The tropical forest zone of eastern Nicaragua constitutes half of the nation’s territory; yet, only ten percent of the population lives there. Never “Hispanic” to any great degree, the Mosquito Shore has been more receptive to “Anglo” influences: the British in the colonial centuries and the early national period, and the North Americans who came later to develop such tropical resources as woods, minerals, and bananas. Moreover, the Nicaraguan Shore seemed to include the best route for an isthmian canal, at least until the Panamanian crossing won acceptance. Eastern Nicaragua slipped back into stagnation because of the loss of the canal project, the diseases that afflicted bananas in the first third of the twentieth century, and other factors of decline. The Somoza dictatorships did little to stem the tide. It was only after the Sandinista victory in 1979 that the Shore once again assumed prominence.
Mosquitia’s “external” history is well known thanks to many key studies. Dozier draws heavily, yet selectively, from these references to narrate the major developments of the area’s history. A geographer with a flair for history, the author dips back into the extensive British and American documentation on the subject, treating us to valuable insights on tropical society. He utilizes numerous travel accounts and reproduces many photographs and drawings that enhance the presentation. A spirited style of writing makes the story come alive. This is good literature, marred only by inadequate footnote coverage of his references.
Dozier is at his best in telling Mosquitia’s “internal” history. We are made aware of its “isolation,” the exasperating obstacles to communication, the endemic diseases, the ubiquitous rain, and the filth of the tropics. Dozier’s personal pictures of 1957 speak for themselves. He exposes us to excellent analyses of economic activity and entrepreneurship at all levels. After the transit traffic of the mid-nineteenth century, North Americans expanded into the banana industry and other endeavors. A discussion of the presence of North Americans in Nicaragua and their impact on national life and politics, as well as on the government of the United States, add a valuable dimension to the diplomatic story that we already know.
A well-developed theme throughout the book is the anti-“Hispanic” hostility of the Shore’s people: the Miskitos, other Indian tribes, and the “creoles” on the coast—mulattoes, blacks, and the like. Most of them speak English or their own language; they are Protestants thanks to the Moravian missionaries of the past century, and they resent bitterly any dictation from the “Hispanics” in the west, on the other side of the mountains. They present an acute security problem for the Sandinistas.
This book is a welcome historical synthesis of an area that is once again in the international spotlight.