Other Discussions on Latin America

Middle America

Most Americans could not name the countries of Central America, but it is in the middle of an area fraught with danger. A memo on Mayan propaganda activities in Honduras brought the retort from Tim Brown that there are no Mayas in Honduras. I don't know. I await the results of mitochondrial DNA tests which anthropologists are now conducting to answer that question. It has been said that an Indian is someone who thinks he is an Indian, and in politics the question is whether people believe they are Mayas. That can bolster the myth of peaceful Mayas (in fact they were always at war with each other) and the complaints against the present ruling classes of the area, including Guatemala.

Nicaragua's problems are different. People in the southern San Juan river area want to secede and join more prosperous Costa Rica, thus reviving an old boundary dispute. Nicaragua is trying to distract attention by claiming some islands off its Caribbean coast (San Andres is the best known of the seven) which by a historical accident belong to Colombia. I once took a Colombian airline which flies from Bogota to San Andres and then down to Costa Rica. Perhaps Nicaragua wants to take advantage of Colombia's woes. Colombia will certainly not just give up the islands. Is anyone in Washington watching?

Ronald Hilton - 08/18/98

Middle America - Responses

Conflicting reports make life confusing and interesting. This certainly applies to Middle America. In a recent memo we reported on the Mexican government's participation in an international consortium to build a canal across Tehuantepec. Now we have a report saying that the consortium will create a high-speed train service across the isthmus. It sounds as though the Mexican government is desperately trying to show that it is doing something for that troubled area.

Tim Brown says the mitochondria and linguistic studies support his contention that there are no Mayan groups in Central America. Tim recommends Adolfo Constenla Umana's "Las Lenguas del Area Intermedia", EDUCA, San Jose, CR, 1991; he teaches pre-Colombian languages at the University of Costa Rica. On mitochondria Tim recommends Ramiro Barrantes "Evolucion en el Tropico - Los Amerindios de Costa Rica and Panama", EDUCA, 1993 and his numerous articles, especially his "Mitochondrial DNA 'Clock' for the Amerinds and its implications from Timing Their Entry into North America", Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Genetics, 91, (1994), 1158-1162. Tim calls attention to the map on page iii of Ann Chapman's 1958 Columbia PhD dissertation "An Historical Analysis of the Tropical Forest Tribes on the Southern Border of Mesoamerica" [Mesoamerica meaning the Maya/Nahua lands].

Tim, who has just returned from the area, says there is no evidence of interest along the San Juan in Nicaragua for secession to Costa Rica. "The problems relate to drug and arms trafficking, a unilateral Costa Rican decision to put armed launches on the legally Nicaraguan river without first consulting Nicaragua, and several whiffs of possible petroleum deposits that have suddenly made the San Juan region potentially valuable." Possibly the reports I received about a secessionist movement on the Nicaraguan boundary were Costa Rican propaganda.

Regarding the Nicaraguan claims to Colombian islands, Tim says that Roncador, Quita Sueno, Serrano and Serranita have become drug depositories. "They were ours until Carter gave them to Colombia without consulting Nicaragua. Their major short term importance may well be to cause the replacement of Colombia's Gaviria with Costa Rica's Calderon Fourbier as Secretary General of the OAS, since territorial disputes and regional solidarity are expected to override Nicaragua's short term unhapiness with the Costa Ricans." I'm bewildered that President Carter could simply give away some islands, but bewilderment is my usual condition.

Ronald Hilton - 08/21/98