Honduras is one of the countries that make up Central America (C.A.). These countries lie south of Mexico and north of Columbia. They include El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Belize, and Panama. The first five of these countries share a common history and similar economies, based on agriculture. Often, the phrase Central America refers only to these five. Belize was a British colony (British Honduras) until 1981, and Panama was a part of Columbia until 1903. The economy of Panama is based on international trade rather than agriculture.
The second largest country in Central America, with an area of 43,277 square miles, Honduras is shaped like a triangle. Its dimensions are about 200 miles from North to South, and 400 miles from East to West. It has a 400 mile coast on the Caribbean and a 40 mile coast on the Pacific. The bordering countries are Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Its main regions are:
The Highlands: This area comprises about 65% of the land and is home to about 70% of the people. Because the area is so mountainous, it is difficult to build roads and communication facilities. Thus the nation’s economic development is impeded by its geography, as well as its history and lack of education.
The Banana Country: Located on the shores of the Caribbean, this flat land makes up about 15% of the land mass but supports 25% of the population with its thriving banana agriculture. Both bananas for export and other crops for local consumption are produced here.
The Lowlands: Fewer than 7% of the population lives in the two lowland areas, one near the Caribbean coast and the other near the Pacific. The weather in the lowlands is hot and muggy all year.
The Islands: The Bay Islands, which are becoming popular with tourists from all over the world, lie 30 miles off the northern coast in the Caribbean. The largest is Roatan, famous for its beautiful beaches, fishing, crystal-clear water, and the world’s largest coral reef after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Swan Islands are 100 miles off the northern coast.
The Climate: There are two seasons in Honduras — the dry season and the wet season. The dry season runs from November to April. The rest of the year is wet, especially September and October. The coolest time is December, the warmest is May. Of course there is considerable variety, depending on altitude and location.
Like the rest of Central America, modern Honduras grew out of the Spanish conquest of the indigenous people. The history of Honduras can be divided into five major periods.
Pre-Columbian: Before Columbus discovered this region in 1502, it was occupied by at least six groups, including the Lencas, the Cholutecas, the Paya, the Jicaques, the Miskitos (or Mosquitos), the Sumos, and the Chorti Maya, descendants of one of the Western Hemisphere’s greatest and most advanced civilizations. Near Copan and throughout the northwest section of Honduras you can still find ruins of the great Mayan civilization, which fell centuries before the arrival of the Spanish. The descendants of the Maya have survived in great numbers to this day.
Spanish Conquest: Twenty-two years after the arrival of Columbus, Honduras became the object of dispute between the Spanish of Panama and the Spanish of Mexico, both of whom were obsessed with the natural wealth of Honduras: its gold and silver. They brutalized and enslaved the Indians, forcing them to till the soil or work in the mines. The last resistance against the Spanish Conquistadors came from an Indian chief named Lempira, who was killed while attending a peace conference with the Spaniards. Chief Lempira is honored to this day.
Colonial Period: In 1539, Honduras came under the rule of the Spanish in Guatemala. The territory was divided into the provinces of Tegucigalpa and Comayagua. Many Indians died from exhaustion as forced laborers in the mines around Tegucigalpa. The Spanish brought in slaves from Africa to increase the labor supply. Colonial development was extremely minimal. Pirates, who specialized in plundering the merchant ships bound for Spain with the riches of Honduras on board, often sunk the ships and destroyed the small Spanish settlements. Eager to get their share, Great Britain gained control over what is now Belize and the Bay Islands. Through the intervention of the United States, Honduras has only recently been able to reclaim the Bay Islands.
Independence: When Spain was in a very weak condition in 1821, Mexico and all the Central American countries simply declared their independence. However, the Hondurans were totally unprepared for self-government and there was chaos for the next 70 years. There was an attempt to form a federation with Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua which failed. There was much conflict between the political conservatives and the Creoles (people of Spanish descent born in the Western Hemisphere), who advocated political reforms. Because of this ongoing conflict, as well as war against El Salvador and Guatemala, the economic development of Honduras suffered greatly. However, some progress was made. In the 1870’s, the first institute of higher learning, the National Autonomous University of Honduras, was founded, the railroad from Puerto Cortes to San Pedro Sula was built, and the capital was moved to Tegucigalpa, ending a long rivalry with Comayagua.
Twentieth Century: Honduras entered this century as the poorest and least developed country in Central America. In spite of some liberal reforms, it remains in this position. Political power rested completely within the traditional oligarchy of landowners, military leaders and foreign companies until the 1950’s, when leaders such as Ramon Villeda Morales began the task of modernizing the country. When he took office as president in 1958, two-thirds of Honduran adults were illiterate, fewer than half the children enrolled in first grade made it to the second, and fewer than one in three wore shoes. Under Villeda the first main highway was built, the Social Security Institute was founded, the National Agrarian Institute was set up to redistribute the land. Such reforms made Villeda unpopular and he was succeeded by military rulers for the next 18 years. In 1981, international pressure led to relatively fair elections and Honduras was returned to parliamentary democracy.
For more information on our Honduras project, please visit www.apufram.hn