Honduras is approximately 1000 miles southwest of Miami and has a mainly mountainous area of 48,200 square miles. To the North it has a large coastal line with the Caribbean sea and to the South it enjoys a small access to the Pacific.
Honduras lies at what was the southern tip of the Mayan civilization that spread southwards from the Yucatan peninsula through modern Guatemala to the city of Copan, now in north-west Honduras. The Mayan civilization collapsed long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, who visited Trujillo in north-east Honduras in 1502 on his third voyage to the new world. The country was colonized by Spain after some resistance by the Lenca peoples of the central highlands.
Their chief, Lempira, who was murdered by the Spaniards, became a national symbol after independence. On independence in 1821 Honduras joined the Central American Federation, and the Honduran general, Francisco Morazan, became its first president. He also entered the phatheon of national heroes after he was killed in the break-up of the federation in 1839. Honduras’ liberal revolution took place in the 1870s under the presidency of Marco Aurelio Soto.
In 1899 the first banana concession was granted to the Vacarro brothers; their company would later become Standard Fruit. In 1907 Sam Zemurray set up the Cuyamel Fruit Company; later bought by United Fruit. The unequal relationship that would exist between the companies and the Honduran state for the first half of the 20th century gave rise to the description “banana republic. ” Between 1932 and 1948 Honduras was ruled by a dictator, Tiburcio Carias Andino. After the fall of Carias, Honduras began an uneven process of political and economic modernization.
In 1954, Honduras signed a military treaty with the US government, which was concerned for its strategic interests in the region following the rise of the Arbenz government in Guatemala. In 1957 a Liberal president, Ramon Villeda Morales, was elected. His administration promoted the first agrarian reform and saw the beginning of social welfare legislation. He also took Honduras into the Central American Common Market, the Mercado Comun Centroamericano which was founded in 1960.
President Villeda was ousted from power by a military coup in 1963 and General Oswaldo Lopez Arellano became president. General Lopez Arellano tried to resolve growing land conflicts in the West at the cost of Salvadorian immigrants, and as a result, Honduras fought a brief war with El Salvador in 1967 that went into the history books as the “soccer war” since it was triggered by abusive treatment of the Honduran team during a World Cup qualifying game in San Salvador.
In his second presidency, from 1972 to 1975, General Lopez Arellano supervised the most radical phase of the agrarian reform, which took the form of a colonization movement in the Aguan valley, during which rangers were cleared from the valley to make way for peasant cooperatives dedicated to bananas and African palm. A state forestry corporation, Corporacion Hondureia de Desarrollo Forestal , was established, marking the start of a period of military government that also saw the foundation of the Corporation Nacional de Inversiones.
These initiatives led to a rapid increase in external debt, to US$1. 5bn by the end of the 1970s. The 1980s was a period of political and economic crisis in Honduras. The world recession of 1979 and the debt crisis of 1982 revealed the flaw in a development strategy that relied on foreign borrowing to pay for public spending. The first half of the 1980s were dominated by the Contra war in Nicaragua. The Honduran army turned a blind eye to the Contras’ presence in southern Honduras, and in return the liberal government of Roberto Suazo Cordova received economic and military aid from the USA.
This was a period of internal repression by the armed forces under the command of General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, during which approximately 170 left-wing activists “disappeared. ” However, the focus of US policy gradually shifted towards supporting democratic governments in Central America. This helped to consolidate democratic rule in Honduras and put an end to the long tradition of military coups.
In the late 1980s, during the government of the Liberal president Jose Simon Azcona, as the Contra war waned, the US government pressed with increasing insistence for economic policy reforms on the lines of structural adjustment packages advocated by the World Bank. Over two thousand years of history are richly displayed in Honduras’ numerous Mayan archaeological sites and vestiges of early Spanish colonialism. As a result of this diverse history, the Honduran people are an ethnic mix of native Indian, Spanish and other nationalities.
Honduras has enjoyed long lasting cultural, economic and political ties with the United States. Visitors and foreign residents in Honduras are often pleasantly surprised by the welcoming attitude of Hondurans. Foreign residents live securely, and in pleasant surroundings, in all regions of the country. Honduras has a population of over five million. It is growing at an average annual rate of 3%. The urban population is increasing at a much higher rate. About 700,000 people live in the capital city of Tegucigalpa and 350,000 live in San Pedro Sula, the largest industrial city.
The official language is Spanish. English is widely used as a second language. Today Honduras has a stable democratic government that is committed to private enterprise. In January 1994 president Carlos Roberto Reina of the Partido Liberal started his four year term. He replaced president Rafael Leonardo Callejas of the Partido Nacional. The president is elected for a single term as the head of state and the head of government. He appoints the governors of the eighteen departments of Honduras. There are three vice-presidents, who bear the title designado presindencial.
The legislature is the National Assembly, with one member and a substitute elected for every 35,000 voters. There is a single national election on the bases of universal adult suffrage for the president and the legislature. Seats in the legislature are allocated to each party according to its vote in each region. This tends to make for domination of the political system by the president, which enforces party loyalty. Honduras has a US-style legal system with a Supreme Court at its apex. Two parties, the Partido Liberal and the Partido Nacional have dominated electoral politics throughout the 20th century.
The PL’s origins lie in the anti-clerical reform movement of the 1880s. The party has a strong rural base linked to conservative land owners and to small peasants. It also has an important urban base, which tends to be more radical in Tegucigalpa and more business based in San Pedro Sula. The PN originated in a split in the PL and emerged as a coherent group in the 1920s. Its strongholds tend to be in rural areas and the backward departments of the west and south. By tradition politically more conservative then the Liberals, the PN has rarely won elections.
When the party came under the leadership of Rafael Leonardo Callejas, a young technocrat who managed to reorganize it as a potent electoral force and to establish support for a radical Structural Adjustment Program among its leading factions. At the same time, he shored up private business support for the party, and it is now much better organized and financed than its rivals. There are two other legally established political parties, the Partido Democrata Cristiana de Honduras and the Partido de Innovacion y Unidad. Each of them is left of center and neither is a serious electoral force.