The Republic of Honduras (República de Honduras), is a republic in Central America. It has at times been referred to as Spanish Honduras to differentiate it from British Honduras, which became modern-day Belize. Honduras is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of Fonseca, and to the north by the Gulf of Honduras, a large inlet of the Caribbean Sea. Honduras spans 43,433 square miles (112,492 km²) and has a population exceeding 8 million. The country consists mainly of mountains, with narrow plains along the coasts. A large undeveloped lowland jungle, La Mosquitia lies in the northeast, and the heavily populated lowland Sula valley in the northwest. In La Mosquitia lies the UNESCO world-heritage site Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, with the Coco River which divides Honduras from Nicaragua. The Islas de la Bahía and the Swan Islands are off the north coast. Misteriosa Bank and Rosario Bank, 81 to 93 miles (130 to 150 kilometers) north of the Swan Islands, fall within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Honduras. The capital and largest city is Tegucigalpa. Honduras became independent from Spain in 1821 and has since been a republic, although it has consistently endured much social strife and political instability, and remains one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. The nation has the world’s highest murder rate.
The name Honduras literally means “depths” in Spanish. The name could either refer to the bay of Trujillo as an anchorage, fondura in the Leonese dialect of Spanish, or to Columbus’s alleged quote that “Gracias a Dios que hemos salido de esas Honduras” (“Thank God we have departed from those depths”). It was not until the end of the sixteenth century that Honduras was used for the whole province. Prior to 1580, Honduras only referred to the eastern part of the province, and Higueras referred to the western part. Another early name is Guaymuras, revived as the name for the political dialogue in 2009 that took place in Honduras as opposed to Costa Rica.
In pre-Columbian times, modern Honduras was part of the Mesoamerican cultural area. In the west, the Maya civilization flourished for hundreds of years. The dominant state within Honduras’s borders was in Copán. Copán fell with the other Lowland centers during the conflagrations of the Terminal Classic in the ninth century. The Maya of this civilization survive in western Honduras as the Ch’orti’, isolated from their Choltian linguistic peers to the west.
On his fourth and the final voyage to the New World in 1502, Christopher Columbus landed near the modern town of Trujillo, in the vicinity of the Guaimoreto Lagoon and became the first European to visit the Bay Islands on the coast of Honduras. On July 30, 1502, Columbus sent his brother Bartholomew to explore the islands and Bartholomew encountered a Mayan trading vessel from Yucatán, carrying well-dressed Maya and a rich cargo. Bartholomew’s men stole whatever cargo they wanted and kidnapped the ship’s elderly captain to serve as an interpreter in what was the first recorded encounter between the Spanish and the Maya.
In March 1524, Gil González Dávila became the first Spaniard to enter Honduras as a conquistador. followed by Hernán Cortés, bringing forces down from Mexico. Much of the conquest was done in the following two decades, first by groups loyal to Cristóbal de Olid, and then by those loyal of Francisco Montejo but most particularly by those following Alvarado. In addition to Spanish resources, the conquerors relied heavily on armed forces from Mexico — Tlaxcalans and Mexica armies of thousands who lived on in the region as garrisons.
Resistance to conquest was led in particular by Lempira, and many regions in the north never fell to the Spanish, notably the Miskito Kingdom. After the Spanish conquest, Honduras became part of Spain’s vast empire in the New World within the Kingdom of Guatemala. Trujillo and Gracias were the first city-capitals. The Spanish ruled the region for approximately three centuries.
Honduras was organized as a province of the Kingdom of Guatemala and the capital was fixed, first at Trujillo on the Atlantic coast, and later at Comayagua, and finally at Tegucigalpa in the central part of the country.
Silver mining was a key factor in the Spanish conquest and settlement of Honduras. Initially the mines were worked by local people through the encomienda system, but as disease and resistance made this option less available, slaves from other parts of Central America were brought in. When local slave trading stopped at the end of the sixteenth century, African slaves, mostly from Angola, were imported. After about 1650, very few slaves or other outside workers arrived in Honduras.
Although the Spanish conquered the southern or Pacific portion of Honduras fairly quickly, they were less successful on the northern, or Atlantic side. They managed to found a few towns along the coast, at Puerto Caballos and Trujillo in particular, but failed to conquer the eastern portion of the region and many pockets of independent indigenous people as well. The Miskito Kingdom in the northeast was particularly effective at resisting conquest. The Miskito Kingdom found support from northern European privateers, pirates and especially the British (formerly English) colony of Jamaica, which placed much of its territory under its protection after 1740.
Honduras became independent from Spain in 1821 and was for a time part of the First Mexican Empire until 1823 when it became part of the United Provinces of Central America. It has been an independent republic since 1838 and held regular elections. In the 1840s and 1850s, 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 waned, and Honduras was one of the Central American countries that pushed the hardest for a policy of regional unity.
Neoliberal policies favoring international trade and investment began in the 1870s, and soon foreign interests became involved, first in shipping, especially tropical fruit and most notably bananas, from the north coast, and then in building railroads. In 1888, a projected railroad line from the Caribbean coast to the capital, Tegucigalpa, ran out of money when it reached San Pedro Sula. As a result, San Pedro grew into the nation’s primary industrial center and second-largest city. Comayagua was the capital of Honduras until 1880, when the capital moved to Tegucigalpa.
Since independence, nearly 300 small internal rebellions and civil wars have occurred in the country, including some changes of régime.
In the late nineteenth century, Honduras granted land and substantial exemptions to U.S.-based fruit and infrastructure companies in return for developing the country’s northern regions. Thousands of workers came to the north coast, as a result, to work in banana plantations and other businesses that grew up around the export industry. Banana-exporting companies, dominated until 1930 Cuyamel Fruit Company, as well as the United Fruit Company, and Standard Fruit Company, built an enclave economy in northern Honduras, controlling infrastructure and creating self-sufficient, tax-exempt sectors that contributed relatively little to economic growth. American troops landed in Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925. In 1904 the writer O. Henry coined the term “Banana republic” to describe Honduras.
In addition to drawing Central American workers north, the fruit companies also encouraged immigration of workers from the English-speaking Caribbean, notably Jamaica and Belize, which introduced an African-descended, English-speaking and largely Protestant population into the country, although many of these workers left after immigration law changes in 1939. Honduras joined the Allied Nations after Pearl Harbor, on December 8, 1941, and signed the Declaration by United Nations on January 1, 1942, along with twenty-five other governments.
Constitutional crises in the 1940s led to reforms in the 1950s. One reform gave workers permission to organize, and a 1954 general strike paralyzed the northern part of the country for more than two months, but led to reforms. In 1963 a military coup unseated democratically elected President Ramón Villeda Morales.
In 1969 Honduras and El Salvador fought what became known as the Football War. Border tensions led to acrimony between the two countries after Oswaldo López Arellano, a president of Honduras, blamed the deteriorating Honduran economy on immigrants from El Salvador. The relationship reached a low when El Salvador met Honduras for a three-round football elimination match preliminary to the World Cup.
Tensions escalated and on July 14, 1969, the Salvadoran army launched an attack on the Honduran army. The Organization of American States negotiated a cease-fire which took effect on July 20 and brought about a withdrawal of Salvadoran troops in early August. Contributing factors to the conflict were a boundary dispute and the presence of thousands of Salvadorans living in Honduras illegally. After the week-long war as many as 130,000 Salvadoran immigrants were expelled.
Hurricane Fifi caused severe damage when it skimmed the northern coast of Honduras on September 18 and 19, 1974. Melgar Castro (1975–78) and Paz Garcia (1978–82) largely built the current physical infrastructure and telecommunications system of Honduras.
In 1979, the country returned to civilian rule. A constituent assembly was popularly elected in April 1980 to write a new constitution, and general elections were held in November 1981. The constitution was approved in 1982 and the PLH government of Roberto Suazo won the election with a promise to carry out an ambitious program of economic and social development to tackle the recession Honduras was in. He 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. The Peace Corps withdrew its volunteers in 2012, citing safety concerns.
During the early 1980s, the United States established a continuing military presence in Honduras to support El Salvador, the Contra guerrillas fighting the Nicaraguan government, and also develop an air strip and modern port in Honduras. Though spared the bloody civil wars wracking its neighbors, the Honduran army quietly waged campaigns against Marxist-Leninist militias such as the Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement, notorious for kidnappings and bombings, and against many non-militants as well. The operation included a CIA-backed campaign of extrajudicial killings by government-backed units, most notably Battalion 316.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch caused massive and widespread destruction. Honduran President Carlos Roberto Flores said that fifty years of progress in the country had been reversed. Mitch destroyed about 70% of the crops and an estimated 70–80% of the transportation infrastructure, including nearly all bridges and secondary roads. Across Honduras 33,000 houses were destroyed, and an additional 50,000 damaged. Some 5,000 people killed, and 12,000 more injured. Total losses were estimated at $3 billion USD.
The 2008 Honduran floods were severe and damaged or destroyed around half of the roads as a result.
In 2009, a constitutional crisis resulted when power transferred in a coup from the president to the head of Congress. The Organization of American States (OAS) suspended Honduras because it did not feel its government was legitimate. Countries around the world, the OAS, and the United Nations formally and unanimously condemned the action as a coup d’état and refused to recognize the de facto government, even though the lawyers consulted by the Library of Congress submitted to the United States Congress an opinion that declared the coup was legal. The Honduran Supreme Court also ruled that the proceedings had been legal. The government that followed the de facto government established a truth and reconciliation commission, Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación, which after more than a year of research and debate concluded that the ousting had been a coup d’état, and illegal in the commission’s opinion.
Scott #68 was issued on July 31, 1892, the 10-cent blue green value in a set of eleven stamps issued to commemorate the upcoming 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ first landfall in the West Indies. It portrays “Columbus sighting the Honduras coast” and is one of the notorious “Seebeck” stamp issues that contributed to collectors avoiding Honduras and several other Central American nations for many years.
In 1890, Nicholas F. Seebeck contracted with a number of Central American republics to print and supply stamps for them. Seebeck had been a stamp dealer and cataloguer in New York in addition to owning a stationery and printing shop. In 1879, he began printing stamps for the Dominican Republic and the Colombian State of Bolivar. He was successful enough that in 1884 he sold his New York stamp business and bought a significant interest in the Hamilton Bank Note Engraving and Printing Company. His plan was to supply stamps to various foreign countries for free with the following stipulations:
- The stamps would be dated and invalidated at the end of each year, to be replaced by a new series.
- Unsold (invalid) stamps would be returned to Seebeck for sale to collectors.
- Seebeck retained the right to reprint any invalid stamps as needed for sale to collectors.
Seebeck took advantage of the fact that his brother-in-law Ernest Schernikow was the New York consul for El Salvador and Honduras and in 1889 left for a tour of Central America with letters of introduction to talk with government officials about his idea for a stamp printing arrangement that would benefit all concerned. Contracts with five nations — Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala (fiscal stamps only), Honduras, and Nicaragua. These contracts were for ten years of stamp issues, including official, telegraph, and revenue stamps in addition to postal stationery.
The contracts were considered an outrage by collectors. Numerous letters of protest filled philatelic publications throughout the 1890’s with a “crusade against the so-called Seebeck issues.” Seebeck failed to realize that most stamp collectors wanted to collect stamps that were actually usable and available for postage, not special creations designed to separate them from their money.
Three of the nations Seebeck contracted with — El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua — issued stamps in 1892 marking the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the West Indies. Stamps with face values up to ten pesos were issued for this anniversary which added further condemnation amongst collectors. Many refused to collect these issues. As a result, both Honduras (in 1893) and Ecuador (in 1896) backed out of their contracts due to the bad publicity and administrative nuisance of the frequently-changing issues.
The Honduras set of Columbus Seebeck issues is based upon the painting Columbus Pointing out the Light to Pedro Gutierrez by D’Anvers of Naples. A set of eleven stamps was issued — 1 centavo slate (Scott #65), 2 centavos deep blue (Scott #66), 5 centavos yellow green (Scott #67), 10 centavos blue green (Scott #68), 20 centavos red (Scott #69), 25 centavos orange brown (Scott #70), 30 centavos ultramarine (Scott #71), 40 centavos orange (Scott #72), 50 centavos brown (Scott #73), 75 centavos lake (Scott #74), and 1 peso purple (Scott #75). Postal cards were issued in 2-centavo and 3-centavo values, presumably covering internal and external rates. Stamped envelopes were issued in values of 1, 5, 10, and 25 centavos. The stamps were released on July 31, 1892, engraved and perforated 12 with many of the perforations appearing quite rough.