Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
According to the 2013 census, Miskito are the second largest indigenous community in Honduras, numbering 80,007 or 11 per cent of the total indigenous population. Miskito in Honduras primarily speak the Miskito language and Spanish as well as some English (due to the British colonial influence). Miskito inhabit a large area in the south-eastern section of Honduras located on the Caribbean coast from Río Plátano to Gracias a Dios. Miskito traditional territory also extends into Nicaragua but is divided by present-day state boundaries.
While other groups have integrated into urban centres, Miskito have largely remained in their traditional areas, engaging in agriculture and fishing. Miskito men often travel away from home for seasonal work, such as diving for lobsters and conch. Poor equipment and exploitative labour conditions result in serious health problems that have affected a large percentage of divers. This has been exacerbated by inadequate healthcare and educational facilities and the historical socio-economic marginalization of Miskito areas.
Miskito are largely Protestants associated with the Moravian Church, which has a strong influence in contemporary Miskito life.
Strong ties maintained by Honduran Miskito with their Nicaraguan counterparts have contributed to a resurgence and strengthening of advocacy by Honduran Miskito indigenous groups.
The Miskito kingdom existed from 1633-1894 and reached from the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua to Honduras. In 1894, Nicaragua invaded and the international recognition of the Miskito kingdom ended.
As in Nicaragua, Honduran Miskito were recruited by the British as mercenary forces in their rivalry with the Spanish (see Nicaragua) and became a powerful entity. Miskito territory remained largely autonomous as a protectorate until the region was relinquished by the British in exchange for Belize. Moravian missionaries promoted the formation of settled communities, and the decline of British and US economic enterprises on the Atlantic coast left Miskito communities relying on agriculture, fishing and some cattle raising
After the destruction of Miskito villages during the Sandinista revolution in 1979, many Miskito fled to Honduras from Nicaragua. These refugees were resettled by the UNHCR into existing Miskito communities in Honduras.
In the 1980s, both Miskito and the few remaining Tawahka communities suffered disruption from the flow of Miskito refugees as a result of the Contra war in Nicaragua. This dynamic increased the focus on indigenous issues in Honduras.
The main concerns of Miskito, as with other groups such as Garífuna, are land rights and development of social programmes, especially related to healthcare and education. Beginning in 2012, the government launched a programme aimed at transferring land rights in the Gracias a Dios department to Miskitos. As of 2015, over 3,800 square miles were awarded.
One of the major issues facing Miskito communities has been the policy of the Honduran government that seeks to encourage people who are landless to migrate east into Gracias a Dios. This has generated conflicts between the incoming migrants and Miskito swidden (shifting) agriculturalists who traditionally farm communally held indigenous lands.
Updated May 2018
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