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A brief history of Honduras

Honduras is a largely mountainous, sparsely populated country at the hub of Central America. Until the Mayans moved to the Yucatan, Copán in Honduras was the center of the Mayan empire. Columbus landed here on his fourth voyage, in 1502, and named the region Honduras (“in the depths”), perhaps impressed by ridge after rolling ridge of pine-covered mountains. During the 300 years of Spanish rule Honduras produced some silver, but was mostly ignored by the empire. Even agriculture, the economic base of the rest of Central America, was slow to develop. Honduras gained its independence in 1821 and, after forming part of the Central American Confederation, became a nation in 1838.

In the last half of the 19th century U.S. companies established northern Honduras as an important site for banana production. Since then U.S. corporate interests, especially the United Fruit Co., have had much power in Honduras. So much power, in fact, that U.S. marines were sent in 1911–12 to protect U.S. investments in bananas.

Throughout almost the entire 20th century Honduras has been dominated by military dictatorships, and when the military has not actually held the presidency, it has held the power behind the throne.

As fighting in neighboring El Salvador and Nicaragua intensified in the early 1980s, the military in Honduras tightened its hold on power even further. A small local guerrilla movement was quickly defeated, but surveillance and repression of grassroots organizations was continuous. In exchange for large amounts of U.S. aid Honduras cooperated fully with U.S. policy and permitted the Nicaraguan “contras” to maintain permanent bases along the border.

The United States held almost continuous joint maneuvers with the Honduran army, meant to intimidate the Sandinista government. In addition some Salvadoran army units were trained in Honduras by U.S. military advisors. Since the peace regional process took effect in the late 1980s, democracy in Honduras has been strengthened; civilians have more real power and the army shows more restraint. Although the per capita income of Honduras is one of the lowest in Latin America, since 1990 it has also improved slightly.

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