Honduras Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Honduras is a country located in North America. With the capital city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras has a population of 9,904,618 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. Except for a short period of 1957–1963, Honduras has been largely controlled by the military throughout the country’s entire modern history. An attempt to separate the military from civilian power in the 1990s proved to have failed in the 2009 coup d’état. One of the reasons is the absence of peace process and settlement with the military dictatorships that neighboring countries were forced to undergo after the civil war of the 1980s.

Following the fall of the Carías dictatorship in 1948 (see Older history), a few years of relative calm followed, but in 1954 and 1956 two military coups were implemented. In 1957, the military announced general elections, won by José Ramón Villeda Morales of the Liberal Party. His policies favored foreign investors, but he also introduced a social insurance system and a series of agricultural reforms. During Villeda Morales, several farmer and farmer organizations were formed, whose members began to occupy land belonging to the large estates.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Honduras. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The conservatives, including the landowners, became increasingly hostile to the government. In 1963 Colonel Oswaldo López Arellano took power in a bloody coup. Land reform was aborted and the military cracked down on opposition groups. A new constitution was adopted in 1965 and López Arellano was appointed president. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Honduras.

In the late 1960s, relations with neighboring El Salvador deteriorated, partly because Honduras expelled 300,000 Salvadorans who worked in the country without a permit after a land reform. The returning Salvadorans caused great political unrest in their homeland. A newly appointed Salvadoran government decided to invade Honduras. In six days, 2,000 people lost their lives, most of them civilian Hondurans. El Salvador has only withdrawn since the Organization of the United States of America (OAS) had threatened financial sanctions. The war came to be called the “football war” when it coincided with three disputed World Cup qualifiers between the two countries.

New coup

After the football war, a civilian government could take office in Honduras in 1971, but already a year later, Colonel Arellano regained power in a new coup. He forced landowners to lease out land that was in decline. In 1975, a military coup was carried out against López Arellano after it was revealed that he had been bribed by the influential American fruit company United Fruit Company.

The coup in 1972 led to eight years of military dictatorship, when various militaries replaced each other at the presidential post. At the same time, the country was experiencing a deep economic crisis.

Following pressure from the United States, presidential elections were held in 1981. Liberal candidate Roberto Suazo Córdova won, but the country was ruled in practice by Commander-in-Chief Gustavo Álvarez Martínez. He had seized union activists and leftists, and he was accused of using death patrols to get rid of regime critics. Álvarez was deposed in 1984 by a group of younger soldiers. He was murdered five years later by a left-wing guerrilla. In the 1985 presidential election, Liberal won José Azcona del Hoyo.

War in the region

During the 1980s, Honduras was drawn into the United States’ fight against communism in Central America. The United States supported the Nicaraguan right-wing guerrilla contras in its attempt to overthrow the country’s socialist sandini government. US military bases and airfields were set up in Honduras and Honduran soldiers participated in fighting on the Contras side. When it emerged in 1986 that the US was selling weapons to Iran to fund the support of the contras, Honduras wanted to end military cooperation. In 1987, the country signed the so-called Esquipilas peace treaty in Central America and then committed itself to expelling contras from the country. Despite this, the right-wing guerrilla remained until 1990, when the Sandinists lost power in Nicaragua.

The 1989 presidential election was won by Rafael Leonardo Callejas of the Nationalist Party. He initiated market economy reforms, which triggered violent popular protests. The opposition was suppressed and in 1991 amnesty was issued for persons suspected of human rights violations committed in the 1980s, when over 180 people “disappeared” (that is, murdered by the regime).

The years 1994–2002 were a politically somewhat quieter period with two consecutive Liberal presidents: Carlos Roberto Reina, former chairman of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and newspaper owner Carlos Flores Facussé. During their mandate, the military was forced into political retreat. Defense appropriations were reduced, general military duty was abolished and the Minister of Defense became civilian for the first time.

In 1995, legal proceedings against military suspects for human rights violations began in the 1980s. About 20 senior military commanders and police chiefs were prosecuted but few were convicted, despite the Supreme Court ruling in 2000 that the 1991 amnesty law violated the constitution. The government paid damages to some relatives of “disappeared”.

Hurricane Mitch strikes

Hurricane Mitch, in October 1998, suffered a severe blow to Honduras. It was the most powerful hurricane to hit the American mainland in 200 years. About 7,000 people perished and over two million became homeless as a result of the hurricane. Housing, schools, infrastructure and crops were destroyed or damaged (see also Financial overview).

The 2001 presidential election was won by nationalist candidate Ricardo Maduro. In large part, it was due to his promise to deal with the escalating violence. He promised zero tolerance for violent crimes and sent the military out on the streets. Up to twelve years in prison became a criminal offense to belong to so-called maras (youth gang, see Social conditions).

On the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), President Maduro conducted an economic policy that involved a series of deregulations. When the government also wanted to freeze the salaries of public servants, it led to large-scale protest demonstrations involving tens of thousands of participants in 2003 and 2004.

The dissatisfaction with Maduro’s economic policy contributed to the Liberal candidate Manuel Zelaya Rosales winning the election in 2005. Zelaya’s first year was also marked by protests. Teachers demanded higher wages, and farm workers own land and state support.

An eavesdropping scandal linked to Zelaya was unveiled in the fall of 2007. In eavesdropping phone calls between Zelaya and Marcelo Chimirri, head of state telecommunications company Hondutel and close friend of Zelaya, it was revealed how the president planned to increase control over the country’s media. Chimirri was sentenced in July 2009 to prison for corruption.

Split in government

In 2008, tens of thousands of people in San Pedro Sula demonstrated against the violence, and in April, prosecutors hung out outside the National Congress in protest against the corruption.

To meet the popular protests, in 2008, Zelaya increasingly abandoned its own party’s more conservative liberalism for a socially liberal policy. His party mates in the National Congress turned his back and Zelaya increasingly ruled through decrees. He made it possible to expropriate land to sell it cheaply to the country’s many landless farm workers.

The opposition within the Nationalist Party, the military, business representatives and parts of his own party criticized Zelaya more and more openly. The fact that he was approaching the socialist governed states of Cuba and Venezuela frightened many within the establishment and he was accused of pursuing a policy that was far outside the party line. At the same time, Zelaya won support in other social groups: among left-wing voters, social movements, trade unions, farm workers and small farmers.

The contradictions came to a head when Zelaya wanted to call a referendum and change the constitution, which he felt favored the economic elite at the expense of the majority. Critics felt that the purpose was to allow the president to be re-elected, claiming he had no right to call a referendum. A severe constitutional crisis ensued, in which the president ended up on a collision course with the Supreme Court, the National Congress and the military leadership.

The President deposed

When the military leadership refused to help with the transportation of ballots and ballots, Zelaya dismissed the commander-in-chief. The dismissal led to the resignation of the Minister of Defense and the entire military. Then the President was unexpectedly deposed.

On the morning of June 28, Zelaya was forced under gunfire and wearing only pajamas out of the country, on an airplane to Costa Rica. Later that day, Parliament voted for his term and President Roberto Micheletti, who, like Zelaya, belonged to the Liberal Party, was elected as the Deputy President until the November general election. The Supreme Court, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Catholic Church and large sections of the business community stood behind the coup. Criticism from the outside world was fierce and within the country a movement was quickly formed in support of Zelaya, the National Front for Popular Resistance (FNRP), which urged Zelaya to civilian resistance from abroad.

The coup was followed by daily demonstrations and violent clashes between FNRP and security forces. Human rights organizations and international observers reported abuse of protesters. Zelaya made several attempts to get back into the country, and was eventually smuggled in with the help of Venezuelan and Brazilian diplomats. He entrenched himself at the Brazil Embassy.

The international community froze all aid to Honduras. The Organization of the United States of America (OAS) excluded Honduras. However, with the help of OAS, attempts were made to mediate the conflict.

Despite international protests and promises not to acknowledge the results, the election was held in November 2009. Victory became Nationalist Party candidate Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who lost to Zelaya in the previous election. The result was finally recognized by the United States, and large parts of the world’s states followed suit.

New government takes over

As soon as Lobo took office in January 2010, he made it clear that he intended to live up to agreements concluded during mediation by OAS. He introduced amnesty for both coup makers and Zelaya and a Truth Commission was appointed to investigate the events surrounding the coup. Zelaya was allowed out of the country to the Dominican Republic. Although the Nationalist Party gained its own majority in Congress, Lobo also included members from three small parties in his government.

One year into his term, President Lobo signed a law amendment that made referendums possible. Zelaya noted from his exile that the government had pushed through the amendment that he himself proposed and had been set aside for.

In March 2011, all charges against Zelaya were dropped. In May of that year, he returned to Honduras. Together with the resistance movement FNRP he founded a new political party, the Leftist Freedom and Restructuring (Libre).

In July, the Truth Commission presented its conclusion: that what had happened two years earlier was a coup d’état. The Commission also pointed to 20 cases where security forces killed civilians and politically opposites.

“No bargain”

At the end of the year, on the contrary, the Supreme Court ruled that the events in 2009 could not be equated with a coup d’état. Six generals prosecuted by the Prosecutor’s Office for their participation in the coup were acquitted by the court.

The Supreme Court then stopped several enacted laws, including establishing tax-exempt “model cities”, zones where foreign companies can buy entire municipalities with the opportunity to create their own laws, police forces and institutions beyond Honduran control. The Supreme Court also prevented reform of the police force.

The country seemed to be facing a new constitutional crisis when Parliament, with the support of the President, dismissed four judges, without actually having the mandate to do so. Following the provisions, the National Congress approved both the Tax-Free Municipalities Act and the government’s proposed reform of the police force.

Lobo proved more conservative than its representatives Zelaya and Maduro, especially financially. A total of twelve ministers and five secretaries of state were replaced during Lobo’s term. Lobo also failed to overcome the crime and rampant violence. In 2012 and 2013, Honduras came to be classified as the world’s most dangerous country not at war. Several high ranking police officers were fired, both the police chief and the security minister were replaced and the military was called in to support the police.

Military against peasants

The military was also deployed to curb land occupations in the Aguá Valley in northern Honduras, by landless peasants who had been promised large tracts of land by Zelaya. Between 2010 and 2013, dozens of farmers were killed in clashes with security forces. In October 2012, the government reached an agreement with several of the farmers who had access to 4,000 hectares of land, but the conflict continued.

In the northwestern parts of the country, the military also intervened to cancel a blockade of a water dam building along the Patuca River (see Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment). The building was stopped in 2013 by several indigenous peoples who believed that the land where the dam is to be built belongs to the Lenca people, who do not want the dam to be built. In April 2013, one of the organization’s leaders was shot by the military during a demonstration.

In April 2013, the Chief Prosecutor for the Honduran Money Laundering Unit was murdered. The murder has clear links to organized crime. The chief prosecutor worked near the United States Federal Police in an investigation into organized criminal groups in Honduras. It was the third murder of a prosecutor in as many years in the country.

Honduras Modern History