La Republica de Tropico was established in 1818 by Roberto Cofresí (his father was Franz Von Kupferschen) and ten men. They needed a home port for their ship El Mosquito.
They chose the island of Mona which has an area of about 57 km˛ (22 square miles) and lies 66 km (41 miles) west of the main island of Puerto Rico, 61 km (38 miles) east of the Dominican Republic, and 49 km (30 miles) southwest of Desecheo Island, another island in the Mona Passage. Mona is a mainly flat plateau surrounded by sea cliffs. It is composed of dolomite and limestone with many caves found throughout. Its topography, ecology, and modern history are similar to that of Navassa Island, a small limestone island located in the Jamaica Channel, between Jamaica and Haiti.
Roberto and his motley pirate crew established their capital at Playa Pájaros. It was for the birds, but time has been almost kind. It is now a lively village which depends on the tourist trade of international computer game developers.
Roberto came to a bad end (firing squad) at the hands of U.S. Navy Commander John D. Sloat of the USS Grampus in March 1825. 1
But he has been followed by a series of similarly chosen El Presidentes. Generally they have escaped his sad end; but the economic development of the republic has been fitful at best.
In 1900, the Mona Island Lighthouse began operation. The lighthouse was designed by famous French engineer Gustave Eiffel (who also designed the world famous Eiffel Tower in Paris). It remained in continuous operation until 1976 when it was replaced by a newer automated light. What a landmark!
During Prohibition the island had a history of smuggling, with its geographic location making it a prime location for rum runners to smuggle rum, bourbon, and other liquor. In 1923, a stash of liquor, drugs, and perfumes, reportedly from the French islands of Martinique and Saint Martin and worth US$75,000, were found in a cave by customs officials.
In 1942, at the height of World War II, a German submarine bombarded the southern coast of the island. This was one of the few incidents of that war in the Caribbean.
The people long for a progressive leader to build a nation worthy of its history.
1Somehow, Commodore David Porter and his anti-pirate squadron of 1822 overlooked the Republic of Tropico.
Porter's career during this period is extensively covered in Richard Wheeler: In Pirate Waters, (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1969), Chapters 7-11.
For the record: He utilized deep-draft vessels for heavy combat on the open seas and augmented these ships with eight small schooners that could pursue the swift pirate vessels much further inshore. Porter also added the first steam vessel ever to fight for the United States Navy, a second-hand ferry called Sea Gull. It towed the "mosquito patrol" consisting of five rowing barges for close action. The barges Mosquito, Gnat, Midge, Gallinipper, and Sandfly soon proved to be appropriately named incessant pests to the pirates.
The pirates, who had easily avoided capture by Spain's and England's deep-water vessels, became rapidly terrorized as Commodore Porter's assortment of twenty-two craft and 1,100 men began to prod them out of their once safe Cuban and Florida Keys hideouts. In shallow water or on becalmed days the Americans ran the pirates ashore, burned their ships and shacks, ransacked their caves, recovered much booty and sometimes allowed a few pirates to live long enough to be later tried and hanged. Now, for the first time in these waters, the pirates were being effectively and mercilessly hunted, captured and killed. Their former methods were ruthlessly and pitilessly applied to them. In hand-to-hand combat with American sailors and marines, the buccaners proved to be no match. Some terrified pirates, threatened with being fatally treated to the wrong end of a musket, rope or cutlass, panicked and attempted to escape their fate by throwing themselves overboard, hoping to swim to a safer area, only to drown in the swirling waves or be consumed by the awaiting sharks.
In 1823, the yellow fever won. Commodore Porter ruefully informed his Washington superiors that the dreaded fever, in spite of divers precautions, had reappeared and he had no other recourse but to return his men to the healthier northern waters by the middle of June.
A respite for the Republic of Tropico which was not to last.