Our Central America tour (15): Honduras

On his fourth and final voyage, Christopher Columbus landed in the country in 1502 and its name – literally “depths” in Spanish – is said to come from the explorer having written “Thank God we have come out of those depths”. Honduras became fully independent in 1840.

Honduras is the original and archetypal banana republic – a small, poor, fertile country controlled by wealthy families with transnational business interests such as Chiquita, formerly the United Fruit Company. Even today, the nation is dominated by ten oligarch families.

The population is 8 million (half of whom are under the age of 19) and the capital is Tegucigalpa, although San Pedro Sula is the business centre of the country (as well as allegedly the world’s most dangerous city). Like other countries in the region, Honduras was devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 when at least 5,000 were killed and there was damage estimated at $3 billion.

Currently the heavily militarised Bajo Aguan region in the north east is the centre of a conflict between palm oil companies such as the Dinant Corporation, owned by Miguel Facusse (one of the country’s most powerful men), and a farmers’ revolt led by the United Peasant Movement (Muca). The country as a whole is the main transit route for cocaine to the United States.

The nation has been described as “the most violent state outside a war zone” (“Guardian”, 31/12/13). It has a murder rate of around 90 per 100,000 people, compared to one in 100,000 for the UK and five in 100,000 in the USA. The main cause of such a high murder rate is turf wars between street gangs – known as “maras” – such as M-18 and Mara Salvatrucha. Allegedly the gangs and drug smugglers have no interest in tourists.

For the past century, two political parties have taken turns to form the government, except for period of military rule: the Right-wing National Party and the Centre-Right Liberal Party. In the last few years, however, a new Left-leaning party has emerged: the Freedom and Refoundation Party, a democratic socialist party, known by its Spanish acronym as Libre, founded by Manuel Zelaya and his wife Xiomara. In the presidential election of November 2013, Xiomara obtained second place, with an 8% margin below the Right-wing National Party, whose leader Juan Orlando Hernandez won the presidency for a four-year term.


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