Honduras - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

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Honduras, country in Central America, extending from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Honduras is a rugged, mountainous country with a fringe of lowlands along the Caribbean coast. Explorer Christopher Columbus landed here in 1506 and named the land Honduras (Spanish for “depths”) for the deep waters off the Caribbean coast. The country’s official name in Spanish is Republica de Honduras. The capital and largest city is Tegucigalpa.

From the 16th century to the early 19th century, Honduras was part of the vast colonial empire of Spain. In the 20th century it came under the influence of big fruit companies from the United States that established banana plantations there. For a long time bananas were the mainstay of the Honduran economy. Although the economy has become more diversified, Honduras remains primarily an agricultural society. Its wealth is controlled by a small minority, and its people are among the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.


Honduras is one of the largest Central American republics, second only to Nicaragua. Its area of 112,492 sq km (43,433 sq mi) makes it slightly larger than the state of Tennessee. The country is bounded on the north and east by the Caribbean Sea, on the south by Nicaragua, on the southwest by the Pacific Ocean and El Salvador, and on the west by Guatemala.

Honduras is a primarily a highland plateau, consisting of broad, fertile plains broken by deep valleys, and traversed by mountain ranges in a northwestern to southwestern direction. The mountains, which are volcanic in origin, rise to their highest elevations of more than 2,800 m (9,200 ft) in west-central Honduras. Two lowlands line the coast, one extending about 640 km (about 400 mi) along the Caribbean Sea and the other extending 64 km (40 mi) on the Pacific Ocean. The Caribbean lowland, which extends into Nicaragua, is known as Mosquitia, or the Mosquito Coast. The name comes from the Miskito, indigenous people who once inhabited the region, and not from the insect.

Most of the country’s rivers drain to the Atlantic Ocean. Navigable Atlantic rivers include the Ulúa, which drains approximately one-third of the country, and the Coco. The Coco forms part of the boundary between Honduras and Nicaragua. The Choluteca River flows to the Pacific Ocean.

Lake Yojoa, a beautifully situated mountain lake 900 meters (3,000 feet) above sea level, is the only large lake in Honduras. Caratasca Lagoon is the largest of the several lagoons along the Mosquito Coast.

Natural Resources of Honduras

Forests, covering 41.5 percent of the land, yield valuable hardwoods and softwoods. Fertile pasturelands provide the basis for increasingly productive dairy farming and livestock raising. Valuable mineral deposits, such as lead and zinc, are also present in Honduras.

Climate in Honduras

The climate of Honduras is tropical but becomes milder at the higher elevations of the interior. The average annual temperature in the interior is 21°C (70°F). The low-lying coastal regions, however, are warmer, and the humidity is oppressive; the annual temperature here averages 27°C (80°F).

Rainfall is generally heaviest in eastern Honduras, where there is no dry season. The average annual rainfall ranges from 1,000 mm (40 in) in some mountain valleys to 2,500 mm (100 in) along the northern coast. A dry season lasting from November to May occurs in the south-central highlands and on the mountain slopes facing the Pacific.

Plants and Animals in Honduras

Forests of oak and pine cover the cooler highlands. In the drier parts of the country, savanna grasses and low forest remains on what was once forested land. Mangrove and palms are found in the coastal regions.

Honduras has a wide variety of wildlife. The country’s mammals include bears, monkeys, wolves, anteaters, sloths, armadillos, and kinkajous. Members of the cat family found in Honduras include jaguar, puma, lynx, and ocelot. A wide variety of reptiles exists, and marine and bird life abound.

Environmental Issues in Honduras

The lush, tropical forests of Honduras are dwindling rapidly. Increased population has led to the clearing of land for farming and the farming of marginal soils in rural areas, as well as to uncontrolled development in the fringes of urban areas. All of these factors contribute to deforestation and consequently to soil erosion. A reforestation program has been hampered by rudimentary lumbering methods and poor transportation facilities.

Water pollution is another environmental concern in Honduras. Heavy metals from mining activities pollute Lake Yojoa, the country’s largest source of fresh water. Although almost all urban residents have access to safe water and sanitation, access is much lower for rural residents.

The Honduran government has protected some 20 percent of its land in national parks, reserves, and refuges. The largest park in Honduras is the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, which covers about 500,000 hectares (about 1.2 million acres). The site is among the last remaining tracts of tropical rain forest in Central America. It is situated on the Mosquito coast and extends into the mountains. However, even this reserve is threatened; it has suffered from illegal logging, agricultural intrusion, and commercial hunting. The government has ratified international environmental agreements pertaining to biodiversity, climate change, desertification, endangered species, hazardous wastes, marine dumping, ozone layer protection, tropical timber, and wetlands.


About 90 percent of the people of Honduras are mestizo (people of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry). The remainder are Native Americans, blacks, and whites. The population is 54 percent rural.

The population of Honduras (2009 estimate) was 7,792,854. The overall population density was 70 people per sq km (180 per sq mi), with the greatest concentrations in the small towns and villages in the northern coastal and central areas. The rugged terrain has kept the people living in villages isolated from other villages.

Principal Cities of Honduras

The capital and largest city of Honduras is Tegucigalpa (2006 estimate, 1,324,000), located in the south-central highlands region. The country’s second largest city is San Pedro Sula (549,498). The principal city and commercial center in the north, it lies in the heart of the vast banana plantations on the Caribbean Sea. La Ceiba (127,590) and Puerto Cortés (90,161) are among the leading Caribbean ports.

Language and Religion in Honduras

Spanish is the official language and is spoken by nearly all the Honduran people. English is spoken by some people in the north, and the Native Americans who remain have retained their languages. Roman Catholics make up 86 percent of the population; Protestants constitute 6 percent.

Education in Honduras

Education in Honduras is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 11. The government has pledged to raise the literacy rate, which stands at 83.1 percent. In 2007, 1.28 million pupils were enrolled in 8,114 primary schools. However, only 32 percent of secondary school-age children were enrolled in school. The number of secondary schools and teachers is inadequate in rural areas.

The National Autonomous University of Honduras (founded in 1847), in Tegucigalpa, is the country’s major institution of higher learning. The José Cecilio del Valle University in Tegucigalpa (1978) offers training in engineering, administration, and computer science.

Culture of Honduras

The interaction of both Native American and Spanish strains in Honduran cultural history is clearly visible in the architecture. Many colonial buildings show strong Native American influences combined with baroque, Renaissance, and Moorish styles imported by Spanish colonists.

Traditional languages and customs have been preserved in a few isolated Native American settlements in the highlands. However, the culture of Honduras is primarily Spanish today. The marimba is the most popular instrument and forms the core of many bands. Native folklore, folk music, and dances are limited, and artistic activity is concentrated around the School of Fine Arts in Comayagua, the old capital. In northwestern Honduras lies Copán, a ceremonial center of the Old Empire of the Maya and one of the most important archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere.

The most important painters of the 20th century included Arturo López Rodezno, founder of the School of Fine Arts in Comayagua; Antonio Velásquez, who painted scenes of Honduran village life; and Carlos Garay, noted for landscape paintings. The most-respected Honduran literary figures of the 20th century were poet, historian, and essayist Rafael Heliodoro Valle; novelist and short-story writer Argentina Díaz Lozano; and poet and publisher Clementina Suarez.


Honduras is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the Western Hemisphere. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy. The country’s extreme dependence on the export of agricultural products with constantly fluctuating world prices has made the economy highly unstable. The government sought to diversify the economy during the 1990s by developing tourism, new agricultural exports, and manufacturing industries based on assembly of clothing and textiles for export. Despite some success in these areas, unemployment has remained high. Devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 delivered a major setback to the country’s development.

The gross domestic product (GDP), which measures the total value of goods and services produced, was $12 billion in 2007. Per capita GDP was $1,722.20 in 2007. The national budget in 2007 included $2,728 million in revenue and $2,772 million in expenditure.

Agriculture of Honduras

Some 12.8 percent of the total land area of Honduras is cultivated or used for plantation agriculture, most of it on the coastal plains. Because of the country’s rugged terrain, much of the land is unsuitable for agriculture. Poor transportation and the lack of modern production methods have left farms in the highlands physically isolated and economically backward. Along the Caribbean coast, United States companies developed vast plantations on which to grow bananas for export. The banana companies introduced modern methods and transport systems to serve their plantations.

The U.S. fruit companies were granted vast concessions of land along the fertile coastal plain around 1900. The region’s easy access to the southern ports of the United States helped it to become the world’s second largest banana exporting area, following Ecuador. Until the middle of the 20th century, the U.S. banana companies completely dominated the Honduran economy. The government and large landowners who shared the wealth from the banana trade made few efforts to promote other crops.

Coffee first became an important commercial crop in the 1950s. It is grown throughout the mountainous area of the interior. Honduran coffee farms tend to be small. Cotton, which is grown on the Pacific coastal plain, became important in the late 1950s.

Today, the leading cash crops grown in Honduras (with annual production for 2007 in metric tons) are fruits such as bananas and plantains (1,698,980) and coffee (200,000). Other important crops include sugarcane (5 million), cantaloupes and other melons, oranges, and oil palm fruit. The principal food crops are corn (555,000), beans (75,000), and rice (19,200). Production of these food staples is carried out principally by small subsistence farmers on the infertile soils of the mountainous interior.

Cattle have been raised on large ranches in the highlands and the Caribbean lowlands since colonial times. Beef production rose significantly after 1960 with the opening of the country’s first modern meat-packing plants. Exports of beef declined in the 1980s as local consumption grew. The livestock population in 2007 numbered 2.51 million cattle and 490,000 pigs. Chickens are raised for local consumption.

Forestry and Fishing in Honduras

Honduras once had abundant forests. As in much of Central America, the forests have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Poor, landless farmers cleared land to raise crops, cattle ranchers cleared vast tracts for grazing land, and loggers cut down trees for lumber. Most of the wood exported by Honduras is pine and other softwoods. A reforestation program has been hampered by rudimentary lumbering methods and poor transportation facilities. In 2007 roundwood production was 9.46 million cubic meters (334 million cubic feet).

Exports of shellfish, primarily shrimp and lobsters, grew in importance during the 1990s and early 2000s, with shrimp farming joining the country’s industries. The fish catch in 2007 of 46,294 metric tons was primarily shellfish.

Mining in Honduras

Deposits of zinc, silver, and lead are mined in Honduras. Other resources reported, but largely unworked, include iron ore, coal, and tin. In 2006, 37,646 metric tons of zinc concentrate and 55 metric tons of silver were mined.

Manufacturing in Honduras

Honduran industry has grown significantly since the mid-1950s. Traditional industries were based largely on the production of agricultural and forestry products, including cotton, sugar, beverages, and furniture and other wood products. Cement was another important product. Textiles grew in importance during the 1980s, and in the 1990s the assembly of goods for export became significant as a result of the Caribbean Basin Initiative. This United States initiative allows for the duty-free importation of clothing assembled from U.S. cloth. Factories also opened to assemble electronics, furniture, and metal goods. Most of the assembly industries were based near the coastal ports of San Pedro Sula and Puerto Cortés. The capital, Tegucigalpa, is also a center of industry.

Tourism of Honduras

Tourism has grown in importance and provides the country with much-needed income. Most of the visitors to the country come from elsewhere in Central America or from the United States. The well-preserved ruins of the ancient Maya civilization at Copan are a leading tourist attraction. Palm-fringed beaches along the Caribbean coast draw vacationers who wish to relax. Others choose to visit mangrove swamps, cloud forests high in the mountains, or some of the country’s many national parks where they can observe wild life, especially the country’s colorful birds. The Bay Islands off the Caribbean coast of Honduras are ringed by coral reefs, which makes them popular for snorkeling.

Currency and Banking of Honduras

The unit of currency in Honduras is the lempira, divided into 100 centavos (18.90 lempiras equal U.S.$1; 2007 average). The bank of issue is the Banco Central de Honduras. The government-controlled Municipal Bank and National Agricultural Development Bank provide credit for developmental projects.

Commerce and Trade in Honduras

Bananas and coffee have traditionally been the leading Honduran exports by value, although in the early 2000s they were surpassed by export revenues from industries that assemble parts for electronic devices, furniture, and other goods. Other food exports, especially shellfish, contributed significantly. The United States is the principal trading partner of Honduras. El Salvador is another leading purchaser of Honduran exports. Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico are other sources for imports.

The total yearly value of exports in 2007 was $2,149 million. Since the mid-1970s imports have risen rapidly, reaching a value of $6.75 billion in 2007. Income from tourism helped balance the country’s trade deficit, as has money sent back to the country by Hondurans living abroad, especially in the United States.

Transportation in Honduras

In 1870 the government planned to build a railroad, but because of bad planning and mismanagement, only 142 km (88 mi) were finished. The banana companies later built some 600 km (370 mi) of railroads for their own use along the northern coast. The rest of Honduras was served only by mule trails until road building began in the late 1940s. The Inter-American Highway (160 km/100 mi in Honduras) runs along the Pacific coast and links Honduras with Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. A good road connects this highway with Tegucigalpa. Today, the total length of roads in Honduras is 13,600 km (8,451 mi).

The mountainous character of Honduras has made aviation an important means of transportation. Today, about 30 local airports, several international airports, and more than 100 small fields are in use. Puerto Cortés, on the Caribbean coast, is the country’s principal port. Other ports on the Caribbean include Tela, La Ceiba, and Puerto Castilla. Amapala and San Lorenzo are the main ports on the Pacific coast.

Communications in Honduras

Journalists in Honduras generally practice self-censorship to avoid offending government authorities or powerful media owners. Honduras has 7 daily newspapers. The country also has 410 radio receivers and 101 televisions for every 1,000 residents; there are 4 main television stations. Honduras had 69 telephone mainlines for every 1,000 people in 2005.

Labor in Honduras

The total labor force of Honduras numbers 2.55 million, of which 39 percent are engaged in agriculture.


Honduras was governed under the constitution of 1965 until 1972, when it was largely suspended after a coup d’état (for more information, see the History section of this article). A new constitution was adopted in 1982 and amended in 1995.

Executive of Honduras

Executive power in Honduras is vested in a president, who is elected by direct and universal vote for a four-year term. The president appoints a cabinet that assists in governing. A president can serve only one term.

Legislature of Honduras

Legislative power in Honduras is vested in the unicameral Congress, the 128 members of which are popularly elected.

Political Parties of Honduras

The two strongest political parties in Honduras are the conservative National Party and the slightly less conservative Liberal Party. The National Party has traditionally been aligned with the military and received its main support from poor rural areas of the south. The Liberal Party receives more of its support from urban areas. Smaller groups include the centrist Innovation and Unity Party and the Christian Democratic Party.

Local Government of Honduras

Honduras is divided into 18 departments, which are subdivided into municipalities. Each department is administered by a governor appointed by the president. Municipalities are governed by elected councils.

Judiciary in Honduras

The supreme court is composed of nine judges elected by Congress for four-year terms. The judiciary also includes courts of appeal and courts of original jurisdiction, such as labor, tax, and criminal courts.

Health and Welfare in Honduras

In recent years public health services in Honduras have been made more accessible through an increase in mobile health units and through the development of community participation in health programs. Effective programs have resulted in malaria control, improved sewerage, and increased medical personnel. Malnutrition, inadequate housing, and infant diseases are still widespread. In 2009 the estimated life expectancy at birth was 71 years for women and 67.9 years for men; the infant mortality rate was 24 per 1,000 live births.

The constitution provides social security programs for workers and their families. Funds are collected from employers, employees, and the government. Only a small part of the labor force participates in the program.

Defense of  Honduras

The armed forces in 2006 numbered 12,000, comprising an army of 8,300, a navy of 1,400, and an air force of 2,300. As of 1994 military service was no longer mandatory.


Western Honduras was at the southeastern edge of the great Maya civilization during the 1st millennium AD, and the ruins at Copán attest to the advanced stage of the country’s culture. The Maya, however, were already in decline by the time Christopher Columbus reached their shores on his fourth voyage in 1502. Several non-Maya tribes also inhabited the Caribbean coastal region. The indigenous population was decimated by the Spanish conquest and by the European diseases the Spaniards introduced, but the number of Spanish settlers was small and included few women. As a result, marriage between Spaniards and Native Americans was common, and mestizos became Honduras’s dominant ethnic group.

The Colonial Period

The conquest of Honduras began in 1524 and was characterized by bitter struggles among rivals representing Spanish power centers in Mexico, Panama, and Hispaniola. Hernán Cortés, the conqueror of Mexico, went to Honduras in 1525 to establish a firm claim, but the discovery of gold there made the region a center of intrigue and conflict for several years. The conquerors also met with considerable opposition from Lempira, a Native American chief whose heroic resistance inspired later movements toward freedom and whose name was given to the monetary unit of the country.

Pedro de Alvarado, governor of the kingdom of Guatemala, finally overcame all challengers in 1539 to gain control of Honduras. The province became a part of the Guatemalan kingdom, which encompassed almost all of Central America and was itself a part of the vast Spanish colony known as the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The town of Comayagua, established in 1540, served as the province’s capital during most of the colonial period. An early mining boom around Gracias gave the town such importance that in 1544 it became the capital for the Kingdom of Guatemala. The gold and silver deposits of Honduras were more limited than Spanish explorers had originally believed, however. As a result Honduras lost its early importance, and the regional capital was moved to Guatemala in 1549.

Flurries of mining activity around Tegucigalpa encouraged that town also to challenge Comayagua, especially in the late colonial period, creating a rivalry that grew in intensity after Honduras gained independence. For the most part, however, colonial Honduras was a sparsely populated province, with most of its population dedicated to subsistence agriculture or ranching. By the end of the colonial period Honduras was an important supplier of foodstuffs and livestock to the indigo-exporting regions of El Salvador and Guatemala.

The Central American Federation

In 1821 Honduras, along with other Central American countries and Mexico, declared its independence from Spain. Soon afterward Mexico annexed Honduras and the other countries of Central America. In 1823 the regime in Mexico collapsed, and Honduras joined its neighbors in forming the United Provinces of Central America. Political dissension between the conservative Spanish aristocracy and the more liberal intellectual and Creole landowners soon became evident. (Creoles were people of Spanish ancestry born in the Western Hemisphere.) In Honduras the bitter rivalry between conservatives and liberals was reflected in violent quarrels for supremacy between the mostly conservative city of Comayagua and the more liberal city of Tegucigalpa.

In 1825 a Salvadoran liberal, Manuel José Arce, was elected first president of the United Provinces of Central America, but the following year he bolted his party and turned conservative. A civil war within the United Provinces followed. From the civil war a great Honduran liberal and national hero, Francisco Morazán, emerged. Morazán led liberal forces to victory in 1829 and restored order.

In 1830 Morazán was elected president of the United Provinces. Though an able leader, he was too hasty in establishing reform measures. In addition, the federated states still feared the preeminence of Guatemala, even though Morazán transferred the capital from Guatemala City to San Salvador in El Salvador. Finally, in 1838 the Central American states formally dissolved their federation.


An assembly meeting at Comayagua declared Honduras an independent republic on October 26, 1838. The course of independence, however, was stormy. Stronger neighbors, especially Guatemala, exercised great influence in Honduran politics throughout the 19th century. Rafael Carrera, the dictator who held power in Guatemala from 1844 to 1865, unseated liberal regimes in both Honduras and El Salvador. Perhaps because of this, but also because there was still sentiment strongly in favor of union, the three neighboring republics—El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua—formed a loose confederation in 1849. The alliance stayed in effect until 1863, when a three-way war among its members destroyed the union. Conservative dictators held power for most of the first four decades of independence, and the nation’s capital was Comayagua.

Liberal dictators, beginning with Marcos A. Soto in 1876, dominated the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and they began to emphasize modernization and exports. The transfer of the capital from conservative Comayagua to liberal Tegucigalpa reflected both the triumph of the liberals and a renewed emphasis on mining, which the government stimulated by attracting foreign investment. Mining companies from the United States played a major role in late-19th-century Honduran economic growth, although Honduras remained the least developed state in Central America.

The Banana Republic

At the start of the 20th century, Honduras was the poorest of the Central American nations. In the early 1900s U.S. fruit companies began growing bananas along the Caribbean coast of Honduras. They competed ruthlessly for grants of land from the government under favorable terms and often promised political support in return. The banana companies soon became the dominant force in the country’s political and economic life.

By 1910 U.S. firms controlled 80 percent of all banana lands, and bananas had become the mainstay of the economy. Honduras became known as a “banana republic.” When revolutions broke out in 1911 and 1913, the United States intervened on the side of the ruling elite to restore order and protect U.S. property.

The fruit companies gave Honduras a major export commodity, developed its Caribbean ports, and contributed, indirectly, to the growth of San Pedro Sula as the major population center on the entire Central American Caribbean plain, even though they contributed little to the general development of the country. Most of Honduras remained illiterate, and underpopulated.

Modernizing Honduras

The dictatorship of Tiburcio Carías, which lasted from 1932 to 1948, ended a long period of political disorder in Honduras. Carías governed with an iron hand and did little to advance the social welfare of his people. However, the country achieved some economic progress under his rule, and the austerity measures he introduced contributed to a balanced budget. In 1949 Carías relinquished the presidency to a successor he chose, Juan Manuel Gálvez, a lawyer for the United Fruit Company who was supported by the National Party.

Showing surprising independence, Gálvez initiated some economic and social reforms. He stimulated the building of new roads, schools, and health facilities and promoted agricultural diversification. A program for providing water and sewer systems for the larger towns and cities was also launched. Some democratic freedoms were introduced, but too few and too slowly to suit the Liberal Party. Honduras remained the only Latin American republic without a labor law. In 1954 banana workers went on strike. As other workers joined in, a general strike paralyzed the country, forcing the government to legally recognize the labor unions. Most of the workers’ demands were not met, however.

Elections in 1954 produced a deadlock over the successor to Gálvez, and his vice president, Julio Lozano Díaz, seized power. In 1956 a military junta ousted Lozano. The junta organized elections to a constituent assembly that elected a liberal, Ramón Villeda Morales, as president in 1957. Villeda led the country into the Central American Common Market (CACM) and initiated programs for agrarian reform and education. The landowners and the army opposed the agrarian reforms, and in 1963 the army overthrew Villeda.

Military Governments

Colonel Osvaldo López Arellano, who led the 1963 coup, held the reins of government for 11 of the next 12 years. López halted implementation of the agrarian reforms begun by the Villeda regime and dealt harshly with militant peasant organizations. His administration did, however, continue policies of his predecessor that aimed at modernizing the economy.

Throughout the 1960s tensions grew between Honduras and El Salvador because of the large number of landless, jobless Salvadorans who moved to Honduras and because of border disputes. A brief but costly war between the two countries erupted in 1969 after a soccer match and further weakened the economy. Relations between Honduras and El Salvador remained tense until 1980, when the two countries finally concluded a peace treaty.

In 1971 national elections were held, and the leader of the National Party was elected president. Late in 1972 López Arellano regained power in a bloodless coup, suspended congress, and began governing by decree. By this time peasant unrest had flared up again. López immediately reactivated the agrarian reform program, distributing government land and legalizing peasant settlement on idle private lands. Opposition to his regime grew among both landowners alarmed by agrarian reforms and young army officers disturbed that high-level government officials had stolen money intended for hurricane relief. Hurricane Fifi, which struck Honduras in 1974, had taken 8,000 lives and damaged nearly 60 percent of the country’s farmland.

The final blow for López was the exposure in 1974 of a $250,000 bribe paid to government officials by United Brands, the leading banana grower. The army helped Colonel Juan Alberto Melgar Castro take power in 1975. Under Melgar Castro the army cooperated with landowners in violently repressing peasant dissent, and some peasant leaders were jailed. He was ousted in 1978 in another coup, led by General Policarpo Paz García.

In 1979 a revolution in neighboring Nicaragua brought the Sandinistas to power there. Honduras became a base for thousands of guerrillas fighting the Nicaraguan government, and the United States began holding regular military exercises in Honduras in an effort to bring down Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. United States President Ronald Reagan believed the Sandinistas were backing communist revolutions in Central America.

In the 1980s Honduras found itself more than ever dependent on the United States. The Honduran government first denied the presence of the Nicaraguan exiles being trained by the U.S. military. Then in 1986, the government began to ask the United States to remove its Nicaraguan rebels, as cross-border warfare and the presence of refugees were depressing the economy. In 1990 the rebel camps were closed.

Return to Civilian Rule

Following the Nicaraguan revolution in 1979, the United States also began to put pressure on the Honduran military to install a constitutional government to increase political stability. In elections held in 1981, the Liberal Party candidate, Roberto Suazo Córdova, won the presidency. A new constitution was approved in 1982. However, the military retained considerable influence in the country.

José Azcona Hoyo, also a Liberal Party candidate, was elected president in 1985. He was succeeded by Rafael Leonardo Callejas of the National Party, winner of the 1989 presidential election. The Callejas administration was beset by strikes as it struggled with a desperate economic situation and tried to reduce government spending.

A rising cost of living and government corruption enabled Liberal Party candidate, Carlos Roberto Reina Idiaquez, a longtime human rights and political activist, to defeat Callejas in 1993. Reina investigated government corruption and past human rights violations. His presidency helped restore civilian control to the government by removing the police from the jurisdiction of the military and by implementing a plan to put the armed forces under a civilian defense minister beginning in 1999. With the approval of the Roman Catholic Church, the former archbishop of Tegucigalpa was appointed head of the national police force.

In 1995 the main political parties established a new political forum, the National Council of Convergence, which was designed to promote consensus on the social, economic, and political problems facing Honduras. Also that year Honduras joined the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), a free trade organization. The Liberal Party remained in power in the presidential and congressional elections in 1997. The new president, Carlos Flores Facusse, had been a newspaper publisher and former president of the Honduran Congress.

Honduras was one of the countries hardest hit when Hurricane Mitch struck the eastern coast of Central America in October 1998. Mitch killed over 5,000 people in Honduras, left many thousands homeless, and caused enormous damage to crops, roads, and towns and villages. Mitch was ranked as the fourth strongest hurricane of the 20th century. Some observers said that the storm had set back economic development in Honduras by decades.

In 2001 National Party candidate Ricardo Maduro was elected president. Maduro took office in 2002 and vowed to crack down on violent crime. Gang warfare had been on the rise since the late 1990s, and army units began policing the streets in 2000. A United Nations report in 2002 condemned the killing of children and young people in Honduras who lived in the streets. Estimates suggested that more than a thousand street children had been killed over a four-year period, many by the security forces. The government launched an investigation into the deaths in 2003.

In late 2003 Honduras signed on to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which was designed to improve trading relations between the countries of the region and the United States (see Free Trade). The issue of crime continued to dominate Honduran politics, however. In November 2005 voters showed their unhappiness with the government by electing the Liberal Party’s Manuel Zelaya as the country’s new president.

Constitutional Referendum and Coup

In 2009 President Zelaya proposed a nonbinding referendum to judge support for altering the Honduran constitution. However, both the Supreme Court and Congress declared the referendum to be illegal, citing the possibility of Zelaya modifying the constitution to allow himself to be reelected.

On June 23 the Congress passed a law blocking the referendum. Zelaya ordered the military to proceed with distributing ballots to polling places. General Romeo Vásquez, chief of the armed forces, refused. In response Zelaya removed Vásquez from his post on June 24, prompting Defense Minister Edmundo Orellana, as well as the heads of the army, air force, and marines, to resign in protest.

Four days later, on June 28, only hours before the referendum was scheduled to begin, military forces stormed the presidential palace and forcibly removed Zelaya. He was then placed on a plane and flown into exile in Costa Rica. Hours later Roberto Micheletti, the president of Congress, was sworn in as Zelaya’s replacement.

Leaders throughout North and South America, as well as the European Union and the United Nations, denounced the coup and demanded the reinstatement of Zelaya as president. On July 4 the Organization of American States (OAS) suspended Honduras’s membership in the OAS.

In an effort to resolve the crisis, both sides agreed to discuss potential solutions in a series of talks mediated by President Óscar Arias of Costa Rica. However, these talks broke down as the de facto government refused to allow Zelaya’s reinstatement as president. On July 25th, in an effort to place pressure on the de facto government, Zelaya briefly crossed the border into Honduras from Nicaragua. His actions drew criticism from the United States, which has been a major supporter of the talks.

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