History of Honduras

History of Honduras

The History of Honduras concerns the history of Honduras.

Timeline of Honduran history

*1821 gained independence from Spain as a part of the Federal Republic of Central America
*1840 became an independent state
*1880 Capital moved from Comayagua to Tegucigalpa
*1969 Football War with El Salvador
*1982 Returned to civilian rule
*1982 New constitution approved
*1982 Appeared in the World Cup
*1981-85 Nicaraguan Contra War
*1998 Hurricane Mitch destroys infrastructure and takes lives

Pre-Columbian era

In pre-Columbian times, modern Honduras was part of the Mesoamerican cultural area. In the west, the Maya civilization flourished for hundreds of years until the early 9th century. Notable Mayan ruins include the city-state of Copán. Remains of other Pre-Columbian cultures are found throughout the country. Archaeologists have studied sites such as Naco and La Sierra in the Naco Valley, Los Naranjos on Lake Yojoa, Yarumela in the Comayagua Valley, La Ceiba and Salitron Viejo (both now under the Cajon Dam reservoir), Selin Farm and Cuyamel in the Aguan valley, Cerro Palenque, Travesia, Curruste, Ticamaya, Despoloncal in the lower Ulua river valley, and many others.

panish period

Christopher Columbus landed on the mainland near modern Trujillo in 1502 and named the country Honduras ("Depths") for the deep waters off its coast. Conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in 1525, and left six months later to return to Spain. During the period leading up to the conquest of Honduras by Pedro de Alvarado, many indigenous people along the north coast of Honduras were captured and taken as slaves to work on Spain's Caribbean plantations. It wasn't until Pedro de Alvarado defeated the indigenous resistance headed by Çiçumba near Ticamaya, that the Spanish began to conquer the country in 1536. Alvarado divided the native towns and gave their labor to the Spanish conquistadors in "repartimiento". Further indigenous uprisings near Gracias a Dios, Comayagua, and Olancho occurred in 1537-38. The uprising near Gracias a Dios was lead by Lempira, who is honored today by the name of the Honduran currency.

During the colonial period, Honduras came under the control of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, and the towns of Comayagua and Tegucigalpa -- today's capital -- arose as mining centers.

Independence from Spain

Honduras, along with the other Central American provinces, gained independence from Spain in 1821; it then briefly was annexed to the Mexican Empire. In 1823, Honduras joined the newly formed United Provinces of Central America. Before long, social and economic differences between Honduras and its regional neighbors exacerbated harsh partisan strife among its leaders, bringing about the federation's collapse in 1838-39. General Francisco Morazán, a Honduran national hero, led unsuccessful efforts to maintain the federation. Restoring Central American unity remained the officially stated chief aim of Honduran foreign policy until after World War I.

In 1888, a projected railroad line from the Caribbean coast to the capital, Tegucigalpa, ran out of money when it reached San Pedro Sula, resulting in its growth into the nation's main industrial center and second largest city.

Traditionally lacking both an economic infrastructure and social and political integration, Honduras's agriculturally based economy came to be dominated by United States companies, notably United Fruit Company and Standard Fruit Company, which established vast banana plantations along the north coast. The economic dominance and political influence of these companies was so great from the late 19th until the mid 20th century that it coined the term banana republic.

During the relatively stable years of the Great Depression, authoritarian General Tiburcio Carías controlled Honduras. His ties to dictators in neighboring countries and to U.S. banana companies helped him maintain power until 1948. By then, provincial military leaders had begun to gain control of the two major parties, the National Party of Honduras (PNH) and the Liberal Party of Honduras (PLH).

From military to civilian rule

In October 1955, after a general strike by banana workers on the north coast in 1954, young military reformists staged a coup that installed a provisional junta. Capital punishment was abolished in 1956, though the last person to be executed was in 1940 (The current PNH presidential candidate Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo wants to bring it back). There were constituent assembly elections in 1957 which appointed Ramón Villeda as President, and itself becoming a national Congress with a 6-year term. The PLH ruled during 1957-63. The military began to become a professional institution independent of politics, with the newly created military academy graduating its first class in 1960. In October 1963, conservative military officers preempted constitutional elections and deposed Villeda in a bloody coup. These officers exiled PLH members and governed under General Oswaldo López until 1970.

In July 1969, Honduras was invaded by El Salvador in the short Football War. Tensions in the aftermath of the conflict remain.

A civilian president for the PNH, Ramón Ernesto Cruz, took power briefly in 1970 until, in December 1972, Oswaldo López staged another coup. This time round, he adopted more progressive policies, including land reform.

López's successors continued armed forces modernization programs, building army and security forces, and concentrating on Honduran air force superiority over its neighbors. During the governments of General Juan Alberto Melgar (1975-78) and General Policarpo Paz (1978-83), Honduras built most of its physical infrastructure and electricity and terrestrial telecommunications systems, both of which are state monopolies. The country experienced economic growth during this period, with greater international demand for its products and the increased availability of foreign commercial capital.

The 1980s

In 1979, the country returned to civilian rule. A constituent assembly was popularly elected in April 1980 and general elections were held in November 1981. A new constitution was approved in 1982 and the PLH government of Roberto Suazo assumed power.

Between 1979 and 1985, under John Negroponte's appointment as U.S. diplomat from 1981 to 1985, U.S. military and economic aid to Honduras jumped from $31 million to $282 million. Honduras agreed in exchange to become a base for an estimated 15,000 Nicaraguan Contras, providing logistical and intelligence support, and joining the U.S. military in joint maneuvers. Negroponte himself supervised the construction of the El Aguacate air base where Contras were trained (they also used Lepaterique, where Argentinian "Batallón de Inteligencia 601" was training Contras). Battalion 3-16, a special intelligence unit involved in the assassination of hundreds of people, including U.S. missionaries, was trained by the CIA and the Argentine military. Negroponte, currently Director of National Intelligence, was later accused by the Honduras Commission on Human Rights of human rights violations. In August 2001, 185 corpses, including two Americans, were discovered at the Aguacate base. Between 1979 and 1985, U.S. development aid fell from 80% of the total to 6%.

In May 1982, a nun, Sister Laetitia Bordes, who had worked for ten years in El Salvador, went on a fact-finding delegation to Honduras to investigate the whereabouts of thirty Salvadoran nuns and women of faith who fled to Honduras in 1981 after Archbishop Óscar Romero's assassination. Negroponte claimed the embassy knew nothing about the nuns. However, in a 1996 interview with "The Baltimore Sun", Negroponte's predecessor, Jack Binns, said that a group of Salvadorans, among whom were the women Bordes had been looking for, were captured on April 22, 1981, and savagely tortured by the DNI, the Honduran Secret Police, and then later thrown out of helicopters alive.

In 1995, "The Baltimore Sun" published an extensive investigation of U.S. activities in Honduras. Speaking of Negroponte and other senior U.S. officials, an ex-Honduran congressman, Efraín Díaz, was quoted as saying:

:"Their attitude was one of tolerance and silence. They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed.

The "Sun's" investigation found that the CIA and U.S. embassy knew of numerous abuses, but continued to support Battalion 3-16 and ensured that the embassy's annual human rights report did not contain the full story.

Substantial evidence subsequently emerged to support the contention that Negroponte was aware that serious violations of human rights were carried out by the Honduran government, with the support of the CIA, if perhaps not with its direct approval. Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, on September 14, 2001, as reported in the "Congressional Record", aired his suspicions on the occasion of Negroponte's nomination to the position of UN ambassador:

:"Based upon the Committee's review of State Department and CIA documents, it would seem that Ambassador Negroponte knew far more about government perpetuated human rights abuses than he chose to share with the committee in 1989 or in Embassy contributions at the time to annual State Department Human Rights reports." [ [http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2001_cr/s091401.html Nomination of John Negroponte ] ]

Among other evidence, Dodd cited a cable sent by Negroponte in 1985 that made it clear that Negroponte was aware of the threat of "future human rights abuses" by "secret operating cells" left over by General Alvarez after his deposition in 1984.

In April 2005, as the Senate confirmation hearings for the National Intelligence post took place, hundreds of documents were released by the State Department in response to a FOIA request by the "Washington Post". The documents, cables that Negroponte sent to Washington while serving as ambassador to Honduras, indicated that he played a more active role than previously known in managing the US covert war against the Sandinistas. According to "Post", the image of Negroponte that emerges from the cables is that of an

:"exceptionally energetic, action-oriented ambassador whose anti-communist convictions led him to play down human rights abuses in Honduras, the most reliable U.S. ally in the region. There is little in the documents the State Department has released so far to support his assertion that he used "quiet diplomacy" to persuade the Honduran authorities to investigate the most egregious violations, including the mysterious disappearance of dozens of government opponents. [ [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A44944-2005Apr11.html Papers Illustrate Negroponte's Contra Role (washingtonpost.com) ] ]

The "New York Times" wrote that the documents revealed

:"a tough cold warrior who enthusiastically carried out President Ronald Reagan's strategy. They show he sent admiring reports to Washington about the Honduran military chief, who was blamed for human rights violations, warned that peace talks with the Nicaraguan regime might be a dangerous "Trojan horse" and pleaded with officials in Washington to impose greater secrecy on the Honduran role in aiding the contras.

:"The cables show that Mr. Negroponte worked closely with William J. Casey, then director of central intelligence, on the Reagan administration's anti-Communist offensive in Central America. He helped word a secret 1983 presidential "finding" authorizing support for the contras, as the Nicaraguan rebels were known, and met regularly with Honduran military officials to win and retain their backing for the covert action. [ [http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/13/politics/13contra.html The New York Times > Washington > Cables Show Central Negroponte Role in 80's Covert War Against Nicaragua ] ]

According to investigative journalist Robert Parry (Consortiumnews.com) the cables suggest that Negroponte

:"was so committed to his mission of making Honduras a base for Nicaraguan contra rebels that he routinely ignored troubling evidence about the Honduran government. At the time, the Reagan administration also had no interest in hearing critical information about key allies, like Honduras.

:"During his four years in Honduras, Negroponte often cast “a friendly eye” at the Honduran government, insisting that he was unaware of evidence of “death squad” operations that eliminated hundreds of political dissidents. He also turned a blind eye to the military’s role in making Honduras a way station for drug traffickers. [ [http://www.consortiumnews.com/2005/041305.html Consortiumnews.com ] ]


As the November 1985 election approached, the PLH could not settle on a presidential candidate and interpreted election law as permitting multiple candidates from any one party. The PLH claimed victory when its presidential candidates collectively outpolled the PNH candidate, Rafael Leonardo Callejas, who received 42% of the total vote. José Azcona, the candidate receiving the most votes (27%) among the PLH, assumed the presidency in January 1986. With strong endorsement and support from the Honduran military, the Suazo Administration ushered in the first peaceful transfer of power between civilian presidents in more than 30 years.

Suazo, relying on U.S. support, created ambitious social and economic development projects to help with a severe economic recession and with the perceived threats of regional instability. Honduras became host to the largest Peace Corps mission in the world and non-governmental organizations and international voluntary agencies proliferated.


José Azcona started his presidency on January 1986.


In January 1990, Rafael Leonardo Callejas, having won the presidential election, took office, concentrating on economic reform, reducing the deficit. He began a movement to place the military under civilian control and laid the groundwork for the creation of the public prosecution service.


In 1993, PLH candidate Carlos Roberto Reina was elected with 56% of the vote against PNH contender Oswaldo Ramos. He won on a platform calling for a "Moral Revolution," making active efforts to prosecute corruption and pursued those responsible for alleged human rights abuses in the 1980s.

The Reina administration successfully increased civilian control over the armed forces, transferring o the national police from military to civilian authority. In 1996, Reina named his own defense minister, breaking the precedent of accepting the nominee of the armed forces leadership.

His administration substantially increased Central Bank net international reserves, reduced inflation to 12.8% a year, restored a better pace of economic growth (about 5% in 1997), and held down spending to achieve a 1.1% non-financial public sector deficit in 1997.


PLH's Carlos Roberto Flores took office on January 27, 1998, as Honduras' fifth democratically elected President since free elections were restored in 1981, with a 10% margin over his main opponent PNH nominee Nora Gúnera de Melgar (the widow of former leader Juan Alberto Melgar). Flores inaugurated International Monetary Fund (IMF) programs of reform and modernization of the Honduran Government and economy, with emphasis on maintaining the country's fiscal health and improving international competitiveness.

In October 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras, leaving more than 5,000 people dead and 1.5 million displaced. Damages totaled nearly $3 billion. International donors came forward to assist in rebuilding infrastructure, donating US$1400 million in 2000..


In November 2001, the National Party won presidential and parliamentary elections. The PNH gained 61 seats in Congress and the PLH won 55. The PLH candidate Rafael Pineda was defeated by the PNH candidate Ricardo Maduro, who took office in January 2002. On November 27, 2005 the PLH candidate Manuel Zelaya beat the PNH candidate and current Head of Congress Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, and became the new President on January 27, 2006.


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