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Relic of Iran Contra scandal now a hip eatery

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Sarah Birke

(Read caption) El Avión is popular among history-minded tourists.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Political scandals in the United States give rise to many unexpected consequences, but a bar and restaurant in Costa Rica is surely an unusual one.

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El Avión, or “the airplane,” a hip eatery in the Costa Rican Pacific beach resort of Manuel Antonio, was born of the Iran-contra scandal of the 1980s. The political scandal, one of the biggest in US history, involved the US sale of arms to Iran, then subject to a weapons embargo, with a reported $3.8 million of the funds channeled to the “Contras,” Nicaraguans opposed to the Communist rule of the Sandinistas. (The US Congress had forbidden any such aid to the Contras.)

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One of several purchases the Contras made with those funds was a Fairchild C-123 airplane, which sat in neighboring Costa Rica’s San José airport. But in October 1986 a second Fairchild C-123 was shot down over Nicaragua and a CIA operative parachuted out, leading to the exposure of the weapons scandal.

The Contras’ plane was abandoned at the San José airport until 2000, when the El Avión owners had an idea. They bought the intact C-123 for a mere $3,000, dismantled it, and shipped the pieces to its current location where it was reassembled on a cliff overlooking the sea, close to the port of Quepos.

El Avión is now recommended by guidebooks as much for its food as the atmospheric tiny bar inside the fuselage.