Overview

Honduras is a small Central American country of approximately 8 million people. It is about the size of Louisiana, with mountainous terrain and tropical temperatures. The natural beauty of Honduras—from Caribbean beaches to cloud forests—coexists with the extreme poverty of most of the population.

honduras2.jpgHonduras, home to many indigenous cultures, including the Mayans, was a Spanish colony until 1821. Columbus landed on the northern coast in 1502, naming the land Honduras (from the Spanish word meaning "depths"). Spanish rule was fiercely resisted by indigenous groups in Honduras. Most famous is the movement by the Lenca leader, Lempira (for whom the Honduran currency is named). However, Lempira was murdered during peace talks and the resistance was crushed.

When Honduras gained independence from Spain in 1821, it first became part of Mexico, and then joined the short-lived Central American Federation. Honduras finally became its own independent country in 1838. Since its independence, Honduras has suffered close to 300 internal rebellions, civil wars, and changes of government. Honduras's political stability was hampered by U.S. fruit companies (Standard Fruit, Cuyamel Fruit and United Fruit – the predecessors of Dole and Chiquita), who by the early 1900s wielded enough economic power in Honduras to manipulate political factions as a part of their business rivalry.

In the 1980s Honduras became more important for its location than its fruit. The decade was marked by violent political turmoil in much of Central America, especially Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, which all share borders with Honduras. U.S. pressure removed the latest military dictatorship and put into place the democratic government that became the key U.S. ally in the region. The U.S. was able to use Honduras as a military base for supporting the Contras in Nicaragua (in what later became the infamous Iran-Contra Affair) and for training the Salvadoran army in anti-insurgency warfare. U.S. military involvement and economic aid waned in Honduras after 1990 when Nicaragua's revolutionary party lost the presidential election and the Contras left Honduras, but has recently mushroomed as Honduras became the focal point in the U.S. war on drugs.

Since then, Honduras's government has remained relatively stable – with the notable exception of the 2009 “coup” (golpe de Estado in Spanish) in which Congress voted to remove a democratically-elected leader through military force. The ousted leader has since returned to Honduras, but the opposing party has remained in power ever since.

Currently, Honduras struggles with one of the highest homicide rates in the world, caused in part by growing gang presence, and a drug trafficking route directly through the country. In addition, a crisis of corruption and impunity threaten economic development, trust in government, individual opportunities, and basic security. Recently, security issues have driven an unprecedented number of young migrants to the United States, which has prompted renewed attention from the U.S. to the Central American state.

honduras3.jpgWith a per capita GDP of only $2,435 in 2014, Honduras is the third poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with over 68% of its population living in poverty. It also has some of the highest income inequality in the world.

Honduras suffered a prolonged period of economic recession during the 1980s. Gradual economic growth in the 1990s, tied to economic reforms and the booming U.S. economy, was waylaid by the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. By 2000 the economy was again growing at 4.7%, and the hurricane provided for substantial debt relief from the U.S. and international lending institutions. In 2005, Honduras signed CAFTA-DR, a regional free trade agreement with the United States that promised to lift trade and exports. Despite a setback in economic growth in 2009 following the coup and the U.S. recession, Honduran economic growth returned at a rate of 2.8% in 2010 and 3.6% in 2011.

The economy is largely based on agriculture. Coffee, bananas and cultivated shrimp are important exports. The maquiladora (garment factories) sector represents a significant portion of manufacturing output, and is an important source of employment. Honduras has rich resources in forests, marine areas and minerals, though these are often poorly utilized and threatened by extensive deforestation and a lack of effective government conservation.

While the official unemployment rate stands around 5%, underemployment is pervasive- in fact, government statistics report that 46.65% of the population is underemployed. Just over 39% of Honduran laborers work in either the service or agricultural sectors, while 20% work in manufacturing. Many Hondurans make their living in the informal sector, selling tortillas on the street, running neighborhood convenience stores from their home, or other small business initiatives that lack the stability of regular income.

Roman Catholicism is the historically dominant religion in Honduras, but protestant Christian denominations have seen a recent surge and now rival the Catholic Church’s influence. In a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 46% of Hondurans identified as Catholic, 41% as Protestant or Evangelical, and 2% as another religion, including Judaism, Islam, or syncretistic native faiths. Ten per cent of Hondurans reported no religious affiliation.

Though it is sometimes overshadowed by violence and insecurity, Honduras has a wealth of natural and cultural beauty. Honduras has a variety of terrains from pristine beaches to pine forests. Tourists enjoy hiking in cloud forests, visiting ancient Mayan ruins, or snorkeling in the world’s second-largest coral reef. Artisans make beautiful crafts out of wood, leather, or clay. Musical groups range from mariachi to punk rock.

Honduran culture varies between rural and urban populations. Though the rural population is declining, it still makes up 46% of the population, many of whom have difficulty accessing infrastructure such as electricity, running water, or roads. Many rural Honduran farmers practice subsistence farming in the same way as they have for generations, though increasingly, droughts, diseases, and rising costs are forcing them to move to the cities. Honduras’ large cities host malls, restaurants, museums, and galleries, alongside a large population of urban poor for whom there are few, if any, social services.

Most Hondurans speak Spanish and are of mixed European and indigenous origin, though indigenous groups including the Garífuna, Miskitu, Lenca, and Maya Chorti retain their language and heritage.

Facts and Statistics

CIA World Factbook – Honduras
World Bank – Honduras
US Department of State – Honduras

Honduran News

Honduras News (English-language news)
El Heraldo (Spanish-language Honduran newspaper)
La Tribuna (Spanish-language Honduran newspaper)

Tourism and Travel

Honduras Tourism Website
Lonely Planet — Honduras

Art and Culture

“En mi Pais” by Honduran singer Guillermo Anderson
“Apaga la Luz” by Honduran group Pez Luna
Recent art exhibits at the National Identity Museum
NPR story about a Honduran graffiti artist
“The Poor” a poem by poet Roberto Sosa
Stats for Honduras’ national soccer team

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From the Justice Journal

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Association for a More Just Society (AJS)
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Grand Rapids, MI 49588

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