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This Central American country shares land borders with El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, and has coastal regions on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The former seat of the Mayan civilization and later a Spanish colony, post-independence Honduras has been plagued by foreign, particularly US, interference and successive constitutional crises - the most recent of which led to the 2009 coup d'etat. The aftermath of 2009 has raised serious concerns about the human rights situation in the country, including attacks by the security forces, the killing of journalists, persecution of LBGT people and shocking levels of criminal violence - in 2010, Honduras had the highest intentional homicide rate in the world.


Honduras is a central American country bordering Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua with coasts on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. In addition to the continental territory, Honduras incorporates a number of islands off its northern coast. The terrain is largely mountainous with coastal plains, but also features areas of dense jungle. The lowland areas are largely tropical while the climate cools to temperate in the mountains. Honduras has tremendous range of plants and animals and is often described as a biodiversity hotspot.

Population and Language

Honduras’s population, as of 2012, is around 7,912,000 people.[1] The majority of the population, arond ninety percent, are mestizo of mixed amerindian and European background. The largest minority group are amerindians, with a small black and white-european population as well.

The official (and most widely spoken) language is Spanish. Several amerindian languages are also still spoken in some regions and there is a very small English speaking population in the Bay Islands.

Catholicism was, for a long time, the unchallenged dominant religion in Honduras, but in recent years has lost ground to evangelical forms of protestantism. Exact numbers vary greatly from poll to poll, but catholics are still thought to be the largest single religious group.

History and politics

Honduras was a major site of pre-Columbian civilization, with the major Mayan city of Copán being a major settlement for more than a thousand years. Colonised by the Spanish, the territory gained the name Honduras (“depths”) from its deep coastal waters. The country was the site of frequent clashes not only between European and indigenous forces but also between rival Spanish commanders and governors seeking to build their own empires in central America. The presence of large gold and silver deposits made Honduras as major centre of colonial mining operations and a destination for slaves. Spanish control of the territory was not complete, however, as an area in the north, around the Bay islands and the Caribbean Coast remained controlled for much of the period by an alliance of the British and Miskito people, the latter a group of intermarried amerindians and escaped african slaves.

Rule from Spain became a source of contention during the beginning of the 19th century, with several uprisings and protests. By 1821, this dissatisfaction led to the provincial government issuing a full declaration of independence. Honduras was then briefly part of the Mexican empire, before joining the Federal Republic of Central America alongside Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Attempts to hold the empire together failed by the 1840s, though Honduras remained a centre of unionist politics for the rest of the nineteenth century. Honduran politics for the next century alternated periods of relative stability with military take overs and intervention from neighbouring countries. These frequent disputes left Honduras economically and politically under-developed. Though major public projects were attempted, such as a coast to coast railroad, these often failed due to corruption and lack of funds.

One sector of the economy that did show remarkable growth in this period, however, was the banana industry. The expansion of primarily American fruit companies into the north of the country represented a vital source of revenue but also laid the foundations for future crises. Economic interests in the United States began to play a very active role in Honduran politics - American troops were dispatched to the country seven times, for example, between 1900 and 1925, usually to prevent the overthrow of presidents and regimes seen as sympathetic to US business. Interference by the United States was a constant theme for the next decades with successive weak governments saddled with growing debts. In 1932 Tiburcio Carías Andino took power - initially democratically but rapidly turning into an autocratic dictatorship. The restoration of democracy in 1949 was short lived, with another coup in 1955. While electoral politics would be restored for brief periods, the next decades saw further military coups, including unbroken ten year period of rule by successive generals between 1972 and 1982. The 1981 election saw Roberto Suazo Córdova come to power, however, in a return to civilian rule. His time in office is notable for the economic development that took place during it (helped by a massive increase in aid, particularly military and economic, from the United States) and for his collaboration with the American government in attacking leftist governments in the region and socialist movements domestically. As well as hosting the Contra movement fighting against the leftist government in Nicaragua, Suazo also operated secret units of the military carrying out assassinations and torture against political opponents. Elections in 1985 saw victory for Suazo’s party, the PLH, and his successor José Azcona took office. His government scaled back involvement in US anti-communist efforts in the region. Successive democratic elections over the next two decades combined with growing economic stability and what looked like greater civilian control of the armed forces. Attempts by President Manuel Zelaya, however, in 2009 to hold a referendum on a new constitutional national assembly - seen by many as the first step to his abolishing term limits - led to a constitutional crisis. The referendum was ruled illegal by the supreme court, a decision followed by the military who confiscated the ballot boxes and voting paper. When Zelaya attempted to order the soldiers guarding these to return them to him, this was deemed an abuse of power by congress and he was removed from office and deported to Costa Rica. This overthrow of a civilian government by the military, regardless of claims of constitutionality, has been widely condemned by regional and international bodies. Elections were held in 2010 and Zelaya’s main opponent from the previous election, Pepe Lobo, came to power.

Today, Honduras operates as a presidential republic and nominally as a democracy - though, given the still active role played by the military in selecting and maintaining the head of state, this is open to dispute. The president is head of state and head of government, elected by popular votes with a one term limit. A possible attempt to change the latter was a factor in the 2009 coup. In the past, multiple candidates from a single party have run for the presidency, pooling their share of the votes against the opposition then appointing whoever amongst them brought in the biggest share. The legislature is the National Congress of Honduras, elected by proportional representation for four year terms. The judiciary is appointed by the Congress, but is largely independent and has a history of challenging the executive over unconstitutional behaviour. In addition to the supreme court, Honduras also has a special court for resolving disputes between departments of government.

Honduran politics, when operating outside of direct military control, has been dominated by the Liberal Party of Honduras and the National party of Honduras for most of the past century. Both parties are considered right wing, but with Liberal and Conservative tendencies respectively. Left wing parties, some of whom were actively suppressed during the 1980s, form some of the smaller current political blocs.


Honduras’s economy is one of the poorest in Latin and Central America. GDP per capita currently stands at around $2070, well below the regional average.[2] The Honduran economy has a long history of carrying large debt to international backers and has often been dependent on foreign aid. Current major industries include call centres for the United States, textiles and clothing. The 2009 Coup led to serious economic repercussions, as the temporary suspension of membership in regional and international bodies cut Honduras off from both aid and cheap foreign credit. Public debts soared to cover this, leaving a heavy burden for the new government.[3]

Civil society

The situation in Honduras is increasingly tense. While the development of civilian rule at the end of the twentieth century seemed to promise a more open environment for both journalists and civil society, the massive increase in private and criminal violence combined with the aftermath of the 2009 coup have reversed many of these short term gains. While some of the formal restrictions on opposition and reporting instituted after the 2009 coup have now been removed, national and transnational criminal organisations have become one of the leading threats to political and civil freedoms, often operating through corrupt public officials and security forces.[4] Legal professionals, journalists and activists have all been targeted for assassination, while those behind the attacks - both within the government and private interests - seemingly act with impunity. As a result, self censorship out of fear of reprisals has become much more common.[5] Currently, the ongoing tensions over land rights in the Bajo Aguán region of Honduras’s north-east have led to direct harassment and threats against reports and activists by the Honduran military who are active in that region.[6]

Child Rights and Human Rights

The increasingly dangerous situation in Honduras regarding criminal violence is linked to a growing number of human rights violations. Honduras is now reckoned to have the highest murder rate in the world and to be the site of levels of violence rarely seen outside of active war zones.[7] Crimes are rarely reported and even more rarely investigated, leaving most ordinary people with little recourse to the law - even in the rare situations where the authorities are not actively involved in criminal activity themselves.[8] The government lacks the capacity to either provide for or defend the rights of many of its citizens, leaving an increasingly dire situation. Criminal gangs regularly recruit and arming children from the large numbers living on the Honduran streets. This in turn has lead to extra-judicial executions of children by police units - the infamous “death squads” - and a “zero tolerance” approach to juvenile justice which sees young people being handed long sentences for involvement in gang activity.[9] Beatings and torture of detained children is also common.[10]

Other persistent issues in Honduras include child labour, sexual exploitation and discrimination against girls and women.[11]



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