views updated


Soconusco, a rich agricultural region on the narrow, Pacific coastal plain of Chiapas, Mexico. The area was famous in prehistoric and colonial times for its high-quality cacao and later for its coffee. Today agriculture and ranching are major economic activities. In late prehistoric times (and probably much earlier) the native population of Soconusco spoke a Mixe-Zoquean language, but today residents speak Spanish and are culturally Ladino.

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of human occupation in Soconusco as early as 3000 bce, when small groups living in the estuaries subsisted primarily on shellfish. Pottery, some of the earliest in Mesoamerica, was used by ancient Soconuscans by around 2000 bce Izapa, an archaeological site near Tapachula, is well known for its more than 250 carved stone monuments erected between ca. 300 bce and 50 bce. In the late 1490s Soconusco came under Aztec control.

In 1524 Soconusco was conquered by the Spanish, and for most of the colonial period it was part of the Audiencia of Guatemala. The introduction of Old World diseases reduced its Indian population by over 90 percent in the first fifty years after contact. Spanish presence in the area consisted largely of merchants involved in the cacao trade. Throughout the colonial period the cacao plantations were controlled primarily by the native population.

Following Mexican independence, Soconusco declared itself an independent state (1824), but by 1842 it was annexed by Mexico. In the late nineteenth century, foreign investors and colonists became active in Soconusco, and large coffee, rubber, and banana plantations were established.

Following the Mexican Revolution many of the large plantations were broken up and became part of the ejido system. Today much of the population has access to land and engages in subsistence agriculture, but increasingly larger portions live in urban settings or work as wage laborers on large plantations and ranches.

See alsoArchaeology .


Peter Gerhard, The Southeast Frontier of New Spain, rev. ed. (1991), esp. pp. 165-172.

Gareth W. Lowe, Thomas A. Lee, Jr., and Eduardo Martínez Espinosa, Izapa: An Introduction to the Ruins and Monuments (1982).

Daniela Spenser, "Soconusco: The Formation of a Coffee Economy in Chiapas," in Other Mexicos: Essays on Regional Mexican History, 1876–1911, edited by Thomas Benjamin and William McNellie (1984).

Barbara Voorhies, ed., Ancient Trade and Tribute: Economies of the Soconusco Region of Mesoamerica (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Alvarez Simán, Fernando. Capitalismo, el estado y el campesino en México: Un estudio sobre la región del Soconusco en Chiapas. México: Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas, 1996.

Voorhies, Barbara, and Janine Gasco. Postclassic Soconusco Society: The Late Prehistory of the Coast of Chiapas, Mexico. Albany, NY: Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, University at Albany, 2004.

                                            Janine Gasco