Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area we now know as Honduras was occupied by a number of indigenous peoples including the Lencas, Tol, Paya and, of course, the Mayans and Sumo. By and large the different groups traded with each other and more widely across Central America.
Christopher Columbus was the first European to arrive on 30th May 1502 and called the area Honduras, meaning ‘Depths’ because of the deep waters off its coast. By 1523 the first expeditionary forces had arrived and in 1524 Cristóbal de Olid founded the colony Triunfo de la Cruz and tried to establish independence. However, Hernán Cortés, who had conquered Mexico, swiftly dealt with Olid who was assassinated and Cortés went on to establish the city of Trujillo.
The next few years were uncertain times for the new colonies, but slowly they established themselves due to the leadership of men such as Pedro de Alvarado who founded San Pedro Sula and Gracias a Dios (now Gracias) from where he started mining for gold. Another such leader was Francisco de Montejo who founded Santa Maria de Comayagua (now Comayagua) and who put down an insurrection in 1537 by a war chieftain of the Lencas called Lempira.
Although the Spanish started to establish themselves further inland, they suffered from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century by the activities of the British, mainly pirates, along the Honduran coastal areas. It wasn’t until the Anglo-Spanish Convention of 1786 that Spain’s sovereignty over the Honduran coastline was recognised.
In the early 1800s Napoleon occupied much of Spain and the inevitable turmoil there gave those seeking independence in Central America their chance. The core battleground was Mexico but after Spain was defeated Honduras, like the other Spanish colonies, declared independence in 1821.
In 1823 the United Provinces of Central America was formed out of the five former Spanish Central American Intendancies including Honduras, but in October 1838 the country broke away and became an independent and sovereign state.
The early years of independence were difficult; the first interim president was Francisco Zelaya y Ayes (1839–40), but the first real president of the country was General Francisco Ferrera who was first elected in 1841 until 1842, but who remained on as president or the man behind the president for a further five years.
In 1847 Juan Lindo became president and he introduced a new constitution in 1848. Despite this the internal turmoil and ever difficult relations with neighbouring Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua continued and the period was neither peaceful nor prosperous. A succession of liberal or conservative presidents ruled the country until the end of the century but often with the interference of the neighbouring countries.
By 1899 the banana industry had become important in Honduras but the political situation was no better. Bananas were the excuse for the growing power to the north, the United States of America, to flex its muscles in Central America. No country was spared and America was involved in military action in all of the Central American republics in an effort to protect its commercial interests.
In the case of Honduras various sources record American military incursions into the country in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925. The terminology for these low grade wars was the Banana Wars (1898 – 1934) and Honduras gained its nickname, which is more widely used these days, as a ‘Banana Republic’.
Throughout the early 1900s the country was unstable, subject to political infighting, turmoil, power garbs and weak presidents. Then in came a strongman in the form of General Tiburcio Carías Andino who went on to be president from 1933 – 1949. He had close ties with neighbouring dictators and the United States which helped him to remain in power and bring some semblance of peace and order to the country. He is also said to have been be the founder of the present day National Party of Honduras (Partido Nacional de Honduras; PNH).
Juan Manuel Gálvez went on to replace Carías and introduced a number of key social reforms. He was president from 1949 – 1954. A general strike by banana workers in 1954 followed by further unrest in 1955 led to young military officers instigating a coup d’état which led to a military junta and eventually fresh elections in 1957 for a constituent assembly.
In 1957 Constituent Assembly elections were held in which the Liberal Party of Honduras (Partido Liberal de Honduras; PLH) won 36 of the 58 seats. Ramón Villeda was appointed the new President of the Republic.
However, in 1963, just ten days before elections were due to take place the military were back up to their old tricks and deposed Villeda in a bloody coup as well as cancelling the elections. The PLH government was exiled and the country was ruled by General Oswaldo López until 1970
In July 1969 Honduras went to war with El Salvador in what became known as the Football War, but it only lasted a couple of weeks even though tensions between the two countries remain.
General Oswaldo López staged another coup against President Ramón Ernesto Cruz in December 1972. Cruz had been in power for just 18 months. After General Oswaldo López two further military governments under General Juan Alberto Melgar (1975 – 1978) and General Policarpo Paz (1978 – 1982) did bring peace and security as well as some modest economic improvements.
Civilian rule returned to Honduras in 1981 when Roberto Suazo Córdova of the PLH won the presidential election with 53.9% of the vote. Since then the Liberal Party of Honduras (PLH) has won four general and presidential elections and the National Party of Honduras (PNH) has won three.
A new constitution was written for the country in 1982 but the military have not entirely mended their ways; on 28th June 2009, the military removed President Manuel Zelaya (PLH) from office and deported him to Costa Rica. On 29th November that year Porfirio Lobo Sosa of the PNH won the presidential election with 56.56% of the vote.
The President is elected for a single four year term.
The unicameral National Congress of Honduras has 128 members who are elected by proportional representation by Department for a four year term.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Honduras at joint 123rd out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 30 (where 100 is least corrupt).