Main facts and figures on the history of Honduras

The History of Honduras

Joel Walsh ( has written for numerous web sites, in addition to the Let's Go: Mexico travel guidebook, and translations for a Venezuelan human rights NGO. At university, he studied Spanish literature and the history of Spanish-speaking countries, spending his final semester at the University of Havana.

The First Hondurans

Honduras was part of the vast Mayan empire that began in neighboring Guatemala. The ruins at Copan in western Honduras go back to at least 1000 BC. Eventually the empire spread northward to the Yucatan Peninsula in present-day Mexico. But in AD 900 the empire fell apart, and Mayan civilization was divided among many local groups.

Meanwhile, a few non-Mayan societies lived on Honduras’ Caribbean coast.

The history of Honduras under the Spanish occupation

A fierce resistance to the Spaniards

The first place on the American mainland where Columbus set foot was Trujillo in northern Honduras, in 1502. Columbus named the country, “Honduras,” meaning “depths”, for the deep Caribbean waters off the coast.

The Spanish settled at Trujillo in 1525, then established a capital in the highlands of central Honduras at Comayagua. Comayagua remained the capital of Honduras until 1880.

Badly weakened by disease, the people of Honduras resisted the Spanish settlers, and almost succeeded in driving them off. But the Spanish murdered the resistance leader, Lempira, at peace talks in 1538, and within a year had crushed the resistance.

The European intervention into the Spanish matters

Honduras became part of the Kingdom of Guatemala, itself a division of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, with its seat in Mexico City.

During the colonial era, Spanish colonists settled the interior of Honduras, while pirates, especially Dutch pirates, took over the Caribbean coast.

The British, meanwhile, harvested mahogany trees along the coast, bringing in settlers from Jamaica and other islands, most of them black.

The British even made most of Central America’s Caribbean coast a protectorate, which lasted until 1859.

Today, most Hondurans are of mixed European, indigenous, and/or African descent. About one in ten are of the first inigenous of the history of Honduras. Hardly anyone is of primarily European descent, a fairly unique situation in the Americas.


The first steps: a time of turmoil in the history of Honduras

Honduras, like the rest of Central America, became independent from Spain along with Mexico in 1821, and became part of the United Provinces of Central America the following year.

Honduras actually declared its independence from the confederation two years before its collapse in 1840.

For the next thirty years, conservative dictatorships ruled the country, with brief interruptions provided by ill-fated revolutions and pointless elections.

Liberal dictators took control in 1876, beginning with Marcos A. Soto. They left their marks in the history for more than a Century and “reformed” the country by encouraging mining and trade, including moving the country’s capital to business-friendly Tegucigalpa.

Foreign investors, especially from the United States, made enormous profits on Honduran mining, and especially bananas. The United Fruit Company, which also wielded considerable power elsewhere in the Caribbean, extracted numerous concessions from the government. In return, they gave the country an infrastructure that was pretty good for little other than exporting bananas. The average Honduran was poor, and usually illiterate.

The 20th Century: another time of instability in the history of Honduras

From 1932 to 1948, the Carias dictatorship provided stability to a country that had seen governments come and go rapidly. Military rule followed Carias’s dictatorship, until 1957, when a constituent assembly elected Ramon Villeda Morales, who pushed for modernization.

Osvaldo Lopez Arellano, who controlled the country for the next twelve years, overthrew Villeda Morales in a coup in 1963. In 1969, he led the country during the Soccer War, when El Salvador attacked Honduras during a qualifying match between the two countries’ World Cup teams. The war lasted 100 hours but was costly.

Another round of dictators etched their names in the history of Honduras following Lopez until 1981 when free elections brought the Liberal Party to power.

In the early 1980s, the United States and the National Guard of the ousted Nicaraguan dictator Samosa paid Honduras large amounts of money to use it as a base to attack Nicaragua.

Many Hondurans were disgusted when the arrangement was exposed to the world during the Iran-Contra scandal. (“Contra” was the name for the Nicaraguan forces working for Samosa.)

But the public outcry failed to completely remove the contras from the history of Honduras, who did not go until 1990 when merciless US attacks finally toppled the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Honduras did stop being the US base for operations in Central America, losing most of the money it got for that purpose. Trade with Europe is now twice what it is with the United States.

In any event, Honduras now has one of the smallest economies per capita of any Central American country. Though democracy continues to reign, so does povertywhich unfortunately seems to be part of the history of Honduras.

Check out your knowledge on the geography of Honduras now that you are an expert in the history of Honduras.

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History of Honduras
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