Honduras was already occupied by many indigenous peoples when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century. The western-central part of Honduras was inhabited by the Lencas, the central north coast by the Tol, the area east and west of Trujillo by the Pech (or Paya), the Mayans and Sumo. These autonomous groups maintained commercial relationships with each other and with other populations as distant as Panama and Mexico.
- Pre Columbian era
- Conquest period
- Colonial Honduras
- Colonial mining operations
- The partially conquered northern coast
- The British and the Miskito Kingdom
- Bourbon reforms
- Independence from Spain 1821
- Federal independence period 1821 1838
- Democratic period between 1838 to 1899
- The internationalization of the north 1899 1932
- The Rise of United States influence in Honduras 1899 1919
- The Fruit Companies activity
- Renewed instability 1919 1924
- Restoration of order 1925 1931
- The Era of Tiburcio Caras Andino 1932 1949
- New Reform 1949 1954
- Constituent assembly 1980
Archaeologists have demonstrated that Honduras has a multi-ethnic prehistory. An important part of that prehistory was the Mayan presence around the city of Copán in western Honduras near the Guatemalan border. Copán was a major Maya city that began to flourish around 150 A.D. but reached its height in the Late Classic (700-850 A.D.). It has left behind many carved inscriptions and stelae. The ancient kingdom, named Xukpi, existed from the 5th century to the early 9th century, and had antecedents going back to at least the 2nd century.
The Mayan civilization began a marked decline in population in the 9th century, but there is evidence of people still living in and around the city until at least 1200. By the time the Spanish came to Honduras, the once great city-state of Copán was overrun by the jungle, and the surviving Ch’orti’ were isolated from their Choltian linguistic peers to the west. The non-Maya Lencas were then dominant in western Honduras.
Honduras was first sighted by Europeans when Christopher Columbus arrived at the Bay Islands on 30 July 1502 on his fourth voyage. On 14 August 1502 Columbus landed on the mainland near modern Trujillo. Columbus named the country Honduras ("Depths") for the deep waters off its coast.
In January 1524, Hernán Cortés directed captain Cristóbal de Olid to establish a colony for him in Honduras. Olid sailed with a force of several ships and over 400 soldiers and colonists. He sailed first to Cuba, to pick up supplies Cortés had arranged for him, and where Governor Velázquez convinced him to go and claim the colony he was to found as his own. Olid sailed from Cuba to the coast of Honduras, and came ashore east of Puerto Caballos at Triunfo de la Cruz where he settled and declared himself governor.
Hernán Cortés however in 1524 got word of Olid's insurrection and sent his cousin, Francisco de las Casas, along with several ships to Honduras, to remove Olid and claim the area for Cortés. Las Casas, however, lost most of his fleet in a series of storms along the coast of Belize and Honduras. His ships limped into the bay at Triunfo, where Olid had established his headquarters.
When Las Casas arrived at Olid's headquarters, a large part of Olid's army was inland, dealing with another threat from a party of Spaniards under Gil González Dávila. Nevertheless, Olid decided to launch an attack with two caravels. Las Casas returned fire and sent boarding parties to capture Olid's ships. Under the circumstances, Olid proposed a truce to which Las Casas agreed, and he did not land his forces. During the night, a fierce storm destroyed his fleet and about a third of his men were lost. The remainder were taken prisoner after two days of exposure and no food. After being forced to swear loyalty to Olid, they were released. However, Las Casas was kept prisoner, and soon joined by González, who had been captured by Olid's inland force.
The Spanish record two different stories about what happened next. Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas writing in the 17th century, records that Olid's soldiers rose up and murdered him. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, in his Verdadera Historia de la Conquista de Nueva España, recalls that Las Casas captured Olid and beheaded him at Naco.
In the meantime, Cortés had marched overland from Mexico to Honduras, arriving in 1525. Cortés ordered the founding of two cities, Nuestra Señora de la Navidad, near modern Puerto Cortés, and Trujillo, and named Francisco de las Casas Governor. However, both las Casas and Cortés sail back to Mexico before the end of 1525, where Francisco was arrested and sent back to Spain as a prisoner by Estrada and Alboronoz. Francisco returned to Mexico in 1527, and returned again to Spain with Cortés in 1528.
On 25 April 1526, before returning to Mexico Cortes appointed Hernando de Saavedra as governor of Honduras and left instructions to treat the indigenous people well. On 26 October 1526, Diego López de Salcedo, was appointed by the emperor as governor of Honduras, replacing Saavedra. The next decade was marked by clashes between the personal ambitions of the rulers and conquerors, which hindered the installation of good government. The Spanish colonists rebelled against their leaders, and the indigenous people rebelled against their masters, and against the abuses their new masters imposed on them.
Salcedo, seeking to enrich himself, had serious clashes with Pedrarias, the Governor of Castilla del Oro, who for his part, wanted to have Honduras as part of his domains. In 1528, Salcedo arrested Pedarias and forced him to cede part of his Honduran domain, but Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor rejected the agreement. After the death of Salcedo in 1530, the settlers became arbiters of power. Governors hung and removed. In this situation, the settlers asked Pedro de Alvarado to end the anarchy. With the arrival of Alvarado in 1536, chaos decreased, and the region was under authority.
In 1537, Francisco de Montejo was appointed governor. He set aside the division of territory made by Alvarado upon arrival in Honduras. One of his principal captains, Alonso de Cáceres, was responsible for quelling the indigenous revolt, led by the cacique Lempira in 1537 and 1538. In 1539 Alvarado and Montejo and had serious disagreements over who was governor, which caught the attention of the Council of India. Montejo went to Chiapas, and Alvarado became governor of Honduras.
During the period leading up to the conquest of Honduras by Pedro de Alvarado, many indigenous people along the north coast of Honduras were captured and taken as slaves to work on Spain's Caribbean plantations. It wasn't until Pedro de Alvarado defeated the indigenous resistance headed by Çocamba near Ticamaya, that the Spanish began to conquer the country in 1536. Alvarado divided the native towns and gave their labor to the Spanish conquistadors in repartimiento. Further indigenous uprisings near Gracias a Dios, Comayagua, and Olancho occurred in 1537–38. The uprising near Gracias a Dios was led by Lempira, who is honored today by the name of the Honduran currency.
The defeat of Lempira's revolt, and the decline in fighting among rival Spanish factions all contributed to expanded settlement and increased economic activity in Honduras. In late 1540, Honduras looked to be heading towards development and prosperity, thanks to the establishment of Gracias as the regional capital of the Audiencia of Guatemala (1544). However, this decision created resentment in the populated areas of Guatemala and El Salvador. In 1549, the capital was moved to Antigua, Guatemala, and Honduras and remained a new province within the Captaincy General of Guatemala until 1821.
Colonial mining operations
The first mining centers were located near the Guatemalan border, around Gracias. In 1538 these mines produced significant quantities of gold. In the early 1540s, the center for mining shifted eastward to the Río Guayape Valley, and silver joined gold as a major product. This change contributed to the rapid decline of Gracias and the rise of Comayagua as the center of colonial Honduras. The demand for labor also led to further revolts and accelerated the decimation of the native population. As a result, African slavery was introduced into Honduras, and by 1545 the province may have had as many as 2,000 slaves. Other gold deposits were found near San Pedro Sula and the port of Trujillo.
Mining production began to decline in 1560, and thus the importance of Honduras. In early 1569, new silver discoveries briefly revived the economy, which led to the founding of Tegucigalpa, which soon began to rival Comayagua as the most important city of the province. The silver boom peaked in 1584, and economic depression returned shortly thereafter. Honduran mining efforts were hampered by lack of capital and labor, and by difficult terrain. Mercury, vital for the production of silver, was scarce, besides the neglect of officials.
The partially conquered northern coast
While the Spanish made significant conquests in the southern half of the area, they had less success in the Caribbean section, on the north. They founded a number of towns on the coast, Puerto Caballos in the east, and on the west, and sent minerals and other exports across the country from the Pacific side to be sent to Spain from the Atlantic ports. The founded a number of inland towns on the northwestern side of the province, notably Naco and San Pedro Sula.
In the northeast side, the "province" of Taguzgalpa resisted all attempts to conquer it, physically in the sixteenth century, and spiritually, by missionaries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Among the groups found along northern coast and in neighboring Nicaragua were the Miskito, who although organized in democratic and egalitarian way, had an institution of king, and hence were known as the Mosquito Kingdom.
One of the major problems for the Spanish rulers of Honduras, was the activity of the British in northern Honduras, a region over which they had only tenuous control. These activities began in the sixteenth century and continued until the nineteenth century. In the early years, European pirates frequently attacked the villages on the Honduran Caribbean. The Providence Island Company, which occupied Providence Island not far from the coast, raided it occasionally and probably also had some settlements on the shore, possible around Cape Gracias a Dios. Around 1638, the king of the Miskito visited England and made an alliance with the English crown. In 1643 an English expedition destroyed the city of Trujillo, Honduras's main port.
The British and the Miskito Kingdom
The Spanish sent a fleet from Cartagena which destroyed the English colony at Providence island in 1641, and for a time the presence of an English base so close to the shore was eliminated. At about the same time, however, a group of slaves revolted and captured a ship on which they were traveling, and ended up wrecking it at Cape Gracias a Dios. Managing to get ashore, they were received by the Miskito, and within a generation had given birth to the Miskito Zambo, a mixed race group that by 1715 had become the leaders of the kingdom.
Meanwhile, the English captured Jamaica in 1655 and soon were seeking allies on the coast, and hit upon the Miskito, whose king Jeremy visited Jamaica in 1687.
A variety of other Europeans made settlements in the area during this time. An account of 1699 reveals a patchwork of private individuals, large Miskito family groups, Spanish settlements and pirate hideouts along the coast. Britain declared much of the area a Protectorate in 1740, though they exercised little authority as a result of this decision. British colonization was particularly strong in the Bay Islands, and alliances between the British and Miskito as well as more local supporters made this an area the Spanish could not easily control and a haven for pirates.
In the early eighteenth century, the Bourbon dynasty, linked to the rulers of France, replaced the Habsburgs on the throne of Spain. The new dynasty began a series of reforms throughout the empire (the Bourbon Reforms), designed to make administration more efficient and profitable, and to facilitate the defense of the colonies. Among these reforms was a reduction in tax on precious metals and the cost of mercury, which was a royal monopoly. In Honduras, these reforms contributed to the resurgence of the mining industry in the 1730s.
Under the Bourbons, the Spanish government made several efforts to regain control of the Caribbean coast. In 1752, the Spaniards built the fort of San Fernando de Omoa. In 1780, the Spanish returned to Trujillo, who started out as base of operations against British settlements to the east. During the decade of 1780, the Spanish regained control of the Bay Islands and took most of the British and their allies in the Black River area. They were not, however, able to expand their control beyond Puerto Caballos and Trujillo, thanks to determined Miskito resistance. The Anglo-Spanish Convention of 1786, issued the final recognition of Spanish sovereignty over the Caribbean coast.
Independence from Spain (1821)
In the early 19th century, Napoleon's occupation of Spain led to the outbreak of revolts all across Spanish America. In New Spain, all of the fighting by those seeking independence was done in the center of that area from 1810 to 1821, what today is central Mexico. Once the Viceroy was defeated in the capital, Mexico City, in 1821, the news of the independence were sent to all the territories of New Spain including the Intendencies of the former Captaincy of Guatemala. Accepting this as a fact, Honduras joined the other Central American Intendencies in a joint declaration of independence from Spain. The public proclamation was done through the Act of Independence in 1821.
After the declaration of independence it was the intention of the New Spain parliament to establish a commonwealth whereby the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII, would also be Emperor of New Spain, and in which both countries were to be governed by separate laws and with their own legislative offices. Should the king refuse the position, the law provided for a member of the House of Bourbon to accede to the New Spain throne. Ferdinand VII, did not recognize the independence and said that Spain would not allow any other European prince to take the throne of New Spain.
By request of Parliament, the president of the regency Agustín de Iturbide was proclaimed emperor of New Spain but the Parliament also decided to re name New Spain to Mexico. The Mexican Empire was the official name given to this monarchical regime from 1821 to 1823. The territory of the Mexican Empire included the continental intendencies and provinces of New Spain proper (including those of the former Captaincy General of Guatemala) (See: History of Central America).
Federal independence period (1821-1838)
In 1823, a revolution in Mexico ousted Emperor Agustín de Iturbide, and a new Mexican congress voted to allow the Central American Intendencies to decide their own fate. That year, the United Provinces of Central America was formed of the five Central American Intendencies under General. Manuel José Arce. The Intendencies took the new name of States.
Among the most important figures of the federal era include the first democratically elected president in Honduras, Dionisio de Herrera, a lawyer, whose government, begun in 1824 established the first constitution, Gen. Francisco Morazán, Federal President 1830-1834 and 1835–1839, whose figure embodies the ideal American Unionist, and José Cecilio del Valle, editor of the Declaration of Independence signed in Guatemala on 15 September 1821 and Foreign Minister of Mexico in 1823.
Soon, social and economic differences between Honduras and its regional neighbors exacerbated harsh partisan strife among Central American leaders and brought the collapse of the Federation from 1838 to 1839. General Morazán led unsuccessful efforts to maintain the federation. Restoring Central American unity remained the officially stated chief aim of Honduran foreign policy until after World War I.
Honduras broke away from the Central American Federation in October 1838 and became independent and sovereign state.
Democratic period between 1838 to 1899
Comayagua was the capital of Honduras until 1880, when it was transferred to Tegucigalpa.
In the decades of 1840 and 1850 Honduras participated in several failed attempts to restore Central American unity, such as the Confederation of Central America (1842–1845), the covenant of Guatemala (1842), the Diet of Sonsonate ( 1846), the Diet of Nacaome (1847) and National Representation in Central America (1849–1852).
Although Honduras eventually adopted the name Republic of Honduras, the unionist ideal never wanted, and Honduras was one of the Central American countries that pushed hardest for the policy of regional unity.
In 1850, Honduras attempted to build, with foreign assistance, an Inter-Oceanic Railroad from Trujillo to Tegucigalpa and then on to the Pacific Coast. The project stalled due to difficulties in the work, corruption and other issues, and in 1888, ran out of money when it reached San Pedro Sula, resulting in its growth into the nation's main industrial center and second largest city. Since independence, nearly 300 small internal rebellions and civil wars have occurred in the country, including some changes of government.
The internationalization of the north, 1899-1932
Political stability and instability both aided and distracted the economic revolution which transformed Honduras through the development of a plantation economy on the north coast. As American corporations consolidated increasingly large landholdings in Honduras, they lobbied the US government to protect their investments. Conflicts over land ownership, peasant rights, and a US-aligned comprador class of elites led to armed conflicts and multiple invasions by US armed forces. In the first decades of the century, US military incursions took place in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924, and 1925. Because the country was effectively controlled by American fruit corporations, it was the original inspiration for the term "banana republic".
The Rise of United States influence in Honduras (1899-1919)
In 1899, the banana industry in Honduras was growing rapidly and the peaceful transfer of power from Policarpo Bonilla to General Terencio Sierra would mark the first time in decades that such a constitutional transition had taken place. By 1902, railroads had been constructed along the country's Caribbean coast to accommodate the growing banana industry. However, Sierra made efforts to perpetuate himself in office after refusing to step down after a new president was elected in 1902 and would be overthrown by Manuel Bonilla in 1903.
After toppling Sierra, Bonilla, a conservative, imprisoned ex-president Policarpo Bonilla, a liberal rival, for two years and made other attempts to suppress liberals throughout the country, as they were the only group in the country with an organized political party. The conservatives were divided into a host of personalist factions and lacked coherent leadership, but Bonilla made some efforts to reorganize the conservatives into a "national party." The present-day National Party of Honduras (Partido Nacional de Honduras—PNH) traces its origins to his administration.
Bonilla proved to be an even greater friend of the banana companies than Sierra had been. Under Bonilla's rule, companies gained exemptions from taxes and permission to construct wharves and roads, as well as permission to improve interior waterways and to obtain charters for new railroad construction. He would also successfully establish the border with Nicaragua and resist an invasion from Guatemala in 1906. After fending off Guatemalan military forces, Bonilla sought peace with the country and signed a friendship pact with both Guatemala and El Salvador.
Nicaragua's powerful President José Santos Zelaya saw this friendship pact as an alliance to counter Nicaragua and began to undermine Bonilla. Zelaya now supported liberal Honduran exiles in Nicaragua in their efforts to topple Bonilla, who had established himself as a dictator. Supported by elements of the Nicaraguan army, the exiles invaded Honduras in February 1907. With the assistance of Salvadoran troops, Manuel Bonilla tried to resist, but in March his forces were decisively beaten in a battle notable for the introduction of machine guns into Central American civil strife. After toppling Bonilla, the exiles established a provisional junta, but this junta would not last.
American elites noticed: it was in their interests to contain Zelaya, protect the region of the new Panama Canal, and defend the increasingly important banana trade. This Nicaragua-assisted invasion by Honduran exiles strongly displeased the United States government, which concluded that Zelaya wanted to dominate the entire Central American region, and the government dispatched marines to Puerto Cortes to protect the banana trade; US naval units were also sent to Honduras and were able to successfully defend Bonilla's last defense position at Amapala in the Gulfo de Fonseca. Through a peace settlement arranged by the US charge' d' affaires in Tegucigalpa, Bonilla stepped down and the war with Nicaragua came to an end.
The settlement also provided for the installation of a compromise regime headed by General Miguel R. Davila in Tegucigalpa. Zelaya, however, was not pleased by the settlement, as he strongly distrusted Davila. Zelaya afterwards made a secret arrangement with El Salvador to oust Davila from office. The plan failed to reach fruition, but alarmed the American stakeholders in Honduras. Mexico and the U.S. then called the five Central American countries into diplomatic talks at the Central American Peace Conference to increase stability in the area. At the conference, the five countries signed the General Treaty of Peace and Amity of 1907, which established the Central American Court of Justice to resolve future disputes among the five nations. Honduras also agreed to become permanently neutral in any future conflicts among the other nations.
In 1908, opponents of Davila made an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow him. Despite the failure of this coup, American elites became concerned over Honduran instability. The Taft Administration saw the huge Honduran debt, over $120 million, as a contributing factor to this instability and began efforts to refinance the largely British debt with provisions for a United States customs receivership or some similar arrangement. Negotiations were arranged between Honduran representatives and New York bankers, headed by J.P. Morgan. By the end of 1909, an agreement had been reached providing for a reduction in the debt and the issuance of new 5 percent bonds: the bankers would control the Honduran railroad, and the United States government would guarantee continued Honduran independence and would take control of customer revenue.
The terms proposed by the bankers met with considerable opposition in Honduras, further weakening the Dávila government. A treaty incorporating the key provisions of this agreement with J.P. Morgan was finally signed in January 1911 and submitted to the Honduran legislature by Dávila. However, that body, in a rare display of independence, rejected it by a vote of thirty-three to five.
An uprising in 1911 against Dávila interrupted efforts to deal with the debt problem. The United States Marines landed, which coerced both sides to meet on a US warship. The revolutionaries, headed by former president Manuel Bonilla, and the government agreed to a cease-fire and the installation of a provisional president who would be selected by the United States mediator, Thomas Dawson. Dawson selected Francisco Bertrand, who promised to hold early, free elections, and Dávila resigned.
The 1912 elections were won by Manuel Bonilla, but he died after just over a year in office. Bertrand, who had been his vice president, returned to the presidency and in 1916 won election for a term that lasted until 1920. Between the years 1911 and 1920, Honduras saw relative stability. During this time, railroads expanded throughout Honduras and the banana trade grew rapidly. This stability, however, would prove to be difficult to maintain in the years following 1920. Revolutionary intrigues also continued throughout the period, accompanied by constant rumors that one faction or another was being supported by one of the banana companies.
The development of the banana industry contributed to the beginnings of organized labor movements in Honduras and to the first major strikes in the nation's history. The first of these occurred in 1917 against the Cuyamel Fruit Company. The strike was suppressed by the Honduran military, but the following year additional labor disturbances occurred at the Standard Fruit Company's holding in La Ceiba. In 1920, a general strike hit the Caribbean coast. In response, a United States warship was dispatched to the area, and the Honduran government began arresting leaders. When Standard Fruit offered a new wage equivalent to US$1.75 per day, the strike ultimately collapsed. Labor troubles in the banana area, however, were far from over.
The Fruit Companies activity
The Liberal government opted to expand production in mining and agriculture, and in 1876 began granting substantial grants of land and tax exemptions to foreign concerns as well as local businesses. Mining was particularly important, and the new policies coincided with the growing of banana exporting, which began in the Bay Islands in the 1870s and was pursued on the mainland by small and middling farmers in the 1880s. Liberal concessions allowed U. S. based concerns to enter the Honduran market, first as shipping companies, and then as railroad and banana producing enterprises. The U. S. companies created very large plantations worked by labor that flooded into the region from the densely settled Pacific side, other Central American countries, and thanks to the company's policies favoring English speaking people, from the English-speaking Caribbean. The result was the creation of an enclave economy centered on the settlements and activities of the three major companies, Cuyamel Fruit Company, Standard Fruit and particularly United Fruit after it absorbed Cuyamel in 1930.
In 1899, Vaccaro Brothers and Company (later known as Standard Fruit),a New Orleans-based fruit corporation, came to Honduras in 1899 to purchase coconuts, oranges and bananas on Roatan Island. After successfully selling these fruits in New Orleans, the company decided to move to the mainland of Honduras. In 1901, Vaccaro Brothers and Company established offices in La Ceiba and Salado and eventually controlled the banana industry between Boca Cerrada and Balfate (an area of about 80 kilometers of coastline). In 1900, American businessman Samuel Zemurray and United Fruit came to Honduras to purchase some banana plantations. In 1905, Zemurray had started buying his own plantations and in 1910, after purchasing 5,000 acres (20 km2) of plantation land in Honduras, formed his own company, the Cuyamel Fruit Company. The two companies' wealth and powerful connections allowed them to gain extraordinary influence in government.
Rivalries between the companies, however, escalated in 1910, when the United Fruit came to Honduras to set up company operations; the company had already been a local producer of bananas in Honduras. By 1912, United Fruit had two concessions which it had purchased with government approval. One was to build a railroad from Tela to Progreso which is in the Sula Valley, and the other was to build a railroad from Trujillo, to the city of Juticalpa in Olancho. In 1913, United Fruit established the Tela Railroad Company and shortly thereafter a similar subsidiary, the Trujillo Railroad Company; these two railroads managed the concessions which the Honduran government granted them. Through these two railroad companies, United Fruit dominated the banana trade in Honduras.
A census of 1899 revealed that northern Honduras had been exporting bananas for several years and that over 1,000 people in the region between Puerto Cortes and La Ceiba (and inland as far as San Pedro Sula) were tending bananas, most of them small holders. The fruit companies received very large concessions of land on which to grow bananas, often forcing small holders who had been growing and exporting bananas off their land or out of business. In addition, they brought in many workers from the British West Indies, especially Jamaica and Belize, both to work on the plantations, but also as lower managers and skilled workers. The companies often favored the West Indian workers because they spoke English and were sometimes better educated than their Honduran counterparts. This perception of foreign occupation, coupled with a growing race-prejudice against the African-descended West Indians led to considerable tension, as the arrival of the West Indians drove demographic change in the region.
The connection between the wealth of the banana trade and the influence of outsiders, particularly North Americans, led O. Henry, the American writer who took temporary refuge in Honduras in 1896-97, to coin the term "Banana Republic" to describe a fictional nation he modeled on Honduras. By 1912, three companies dominated the banana trade in Honduras: Samuel Zemurray's Cuyamel Fruit Company, Vaccaro Brothers and Company and the United Fruit Company; all of which tended to be vertically integrated, owning their own lands and railroad companies and ship lines such as United's "Great White Fleet". Through land subsidies granted to the railroads, they soon came to control vast tracts of the best land along the Caribbean coast. Coastal cities such as La Ceiba, Tela, and Trujillo and towns further inland such as El Progreso and La Lima became virtual company towns.
For the next twenty years, the U.S. government was involved in quelling Central American disputes, insurrections, and revolutions, whether supported by neighboring governments or by United States companies. As part of the so-called Banana Wars all around the Caribbean, Honduras saw the insertion of American troops in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925. For instance, in 1917 the Cuyamel Fruit Company extended its rail lines into disputed Guatemalan territory.
Renewed instability (1919-1924)
In 1919, it became obvious that Bertrand would refuse to allow an open election to choose his successor. Such a course of action was opposed by the United States and had little popular support in Honduras. The local military commander and governor of Tegucigalpa, General Rafael López Gutiérrez, took the lead in organizing PLH opposition to Bertrand. López Gutiérrez also solicited support from the liberal government of Guatemala and even from the conservative regime in Nicaragua. Bertrand, in turn, sought support from El Salvador.
Determined to avoid an international conflict, the United States government, after some hesitation, offered to meditate the dispute, hinting to the Honduran president that if he refused the offer, open intervention might follow. Bertrand promptly resigned and left the country. The United States ambassador helped arrange the installation of an interim government headed by Francisco Bográn, who promised to hold free elections. General López Gutiérrez, who now effectively controlled the military situation, made it clear that he was determined to be the next president. After considerable negotiation and some confusion, a formula was worked out under which elections were held. López Gutiérrez won easily in a manipulated election, and in October 1920 he assumed the presidency.
During Bográn's brief time in office, he had agreed to a United States proposal to invite a United States financial adviser to Honduras. Arthur N. Young of the Department of State was selected for this task and began work in Honduras in August 1920, continuing to August 1921. While there, Young compiled extensive data and made numerous recommendations, even persuading the Hondurans to hire a New York police lieutenant to reorganize their police forces. Young's investigations clearly demonstrated the desperate need for major financial reforms in Honduras, whose always precarious budgetary situation was considerably worsened by the renewal of revolutionary activities.
In 1919, for example, the military had spent more than double the amount budgeted for them, accounting for over 57 percent of all federal expenditures. Young's recommendations for reducing the military budget, however, found little favor with the new López Gutiérrez administration, and the government's financial condition remained a major problem. If anything, continued uprisings against the government and the threat of a renewed Central America conflict made the situation even worse. From 1919 to 1924, the Honduran government expended US$7.2 million beyond the amount covered by the regular budgets for military operations.
From 1920 through 1923, seventeen uprisings or attempted coups in Honduras contributed to growing United States concern over political instability in Central America. In August 1922, the presidents of Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador met on the U.S.S. Tacoma in the Golfo de Fonseca. Under the watchful eye of the United States ambassadors to their nations, the presidents pledged to prevent their territories from being used to promote revolutions against their neighbors and issued a call for a general meeting of Central American states in Washington at the end of the year.
The Washington conference concluded in February with the adoption of the General Treaty of Peace and Amity of 1923, which had eleven supplemental conventions. The treaty in many ways followed the provisions of the 1907 treaty. The Central American court was reorganized, reducing the influence of the various governments over its membership. The clause providing for withholding recognition of revolutionary governments was expanded to preclude recognition of any revolutionary leader, his relatives, or anyone who had been in power six months before or after such an uprising unless the individual's claim to power had been ratified by free elections. The governments renewed their pledges to refrain from aiding revolutionary movements against their neighbors and to seek peaceful resolutions for all outstanding disputes.
The supplemental conventions covered everything from the promotion of agriculture to the limitation of armaments. One, which remained unratified, provided for free trade among all of the states except Costa Rica. The arms limitation agreement set a ceiling on the size of each nation's military forces (2,500 men for Honduras) and included a United States-sponsored pledge to seek foreign assistance in establishing more professional armed forces.
The October 1923 Honduran presidential elections and the subsequent political and military conflicts provided the first real tests of these new treaty arrangements. Under heavy pressure from Washington, López Gutiérrez allowed an unusually open campaign and election. The long-fragmented conservatives had reunited in the form of the National Party of Honduras (Partido Nacional de Honduras—PNH), which ran as its candidate General Tiburcio Carías Andino, the governor of the department of Cortés.
The liberal PLH was unable to unite around a single candidate and split into two dissident groups, one supporting former president Policarpo Bonilla, the other advancing the candidacy of Juan Angel Arias. As a result, each candidate failed to secure a majority. Carías received the greatest number of votes, with Bonilla second, and Arias a distant third. By the terms of the Honduran constitution, this stalemate left the final choice of president up to the legislature, but that body was unable to obtain a quorum and reach a decision.
In January 1924, López Gutiérrez announced his intention to remain in office until new elections could be held, but he repeatedly refused to specify a date for the elections. Carías, reportedly with the support of United Fruit, declared himself president, and an armed conflict broke out. In February the United States, warning that recognition would be withheld from anyone coming to power by revolutionary means, suspended relations with the López Gutiérrez government for its failure to hold elections.
Conditions rapidly deteriorated in the early months of 1924. On 28 February, a pitched battle took place in La Ceiba between government troops and rebels. Even the presence of the U.S.S. Denver and the landing of a force of United States Marines were unable to prevent widespread looting and arson resulting in over US$2 million in property damage. Fifty people, including a United States citizen, were killed in the fighting. In the weeks that followed, additional vessels from the United States Navy Special Service Squadron were concentrated in Honduran waters, and landing parties were put ashore at various points to protect United States interests. One force of marines and sailors was even dispatched inland to Tegucigalpa to provide additional protection for the United States legation. Shortly before the arrival of the force, López Gutiérrez died, and what authority remained with the central government was being exercised by his cabinet. General Carías and a variety of other rebel leaders controlled most of the countryside but failed to coordinate their activities effectively enough to seize the capital.
In an effort to end the fighting, the United States government dispatched Sumner Welles to the port of Amapala; he had instructions to try to produce a settlement that would bring to power a government eligible for recognition under the terms of the 1923 treaty. Negotiations, which were once again held on board a United States cruiser, lasted from 23 to 28 April. An agreement was worked out that provided for an interim presidency headed by General Vicente Tosta, who agreed to appoint a cabinet representing all political factions and to convene a Constituent Assembly within ninety days to restore constitutional order. Presidential elections were to be held as soon as possible, and Tosta promised to refrain from being a candidate. Once in office, the new president showed signs of reneging on some of his pledges, especially those related to the appointment of a bipartisan cabinet. Under heavy pressure from the United States delegation, however, he ultimately complied with the provisions of the peace agreement.
Keeping the 1924 elections on track proved to be a difficult task. To put pressure on Tosta to conduct a fair election, the United States continued an embargo on arms to Honduras and barred the government from access to loans—including a requested US$75,000 from the Banco Atlántida. Furthermore, the United States persuaded El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua to join in declaring that, under the 1923 treaty provision, no leader of the recent revolution would be recognized as president for the coming term. These pressures ultimately helped persuade Carías to withdraw his candidacy and also helped ensure the defeat of an uprising led by General Gregorio Ferrera ( great-grandfather of American Actress America Ferrera) of the PNH. The PNH nominated Miguel Paz Barahona (1925–29), a civilian, for president. The PLH, after some debate, refused to nominate a candidate, and on 28 December Paz Barahona won virtual unanimous election.
Restoration of order (1925-1931)
Despite another minor uprising led by General Ferrera in 1925, Paz Barahona's administration was, by Honduran standards, rather tranquil. The banana companies continued to expand, the government's budgetary situation improved, and there was even an increase in labor organizing. On the international front, the Honduran government, after years of negotiations, finally concluded an agreement with the British bondholders to liquidate most of the immense national debt. The bonds were to be redeemed at 20 percent of face value over a thirty-year period. Back interest was forgiven, and new interest accrued only over the last fifteen years of this arrangement. Under the terms of this agreement, Honduras, at last, seemed on the road to fiscal solvency.
Fears of disturbances increased again in 1928 as the scheduled presidential elections approached. The ruling PNH nominated General Carías while the PLH, united again following the death of Policarpo Bonilla in 1926, nominated Vicente Mejía Colindres. To the surprise of most observers, both the campaign and the election were conducted with a minimum of violence and intimidation. Mejía Colindres won a decisive victory—obtaining 62,000 votes to 47,000 for Carías. Even more surprising was Carías's public acceptance of defeat and his urging of his supporters to accept the new government.
Mejía Colindres took office in 1929 with high hopes for his administration and his nation. Honduras seemed on the road to political and economic progress. Banana exports, then accounting for 80 percent of all exports, continued to expand. By 1930 Honduras had become the world's leading producer of the fruit, accounting for one-third of the world's supply of bananas. United Fruit had come increasingly to dominate the trade, and in 1929 it bought out the Cuyamel Fruit Company, one of its two principal remaining rivals. Because conflicts between these companies had frequently led to support for rival groups in Honduran politics, had produced a border controversy with Guatemala, and may have even contributed to revolutionary disturbances, this merger seemed to promise greater domestic tranquility. The prospect for tranquility was further advanced in 1931 when Ferrera and his insurgents were killed, while leading one last unsuccessful effort to overthrow the government, after government troops discovered their hiding place in Chamelecon.
Many of Mejía Colindres's hopes, however, were dashed with the onset of the Great Depression. Banana exports peaked in 1930, then declined rapidly. Thousands of workers were laid off, and the wages of those remaining on the job were reduced, as were the prices paid to independent banana producers by the giant fruit companies. Strikes and other labor disturbances began to break out in response to these conditions, but most were quickly suppressed with the aid of government troops. As the depression deepened, the government's financial situation deteriorated; in 1931 Mejía Colindres was forced to borrow US$250,000 from the fruit companies to ensure that the army would continue to be paid.
The Era of Tiburcio Carías Andino (1932-1949)
Despite growing unrest and severe economic strains, the 1932 presidential elections in Honduras were relatively peaceful and fair. The peaceful transition of power was surprising because the onset of the depression had led to the overthrow of governments elsewhere throughout Latin America, in nations with much stronger democratic traditions than those of Honduras. After United Fruit bought out Cuyamal, Sam Zemurray, a strong supporter of the Liberal Party, left the country and the Liberals were short on cash by the 1932 general election. Mejía Colindres, however, resisted pressure from his own party to manipulate the results to favor the PLH candidate, Angel Zúñiga Huete. As a result, the PNH candidate, Carías, won the election by a margin of some 20,000 votes. On 16 November 1932, Carías assumed office, beginning what was to be the longest period of continuous rule by an individual in Honduran history.
Lacking, however, was any immediate indication that the Carías administration was destined to survive any longer than most of its predecessors. Shortly before Carías's inauguration, dissident liberals, despite the opposition of Mejía Colindres, had risen in revolt. Carías had taken command of the government forces, obtained arms from El Salvador, and crushed the uprising in short order. Most of Carías's first term in office was devoted to efforts to avoid financial collapse, improve the military, engage in a limited program of road building, and lay the foundations for prolonging his own hold on power.
The economic situation remained extremely bad throughout the 1930s. In addition to the dramatic drop in banana exports caused by the depression, the fruit industry was further threatened by the outbreak in 1935 of epidemics of Panama disease (a debilitating fungus) and sigatoka (leaf blight) in the banana-producing areas. Within a year, most of the country's production was threatened. Large areas, including most of those around Trujillo, were abandoned, and thousands of Hondurans were thrown out of work. By 1937 a means of controlling the disease had been found, but many of the affected areas remained out of production because a significant share of the market formerly held by Honduras had shifted to other nations.
Carías had made efforts to improve the military even before he became president. Once in office, both his capacity and his motivation to continue and to expand such improvements increased. He gave special attention to the fledgling air force, founding the Military Aviation School in 1934 and arranging for a United States colonel to serve as its commandant.
As months passed, Carías moved slowly but steadily to strengthen his hold on power. He gained the support of the banana companies through opposition to strikes and other labor disturbances. He strengthened his position with domestic and foreign financial circles through conservative economic policies. Even in the height of the depression, he continued to make regular payments on the Honduran debt, adhering strictly to the terms of the arrangement with the British bondholders and also satisfying other creditors. Two small loans were paid off completely in 1935.
Political controls were instituted slowly under Carías. The Communist Party of Honduras (Partido Comunista de Honduras—PCH) was outlawed, but the PLH continued to function, and even the leaders of a small uprising in 1935 were later offered free air transportation should they wish to return to Honduras from their exile abroad. At the end of 1935, however, stressing the need for peace and internal order, Carías began to crack down on the opposition press and political activities. Meanwhile, the PNH, at the president's direction, began a propaganda campaign stressing that only the continuance of Carías in office could give the nation continued peace and order. The constitution, however, prohibited immediate reelection of presidents.
The method chosen by Carías to extend his term of office was to call a constituent assembly that would write a new constitution and select the individual to serve for the first presidential term under that document. Except for the president's desire to perpetuate himself in office, there seemed little reason to alter the nation's basic charter. Earlier constituent assemblies had written thirteen constitutions (only ten of which had entered into force), and the latest had been adopted in 1924. The handpicked Constituent Assembly of 1936 incorporated thirty of the articles of the 1924 document into the 1936 constitution.
The major changes were the elimination of the prohibition on immediate reelection of a president and vice president and the extension of the presidential term from four to six years. Other changes included restoration of the death penalty, reductions in the powers of the legislature, and denial of citizenship and therefore the right to vote to women. Finally, the new constitution included an article specifying that the incumbent president and vice president would remain in office until 1943. But Carías, by then a virtual dictator, wanted even more, so in 1939 the legislature, now completely controlled by the PNH, obediently extended his term in office by another six years (to 1949).
The PLH and other opponents of the government reacted to these changes by attempting to overthrow Carías. Numerous efforts were made in 1936 and 1937, but all were successful only in further weakening the PNH's opponents. By the end of the 1930s, the PNH was the only organized functioning political party in the nation. Numerous opposition leaders had been imprisoned, and some had reportedly been chained and put to work in the streets of Tegucigalpa. Others, including the leader of the PLH, Zúñiga Huete, had fled into exile.
During his presidency, Carías cultivated close relations with his fellow Central American dictators, generals Jorge Ubico in Guatemala, Maximiliano Hernández Martínez in El Salvador, and Anastasio Somoza García in Nicaragua. Relations were particularly close with Ubico, who helped Carías reorganize his secret police and also captured and shot the leader of a Honduran uprising who had made the mistake of crossing into Guatemalan territory. Relations with Nicaragua were somewhat more strained as a result of the continuing border dispute, but Carías and Somoza managed to keep this dispute under control throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
The value of these ties became somewhat questionable in 1944 when popular revolts in Guatemala and El Salvador deposed Ubico and Hernández Martínez. For a time, it seemed as if revolutionary contagion might spread to Honduras as well. A plot, involving some military officers as well as opposition civilians, had already been discovered and crushed in late 1943. In May 1944, a group of women began demonstrating outside of the Presidential Palace in Tegucigalpa, demanding the release of political prisoners.
Despite strong government measures, tension continued to grow, and Carías was ultimately forced to release some prisoners. This gesture failed to satisfy the opposition, and antigovernment demonstrations continued to spread. In July several demonstrators were killed by troops in San Pedro Sula. In October a group of exiles invaded Honduras from El Salvador but were unsuccessful in their efforts to topple the government. The military remained loyal, and Carías continued in office.
Anxious to curb further disorders in the region, the United States began to urge Carías to step aside and allow free elections when his current term in office expired. Carías, who by then was in his early seventies, ultimately yielded to these pressures and announced October 1948 elections, in which he would refrain from being a candidate. He continued, however, to find ways to use his power. The PNH nominated Carías's choice for president—Juan Manuel Gálvez, who had been minister of war since 1933. Exiled opposition figures were allowed to return to Honduras, and the PLH, trying to overcome years of inactivity and division, nominated Zúñiga Huete, the same individual whom Carías had defeated in 1932. The PLH rapidly became convinced that it had no chance to win and, charging the government with manipulation of the electoral process, boycotted the elections. This act gave Gálvez a virtually unopposed victory, and in January 1949, he assumed the presidency.
Evaluating the Carías presidency is a difficult task. His tenure in office provided the nation with a badly needed period of relative peace and order. The country's fiscal situation improved steadily, education improved slightly, the road network expanded, and the armed forces were modernized. At the same time, nascent democratic institutions withered, opposition and labor activities were suppressed, and national interests at times were sacrificed to benefit supporters and relatives of Carías or major foreign interests.
New Reform (1949-1954)
Once in office, Gálvez demonstrated more independence than had generally been anticipated. Some policies of the Carías administration, such as road building and the development of coffee exports, were continued and expanded. By 1953 nearly one-quarter of the government's budget was devoted to road construction. Gálvez also continued most of the prior administration's fiscal policies, reducing the external debt and ultimately paying off the last of the British bonds. The fruit companies continued to receive favorable treatment at the hands of the Gálvez administration; for example, United Fruit received a highly favorable twenty-five-year contract in 1949.
Galvez, however, instituted some notable alterations from the preceding fifteen years. Education received increased attention and began to receive a larger share of the national budget. Congress actually passed an income tax law, although enforcement was sporadic at best. The most obvious change was in the political arena. A considerable degree of press freedom was restored, the PLH and other groups were allowed to organize, and even some labor organization was permitted. Labor also benefited from legislation during this period. Congress passed, and the president signed, legislation establishing the eight-hour workday, paid holidays for workers, limited employer responsibility for work-related injuries, and regulations for the employment of women and children.
In October 1955, after the general strike in 1954, young military reformists staged a coup that installed a provisional junta. Capital punishment was abolished in 1956, though the last person to be executed was in 1940. There were constituent assembly elections in 1957 which appointed Ramón Villeda as President, and itself becoming a national Congress with a 6-year term. The PLH ruled during 1957–63. The military began to become a professional institution independent of politics, with the newly created military academy graduating its first class in 1960. In October 1963, conservative military officers preempted constitutional elections and deposed Villeda in a bloody coup. These officers exiled PLH members and governed under General Oswaldo López until 1970.
In July 1969, El Salvador invaded Honduras in the short Football War. Tensions in the aftermath of the conflict remain.
A civilian president for the PNH, Ramón Ernesto Cruz, took power briefly in 1970 until, in December 1972, Oswaldo López staged another coup. This time round, he adopted more progressive policies, including land reform.
López's successors continued armed forces modernization programs, building army and security forces, and concentrating on Honduran air force superiority over its neighbors. During the governments of General Juan Alberto Melgar (1975–78) and General Policarpo Paz (1978–82), Honduras built most of its physical infrastructure and electricity and terrestrial telecommunications systems, both of which are state monopolies. The country experienced economic growth during this period, with greater international demand for its products and the increased availability of foreign commercial capital.
Constituent assembly (1980)
In 1979, the country returned 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 PLH government of Roberto Suazo assumed power.
Roberto Suazo Córdova won the elections with a promise to carry out an ambitious program of economic and social development in Honduras in order to tackle the country's recession. During this time, Honduras also assisted the Contra guerillas.
President Suazo launched ambitious social and economic development projects sponsored by American development aid. Honduras became host to the largest Peace Corps mission in the world, and nongovernmental and international voluntary agencies proliferated.
Between 1979 and 1985, under John Negroponte's appointment as U.S. ambassador from 1981 to 1985, U.S. military and economic aid to Honduras jumped from $31 million to $282 million. Between 1979 and 1985, U.S. development aid fell from 80% of the total to 6%. The United States established a continuing military presence in Honduras with the purpose of supporting the Contra guerillas fighting the Nicaraguan government and also developed an air strip and a modern port in Honduras. Though spared the bloody civil wars wracking its neighbors, the Honduran army quietly waged a campaign against Marxist–Leninist militias such as Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement, notorious for kidnappings and bombings, and many non-militants. The operation included a CIA-backed campaign of extrajudicial killings by government-backed units, most notably Battalion 316.
President Suazo, relying on U.S. support, created ambitious social and economic development projects to help with a severe economic recession and with the perceived threats of regional instability.
As the November 1985 election approached, the PLH could not settle on a presidential candidate and interpreted election law as permitting multiple candidates from any one party. The PLH claimed victory when its presidential candidates collectively outpolled the PNH candidate, Rafael Leonardo Callejas, who received 42% of the total vote. José Azcona, the candidate receiving the most votes (27%) among the PLH, assumed the presidency in January 1986. With strong endorsement and support from the Honduran military, the Suazo administration ushered in the first peaceful transfer of power between civilian presidents in more than 30 years. In 1989 he oversaw the dismantling of Contras which were based in Honduras.
In 1988, in Operation Golden Pheasant, US forces were deployed to Honduras in response to Nicaraguan attacks on Contra supply caches in Honduras.
In January 1990, Rafael Leonardo Callejas, having won the presidential election, took office, concentrating on economic reform, reducing the deficit. He began a movement to place the military under civilian control and laid the groundwork for the creation of the public prosecution service.
In 1993, PLH candidate Carlos Roberto Reina was elected with 56% of the vote against PNH contender Oswaldo Ramos. He won on a platform calling for a "Moral Revolution," making active efforts to prosecute corruption and pursued those responsible for alleged human rights abuses in the 1980s.
The Reina administration successfully increased civilian control over the armed forces, transferring the national police from military to civilian authority. In 1996, Reina named his own defense minister, breaking the precedent of accepting the nominee of the armed forces leadership.
His administration substantially increased Central Bank net international reserves, reduced inflation to 12.8% a year, restored a better pace of economic growth (about 5% in 1997), and held down spending to achieve a 1.1% non-financial public sector deficit in 1997.
PLH's Carlos Roberto Flores took office on 27 January 1998, as Honduras' fifth democratically elected President since free elections were restored in 1981, with a 10% margin over his main opponent PNH nominee Nora Gúnera de Melgar (the widow of former leader Juan Alberto Melgar). Flores inaugurated International Monetary Fund (IMF) programs of reform and modernization of the Honduran Government and economy, with emphasis on maintaining the country's fiscal health and improving international competitiveness.
In October 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras, leaving more than 5,000 people dead and 1.5 million displaced. Damages totaled nearly $3 billion. International donors came forward to assist in rebuilding infrastructure, donating US$1400 million in 2000.
In November 2001, the National Party won presidential and parliamentary elections. The PNH gained 61 seats in Congress and the PLH won 55. The PLH candidate Rafael Pineda was defeated by the PNH candidate Ricardo Maduro, who took office in January 2002. Maduro administration emphasized on stopping mara growth, especially Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha.
On 27 November 2005 the PLH candidate Manuel Zelaya beat the PNH candidate and current Head of Congress Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, and became the new President on 27 January 2006.
Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales of the Liberal Party of Honduras won the 27 November 2005 presidential elections with less than a 4% margin of victory, the smallest margin ever in Honduran electoral history. Zelaya's campaign theme was "citizen power," and he vowed to increase transparency and combat narcotrafficking, while maintaining macroeconomic stability. The Liberal Party won 62 of the 128 congressional seats, just short of an absolute majority.
In 2009 Zelaya caused controversy with his call to have a constitutional referendum in June to decide about convening a Constitutional National Assembly to formulate a new constitution. The constitution explicitly bars changes to some of its clauses, including the term limit, and the move precipitated a Constitutional Crisis. An injunction against holding the referendum was issued by the Honduran Supreme Court.
Zelaya rejected the ruling and sacked Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the head of Honduras's armed forces. Vásquez had refused to help with the referendum because he did not want to violate the law. The sacking was deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court as well as by the Congress and Vásquez was reinstated. The President then further defied the Supreme Court by pressing ahead with the vote, which the Court had deemed "illegal". The military had confiscated the ballots and polls in a military base in Tegucigalpa. On 27 June, a day before the election, Zelaya followed by a big group of supporters entered the base and ordered, as Commanding Officer of the Armed Forces, for the ballots and polls to be returned to him. The congress saw this as abuse of power and ordered his capture.
On 28 June 2009, the military removed Zelaya from office and deported him to Costa Rica, a neutral country. Elvin Santos, the vice-president during the start of Zelaya's term, had resigned in order to run for president in the coming elections, and by presidential line of succession the head of Congress, Roberto Micheletti, was appointed president. However, due to the stance taken by the United Nations and the Organization of American States on use of military force to depose a president, most countries in the region and in the world continued to recognize Zelaya as the President of Honduras and denounced the actions as an assault on democracy .
Honduras continued to be ruled by Micheletti's administration under strong foreign pressure. On 29 November, democratic general elections were held, with former Congressional president and 2005 nominee, Pepe Lobo as victor.
Inaugurated on 27 January 2010, Pepe Lobo and his administration focused throughout the first year for foreign recognition of presidential legitimacy and Honduras's reinstitution in the OAS.