Sunday, 14 November 2010

David Hume's billiard balls.......

March for Peace in San Jose
I took our visitors to the airport yesterday morning.....we left at four o' clock in order to drop them there three hours before their flight for the absurd and ineffectual processes of 'security'.

I have been decidedly sceptical about such processes since bringing back a fillet of beef from Costa Rica which dripped blood on the floors all the way through customs in Amsterdam airport without a hair being turned.
It could have been a severed head for all they knew...or cared.
Just as long as I didn't have it in a pot of basil as the importation of plants is 'strikt verboden'.

We left in the dark, the lights on the hillsides glowing golden in the dark blue night, and travelled down to the Central Valley through banks of cloud until the sun rose over the mountains to the east and the sky took on a lemon light before turning to a soft azure blue.

The visitors left, much to be missed, and I went back into the capital for an early appointment with the Immigration Department to process my application for residence.

On the way I noticed a number of the pick up trucks so characteristic of the vehicles here were sporting large Costa Rican flags, which were being sold at numerous points by vendors along the highway......and at the Immigration Department offices there were much smaller crowds than usual.

Normally 'Migracion' is a seething crowd scene from a Cecil B de Mille  cinema epic.....babies scream and are fed, toddlers play hide and seek among the legs of the adults and grannies are helped along by their teenage grandchildren while the younger adults hold the batches of papers which hold the key to being able to live legitimately in Costa Rica.
I would not go so far as to say that all human life is here, but on some days it certainly feels like it.

The majority of those seeking legitimate status are from Nicaragua, Costa Rica's big northern neighbour, still impoverished from the years of civil war in the 1970s and, like Ireland in a similar state in the twentieth century, exporting its people rather than its products.
But yesterday there were few Nicaraguans and the harassed immigration staff were having a light day.

My business done, I headed into the centre of San Jose to change my library books.

On my way to the Teatro Nacional for a coffee in their cafe...all painted motifs on the ceiling and marble floors...I had to walk through the pedestrian area in the centre of the city......and could hardly move for groups of kindergarten  age children dressed in white tee shirts with accompanying adults, many wearing white masks pushed back on their foreheads and a sort of ribbon bow in the national colours pinned to their clothing.
Now, I am blind to images and me a modern graphic road sign and I will puzzle over it for it wasn't until I had seen several of these masks that I realised that they were supposed to be doves.
Then I saw that the groups were gathering behind placards upon which was the name of their school and various slogans in favour of peace.

So it was a demonstration....but I'd never seen kindergarten kids demonstrating before.

Over coffee I read my copy of 'La Nacion', one of the major Costa Rican newspapers and learnt that one at least of the areas wiped out by the recent landslips has been marked as being ineligible for future those rendered homeless are in a sort of limbo, like those rendered homeless by the Chinchona landslip of last year most of whom are still without permanent housing.

But the front page news was that dealing with the confrontation on the Rio San Juan, the river which forms a large part of the frontier between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Unlike most international river frontiers, this one is not shared fifty fifty, but belongs to Nicaragua entirely and the Nicaraguans have recently begun to dredge it, dumping the dredgings on the Costa Rican bank, which did not rouse any great enthusiasm on the part of the Costa Rican government.
However, worse was to come.
Some days ago a Nicaraguan force - well a few guys in camouflage outfits - landed on an marshy island in one of the meanderings of the San Juan as it heads for the sea on the Caribbean coast and started cutting trees and digging a ditch.
In an area of wetland, this would be a crime against conservation practice anyway, but as the island belongs to Costa Rica it is a great deal worse.
It is the occupation of national territory by a foreign power.

Why should Nicaragua do such a daft thing?
Well, it is supposed to want to make the river more accessible from the Caribbean, by straightening out some of its worst meanders - though how digging a ditch will help much is beyond me - while rumours circulate that the 'big idea' is to revive the old scheme of having a canal using the San Juan and the huge Lake Nicaragua to reach from Atlantic coast to Pacific coast, thus cutting out the Panama Canal.

The idea has been around for ever.....Vanderbilt, busy shipping people from the U.S. East coast to the Californian Gold Rush via the San Juan in the nineteenth century dreamt of it, but the Gold Rush trade died out before anything concrete could be done.....
The Russians, while they were still the Soviets and helping impoverished countries in Central America also dreamt of it...but their empire crumbled before anything could be done.....
And now it seems that that bane of U.S. foreign policy, Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, has got his hands on Iranian money to build the long awaited canal.....but that seems as much of a pipe dream as all the others....

As always in these affairs, there is a ludicrous moment. Pastora, leader of the band of Nicaraguan armed navvies, claims the island he is busy digging away at belongs to Nicaragua because it is so shown on a Google map!
I'd like to see the faces of the judges of the International Court of Justice at The Hague faced with Google as jurisprudence!

What is Costa Rica to do? Be like Palmerston and send a gunboat?
Not very likely.
It doesn't have an army, let alone a navy.
It is a country which has renounced arms since the civil war of 1948, when in the following year the military junta decided that the best way of avoiding further civil wars was to abolish the army!

So it will negotiate, as it has started to do before that generally ineffective talking shop the Organisation of American States, and when that comes to nothing, as it will, Costa Rica will go to the United Nations...jaw jaw, not war war.

And what will Nicaragua do? Just keep on digging that ditch until sometime next year.
Why until then?
Because the Nicaraguan President, Ortega, is seeking a third term of office, which is unconstitutional.
In order to get it he has suborned the judges of the supreme court and falsified the existing constitution....but he needs popular support and what better to do than to whip up nationalist fervour against Costa Rica...the rich neighbour who exploits the poor Nicaraguans seeking work as servants and coffee pickers?
He will inevitably be re elected next year, at which point the shovels will be put away and the Nicaraguan army will retire to its own shore.

I suspect that the Costa Rican government knows this too.

But they have their own interests to serve.
The new President, Laura Chinchilla, has made a less than scintillating start to her term of office and has spent a great deal on a PR campaign to improve her ratings.
Then came the landslips and the floods.
Then came the scepticism about the effectiveness of government intervention.

As my librarian said as we chatted later

Well, where did all the money that was raised for Chinchona go to?
The National Emergency Commission did themselves pretty well out of it, buying quad bikes and whatnot. but the people still don't have houses and with the Banco de Costa Rica matching donations made by the public there was enough to buy land and build houses twenty times over.
What's going to be different this time?

This time there is the Rio San Juan.

Thus the flags on the cars.
Thus the 'spontaneous' demonstration by little children organised 'spontaneously' by their teachers.
Thus the photo opportunities for the President.

David Hume, the Scottish philosopher, reckoned that we assume that A is caused by B because A and B generally happen in sequence and from the sequence we assume causality.
We play billiards and we see the cue strike ball A and ball A strike ball B which then moves and we say that the action of the cue sets all this in motion.
Hume's point is that it is perfectly possible for cue, ball A and ball B to 'do different' as one says in Norfolk....for ball A to turn back from ball B, for example.
Nature is not regular and predictable.

So while I might think that two Presidents in search of popularity might well be behind the Rio San Juan conflict, the march of kindergarten children, the flags waving from the trucks and the absence of Nicaraguans at the Immigration Department, David Hume would rebuke me for my credulity.


  1. Fascinating...You should have been a foreign correspodent, if you weren't. Happy to see you here again.

  2. e, no newspaper would employ me, I'm sure!Or any other organisation come to that...

  3. David Hulme no less - we'll make a philosopher of you yet.

    You write of a world now that is so unfamiliar; will be interesting to follow.

    Did I ask you to check out this blog - - very good I think, though Zoe is struggling to find followers.

  4. Mark, yes you did and I enjoyed it...I thought I had 'followed' it....but will go back and check.

    Just wait for Bishop Berkeley to make his appearance...

    You're right, Costa Rica does not conjure up any immediate image outside Central America itself while everyone has an image of France so it is interesting to see how Costa Rica presents itself to the world and internally.

  5. For some reason you're new blog is not updating in my Reading List although I am following you... do hope this isn't the result of Governmental negotiations...

  6. For some reason, even though I joined your list of followers as soon as I was aware of your new blog, the updates aren't appearing on my reading I've missed your posts. I will be going back to catch up as soon as I can...I hate missing anything that you post xx

  7. Steve and Ayak...yes, I can't get it to do so and i had a problem like this with the other blog for a while...I'll try Feedburner.
    Unless sinister forces are at work fearing my influence on the Rio San Juan negotiations....

  8. Hurrah! Getting you loud and clear now!

  9. Apparently I had to change something on the Comments setting...but it seems to have worked!

  10. I didn't know that CR didn't have any armed forces. What an excellent idea. And how amazing that it was the military junta that disbanded them. Can't imagine that happening now.

  11. Pueblo girl, no neither can I.
    I suspect the junta was thinking more about not being overthrown itself than of general moral principles, but it seems to have worked out O.K.

  12. Blimey - I'm all out of touch. We're also terribly fond of Costa Rica, wishing you lots of fun and good times there - I'll be watching the bloggage

  13. Luly LaBonne, when this household ups sticks, it ups sticks...not for us a move to the next department, only crossing an ocean will do!
    Still thinking of a trip to Sri Lanka next year, health and BIL permitting.