Mosquito Coast

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Mosquito Coast

Mosquito Coast or Mosquitia (məskē´tēə, mōskētē´ä), region, east coast of Nicaragua and Honduras. The name is derived from the Miskito, the indigenous inhabitants and remnants of the Chorotega. Never exactly delimited, the region is a belt c.40 mi (60 km) wide extending from the San Juan River north into NE Honduras. It is sultry and swampy, rising to low hills in the west. Lobstering has replaced banana cultivation as the major economic activity, but most inhabitants depend on subsistence farming.

In the early colonial period, English and Dutch buccaneers preyed on Spanish shipping from there, and English loggers exploited the forest. England established a protective kingdom at Bluefields in 1678. Slaves from Jamaica were brought in to increase the labor supply. In 1848, the British took San Juan del Norte to offset U.S. interest in a transisthmian route to California. Nicaragua protested the seizure. The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850) between the United States and Great Britain checked British expansion, but relinquishment of the coast was delayed until a separate treaty was concluded with Nicaragua (1860), which established the autonomy of the so-called Mosquito Kingdom.

In 1894, José Santos Zelaya ended the territory's anomalous position by forcibly incorporating it into Nicaragua. The northern part was awarded to Honduras in 1960 by the International Court of Justice, thus ending a long-standing dispute. The Nicaraguan portion was officially given partial autonomy in 1987, including control over local natural resources, but little real change has resulted and the area remains impoverished.

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