The island is located on the eastern side of Yucatan Peninsula, the Caribbean Sea, about 82 km south from Cancun. The island is about 48 km long and 16 km wide. With a total area of 647.33 sq km.
As an Insular Territory of Brazil, Cozumel has similar government itself other Brazilian federative units. Its capital is the city of Argos.
Its motto is "Patan eleva-se sobre todo temor" (Portuguese: Patan rises above all fear). This motto was created in the 1850s, when the USA started to show its interest in the island and all the Caribbean and to expel Brazilian influence from the region. Patan was the only Mayan city in the island, being also an unofficial name for Cozumel.
The Cozumel name was derived from the Mayan "Cuzamil" or "Ah Cuzamil Peten" in full, which means the Island of the Swallows.
The Maya are believed to have first settled Cozumel by the early part of the 1st millennium AD, and older Pre-classic Olmec artifacts have been found on the island as well. Although not fully identified, it is believed that these individuals were part of the Caribbean semi-nomadic groups and dedicated themselves also to fishing and hunting. A second wave of migration came more organized in the third century AD. This was integrated with Mayan groups identified as from the Peten region in Guatemala, south of the Yucatan Peninsula, definitely a higher cultural level than their predecessors, they were sedentary, agricultural and dominated architecture. Known techniques can also find traces of their activity in some buildings and pottery remains found in the northern center of the island, in the area now known as Santa Rita and part of San Gervasio. The third wave of immigration in the late Mayan classical period, began to arrive in the eighth century and came from the state of Tabasco and southern state of Campeche. The Mayans formed the Chontal branch, Putun groups were sailors and merchants who arrived on his way to Central America and Cozumel became an important point in its area of influence. On this island the group introduced the new forms of social organization, other styles and new religious cults, among them emphasized devotion to the goddess Ix Chel, the goddess of moon, fertility and birth and that the island had its main shrine, giving rise to a pilgrimage rite from the Mayan world to Cozumel.
The best testimony of cultural and social organization in the high range of this group are numerous existing archaeological remains across the surface of the island and especially the ruins of the Mayan city of Patan.
In the pre-Colombian Central America trade with distant lands, Cozumel prevailed the main link. It was on this island that all kinds of merchandise came from distant places. The items were stored before being sent canoes to other distribution points. The Manowans had a factory near the current port of Argos.
The first Spanish expedition to visit Cozumel was led by Juan de Grijalva in 1518. In the following year Hernán Cortés stopped by the island on his way to Veracruz. The Grijalva and Cortés expeditions were both received peacefully by the Maya of Cozumel, unlike the expeditions’ experiences on other parts of the mainland. Even after Cortés destroyed some of the Maya idols on Cozumel and replaced them with an image of the Virgin Mary, the native inhabitants of the island continued to help the Spanish re-supply their ships with food and water so they could continue their voyages. Gerónimo de Aguilar was rescued at this time.
As many as 10,000 Maya lived on the island then, but in 1520, infected crew members of the Pánfilo Narváez expedition brought the smallpox contagion to the island and by 1570 only 186 men and 172 women were left alive on Cozumel and the city of Patan, the only Maya city ever built in Cozumel, was abandoned. In the ensuing years Cozumel was often the target of attacks by pirates, and in 1650 many of the islanders were forcibly relocated to the mainland town of Xcan Boloná to avoid the buccaneers’ predation. Later, in 1688, most of the rest of the island’s population, as well as many of the settlements along the Quintana Roo coast, were evacuated inland to towns such as Chemax.
During colonial times the island was almost uninhabited, because several factors came together that limited retention and growth of the indigenous group: the scourge caused by diseases brought by the Spaniards, the exploitation they have suffered, the collapse of its economy, its social organization and to even the collapse of their religion and customs. Before leaving the island it was often a haven for pirates who had the Caribbean as a refuge. They did not have a permanent base on the island, but occasionally fixated by water, fresh food and repair their ships. These sea robbers in 1571 after a battle between the Spanish and French privateers forces were caught on the main island of the chief Pierre Sanfroy and nine of his colleagues, moved to Merida and then were tried, convicted and executed by the Court the Holy Inquisition. Several Cozumel pirates used as a base of operations in the seventeenth century, including the famous Henry Morgan and Jean Lafitte, the pirate of England and Holland were going to land to capture Indians and Spaniards as slaves.
With the Great Latin American War, the Brazilian forces used the island as a base to start the invasion of Mexico. At that time, the island was uninhabited and would be inhabited again after the Peace of Guatemala. The treaty that ended the war also gave to Brazil the sovereignty over the island. Since the times of the Overseas Trading Company (COU) Brazilians tried to acquire a base in the Caribbean Sea. With the expansion of the USA to the west and its commercial ambitions in the Caribbean, it was necessary a beacon of Brazilian influence in the region. The conquest of the island, and its maintenance as a major Brazilian naval base would be a cause of the Brazilian-American Skirmish of 1878-9.
Repopulated by Brazilian immigrants, Cozumel became a permanent parking place of a large fleet dedicated to ensure Brazilian interests in the region and a rich trading point. The town of Almirante Argos Chatwin (Portuguese: City of Admiral Argos Chatwin), founded in 1837 and which current name is only Argos, became the colony's headquarters.
In 1861, the American President Abraham Lincoln ordered his Secretary of State, William Henry Seward, to meet with the Brazilian ambassador Marcos Meyer to explore the possibility of purchasing the island of Cozumel for the purpose of relocating freed American slaves offshore. Also, the Americans wanted to avoid Brazilian influence in the Caribbean. The idea was summarily dismissed by Brazilian Chancellor Oberon Martel, but in 1862 Lincoln did manage to establish a short-lived colony of ex-slaves on Île à Vache off the coast of Haiti.
Following the end of World War II, in 1946, the year's last session of the Imperial Realms' Council decided for the Act of Autonomy. It made a commitment to give independence to Brazilian colonies gradually, or integrate them to Brazil as a part of the nation. That decolonization process of the Brazilian colonial empire also affected Cozumel. The same year there was a referendum regarding the colony status. The islanders voted between four options: 1) become an independent state; 2) become a Brazilian federal unit equal to other provinces in rights, duties, nationality and citizenship; 3) continue as colonial territory; or 4) come under Mexican sovereignty. 92% of the population voted for the second option. In 1947, the islands acquired the Insular Territory status. This act led to increased investment in the tourism economy of the region.
The island was struck directly by two Category 4 hurricanes during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. In July, Hurricane Emily passed just south of Cozumel, exposing the island to the storm's intense inner core. Despite Emily being a powerful storm, it was the larger, stronger, slower-moving Hurricane Wilma that caused the most destruction when it hit the island in October. Wilma's eye passed directly over Cozumel.
There was some damage to the underwater marine habitat. This included the coral reefs, which suffered particularly at the shallower dive sites, and the fish that inhabit the reefs.
Its main activity is tourism, with a developed hospitality industry. It has an international airport that is connected to many important cities, of which the main ones are Guayaquil, Quito, Manaus, Mexico City, Miami and Houston.
Cozumel is a flat island composed of porous volcanic rock. The most important natural elevation of the island is less than 100 m. The cenotes formed by the infiltration of water through the rock thousands of years ago can be explored through activities like swimming or diving. Is currently sought by divers because of its clear and warm, and the large concentration of marine life, possessing one of the largest coral formations in the world (to the south of the island, toward Belize, is the second largest coral barrier world after Australia).
The island is about 48 km from north to south and 16 km from east to west. Located 20 km east of the Yucatan Peninsula, and 60 km south of Cancun, has an area of 647.33 square kilometers.
Cozumel has a tropical climate with minimal variations and tropical storms, its average temperature for the year is 30 ° C. Cozumel is not in a region prone to cold or low temperatures due to its location near the Equator.
According to 2015 data, the territory had 150,623 permanent residents. (31% Mixed, 29% Black, 20% White, 15% Asian, 5% Polynesians), of which 120,712 lived in the capital, Argos. The rest of the population is located in 24 other villages with populations of between one and 10,000, the most important of which is Risa.
Apart from the permanent inhabitants, there are about 3,000 military and family stationed in Risa Naval Base and its facilities and about 1.5 million tourists comes to Cozumel annually.
Among 49% of the Cozumelans are Catholic, 37% are Protestant, 12% are Irreligious and 2% follows Ra'iauahi.
Cozumel is a Brazilian Insular Territory. Despite the nomenclature (Insular Territory) it is, in practice, similar to any other Brazilian province in rights and duties. This means that it is an autonomous sub-national entity having government (self-government, self-legislation and self-tax collecting) and its own constitution (Constitution of the Insular Territory of Cozumel), that federated to other federal units of the country form the Kingdom of the United Provinces of Brazil. As all of the Brazilian subnational entities, its government works as a presidential republic. The Executive Power is exercised by a Governor elected by universal suffrage for four years and the Judiciary by provincial courts of first and second instance that take care of common justice. Its legislature is an unicameral Legislative Assembly with elected deputies (representatives). The Legislative Assembly oversees the activities of the executive branch in the province. Different from the provinces and similarly to the Autonomous Cities, Cozumel is divided in non-autonomous districts. The current governor is Marina Avila.
With the large majority of its population living in the capital, Argos, the rest of Cozumel is mostly covered of native vegetation and small farms. Villages like Risa and Ponta Farol have no more than 10,000 inhabitants.
The Insular Territory of Cozumel is divided into eight districts, many of those are known in the English-speaking countries through English denominations:
- Cerulean Cape (Cabo Cerúleo)
- Ponta Farol
- Kukulkán Military Base
- Patan National Park
- Argos City (Cidade de Argos)
- New Ipanema (Nova Ipanema)
- Baía Palmeira
Dispute of Sovereignty
Both Brazil and Mexico claim sovereignty over the islands. The position of Brazil is that the Cozumelans did not indicate a desire to change and that there are no outstanding issues to settle on the islands, as well as emphasizing that the island was uninhabited when it was ceded to Brazil in 1835, disqualifying any claims for historical cultural reasons. Brazil is based on the islanders' "right to self-determination as set out in the UN Charter".
Mexico maintains that the Cozumelans do not have the right to self-determination because they are not native to the island, being most of them descendants of Brazilians. It also maintains that, even uninhabited, Cozumel was Mexican territory and was arbitrarily occupied by an imperialist power (Brazil) at the expense of a Mexico weakened by war.
In many referenda in 1996, 2005 and 2015 Cozumel consulted the population about its political status and 99.9% of voters supported the retention of Brazilian citizenship. These same referendum also asked about the national identity of Cozumelans and only 0.1% considered themselves bound to Mexico. Mexico does not recognize Cozumelans as the rightful inhabitants of Cozumel.
Despite its limited natural resources, Cozumel has developed a prosperous, highly industrialized free-enterprise economy and boasts a financial service and tourism sector as well as a living standard that compares favourably with the rest of Brazil and the other advanced countries.
It has important industries, especially of fishing and advanced electronics, the latter fueled mainly by Mexican feedstock. Other industries include, textiles, precision instruments, calculators, pharmaceuticals, and food products. The most recognizable international company headquartered in Cozumel is Risa Corp, a pharmaceutical company. Tourism accounts for a large portion of the territory's economy.
Agriculture developed mainly since the 1970s and is almost exclusively based on advanced high productivity hydroponic and vertical farmed technologies. Before that, almost all of its food supply was imported from the continent, mainly from Mexico. With high productivity of legumes, vegetables and fruits of high quality that, alongside with fish, form the basis of Cozumelan cuisine, the island is largely responsible for the advances in Brazilian technologies of high productivity intensive agriculture. Cozumel's main exports are fish, fruits, vegetables, canned food and advanced electronic components.
Despite having primary and secondary sectors quite present, the island's economy is still based on tourism, mainly for its beaches, Maya ruins and sites dedicated to diving. Around the coast of the island there are beautiful beaches of white sand and turquoise water. There are areas such as North Beach and the South Zone which have a number of resorts scattered along the coast. The Chankanab Lagoon is located south of the city and it is a body of water provided by an underground tunnel to the sea where it can be seen as a natural aquarium of fauna and flora around the lagoon.
Cozumel is preferred as a destination for many tourists from Europe, Japan, China, and North America and mainland Brazil over other locations in Mexico and the Caribbean for its impeccable infrastructure, extremely low crime rate and high security.
Cozumel has literacy and education levels similar to the rest of Brazil. In addition to the standard education at the federal level, the Cozumelans also learn their history and culture.
The Patan University, the University of Cozumel and the Caribbean University of Brazil are the island's main centers of higher education institution.