Dos Aguas: The Caribbean’s Hidden Narco Haven

Los personajes de Dos Aguas conviven en su cotidianidad con el narcotráfico, el elefante invisible en la habitación (Dele Foco)
The characters of Dos Aguas live side by side with drug gangs. (Dele Foco)

EspañolSome 20 miles off the coast between Colombia and Honduras, a marine phenomenon named Dos Aguas (Two Waters) takes place. “Two sea currents meet there. Anything arriving remains afloat. Drug traffickers throw their shipments overboard, to later rescue them and smuggle them into the country,” read the opening titles of a new film by Costa Rica native Patricia Velázquez.

Dos Aguas offers a window into life in a small town facing this Caribbean crossroads in Limón province, Costa Rica. Shots of ample beaches and copious vegetation feature prominently, as does the crippling poverty in the country’s least developed regions. Drug trafficking is the elephant in the room, lurking at the edges of every frame.

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This town in southeastern Costa Rica is a melting pot: most inhabitants are of African descent, the heirs to Jamaican migrants who sought a better life and sailed to the mainland. They only began to mingle with the rest of the population several decades after their arrival.

The focus on the natural environment is inevitable, and the Caribbean backdrops can hardly fail to please. As a result, many scenes fail to advance the plot, even if they’re nice to look at. Nevertheless, the 73-minute runtime serves to keep things moving.

Those expecting a brutal portrayal of narco gangs or a strong political stance against the drug war will walk out disappointed. Dos Aguas is instead a quaint folktale, where drug trafficking takes a backseat to other themes. But the underlying issue is how the Caribbean village is caught on the path taken by traffickers from South America heading to Mexico and the United States.

As realism goes, it doesn’t get much better. Velásquez recruited a whole coastal village: “Practically all of Puerto Viejo is involved in some way or the other,” she told Panamanian daily La Prensa. As a result, most of the acting is based on improvisation, a bold gamble for the nascent Costa Rican film industry.

The actors are up to the challenge, especially the young protagonist Nató, who dreams of becoming a soccer star. His older brother failed to achieve the same ambition, but is hellbent on helping his sibling succeed — even if that means getting mixed up with the drug trade. But the apparent gateway to easy money turns out to have unforeseen consequences.

Calm amid the Storm

Dire economic crisis sweeps the region. That the boy’s first alternative to fulfill his dream is to resort to the criminal underworld speaks to the limited choices available. Poverty is another of the film’s themes, but like the drug dealers, it’s just another daily background feature of Nató’s life.

Dos Aguas captivates the viewer and piques his curiosity. While the government’s bad choices impair the region, communities try to impose tradition and strong African identity through language and religion. Limonese Creole is spoken during family dinners as well as at the protestant church, inherited from their Jamaican forefathers.

According to a 2011 census, Afro-descendants make up 7.8 percent of Costa Rica’s population, or roughly 330,000 out of 4.3 million Ticos. But the group still struggles against discrimination and equal standing before the law.

In 2014, activist Caroll Briton testified before the Ombudsman’s Office on human rights from an Afro-descendant’s perspective: “We struggle to get visibility even through data and simple statistics.” They’re currently demanding a law that grants them the ownership title of lands they currently occupy.

Instead, the Costa Rican authorities busy themselves with providing rights for the few, rather than the many. The government is currently handing out privileges in the country’s regulatory race via a bailout plan for the tourism industry.

I expected something else before watching Dos Aguas, but I was pleasantly surprised: a flying visit to the Caribbean, even if only for little over an hour, is always welcome.

Translated by Daniel Duarte.

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