June 29, 2008

The (real) Mosquito Coast

La Mosquitia (sometimes spelled Moskitia or Miskitia, named for the Miskito indians) is a large isolated area of eastern Honduras (and Nicaragua) accessible only by air or sea that is generally abandoned and ignored by the government. The former small fishing villages have increasingly become a haven for drug trafficking.

Paul Theroux's novel The Mosquito Coast was set in La Mosquitia, Honduras, though the film starring Harrison Ford was filmed in Belize. A reader who wishes to remain anonymous submitted this guest blog with photos. (Photos − whoopee!) The following is an excerpt from an email she sent to family and friends in August 2005 about life in a coastal village in La Mosquitia.

La Mosquitia (the Mosquito Coast), Honduras and Nicaragua

Things on the coast are really changing this month because the moratorium (veda) on lobster diving that began in April is finally over. Life in the villages was getting really depressing because without the wage labor opportunities at sea, NO ONE has any money. Small local stores can’t even afford to stock their shelves since their customers aren’t buying anything.

July was really tough - for instance when I talked with one woman she said she had a headache, probably because she had not eaten all day. She had not eaten all day because she had no money to buy food. It did not help that her husband had sold their only cow last month, then proceeded to drink up all the money from the sale. She has seven kids to feed, too. Life can be so hard for women here!

Since job opportunities for women are few and far between, they have to depend on men (husbands, fathers, brothers, sons) to give them cash for household necessities. On August 1, almost all the men went out on the boats to make some much needed money. How much will be used to pay for their families’ food, clothes, and medical care (rather than rum and beer for themselves) remains to be seen.

Right now the kids are all busy gathering nances (Byrsonima crassifolia), a fruit the size of a blueberry, but yellow. They put them in plastic bottles and make a drink with water and sugar. It has an interesting taste, very distinctive. Fresco de nance is incredibly popular here. One family (with lots of small kids to collect the tiny things when they fall off the trees) made enough money last year from selling them to buy all the children new school clothes.

We are well into hurricane season, but have been lucky so far. Despite our remote location, we always hear when there is a hurricane, even if we do not feel the effects. Right now the communities are in the process of forming an emergency response committee to handle anything that may happen in the future. Participants are receiving first aid training and structures (supposedly) are being built inland in case evacuation is ever necessary. I was told that the project is being funded by the EU.

Something pretty exciting happened a few weeks ago. People are really worried about the increasing drug trafficking through the region and their communities. Every night you can hear the drug boats speeding out on the water. No one except the 'mafia' has motors that powerful. Local families are lucky if they have small motors for their dugout canoes.

Lately the small planes that occasionally fly into one of the villages have apparently been bringing cocaine in too. Men with large boats wait for the shipment, load up the drugs, and then head to the next destination. By word of mouth, people in the communities managed to plan a secret resistance to what they see as a real threat to their safety and well-being. They all agreed on a certain day (the signal being the sound of an approaching plane) to gather out on the airstrip and block the plane from landing in protest of the local "airline's" owner's decision to use his planes to bring in drugs.

There was quite a crowd and a confrontation with the man who owns the planes. He agreed to be more vigilant of the planes’ cargo and eventually (after a bunch of speeches) the protesters said they would allow him to continue landing in the village (FOR NOW). I can only imagine that this struggle to keep the drug trade out of their villages will be ongoing.

Thank you, Anon, for this peek into life in La Mosquitia. I noticed that the photo of the children was titled "Pounding rice" and I'm wondering why rice is pounded?

Coincidentally, just yesterday, a boat with 4.6 tons of cocaine was captured in the area of La Mosquitia by a joint operation of the Honduran and U.S. Coast Guards.

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