The western part of Honduras was part of the Mayan
kingdom that had been destroyed before Kristoffer Columbus
arrived on the coast in 1502. One of the best-preserved
Mayans, Copán, is in Honduras. The Spaniards found little
interest and the indigenous people exercised great
resistance until the Lenca chief Lempira was killed and his
30,000 warriors surrendered in 1537, the same year that
Comayagua became the provincial capital.
Central America's first university was founded here in
1632. Mining was commissioned from the late 16th century in
the area around the present capital Tegucigalpa. The long
coast towards the Caribbean was partly under British control
throughout most of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The British had bases off the coast which were the link
between Belize and their sphere of influence which lay under
the Miskitu kingdom and stretched along the coast to
Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The people of the coast are
largely descendants of African slaves.
On September 15, 1821, Honduras along with the other
provinces of Central America became independent from Spain.
See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Honduras. One of the foremost champions of a united Central America
was Honduran General Francisco Morazán; he suffered defeat
in 1838 when the union was dissolved and the five republics
formed. The instability in Honduras was noticeable. Between
1821 and 1876, a total of 85 presidents ruled, of which
General José María Medina eleven times.
One of the reasons why a strong state power did not
emerge in Honduras was that the landlord class was weak. The
country also failed to develop a strong coffee economy like
Guatemala and El Salvador. Corruption was so widespread that
at an early stage the country struggled with large foreign
debt. Instead, foreign companies became dominant in
The term "banana republic" was first used about Honduras,
as international companies have had a greater influence over
the country's governing powers than the inhabitants
themselves. North American banana companies have dominated
both the economy and politics of the country since the late
US banana companies received exceptionally favorable
licenses for banana plantations along the Caribbean coast in
the 1890s, which laid the foundation for the large-scale
Standard Fruit group. In 1913, banana production accounted
for 66% of total exports, and banana companies took care of
much of the infrastructure in the country. Ever since
President Marco Aurelio Soto was overthrown in 1883, the
country had been characterized by civil wars, and the banana
companies were trying to help one or the other party in the
conflicts to achieve even better conditions. Traditionally,
Standard Fruit supported the Liberal Party, while United
Fruit supported the National Party.
As a result of the worldwide crisis in 1929, unemployment
and unrest increased due to the strong dependence on the
banana companies. As in the other Central American
countries, this led to military dictatorship, where General
Tiburcio Carías Andino ruled hard-fought from 1932 to 1948.
The unions became militant during the same period, and were
met with violent repression by the regime.
In 1954, Honduras experienced such extensive strikes that
banana production was completely paralyzed. The unions were
strong enough to be pushed through reforms that in 1959 led
to a separate workers' law. Since 1963, when General Oswaldo
López Arellano took power, the army has been the real power
in the country. This created better stability for the
foreign banana companies.
López was re-elected in 1965 as a candidate for the
national party. His modernization efforts were strongly
linked to the creation of the Central American Common Market
(CACM) and cautious land reform. The industry developed, but
to a lesser extent than in neighboring countries. It was the
foreign companies that drew the greatest benefits.
Unemployment increased and did not improve as around 300,000
Salvadoran people came to the country to find work. Land
reform was extremely slow, and rural conditions were
The so-called "football war" in 1969 against El Salvador
was due to the dissatisfaction with the imbalance in the
common market and the growing confrontations around land
rights, in which many Salvadoran immigrants were involved.
Salvadoran military forces entered Honduras to defend their
countrymen, and relations between the two countries have
been conflicting ever since. López Arellano regained power
in 1972, but had to step down in 1975 following a corruption
scandal with the banana companies trying to resist taxation.
Instead, Honduras experienced a military-populist phase
under Juan Alberto Melgar Castro, which lasted until 1978
when Policarpo Paz García seized power through the country's
138th military coup.
The Sandinist revolution in neighboring Nicaragua quickly
brought Honduras to the United States. The country borders
all three Central American countries where revolutionary
movements were very active, but in Honduras no guerrillas of
a notable kind had developed. The election of Ronald Reagan
as President of the United States in 1980 led to a
significant increase in US economic and military assistance.
Honduras also has Central America's largest air force.
Although Liberal Roberto Suazo Córdova won the election in
the fall of 1981, it was General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez
who had the real power. Honduras became the base of
operations for Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries (contras)
and the almost permanent US military maneuvers served as
part of the secret war against Nicaragua.
The Central American Peace Plan
The reign of José Azcona Hoyo (1986-90) became crucial
for Central America. In cooperation with the other
presidents of the region, the Central American Peace Plan
was launched in 1987, where Azcona pledged that
counter-revolutionary activities against Nicaragua would no
longer be carried out from Honduran territory.
The government of Rafael Callejas of the Conservative
National Party (PN), who was elected for the period 1990-94,
placed the military under a newly created Department of
Defense. Callejas paved the way for a modernization policy
that assumed dramatic dimensions when already weak social
programs, labor rights and wage policies were sacrificed in
favor of privatization, austerity and tax benefits for the
A new law on agricultural modernization from 1992 led to
investments in large estates and plantations, and many small
farmers and landless people gave up and moved to the cities
to seek employment in an already tight labor market.
Callejas received a lot of criticism, and it got worse
towards the end of his reign, as several cases of corruption
involving the president and members of the government came
to light. Callejas has later been brought to trial for
corruption and misuse of public funds.
The 1993 election was won by Carlos Roberto Reina of the
Liberal Party, Partido Liberal de Honduras (PLH), a
recognized human rights lawyer to whom high hopes were
attached. Reina's government made great efforts to correct
its predecessors' policies, but the counter-forces were
strong. Inflation, unemployment, the poverty gap and crime
continued to rise. The new government also did not have
sufficient political strength for its fight against
corruption. The judicial system also proved too corrupt and
under pressure from the military and death squads. But it
was better to track. The army's immunity to scrutiny was
gradually diminished, and several officers were eventually
convicted of civilian abuse, human rights violations, and
other conditions in the 1980s.
The Liberal Party PLH triumphed again in the fall of
1997, and Carlos Flores Facussé was able to form a new
government - with the restructuring of the defense as one of
its main causes. After more than 15 years of civilian
government, the military continued to be a significant
political power factor. The army's own intelligence
apparatus, FUSEP, which was largely targeted at the civilian
population, was intact. In 1998, however, the police
department was transferred from the military to the
government, and two years later the country's armed forces
were also formally subject to civilian control.
Violation of human rights was still a serious problem,
according to several reports. In 2000, it was discovered
that the death squads had killed more than a thousand street
children, and were also behind the attacks on the country's
indigenous population, partly with the support of the
police. The UN made a strong appeal to the government to
In late winter 1999, tensions between Nicaragua and
Honduras increased after Honduras awarded Colombia the right
to a sea area that Nicaragua also claims. Troop
reinforcements were sent to the border, and in February 2000
there was an exchange of gunfire between patrol boats from
the two countries. Following meetings in Washington with
mediation led by the Organization of American States (OAS),
an agreement to avoid armed conflict was signed; the dispute
was finally resolved in 2007. A similar, protracted border
dispute with El Salvador found its solution in 2006.
In January 2002, the Conservative National Party's
Ricardo Maduro took office as new president, after winning
the election in the fall. Maduro's foremost program item was
zero tolerance for the criminal gangs, the so-called maras.
There were sharp reactions both at home and internationally
when he declared that military forces should be deployed; by
the way, his only son had to face life during a kidnapping
four years earlier. Under the Maduro government, Honduras
joined the US war in Iraq, as the first country in Central
America, and restored, as one of the very last countries,
diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Social and economic challenges
In October 1998, Honduras was hit by Hurricane Mitch,
with a force never before experienced. Around 5,000 people
lost their lives, 70 percent of the crops were lost, and the
material destruction was enormous. Two years later, the
grain harvest failed due to drought, and a UN-led aid
program was set up to prevent hunger in the population. The
natural disasters around the turn of the century were
estimated to have set the trend back 20 years.
In the latter half of the 1990s, Honduras sailed as one
of Central America's foremost industrial countries. A number
of North American and Asian companies have established
operations in the San Pedro Sula area, having been lured to
the country with tax exemptions and cheap labor. Large sums
are invested in a modern road network that also links
Honduras to ports on the Pacific side of El Salvador.
Throughout the first decade of the 2000s, Honduras
figured among the Latin American countries with the
strongest economic growth. But despite a noticeable
improvement in several areas, the country was still among
Central America's least developed, with a rising poverty gap
and a significant corruption problem. Up to 40% of the state
budget helped to pay off debt. And the official unemployment
rate was 30%, 70% of the population lived below the poverty
line, while HIV/AIDS was a growing health problem.
Measures to address the major crime and violence problems
have also been high on the agenda of the recent presidential
elections; in 2006, Honduras experienced its first political
killing since the 1980s, when the ruling party's group
leader in the National Assembly was shot in his own home.
In 2005, Honduras ratified a free trade agreement between
Central American countries and the United States, something
both the rival center/right parties, PLH and PNH,
considered as a key strategy for economic progress. However,
under PLH's Manuel Zelaya, who won a pinch victory in the
2005 presidential election, Honduras joined in 2008 the
competing Latin American trade cooperation ALBA, which was
led by Venezuela's US-hostile President Hugo Chavez. This
left turn in Honduran foreign policy was justified by a lack
of international support in the work to overcome the
country's poverty problem.
Manuel Zelaya took office as president in 2006, elected
on a program to fight poverty and law and order as the main
issue. At the time of the new presidential election in the
summer of 2009, Zelaya wanted to organize a referendum that
could, among other things, allow him to run for a new term.
Like many other countries in the region, Honduras also has
constitutional provisions that prevent reelection after a
presidential term. When Zelaya wanted to conduct the
referendum, he was deposed in a military coup initiated by
the Supreme Court, and Roberto Micheletti was inducted as
The coup was condemned by most international leaders,
including US President Barack Obama. After a turbulent
period, presidential elections were held in November 2009,
when the Conservative candidate Porfirio Lobo Sosa of the
old power elite was declared the winner. Lobo's foremost
promise was to start "the great national dialogue" to unite
the nation after the military coup. However, both the
electoral process and the outcome were disputed, also in the
rest of Latin America, where a number of heads of state
believed the election laundered the coup makers and
increased the danger of new military coups in the region.
Unlike the United States, neither the United Nations nor the
Organization of American States (OAS) recognized the
The 2013 presidential election, approved by election
observers, was won by conservative Juan Orlando Hernández.
With anti-crime and anti-corruption laws, which now permeate
the Honduran community, Hernández has signed a transparency
agreement with Transparency International, among others.