U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: HONDURAS
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
NOVEMBER 1994

Official Name:  Republic of Honduras

PROFILE

Geography
Area:  112,100 sq. km. (43,270 sq. mi.); about the size of Tennessee.
Cities:  Capital--Tegucigalpa (642,500); San Pedro Sula metropolitan 
area (327,000).
Terrain:  Mountainous.
Climate:  Tropical to subtropical, depending on elevation.

People
Nationality:  Noun and adjective--Honduran(s).
Population (1993):  5.2 million.
Growth rate:  3%.
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--68%.
Health:  Infant mortality rate--60/1,000.  Life expectancy--63 yrs.
Work force:  Services--32%.  Natural resources/agriculture--38%.  
Manufacturing--18%.  Construction/housing--12%.  

Government

Type:  Democratic constitutional republic.
Independence:  September 15, 1821.
Constitution:  1982.
Branches:  Executive--president, directly elected to four-year term.  
Legislative--unicameral National Congress, elected for four-year term.  
Judicial--Supreme Court of Justice (appointed by Congress and confirmed 
by the president); several lower courts.
Political parties:  Liberal Party, National Party, Innovation and Unity 
Party, and Christian Democratic Party.
Suffrage:  Universal adult.
Administrative subdivisions:  18 departments.

Economy (1993)
GDP:  $2.8 billion.
Growth rate:  3.2%.
Per capita GDP:  $540.
Natural resources:  Arable land, forests, minerals, fisheries.
Agriculture (26% of GDP):  Products--bananas, coffee, shrimp, sugar, 
fruits, basic grains, livestock.
Industry (15% of GDP):  Types--textiles and apparel, cement, wood 
products, cigars, foodstuffs.
Trade:  Exports--$866 million:  bananas, citrus fruits, coffee, 
lead/zinc concentrates, shrimp, beef, lumber, sugar.  Major market--U.S. 
(50%).  Imports--$1.3 billion:  petroleum, manufactured goods, 
machinery, chemicals.  Major supplier--U.S. (45%).
Exchange rate (1994):  9 lempira=U.S. $1.


PEOPLE AND HISTORY

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 arose in the fourth century.  Mayan artifacts 
also can be found at the National Museum in Tegucigalpa.  This culture 
had declined by the time Columbus sighted the region in 1502, naming 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.  

Independence

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, though, 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 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, Honduras was 
controlled by the harshly authoritarian Gen. Tiburcio Carias Andino.  
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.

From Military to Civilian Rule

In October 1955--after two authoritarian civilian National Party 
administrations and a general strike by banana workers on the north 
coast in 1954--young military reformists staged a palace coup that 
installed a provisional junta and paved the way for constituent assembly 
elections in 1957.  This assembly, led by the opposition Liberal Party, 
appointed Dr. Ramon Villeda Morales as President and transformed itself 
into a national legislature with a six-year term.  The Liberal Party and 
its tenets flourished during 1957-63.  At the same time, the military 
took its first steps to become a professional institution independent of 
leadership from any one political party, and the newly created military 
academy graduated its first class in 1960.

But in October 1963, conservative military officers preempted 
constitutional elections and deposed Villeda in a bloody coup.  These 
officers exiled Liberal Party members and took control of the national 
police.  The armed forces, led by Gen. Lopez Arellano and supported by 
the National Party, governed until 1970.

A civilian president--Ramon Cruz of the National Party--took power 
briefly in 1970 but proved unable to manage the government.  Popular 
discontent had continued to rise after a 1969 border war with El 
Salvador, and, in December 1972, General Lopez staged another coup.  
Lopez adopted more progressive policies, including land reform, but his 
regime was brought down in the mid-1970s by scandals.

General Lopez' successors continued armed forces modernization programs, 
building army and security forces and concentrating on Honduran air 
force superiority over its neighbors.  The regimes of General Melgar 
Castro (1975-78) and General Paz Garcia (1978-83) largely built the 
current physical infrastructure and telecommunications system of 
Honduras.  The country also enjoyed its most rapid economic growth 
during this period, due to greater international demand for its products 
and the availability of foreign commercial lending.

Following the overthrow of Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua in 1979 and 
general instability in El Salvador at the time, the Honduran military 
accelerated plans to return the country to civilian rule.  A constituent 
assembly was popularly elected in April 1980, and general elections were 
held in November 1981.  A new constitution was approved in 1982, and the 
Liberal Party government of President Roberto Suazo Cordoba assumed 
power.

Suazo relied on U.S. support to help with a severe economic recession 
and with the threat posed by the revolutionary Sandinista government in 
Nicaragua and a brutal civil war in El Salvador.  Close cooperation on 
political and military issues with the United States was complemented by 
ambitious social and economic development projects sponsored by the U.S. 
Agency for International Development (USAID).  Honduras became host to 
the largest Peace Corps mission in the world, and non-governmental and 
international voluntary agencies proliferated.

As the November 1985 election approached, the Liberal Party had 
difficulty settling on a candidate and interpreted election law as 
permitting multiple presidential candidates from one party.  The Liberal 
Party claimed victory when its presidential candidates collectively 
outpolled the National Party candidate, Rafael Leonardo Callejas, who 
received 42% of the vote.  Jose Azcona Hoyo, the candidate receiving the 
most votes (27%) among the Liberals, assumed the presidency in January 
1986.  With strong endorsement and support from the Honduran military, 
the Suazo administration had ushered in the first peaceful transfer of 
power between civilian presidents in more than 30 years.

President Callejas took office in January 1990, following November 1989 
elections.  Callejas' National Party also won a majority in the 
unicameral National Congress.  One of Callejas' first acts as President 
was to have the Congress enact an economic reform package aimed at 
reducing the deficit and effecting widespread structural reforms.  The 
government also took steps to deal with an overvalued exchange rate, 
major structural barriers to investment, and developing new exports.


GOVERNMENT

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 four-year term by popular vote.  
The congress also serves a four-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 elected for 
two-year terms.

National Security

Events during the 1980s in El Salvador and Nicaragua led Honduras, with 
U.S. assistance, to expand its armed forces considerably, laying 
particular emphasis on its air force, which came to include a squadron 
of U.S.-provided F-5s.  The resolution of the civil wars in El Salvador 
and Nicaragua and across-the-board budget cuts made in all ministries 
have brought reduced funding for the Honduran armed forces and left them 
seeking new missions, such as protection of the environment.  The 
military now is well below its authorized 24,000 strength, and further 
reductions are expected.


POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Despite the Callejas administration's economic reforms, growing public 
dissatisfaction with the rising cost of living and with seemingly 
widespread government corruption led voters in 1993 to elect Liberal 
Party candidate Carlos Roberto Reina over Nationalist Party contender 
Oswaldo Ramos Soto, with Reina winning 56% of the vote.

President Reina was sworn in January 27, 1994, promising a "Moral 
Revolution" to curb corruption.  He has taken some steps to implement 
that policy, but much remains to be done.  His government has been 
preoccupied by the need to meet a fiscal deficit crisis and an energy 
crisis, both inherited from the previous administration.  Reina's 
Liberal Party has an absolute majority in the congress but is highly 
factionalized.

Although there has been some improvement in recent years, members of the 
civilian and military elites still largely enjoy de facto impunity from 
criminal prosecution and from civil lawsuits.  Honduran courts often are 
ineffective in protecting property and other rights, including the 
property rights of American citizens and other foreigners.

While the historically dominant military now plays a less intrusive role 
in the country's civilian government, it still operates with a great 
deal of institutional and legal autonomy, particularly in security and 
military affairs.  The armed forces have answered less to the president 
of the republic--despite his formal title of supreme commander--than to 
their own "commander-in-chief," an active-duty officer chosen by a 
collegium of senior officers and nominally subject to congressional 
confirmation.  President Reina has indicated that he plans to make the 
president's  role as supreme commander more effective.

There are no known political prisoners in Honduras, and the privately 
owned media frequently exercises its right to criticism without fear of 
reprisals.  Reinforced by the media and several political watchdog 
organizations, human rights and civil liberties are reasonably well 
protected.  Organized labor represents less than 20% of the work force 
but has considerable economic and political influence.

Political Parties

The two major parties--the Liberal Party and the National Party--run 
active campaigns throughout the country.  Their ideologies are mostly 
centrist, especially on national security issues and foreign policy.  On 
domestic policy, diverse factions in the Liberal Party tend to pull it 
leftward, away from the center-right Nationalists.

The two smaller registered parties, the Christian Democratic Party and 
the Innovation and Unity Party, remain marginal 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.

Principal Government Officials
President--Carlos Roberto Reina Idiaquez
Minister of Foreign Relations--Ernesto Paz Aguilar
Ambassador to the U.S.--Roberto Flores Bermudez
Ambassador to the UN--Gerardo Martinez Blanco
Ambassador to the OAS--Madeleine Villela de Talbot

Honduras maintains an embassy in the United States at 3007 Tilden Street 
NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-966-7702).


ECONOMY

Honduras is one of the poorest and least developed countries in Latin 
America. The economy is based mostly on agriculture, which accounts for 
26% of GDP; coffee and bananas contribute more than 50% to Honduran 
export revenues.  Honduras has extensive forest, marine, and mineral 
resources.  Slash-and-burn agricultural methods continue to destroy 
Honduran forests.  Hondurans are becoming more concerned about their 
environmental problems.  The armed forces have become more involved in 
environmental issues, ranging from reforestation projects to forest-fire 
fighting.  Unemployment officially is estimated at 12%, but actual 
underemployment may be as high as 40%.

After a severe recession in the early 1980s, Honduras achieved moderate 
but steady economic growth--sparked by the mining, construction, and 
service sectors--and was supported by large transfers of foreign 
assistance, particularly from the United States.  In 1990, the Callejas 
administration undertook a far-reaching economic adjustment program.  
Its structural reforms were geared to:


--  Restore the balance-of-payments equilibrium;

--  Control inflationary pressures;

--  Clear outstanding arrears with multilateral creditors; and

--  Establish a solid production base to encourage sustainable economic 
growth through the participation of the private sector.

It also deregulated restrictive pricing and marketing mechanisms, 
liberalized trade, reduced the fiscal deficit, and sharply devalued the 
lempira.  These dramatic reforms created a stronger foundation for long-
term economic growth, but short-term effects--particularly a reduction 
in disposable income and increased urban unemployment--were painful for 
the majority of Hondurans.

During 1993, President Callejas' last year in office, runaway public 
spending led to a massive increase in the fiscal deficit and a 
resurgence of inflationary pressures.  In the first six months of 1994, 
Honduras saw 19% inflation, which exceeded that for all of 1993.  The 
economic difficulties were compounded by the onset of an unprecedented 
energy crisis caused in part by drought.

The Reina administration, which inherited the inflation and energy 
crises in 1994, has devised a deficit reduction package and is getting 
international firms to invest in the energy sector.  For 1994, the 
deficit and energy shortages were projected to cause a 2%-4% decline in 
real GDP and to push inflation above 30%.  The adoption of economic 
stabilization measures and the energy investments should improve the 
economy and lower inflation somewhat in 1995.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Honduras is a member of the United Nations, the General Agreement on 
Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the Organization of American States (OAS), the 
Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), the Central American Integration 
System (SICA), and the Central American Security Commission (CASC). 

President Reina consults frequently with the other Central American 
Presidents on issues of mutual interest.  Despite indications it may do 
so, Nicaragua has yet to drop its International Court of Justice suit 
against Honduras for support during the 1980s of the Nicaraguan 
Resistance.  Reina is continuing his predecessor's strong emphasis on 
Central American cooperation and integration, which under President 
Callejas resulted in an agreement easing border controls and tariffs 
among Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

In July 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 much of the disputed land to Honduras.  A Honduran-Salvadoran 
binational commission is addressing issues such as citizenship and 
physical demarcation of the border resulting from the ICJ decision.  El 
Salvador and Honduras maintain normal diplomatic and trade relations.


U.S.-HONDURAN RELATIONS

Honduras is a firm ally of the United States and generally supports U.S. 
policy in the UN and other forums.  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 offered to accept Haitian and Cuban refugees and offered troops 
for a UN peace-keeping mission in Haiti to follow the departure of the 
1991 Haiti coup leaders.

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 $35 million in 1994--due to 
worldwide reductions in U.S. bilateral assistance.

To make up for lower levels of bilateral economic aid, Honduras is 
exploring opportunities to increase its exports to the U.S. and 
elsewhere.  The United States is Honduras' chief trading partner, 
supplying 45% of its imports and purchasing about half of its exports.  
Leading Honduran exports to the United States include coffee, bananas, 
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 85% of total direct foreign investment in Honduras; this is 
worth about $300 million.  The largest U.S. investments in Honduras are 
in fruit--particularly banana and citrus--production, petroleum refining 
and marketing, and mining.  In addition, U.S. corporations have invested 
in tobacco, maquila, shrimp culture, beef, poultry and animal-feed 
production, insurance, leasing, food processing, brewing, and furniture 
manufacturing.

The U.S. maintains a small presence at a Honduran military base; the two 
countries conduct joint military exercises.  The U.S. Information 
Service has an active program in Honduras.  About 200 Peace Corps 
volunteers work in health, education, agriculture, small business 
development, and forestry.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--William T. Pryce
Deputy Chief of Mission--James C. Cason
Consul General--Fernando Sanchez
USAID Director--Marshall Brown
Public Affairs (USIS)--Mark Krischik
Defense Attache--Col. William Brown
Military Group Commander--Col. Glenn Weidner
Commercial Attache--Michael McGee

The U.S. embassy in Honduras is located on Avenida La Paz, Tegucigalpa 
(tel.:  011-504-36-9320; faxes:  general--011-504-36-9037, USAID--011-
504-36-7776, USIS--011-504-36-9309, Military Group--001-504-33-6171, 
Commercial Attache--011-504-38-2888). 

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