Bluefields, a Nicaraguan town at the mouth of the Escondido River on the Bay of Bluefields on the Caribbean Sea and home to an estimated 50,000 people. Protected by a series of islands, it has the best harbor in eastern Central America, through which bananas, mahogany, and cedar passed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Later, the chief exports included palm and coconut oil and alligator skins. The town was founded by the British and was claimed by them as part of their protectorate over the Miskito people during the nineteenth century. Jamaican and other Caribbean blacks and their descendants, known as Creoles, dominate the town's population, followed by Miskitos, Hispanic Nicaraguans, and North Americans. Other peoples of African descent residing in Bluefields include the Garifuna. English-speaking Creoles were once the coast's most powerful merchants and civic leaders, distinguishing themselves from Spanish-speaking Catholics in the practice of the Protestant faith brought by Moravian missionaries in 1847. In 1855 the Moravians expanded their work to include indigenous peoples, particularly Miskitos. After 1865, the town took on the ambience of an antebellum southern city of the United States as many southerners fled there to escape Reconstruction. Their presence increased tension with the British and Nicaraguans, which climaxed in 1894 when José Santos Zelaya claimed sovereignty over the community. The U.S. government sided with Zelaya to drive the British from Bluefields, but the conflict between the North American residents and the Nicaraguan president remained. Bluefields became a center of revolutionary activity when the Americans there allied themselves with the Nicaraguan factions that succeeded in ousting Zelaya in 1909. From then until the U.S. withdrawal from Nicaragua in 1933, Bluefields served as a port of entry for U.S. Marines sent to the country to maintain order. Until the Sandinista revolution in 1979, the fiercely independent Miskito Indians governed the region with little allegiance to the central government in Managua. The Miskitos resisted the Sandinistas—at times violently—and some of them joined the contra war to overthrow the FSLN regime. The Miskito resistance, the contra war, and concomitant economic hardships forced the Sandinistas to abandon their efforts to control Bluefields. Nevertheless, the Miskito struggle led the Sandinistas to include provisions in the 1984 constitution guaranteeing indigenous people their land. Moreover, in 1987 the government created two autonomous regions: the Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur (RAAS), of which Bluefields is the municipal and regional center; and the Región Autónoma del Atlántico Norte (RAAN), with Puerto Cabezas as its center. These are denoted as self-governing, autonomous regions and theoretically guarantee land rights and cultural autonomy.
The Universidad de las Regiones Autónomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaragüense (URACCAN) was founded in 1992. Since the 1990s government privatization and economic liberalization has brought changes to the city. Nevertheless, most Bluefields residents, Costeños, continue to earn their livelihood from wood exploitation and fishing.
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Craig L. Dozier, Nicaragua's Mosquito Shore: The Years of British and American Presence (1985).
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Dennis, Philip A. The Miskitu People of Awastara. Austin: University of Texas Press, Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, 2004.
Gordon, Edmund T. Disparate Diasporas: Identity and Politics in an African Nicaraguan Community. Austin: University of Texas Press, Institute of Latin American Studies, 1998.
Hale, Charles R. Resistance and Contradiction: Miskitu Indians and the Nicaraguan State, 1894–1987. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994.
Martínez Cuenca, Alejandro, et al. Regiones y municipios: La agenda pendiente. Managua: Foro Democrático, 1998.
Romero Vargas, Germán. Las sociedades del Atlántico de Nicaragua en los siglos XVII y XVIII. Managua: Fondo de Promoción Cultural-Banic, 1995.
Thomas M. Leonard
Bluefields, town (1995 pop. 30,208), capital of the South Atlantic Coast Autonomous Region and Zelaya dept., SE Nicaragua, on Bluefields Bay at the mouth of the Escondido River. It is Nicaragua's chief Caribbean port. Hardwoods and fish are exported. Bluefields was a rendezvous for English and Dutch buccaneers in the 16th and 17th cent. and became (1678) capital of the British protectorate over the Mosquito Coast. During U.S. interventions (1912–15, 1926–33) in Nicaragua, marines were stationed there. In 1984, the United States mined the harbor (along with those of Corinto and Puerto Sandino). Bluefields was destroyed in a hurricane in 1988 but was rebuilt.