

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From a little island in Nicaragua, we bump over gravel roads, rock to-and-fro on a ferry, sit shoulder-to-shoulder in a public bus, stand in the rain at the borderpost, and hitch-a-ride to the Costa Rican resort town of Fortuna. We're moving south quickly because we've had our fill of Central America's Spanish churches, colonial architecture, steamy jungle and volcanoes. An American expat (Costa Rica is chock full of them) picked us up and drove us to Fortuna. She's teaching Spanish but didn't mind talking English with a couple of sweaty and smelly gringos. Costa Rica keeps Central America's best reputation as a stable country betwixt turbulent neighbors, but the roads still have potholes that could swallow a buffalo.
Our Nicaraguan camp manager has named his piglets Ollie North and Ronald Reagan, for their involvment in Iran Contra. A Lonely Planet bulletin recounts the history this way: "It wasn't long before Nicaragua encountered serious problems from its 'good neighbor' to the north. The US government, which had supported the Somozas until the end, was alarmed that the Nicaraguans were setting a dangerous example to the region. A successful popular revolution was not what the US government wanted. Three months after Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, the USA announced that it was suspending aid to Nicaragua and allocating US$10 million for the organization of counter-revolutionary groups known as Contras. The Sandinistas responded by using much of the nation's resources to defend themselves against the US-funded insurgency. In 1984, elections were held in which Daniel Ortega, the leader of the Sandinistas, won 67% of the vote, but the USA continued its attacks on Nicaragua. In 1985, the USA imposed a trade embargo that lasted five years and strangled Nicaragua's economy. By this time it was widely known that the USA was funding the Contras, often covertly through the CIA, and Congress passed a number of bills that called for an end to the funding. US support for the Contras continued secretly until the so-called Irangate scandal revealed that the CIA had illegally sold weapons to Iran (its enemy and against the wishes of its ally, Iraq) at inflated prices, and used the profits to fund the Contras."