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  • Honduras!

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    The original banana republic, Honduras has made a name for itself with the banana trade; however foreign influences have also vastly altered the culture. Go Now!

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History of Honduras

WARNING: Violence is common in Honduras, please read this travel warning before going!

The indigenous people of Honduras are from a number of groups, but it seems the most powerful of these people were the Mayans in the city of Copan, which peaked in about 700-800 AD, although the city was at least 500 years old at that time. In the 800s the Mayan people in what is today Honduras began to decline rapidly and when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s most of the people in the region were Ch'orti', descendants of the Mayans, or Lencas.

Honduras was first reached by Europeans in 1502 when Christopher Columbus arrived, but the region wasn't colonized until 1524 when Cristobal de Olid arrived and declared himself governor. Other Spanish explorers didn't support this move and soon Olid was at war with both the indigenous people as well as other Spaniards. This continued for some time as Hernando Cortez took the region and installed his governors in power.

Early Spanish rule was marred by power struggles as the governors wanted more power, the Spanish colonists sought greater freedoms, and the indigenous people sought anything that would be an improvement from their slave-like status. The status of the indigenous people declined in the 1530s when they were officially enslaved. Once the indigenous people were defeated the Spanish quickly took the region and solidified control.

The wars with the locals, the European diseases that decimated those populations, and the hard work that killed many indigenous people led to the importation of African slaves as early as the 1540s. Most of these slaves were consigned to working gold and silver mines in the region, but these mines dried up quickly and soon the region became poor as power shifted to what is today Guatemala and El Salvador.

Throughout the late 1500s and 1600s Spain only controlled the region of Honduras since the British had arrived in "British Honduras" (modern day Belize) and controlled the Caribbean coast, with their base in Jamaica. Most of the northern coast along the Honduras was uncontrollable by the Spanish as the coast was home to the Miskito (people of Native American and African descent, who allied with the British), pirates, and a limited number of Spanish settlers.

In the late 1700s the Spanish fought the British along the coast and won a long drawn out victory and in 1786 the British recognized Spanish control of the region. However Spanish rule was short lived, as in 1821 Honduras and many other Central American countries gained independence from Spain and later formed a confederation. However, border disputes and other concerns led to the collapse of the federation in 1839, at which time Honduras gained complete independence, an act that the country was actually opposed to as they sought Central American unity, but few other countries agreed with this agenda.

The rest of the 1800s were not good for Honduras as political efforts focused on regional unity; a movement that failed. There was also rampant governmental corruption and general discourse among the people leading to regular rebellions among numerous groups within the country.

At the turn of the twentieth century Honduras began making a number of positive changes, partially based on their massive banana industry. This crop provided jobs and substantial income, while also improving infrastructural changes to move this product and people. As this industry grew, the United States became a great ally and trading partner of the country, however this also undermined neighboring countries and soon Honduras was a threat to both El Salvador and Nicaragua. These countries united in 1907 to overthrow Honduran president, Jose Santos Zelaya, while the United States stepped in to protect the banana industry.

U.S. involvement continued for the next few years as political strife and increasing debt overcame the country. The U.S. helped broker a peace deal and the country remained relatively stable until about 1920. During this time and later politics and the banana industry were intertwined as this was the country's greatest source of income and one which had powerful foreign allies, most notably in the United States, who was the largest importer of Honduran bananas.

The banana industry truly created Honduran society from the late 1800s to early 1900s as numerous foreign banana companies built infrastructure, controlled the domestic economy, and brought in workers from Belize and the Caribbean, due to their ability to speak English. These companies had strong political connections and fought each other, creating internal chaos. Additionally, these foreign companies primarily owned the lands on which they were working, so in many cases this income didn't trickle down to the Honduran people, but rather remained in the hands of foreign companies and foreign workers. These battles led to the "Banana Wars" which lasted intermittently from 1903 to 1925. It was Honduras that gained the name "Banana Republic."

The early 1900s was marred with political instability, but few full blown battles, until the 1920s when a number of coups and insurrections occurred, leading to greater unity within Central America. These insurrections led to numerous Central American countries to agree to stay out of politics of their neighbors and hence, a number of coups ceased. However political stability was far from certain and violence again broke out in Honduras, lasting until 1925.

From 1925 political stability and free elections began to be the norm, but the depression in the 1930s slowed the economy and soon political dictatorships had returned. In 1948 this ended as outside pressure encouraged free elections. This stability only lasted until 1955 when another coup took over the government, but then again relative stability lasted until the late 1960s.

In 1969 El Salvador invaded Honduras, but this invasion was short lived; it did however begin another string of political coups and instability as the presidency changed hands a number of times in the early 1970s. This military rule ended in 1980 with a free election and began a period of time when the U.S. again became very involved in the country as it again became a close ally and trading partner of Honduras.

Since the 1980s Honduras has remained relatively stable with only minor outbreaks and political maneuvers. Their economy has slowly grown and relations with their neighbors, as well as with the United States, have remained positive.

This page was last updated: March, 2013