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About Honduras

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Government History Facts at a Glance

Honduras is a republic in Central America; it borders on Guatemala and El Salvador on the west and Nicaragua on the south. It has both a Caribbean and a Pacific coast. TEGUCIGALPA is the capital. Honduras's rugged terrain has limited the transportation network and kept the population, which is predominantly rural, relatively isolated. The economy of Honduras is based on agriculture and is one of the least advanced in Central America.

Honduras is almost wholly mountainous with narrow coastal plains. Two major mountain ranges running east to west divide Honduras into halves. About 70 percent of the population live in the mountain valleys. Because of its elevation, much of Honduras has a temperate climate, with a mean annual temperature ranging from 19 degrees to 28 degrees C (66 degrees to 82 degrees F). Along the tropical north coast, the average temperature rises to 26 degrees-28 degrees C (79 degrees-82 degrees F). This humid region receives 1,775-2,540 mm (70-100 in) of rainfall annually. Less rain falls on the Pacific coast, which receives 1,525-2,030 mm (60-80 in) each year. A dry season from November to May can cause droughtlike conditions in all parts of the country except the north coast. In the east, along the coast, mangrove and palm trees thrive around swampy areas; broadleaf forests are found in the north. Oak and pine grow at higher altitudes in the west; deciduous forests grow in the valleys. Tropical forests line the Pacific coast. Native fauna include many species of mammals (bears, leopards, and panthers), birds, and reptiles (crocodiles and giant iguanas).

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The Honduran population is composed of mestizos (people of mixed European and Indian descent; 90 percent), Indians (7 percent), blacks (2 percent), and whites (1 percent). Most Indians live in the west near the Guatemala border. The black population is mainly on the Caribbean coast. Spanish is the official language, but some English is used commercially. The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism. Medical facilities and personnel are in short supply in most rural areas.

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American banana companies established plantations on the north coast of Honduras during the late 19th century and by 1913 controlled most of the production. Honduras was the world's leading source of bananas until the 1950s, when disease, storm damage, and labor troubles hampered the industry and national leaders sought to diversify production. Bananas still account for about 30 percent of the export value.

Agriculture contributes a major portion (about 25 percent) of the gross national product and most of the foreign exchange. Land ownership is concentrated among a few well-to-do families and the banana companies, which own 5 percent of the country's agricultural land. After bananas, the important agricultural exports are coffee, meat, and sugar.

Manufacturing is the second largest component of the gross national product. Food processing is the most important industry, followed by lumbering and the production of chemicals, clothing, and cement. Honduras is well endowed with minerals, including silver, gold, lead, zinc, cadmium, and antimony, but reserves remain relatively unexploited. The lumber industry is expanding, and sawmills constitute the largest single grouping of factories.

The country's transportation network is geared toward the export of bananas: two out of the three railroads are owned by banana companies, and all run along the north coast. The three major ports are on the Caribbean coast. The road system in Honduras is the smallest in Central America. Bananas, lumber, coffee, and meat are the main exports, and imports include manufactured products, machinery, transportation equipment, chemicals, and petroleum.


The new constitution of 1982 provides for an elected president, a unicameral legislature, and a national judicial branch. Each of the 18 departments is governed by an appointed governor. There are 282 municipalities, each with an elected council.

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Archaeologists believe that humans have lived in the area of Honduras for more than 8,000 years. Evidence suggests that agricultural communities had been established by the 2d millennium on the Humuya River and at Lake Yojoa. By the 4th century the MAYA civilization was developing; the city of Copan was flourishing by 500.

The Spanish settled southern Honduras in 1524. The north coast remained practically untouched, except for periods of British control, until the banana companies arrived. Throughout the colonial period Honduras was part of the captaincy-general of Guatemala. Honduras declared independence from Spain in 1821 and joined the other Central American colonies to form the CENTRAL AMERICAN FEDERATION. This federation dissolved in 1838, and Honduras became an autonomous state. The Honduran national hero Francisco MORAZAN was unsuccessful in his attempts to keep a united Central America. The expansion of the banana industry brought interference in Honduran politics by U.S. companies, which expected favorable treatment from the government. As recently as 1975 a military coup was prompted by the disclosure of an American bribe paid to a high official to obtain lower banana-export taxes. In 1969 a brief war broke out between Honduras and El Salvador as a result of the friction caused by the large number of Salvadoran immigrants in Honduras.

Although the Honduran military has a long history of controlling elections and remains essentially in charge today, the nation has had a civilian government since 1982. During the 1980s, however, the size of the Honduran army doubled, largely as a result of U.S. military assistance and financial aid. U.S.-built bases in Honduras trained Salvadoran soldiers and anti-Sandinista Nicaraguan "contras," and there were clashes between Honduran and Nicaraguan troops as well as friction between Hondurans and "contra" soldiers. Reports of human rights abuses also surfaced owing to a government policy that apparently condoned "death squads" and the disappearance of citizens.

Roberto Suazo Cordova, president from 1982 to 1986, and his successor, Jose Azcona Hoyo, both represented the Liberal party. When Rafael Leonardo Callejas of the right-wing National party assumed the presidency in January 1990, he became the first peacefully elected opposition candidate to take office in 57 years. Soon after, the "contra" forces in Honduras were disbanded as part of a political settlement in Nicaragua. Roberto Reina, a Liberal, was elected president in 1993, promising change.

Mitchell A. Seligson

Bibliography: American University, Honduras (1984); Chamberlain, R. S., Conquest and Colonization of Honduras (1967); Meyer, H. K. and J. H., Historical Dictionary of Honduras (1994); Morris, J. A., Honduras: Caudillo Politics and Military Rulers (1984); Rosenberg, M. B., and Shepherd, P. L., eds., Honduras Confronts Its Future (1986); Shepherd, P. L., The Honduran Crisis and U.S. Economic Assistance (1990).

Copyright (c) Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.

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Facts at a Glance

Country (long form)
Republic of Honduras


Total Area
43,278.19 sq mi
112,090.00 sq km
(slightly larger than Tennessee)

6,249,598 (July 2000 est.) note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS

Estimated Population in 2050

Spanish, Amerindian dialects

72.7% total, 72.6% male, 72.7% female (1995 est.)

Roman Catholic 97%, Protestant minority

Life Expectancy
67.91 male, 72.06 female (2000 est.)

Government Type
democratic constitutional republic

1 lempira (L) = 100 centavos

GDP (per capita)
$2,050 (1999 est.)

Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture 29%, industry 21%, services 60% (1998 est.)

sugar, coffee, textiles, clothing, wood products

bananas, coffee, citrus; beef; timber; shrimp

Arable Land

coffee, bananas, shrimp, lobster, meat; zinc, lumber

machinery and transport equipment, industrial raw materials, chemical products, fuels, foodstuffs

Natural Resources
timber, gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, iron ore, antimony, coal, fish, hydropower

Current Environmental Issues
urban population expanding; deforestation results from logging and the clearing of land for agricultural purposes; further land degradation and soil erosion hastened by uncontrolled development and improper land use practices such as farming of marginal lands; mining activities polluting Lago de Yojoa (the country's largest source of fresh water) as well as several rivers and streams with heavy metals; severe Hurricane Mitch damage

Telephones (main lines in use)
190,200 (1996)

Telephones (mobile cellular)
0 (1995)

Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
14 (1999)

(U.S. Government sources)

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