HONDURAS





Ricardo Maduro
President

Honduras

(pronounced "ree-CAR-doh mah-DURE-oh")

"I won't just simply run the nation, but reform it with more democracy, transparency and equality for all, especially those with less."

The Republic of Honduras is bounded on the north by the

Caribbean Sea, on the west by Guatemala, on the southwest by El Salvador, and on the southeast by Nicaragua. The northern coast measures 820 km (509 mi). In the south there is limited access to the Pacific Ocean through the Choluteca River and the Gulf of Fonseca. More than 75% of the country is mountainous, with the highest mountain reaching 2,800 m (9,200 ft). Most urban settlements and agricultural production are located in a large northern lowlands area and a smaller southern lowlands region. At 112,090 sq km (43,278 sq mi) and with a population of 6.5 million, Honduras is the third-largest Central American country in area and population.

More than 90% of the population is mestizo (mixed Indian and European), with the remainder divided among Indians, blacks, and whites. The rapid population growth rate of 2.34% per year has helped increase economic problems. Despite a high infant mortality rate of 30.48 deaths per 1,000 live births, the population is expected to double in 20 years. The 2002 estimated fertility rate was 4.03 children per woman. Life expectancy was estimated at 69 years in 2002. Some progress in literacy has been made in recent years. An estimated 74% of all Hondurans aged 15 and over are literate. Although Spanish is the official language, several indigenous dialects are also spoken in scattered areas. Roman Catholics make up 97% of the population and, although there is an official separation between church and state, Roman Catholics hold political and economic power. A small but growing Protestant minority, heavily financed by U.S.based churches, began to emerge in the 1990s and early years of the twenty-first century, mainly in urban areas.

The economy is based on tropical agriculture, the textile industry, and an increasingly large service sector. One third of the labor force is employed in agriculture, exports of which come from such crops as bananas, coffee, citrus, and shrimp. Manufacturing, especially the textile industry, has also grown in recent years. With low productivity, low wages, and unskilled labor, the manufacturing industry is characterized by poor working conditions for many women and children.

The economy grew by an estimated 2.1% in 2001, after having been shrinking in 1999 by 4.5%. Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) amounts to US $2,600. The annual inflation rate decreased from 26% to 9.7% by 2001, but with a foreign debt of US $5.6 billion, the economy still needs to meet the needs of its growing poor and young population. Some 50% of Honduras live below the poverty line, and unemployment and underemployment affect 30% of the population. The unit of currency is the lempira.

POLITICAL BACKGROUND

In the pre-Colombian period, parts of the region were occupied by the Maya civilization. Christopher Columbus reached Honduras in 1502, but permanent European settlement did not begin until 1522 when the first Spanish governor was appointed. The indigenous population reacted and fought the Spaniards. The discovery of silver in 1570 brought renewed economic activity to the area and an increase in population. Honduras, however, remained a small and unimportant province of the Captaincy of Guatemala during the colonial period.

Honduras declared independence in 1821 and withdrew from the Central American Federation in 1838. Conservative landowners held political power until 1876 when Liberals gained the presidency and adopted a new Constitution. At the turn of the century, political unrest and instability threatened the economic interests of American landowners, particularly the United Fruit Company, and the United States sent troops to protect investments in banana production. In 1932, with the election of general Tiburcio Carías, unrest came to an end. Carías became a dictator and governed with widespread repression until his fall in 1949. Heavy American intervention secured banana production but brought little support for democratic forces in the country. For the most part, military strongmen ruled the country from 1949 to 1981. In 1981 a civilian government was elected to office, but the military remained strong.

Ricardo Maduro is the sixth democratically elected president in Honduras since 1982. The two leading political parties are the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal—PL) and the National Party (Partido Nacional—PN), both of which have come to be seen as centrist. The left was heavily repressed during the military governments and has since been unable to organize and succeed in elections. Liberals Roberto Suazo (1981–85) and José Azcona (1985–89) are credited with restoring civilian rule and limiting the power of the military. National Party leader, Rafael Callejas (1989–93), successfully managed to distance himself from the military and won the election of 1989. Yet, his economic plan brought increased poverty and was not able to improve the economy. In 1993, Liberal Party candidate, Carlos Roberto Reina was elected to the presidency. He attempted to bring to trial known human rights violators among military officers and tried to foster economic growth. Reina successfully amended the Constitution to reduce the power of the military and abolish mandatory military service. His "moral revolution" concentrated on fighting corruption. Many high government officials were sent to jail, including some of Reina's personal friends. He was less successful in his efforts to improve the economy. Since the Honduran Constitution contains no provisions for reelection, Reina was prevented from seeking a second term in 1997. Instead, the Liberal Party chose Carlos Flores as their candidate. In 1998 Flores took office as president, promoting a "New Agenda" as the platform for his domestic proposals by increasing growth, reducing unemployment, and stabilizing the economy. He had to deal with the crisis caused by Hurricane Mitch in October 1998, which killed more than 10,000 people and caused US $5 billion of damage. This, combined with other factors, caused the economy to contract, unemployment to increase, and foreign debt to rise. Flores was an important player in the effort to bring together regional support for counterterrorism measures following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and The Pentagon in Washington, D.C. One of the last acts of the Flores administration was to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba just hours before handing over power to Ricardo Maduro. El Salvador remains the only country in Latin America that has no established relations with the Cuban government.

The Constitution is based on a separation of powers between three branches of government. A strong presidency is filled by national elections every four years. The National Congress (Congreso Nacional), a unicameral body, is elected by proportional representation every four years. The judiciary, headed by the Supreme Court, is appointed by the legislature. There is universal and compulsory adult suffrage and all parties may participate in political life.

ADDRESS

Casa Presidencial
Boulevard Juan Pablo Segundo
Palacio Jose Cecilio del Valle
Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Read about the Culture of Honduras. More about Honduras's Culture.

Read about the Geography of Honduras.

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