courtesy Flickr
Courtesy- Flickr
We have known him since he was small, maybe six or seven, I’d guess. If my husband and I were passing through Puerto Viejo, often as not we would find him on the side of the road with his oversized pants bunched up with a cord, his flip-flops coming apart, his thumb out.

The first time we met him, I rolled down the window of our Jeep pickup and asked his name. Let’s say he said it was Franklin (not his real name).

“Well, Franklin, don’t you think your mother would be worried about you getting a ride from strangers?” I asked.

“Uno no stranger, Uno live in Punta Uva, right?” he asked right back. Hard to argue with that.

“What do you want to go to Punta Uva for, anyway?”

“Not Punta Uva, Lady. I’s want to go to Cocles, see my cousins.”

I opened the door and pointed to the two bucket seats. “There’s no room in the cab, Franklin.”

“I jus’ ride out here on the back,” he says, jumping on the bumper, and hanging onto the truck topper for support.

This might sound dangerous, and I suppose it was in a way, but I grew up with parents who allowed their kids to ride on the fender of our old Reo truck. From the time I was five or six—Franklin’s age— I straddled an old headlight with one leg clamped tight by the motor bonnet as we rattled down the last few miles of gravel road to our Willamette Valley farm in Oregon.

I didn’t figure Franklin was going to get hurt; the roads on this Caribbean coast were so bad back then it was hard to go more than five miles an hour.

And so it was that we stopped for Franklin when we saw him, gave him a ride, and watched him grow. He was a smart kid, curious, and outgoing.

But as Franklin grew so did the area where we live. The roads got better, tourists came, and with them came all the things tourism brings: music, parties, and drugs. First it was ganja. Now it’s crack.

A couple of years ago we ran into Franklin again. Instead of the ragamuffin clothes of his youth, he was wearing a Tuanis- Pura Vida t-shirt, silky purple gym shorts, and name brand leather sandals. He was in his early 20’s, I imagine. He and his brother had started a band and were playing the bars.

My husband said, “You be careful, Franklin. That’s a rough life with lots of drugs.”

“Yah, yah. I knows it,” he said. “Uno come hear me play sometime.”

We never did because we are not night owls, but we saw the posters and figured he was doing okay.

He wasn’t.

Now he seems to be— how do they say it in the addiction business?— searching for his personal bottom. I see him on the outskirts of Puerto with the rest of the Usual Suspects, bumming tourists as they come out of the bank, offering to carry groceries, begging. Sometimes he has no shirt or shoes, sometimes he is so dirty you can tell he hasn’t bathed in a week or more.

One day he hit me up for money and I told him I wasn’t going to give him anything.

“You know me, though,” he says.

“I know you, Franklin, but what I’m looking at is the drugs, not you.”

“Come on, I jus’ want a little somethin’ to eat.”

“If you weren’t into drugs, you’d have enough money to eat. All I”d be doing is giving it to your dealer.”

“My daughter, she need to go to the doctor.”

“I’ll tell you something. I had a kid that was an addict, and I finally said No to him. You are not even in my family, so imagine how easy it is for me to say No to you. I am not giving you anything as long as you are out here on the street using. Go home to your family. Get clean.”

I haven’t spoken to him since. Sometimes he sings to me as I pass by. “I love you, Lady, yes I do….”

It hurts to write off a kid I’ve known since he was little, but as long as he’s working the long con there is no way I’m going to rise for the bait. Little good it will do, I suppose; the tourists come and go every week and there will always be someone who takes pity, thinking the kid is destitute, a mendigo. He’s not. He is an addict.

My family’s story ended well, everyone healthy and clean. I only hope Franklin survives long enough to get straight.

Magical Realism, or Gabito Meets the Mexican Mafia

According to my dictionary, magical realism is a literary genre or style associated especially with Latin America that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.

After this week, I would venture to say this definition is largely a North American attempt to grasp events as they naturally occur in Latin American countries. Authors may simply be writing about actual events and readers refuse to  believe it isn’t a fantabulation.  In other words, it’s just what went down. Take for instance, the case of two accused Mexican drug dealers currently being held in Costa Rica.

It all started on October 10, 2010, when a light plane went down in a gully shortly after takeoff from a small airport in the seedy suburb of Pavas, just west of San José. When police and emergency teams arrived and accessed the plane, wedged next to a roaring river, they found 170 kilos of cocaine spilling out of the fuselage where baggage is normally stowed. They transported the pilot and passenger to the hospital where they were treated for their injuries. (I believe the pilot died, but haven’t followed that part of the story.)

The following day, two Mexican nationals named Martinez and Mendoza were arrested by the Fuerza Pública (police) in the northern border town of  Peñas Blancas. According to the daily La Nacion, they were riding all terrain vehicles, baggage in tow. The assumption was that they were attempting to flee across the border into Nicaragua. The two men were handcuffed and brought back to San José.

It appears Martinez and Mendoza are the owners of the airline Aerolíneas Turísticas de América with offices and hangars at the Tobías Bolaños International airport in Pavas, an airline that only six months ago was broke. So far, this is just another criminal story that could appear in any newspaper anywhere, especially here.

The San José court decided the two were a flight risk and placed them in preventive detention, something akin to being held without bail in the USA, although in Costa Rica there doesn’t have to be any indictment in the works. They were held in La Reforma, a maximum security prison that recently has had a rash of murders and one failed prison break, but that isn’t part of this story.

Then, on May 10, 2011, seven months after their detention, Judge Kattia Jiménez Fernández, of the Pavas Criminal Court, ordered the two Mexicans released and placed under house arrest. Her reasoning, the prosecution had failed to file charges against the two men.  This augment was advanced by one of  the defense lawyers with the last name of Villalobos Salazar, not to be confused, and this is easy to do, with their other defense attorney who has the last name Villalobos Zamora.

When local residents discovered a condominium in the tony neighborhood of La Sabana was the chosen pad for the two Mexicans, they organized protests. Several other locations were bandied about with the same results. In the meantime, newly appointed Vice Minister of Security, Celso Gamboa, presented the Pavas judge with a written reprimand for her decision. It failed to dissuade her. She was then threatened with a judicial investigation by the attorney general’s office. At this time it is unclear whether that will proceed or not, but if it does it is sure to be slow.

Then, replacement Pavas criminal court judge, Joaquín Hernández, removed Villalobos Salazar from the defense team. Apparently, in the course of things, a long-time police officer of the Fuerza Pública ––the same officials who bagged the two Mexicans in their flight from Costa Rica–– told the court that he had been under pressure by Villalobos to change his story.

Los Dos Villalobos have maintained their clients were not really fleeing Costa Rica the day after the plane crash in Pavas, but rather on their way to visit family in Mexico. One has to ask about the wisdom of traveling the full length of Central America on an ATV , but this was their story and they were sticking to it. By the end of last week the replacement judge in Pavas had rejected as truth that version of their travel itinerary.

But, there was a delay in ordering the men back into preventive detention. The police officer who accused Villalobos Salazar of coercing him to change his testimony had to be reappear in court to clarify exactly which Villalobos had approached him. It turned out to be Villalobos Zamora not  Villalobos Salazar, so the judge reinstated the one and fired the other.

The Mexicans remain in La Reforma’s maximum security unit with preventive detention orders until August 2011.

I only bring this story up to illustrate that while the literary device of magical realism, “.. an aesthetic style in which magical elements or illogical scenarios appear in an otherwise realistic or even ‘normal’ setting,” we can see that one only needs to report the facts to carry it off.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez might have said it best when he noted, “My most important problem was destroying the lines of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic.” Or, in the vernacular, you cannot make this stuff up.