Background Notes: Republic of Honduras

Contributed By RealAdventures

About 90% of the population is mestizo. There also are small minorities of European, African, Asian, Arab, and indigenous Indian descent. Most Hondurans are Roman Catholic, but Protestant proselytization has resulted in significant numbers of converts. Spanish is the predominant language, although some English is spoken along the northern coast and on the Caribbean Bay Islands. Indigenous Indian dialects and the Garifuna dialect also are spoken. The restored Mayan ruins near the Guatemalan border in Copan reflect the great Mayan culture that flourished there for hundreds of years until the early ninth century. Mayan artifacts also can be found at the National Museum in Tegucigalpa. Columbus landed at mainland Honduras (Trujillo) in 1502. He named it "Honduras" (meaning "depths") for the deep water off the coast. Spaniard Hernan Cortes arrived in 1524. The Spanish began founding settlements along the coast and Honduras came under the control of the Captaincy General of Guatemala. The cities of Comayagua and Tegucigalpa developed as early mining centers.


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 Central American leaders and brought on the federation's collapse in 1838. Gen. Francisco Morazan -- a Honduran national hero -- led unsuccessful efforts to maintain the federation, and restoring Central American unity remained the chief aim of Honduran foreign policy until after World War I.

Since independence, Honduras has been plagued with nearly 300 internal rebellions, civil wars, and changes of government -- more than half occurring during this century. The country traditionally lacked both an economic infrastructure and social and political integration. Its agriculturally based economy came to be dominated in this century by U.S. companies that established vast banana plantations along the north coast. Foreign capital, plantation life, and conservative politics held sway in Honduras from the late 19th until the mid-20th century. During the relatively stable years of the Great Depression, authoritarian Gen. Tiburcio Carias Andino 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 Nationalists and the Liberals.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Honduran(s).
Population (1998 est.): 6 million.
Growth rate: 2.8%.
Ethnic groups: 90% mestizo (mixed Indian and European); others of European, Arab, African, or Asian ancestry; and indigenous Indians.
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant minority.
Language: Spanish.
Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--70% overall, but less than 16% at junior high level. Literacy--78.5%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--42/1,000. Life expectancy--68 yrs.
Work force: Services--32%. Natural resources/agriculture--38%. Manufacturing--18%. Construction/housing--12%.

The 1982 constitution provides for a strong executive, a unicameral National Congress, and a judiciary appointed by the National Congress. The president is directly elected to a 4-year term by popular vote. The congress also serves a 4-year term; congressional seats are assigned the parties' candidates in proportion to the number of votes each party receives. The judiciary includes a Supreme Court of Justice, courts of appeal, and several courts of original jurisdiction -- such as labor, tax, and criminal courts. For administrative purposes, Honduras is divided into 18 departments, with departmental and municipal officials selected for 2-year terms.

President--Carlos Roberto FLORES Facusse
Minister of Foreign Relations--Roberto FLORES Bermudez
Ambassador to the U.S.--Hugo NOE Pino
Ambassador to the UN--Edmundo ORELLANA
Ambassador to the OAS--Dr. Laura NUNEZ Flores

Reinforced by the media and several political watchdog organizations, human rights and civil liberties are reasonably well protected. There are no known political prisoners in Honduras and the privately owned media frequently exercises its right to criticize without fear of reprisals. Organized labor now represents less than 15% of the work force and its economic and political influence has declined. Honduras held its fifth consecutive democratic elections in November 1997, to elect a new President, unicameral Congress, and mayors; for the first time, voters were able to cast separate ballots for each office.

Political Parties

The two major parties -- the Liberal Party and the National Party -- run active campaigns throughout the country. Their ideologies are mostly centrist, with diverse factions in each centered on personalities. The three smaller registered parties -- the Christian Democratic Party, the Innovation and Unity Party, and the Democratic Unification Party -- remain marginal, slightly left-of-center groupings with few campaign resources and little organization. Despite significant progress in training and installing more skillful advisers at the top of each party ladder, electoral politics in Honduras remain traditionalist and paternalistic. Honduras will hold its next general elections -- which will choose the nation's next President, Congress, and mayors -- in November 2001.

GDP: $4.8 billion.
Growth rate: 3%.
Per capita GDP: $810.
Natural resources: Arable land, forests, minerals, fisheries.
Agriculture (24% of GDP): Products--coffee, bananas, shrimp and lobster, sugar, fruits, basic grains, livestock.
Industry (18% of GDP): Types--textiles and apparel, cement, wood products, cigars, foodstuffs.
Trade: Exports--$2.2 billion: coffee, bananas, shrimp, citrus fruits, textile products, lead/zinc concentrates, beef, lumber, sugar. Major market--U.S. (53%). Imports--$2.6 billion: petroleum, manufactured goods, machinery, chemicals. Major supplier--U.S. (43%).
Exchange rate (October 1999): 13.4 lempiras=U.S.$1.

Honduras is a member of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), the Central American Integration System (SICA), and the Central American Security Commission (CASQ). During 1995-96, Honduras, a founding member of the United Nations, for the first time served as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

President Flores consults frequently with the other Central American presidents on issues of mutual interest. He has continued his predecessor's strong emphasis on Central American cooperation and integration, which resulted in an agreement easing border controls and tariffs among Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Honduras also joined its six Central American neighbors at the 1994 Summit of the Americas in signing the Alliance for Sustainable Development, known as the Conjunta Centroamerica-USA, or CONCAUSA, to promote sustainable economic development in the region. Honduras held the six-month SICA presidency during the second half of 1998.

In 1969, El Salvador and Honduras fought the brief "Soccer War" over disputed border areas and friction resulting from the 300,000 Salvadorans who had emigrated to Honduras in search of land and employment. The catalyst was nationalistic feelings aroused by a series of soccer matches between the two countries. The two countries formally signed a peace treaty on October 30, 1980, which put the border dispute before the International Court of Justice. In September 1992, the court awarded most of the disputed territory to Honduras. In January 1998, Honduras and El Salvador signed a border demarcation treaty that will implement the terms of the ICJ decree. The treaty awaits legal ratification in both countries. Honduras and El Salvador maintain normal diplomatic and trade relations.

At the 17th Central American Summit in 1995, hosted by Honduras in the northern city of San Pedro Sula, the region's six countries (excluding Belize) signed treaties creating confidence and security-building measures and combating the smuggling of stolen automobiles in the isthmus. In subsequent summits (held every six months), Honduras has continued to work with the other Central American countries on issues of common concern.

In Costa Rica in May 1997, former President Reina met with President Clinton, his Central American counterparts, and the president of the Dominican Republic to celebrate the remarkable democratic transformation in the region and reaffirm support for strengthening democracy, good governance, and promoting prosperity through economic integration, free trade, and investment. The leaders also expressed their commitment to the continued development of just and equitable societies and responsible environmental policies as an integral element of sustainable development.

The United States and Honduras have close and friendly relations. Honduras is supportive of U.S. policy in the UN and other fora. In 1996, Honduras' overall voting coincidence with the United States in the United Nations was 44.3% and in 1997, it was 40.3%. As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Honduras played a very helpful role in 1996, most notably in advancing the process of selecting a new UN Secretary General during its October presidency of the Council. The U.S. also continued to be able to count on Honduras' strong support against Iraq.

The U.S. favors stable, peaceful relations between Honduras and its Central American neighbors. During the 1980s, Honduras supported U.S. policy in Central America opposing a revolutionary Marxist government in Nicaragua and an active leftist insurgency in El Salvador. The Honduran Government also played a key role in negotiations that culminated in the 1990 Nicaraguan elections. Honduras contributed troops for the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti and continues to participate in the UN observers mission in the Western Sahara.

The U.S. works with Honduras for sustained economic, political, and social development and to combat drug trafficking in the region. Because of economic needs and security concerns, U.S. material assistance and political support are important to Honduras. USAID is active in Honduras, although official U.S. assistance to the country has been reduced -- from $51 million in 1993 to $29 million in 1997 -- due to worldwide reductions in U.S. bilateral assistance. The U.S. plans to increase its assistance to Honduras and work with the international lenders such as the World Bank and the private sector to promote economic recovery from Hurricane Mitch.

The United States is Honduras' chief trading partner, supplying 43% of its imports and purchasing 53% of its exports. Leading Honduran exports to the United States have included coffee, bananas, textile products, other fruits and vegetables, seafood, and beef. The United States encourages U.S. investment that contributes to Honduran development and bilateral trade. The United States accounts for about 75% of total direct foreign investment in Honduras; this is worth an estimated $900 million. The largest U.S. investments in Honduras are in fruit production -- particularly banana and citrus -- petroleum refining and marketing, and mining. In addition, U.S. corporations have invested in tobacco, apparel, shrimp culture, beef, poultry and animal-feed production, insurance, leasing, food processing, brewing, and furniture manufacturing. U.S. apparel facilities or maquilas are responsible for the majority of the approximately 100,000 jobs in that sector of Honduran businesses.

The U.S. maintains a small presence at a Honduran military base; the two countries conduct joint counternarcotics, humanitarian, and civic action exercises. U.S. troops conduct and provide logistics support for a variety of exercises (medical, engineering, peacekeeping, counternarcotics, and disaster relief) for the benefit of the Honduran people and their Central American neighbors. U.S. forces -- regular, reserve, and National Guard -- benefit greatly from the training and exercises.

U.S. troops -- in collaboration with counterparts from Brazil and Colombia -- since 1994 have assisted Honduran soldiers in clearing land mines from the country's border with Nicaragua. As of early 1998, approximately 180,000 square meters had been cleared of mines and approximately 2,000 mines had been destroyed.

Ambassador--Frank Almaguer
Deputy Chief of Mission--Paul A. Trivelli
Political Counselor--Edward J. Michal
Economic Counselor--David Wolfe
Consul General--Catherine Barry
Administrative Counselor--Samuel Durret
USAID Director--Elena L. Brineman
Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--Gregory Adams
Defense Attache--Col. David Kuhns
Military Group Commander--Col. Daniel Davis, USA
Peace Corps Director--Arnoldo Resendez

The U.S. embassy in Honduras is located on Avenida La Paz, Tegucigalpa (tel.: 011-504-2369320; faxes: general--011-504-236-9037, USAID-011-504-236-7776, USIS--0l1-504-236-9309, Military Group--011-504-233-6171, Commercial Section--011-504-238-2888, Consulate-011-504-237-1792). Internet:

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