The Miskitos, some 150,000 to 200,000 strong, share the region with several other indigenous groups, as well as English-speaking Afro-Nicaraguans and some Spanish-speaking mestizos. In general, the east is culturally opposed to the rest of the country: Creole English and indigenous languages are more widely spoken than Spanish, and Protestantism (with strong indigenous and African elements) is more widespread than Catholicism. Moskitia’s would-be leaders claim that their new country will be ethnically inclusive, but its political structures are to be based on Misktito traditions. Hector Williams, head of the movement, goes by the indigenous title of Wihta Tara, or Great Judge. -from GeoCurrents
In the Sept. 15 issue of NotiCen we covered the land conflict in in the Río Coco Arriba sector of Nicaragua’s Región Autónoma de la Costa Caribe Norte (North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, RACCN). Here, the Miskito communities are trying to defend their lands from mestizo settlers from western Nicaragua who are pushing further and further into the region to exploit its valuable hardwoods, clear forest space for cattle ranching, and in some cases, even set up clandestine drug-trafficking outposts.
To put the conflict into perspective, it is useful to learn more about the history and evolution of the Miskito communities As a Latin American Studies graduate student, learning new things like this is, in a nut shell, why I am here. So, I did a little bit of digging and here is some of what I learned: Diverse Origins
While Spain was conquering most of the hemisphere in the 16th century, the eastern regions of both Honduras and Nicaragua remained untouched until the 17th century. Prior to contact, the region was inhabited by numerous small indigenous groups, but with the turn of the 16th century, the region saw increasing interaction with English, French, and Dutch buccaneers, traders, and settlers. In addition to English interactions, the coastal indigenous populations were receptive of African slaves who had either escaped or shipwrecked into the region. The culmination of these diverse interactions resulted in the Miskito Creole English that is spoken by some today in addition to a native Miskito language and Spanish spoken by smaller populations.
Involvement with the Contras
In the 1980s, Miskito support was highly sought after by both the Sandinistas and the Nicaraguan government. At that time, the Miskitos has formed guerrilla forces that engaged in armed struggle against the government. In an attempt to sway the Miskito, the government passed a statute that gave autonomy to the Miskito in September 1987 which was effective in quelling Miskito resistance. A series of LADB articles in 1987 document the different strategies employed by both the Nicaraguan government and US government to attain control of the Miskitos.
Located on the eastern coast of both Honduras and Nicaragua, a drive to the Miskito coast takes about 20 hours in car from Managua. Driving to El Salvador or neighboring Costa Rica would be quicker than accessing the remotely located and sparsely populated Moskito Coast. It might seem like traveling to another country, in 2009, the Miskito announced their declaration of independence from Nicaragua. The Communitarian Nation of Moskitia, who no longer recognizes the authority of the Nicaraguan government, comes replete with their own flag, national anthem, a lawyer, and an extensive list of grievances. Separatist action was spurred by a combination of dissatisfaction with President Daniel Ortega - both as the leader of the Sandinista’s in the 1980’s and as sitting president of Nicaragua - and exploitation of raw material in their jungle territory. The Nicaraguan government has given the Miskitos a degree of autonomy but has not recognized the Miskito communities as a separate nation.
Environmental and Health Concerns
In a region that experienced upwards of 80% unemployment in 2009, lobster diving serves as an industry that offers employment and a means of survival for many Miskito along the Atlantic coast. However, commercial diving in and of itself is controversial not just because of the dangers of over hunting the lobster population, but the dangers inherent in diving itself. Hundreds of Miskito divers have died and an estimated half of the Miskito population live with injuries, including paralysis, from decompression sickness, a condition created by ascending too rapidly back to the water’s surface.
To highlight this dangerous activity, a movie, "My Village, My Lobster," was made in 2013 to bring attention to a law passed by the Nicaraguan government that will ban commercial diving, which would bring dire economic consequences for the Miskito. "The bulk of the film examines the hard lives of Miskito divers who work on commercial boats, going out for 12-day stretches into deeper waters. The boats have been heading out farther and farther, meaning divers have to plunge deeper and deeper to pick up the clawless spiny lobsters from the bottom," said an article in National Geographic.
The 'White Lobster'
According to an article in Time magazine, dated April 14, 2011, life has improved for some members of the Miskito community with the arrival of the "white lobster" on the Mosquito Coast. "White lobsters — also known as bendiciones de Dios or godsends — are packages of cocaine and other drugs pitched overboard by narco-smugglers fleeing Nicaraguan Coast Guard patrols," said the Time article. "With that valuable cargo, several tiny outposts on the country's Mosquito Coast have morphed into international logistics hubs for transnational drug shipments headed in every direction."