THE MOSQUITO COAST, or Mosquitia, is located on the east coast of NICARAGUA and HONDURAS. The name is derived from the Miskito, the indigenous people of the region. The Miskito are descendants of the Chorotega, an aboriginal people of South America. Because of the absence of historic ruins, little is known of the Chorotega people, except that they were contemporaries of the Maya to the northwest. The word Miskito was corrupted into Mosquito by European settlers. Although its name sometimes applies to the whole eastern seaboard of Nicaragua and to Mosquitia in Honduras, the Mosquito Coast more accurately consists of a narrow strip of territory, along the CARIBBEAN SEA, stretching inland for about 40 mi (60 km). The area extends from the San Juan River in northeastern Honduras and the Bluefields Lagoon in Nicaragua, centering on Cape Gracias a Dios on the border between Nicaragua and Honduras at the hump of the Central American isthmus. The primary towns in Mosquito include Bluefields, Magdala on Pearl Cay, Prinzapolca, Vounta, and Carata. Bluefields, being the largest town, serves as the unofficial capital.
The Miskito natives, of whom there are several tribes, are short and dark skinned. The expanse of the Mosquito Coast is a combination of coral-lines, low shorelines, reefs, shoals, sandbars, swamps and small islands. It is a desolate region infested with black flies and rampant with yellow fever and malaria. Moving away from the coast, the land rises into savannas and pine woods that feed into the mountains. It is a hot, humid, and swampy region. It has also been historically a political and international hotbed.
Seventeenth-century Spanish settlements were primarily located on the Pacific coast of Central America. The Spanish didn't care for the barren Mosquito region and the hostile native Indians. Pirates and buccaneers during the period were viewed by the Mosquita as allies against the Spanish. The Mosquito Coast historically encompassed the area that is now Nicaragua and was long under control of the British. The first European settlement in the Mosquito region was founded in 1630, when the English-chartered Providence Company occupied two small cays and established relations with the local inhabitants.
From 1655 to 1850, Great Britain claimed a protectorate over the Miskito natives. There was little interest in colonization by British settlers because of the adverse climate. SPAIN and the UNITED STATES opposed British authority out of territorial concerns over a proposed canal and coastal ports. The 1848 uprising by the Mosquito Indians, supported by the British almost led to war. An agreement was reached not to fortify, colonize or exercise dominion over any part of Central America by Britain and the United States. Great Britain relinquished its protectorate of the Miskito native tribes to Honduras in 1859, which resulted in another Indian revolt.
The treaty of Managua in 1860 transferred to Nicaragua domain over the entire Caribbean coast but granted autonomy to the Miskito natives. Nicaragua was limited by native right of self-government. After enjoying independence for almost 14 years, the natives voluntarily surrendered their position and territory in 1894 and the Republic of Nicaragua was formally established. The Mosquito Coast became part of Nicaragua under president Jose Santos Zelaya. The northern area was awarded to Honduras in 1960 by the International Court of Justice, thus ending a longstanding dispute. The Nicaraguan portion was officially given partial autonomy in 1987, but little real change has resulted and the area remains impoverished. Rubber, lumbering, slash-and-burn cultivation for rice and beans as cash crop farming, mining, banana and plantain plantations are the primary occupations of the indigenous Miskito people. Lobstering has replaced banana cultivation as the major economic activity.