The History of El Avión

El Avión Restaurant

“What is with the plane?” and “How did the plane get here?” are the two most asked questions at El Avión Restaurant. They greatly out number questions about the day’s specials, the beer selection, or the fish of the day. In 1986, the Iran-Contra affair dominated the news in the US, the biggest political scandal of the decade and in 2017, the film American Made starring Tom Cruise was released and this plane featured prominently in both the real story and the Hollywood version. The Iran-Contra affair was one of the most complicated and intriguing scandals of the last 50 years. It consisted of three interconnected and secret parts:

  1. The Reagan administration sold arms to Iran, which needed plenty of weapons for their lengthy war with Iraq.
  2. In exchange for the weapons, Iran was to use its influence to negotiate the release of American hostages.
  3. The profits from the arms sale were to be diverted to the ‘Contras’ who were fighting the communist Nicaraguan regime (the Sandinistas), in Nicaragua’s civil war.

Since the entire operation allegedly illegal, who better to handle it than the covert operatives at the CIA? Who was better equipped to manage the running of guns illegally into Central America? And who do you hire? Someone who already had much experience running illegal cargo by air between Latin America and the US: who other than Barry Seal. Played by Tom Cruise in American Made, a story of Barry Seal, the biggest drug smuggler in America history, who died in a hail of bullets with George Bush’s private phone number in his wallet. Seal had been a CIA contract employee in the past and had a profitable side business smuggling cocaine for Pablo Escobar, the Medellín cartel kingpin. A Miami-based front company, Southern Air, was created by the CIA to conceal the US government smuggling operation, flying three C-123s.

On October 5, 1986, one of those three planes was shot down over Nicaragua with an American crew and laden with arms. The US Government claimed that the crew were private citizens helping in the fight against communism. However, when a captured crew member appeared on Nicaraguan TV and confessed to being part of a covert CIA operation, the gig was up. The details of the scandal that became known as the Iran-Contra affair became public. This is the plane that American Eugene Hasenfus was shot down in over Nicaragua.

This scheme was allegedly illegal under American law as arms sales to Iran were prohibited by Congress; the US Government had long held that it would not negotiate for hostages; and it was extra-legal to fund the Contras above the limits which Congress had set. Are you following all this? Good, because it is about to get complicated! Now, if you have read this far, you are probably wondering how did this iconic, C-123 military cargo transport plane end up here on top of an ocean bluff in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica as the pub for El Avión? If we told you, we would probably have to kill you. Better for everyone, if you forgot all about it and just ordered another drink…

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