Those who know Manuel Antonio, in Puntarenas, on the Central Pacific Coast, will surely know about “El Avion”, or The Airplane! This is a fashionable, hip snack bar, famous for its food and good ambiance. And, it is a plane! The owner of the Costa Verde Hotel simply bought it for a mere $3,000, dismantled it, rebuilt it and turned it into one of the most popular bar and restaurant of Manuel Antonio.
It is a plane with a history to tell; Though the U.S. government originally supported the Contras at the beginning of 1980, Congress cut off all funding in late 1984; there were rumours that the CIA had mined the Nicaraguan harbors; they were afraid in case this would turn into the next Vietnam.
Thus the Fairchild C-123 took part of one of the biggest US scandals in the mid 80’s: The Reagan Administration worked up a strange network of arms sales to Iran in an attempt to win the release of US hostages being held in Lebanon and from this raise money in order to fund the Nicaraguan’s counter-revolutionary guerilla fighters, commonly referred to as the “Contras.”! Authentic story; and while they were artificially inflating the prices of the arms, NSA official Oliver North was able to grab the profit that in turn could be used to fund the counter-revolutionaries of the Cuban allied Sandinista government. The plane was later on dubbed “Ollie’s Folly” because of its connection to Oliver North who had been the chief architect of the covert operation and he was solely responsible for the funding and providing military assistance.
The profits exceeded $16million, however in the end only $3.8 millions reached the Contras, nobody knows for sure what happened to the rest of the money. Amongst their purchase were the two C-123, one of which is now resting on a lush tropical hill over looking the Pacific Ocean, a place to chill out, have a bite and a few drinks! How did this happen? An air strip was built on an american-owned ranch somewhere North-West of the country. On October 5th 1986, one of the two planes was shot down over Nicaragua. One crewman, Eugene Hasenfus, was able to escape, he was however captured by the Sandinistas. The fact that Hasenfus was alive by itself set off an infernal chain of lies and cover-ups that eventually became known as the Iran-Contra Affair. The Operation was suspended and the remaining C-123 lay abandoned in some isolated spot in Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose, and the rest is history.
Now, the C-123 is retired, a cold war relic that has taken on the title of El Avion on to a new a venture as a restaurant, bar, and coffee shop with an an unbeatable atmosphere and gorgeous sunsets. And what a better place to tell the tale of the scandal than the El Avion! It landed on one of the hottest spots of the area, with a stunning view over the ocean and some of the best food around. It also has the advantage of staying opened till the early hours, for many, the last place to go after a long night out! The place to be by excellence.
|Written by Mireille|
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