HONDURAS

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Western Honduras was at the edge of the great Maya civilization during the 1st millennium AD, and the ruins at Copán show the advanced stage of the country\'s population. The Maya were in decline by the time Christopher Columbus reached their shores on his fourth voyage in 1502. The native population was wiped out by the Spanish conquest and by the European diseases but the number of Spanish settlers was small and included few women. The natives and the Spanish mixed together and mestizos became Honduras\'s ethnic group.

The conquest of Honduras began in 1524 and is remembered for the bitter struggles among rivals representing Spanish power centers in Mexico, Panama, and Hispaniola. Hernan Cortes, the conqueror of Mexico, went to Honduras in 1525 to claim it, but the discovery of gold in the country made it hard to claim. Cortés\'s lieutenant in Guatemala, Pedro de Alvarado, finally overcame everyone else in 1539. Comayagua, established in 1540, served as the capital during most of this time but an early mining boom around Gracias gave the town such importance that in 1544 it became the capital for the Audiencia de las Confines. The gold and silver were not what they thought and Honduras lost its early importance and the Audiencia capital was restored to Guatemala in 1549.

Following independence from Spain in 1821 and from Mexico in 1823, Honduras joined the United Provinces of Central America. A Honduran, Francisco Morazan, led liberal forces to victory in a civil war between 1827 and 1829 and was president of the federation for its last ten years. Two years before his downfall in 1840, Honduras declared its independence but stronger neighbors, especially Guatemala, had great influence in Honduran politics throughout the 19th century. From 1840 to the 1870s the republic was frequently ruled by dictators- Francisco Ferrera, Juan Lindo, and Santos Guardiola. Elections were set up so they had a lot of revolutions.

Liberal (fair) dictators like Marcos A. Soto in 1876 dominated the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The transfer of the capital from conservative Comayagua to liberal Tegucigalpa showed that the country was becoming more modern. U.S. mining companies played a major role in late 19th-century Honduran economic growth, although Honduras remained the least developed state in Central America.

Except for two coastal strips Honduras is a plateau that has fertile plains with deep valleys and mountain ranges. The mountains, which are volcanic, are more than 9186 ft high. Most of the country\'s rivers drain to the Atlantic Ocean. Atlantic rivers include the Ulúa, which drains approximately one-third of the country, and the Coco. Forests, covering about 31 percent of the land, give them valuable hardwoods and softwoods. Fertile pasturelands give them productive dairy farming and livestock raising. Valuable mineral deposits, such as lead and zinc, are also found here.

The climate of Honduras is tropical. The average temperature is about 70° F. The low-lying coastal regions are warmer and the humidity is heavy( the average annual temperature here is 80° F). It is a dry season from November to May and the average annual rainfall ranges from 40 inches in some mountain valleys to 100 inches along the northern coast.

Honduras was governed under the constitution of 1965 until December 1972, when it was suspended after a coup d\'état (revolution). A new constitution was declared in January 1982. The executive power in Honduras is vested in a president, who is elected by direct and universal vote for a four-year term (like the U.S.). The president appoints a cabinet that assists in governing. Legislative power in Honduras is vested in the Congress, the 128 members of which are popularly elected. Honduras has political parties just like ours except the names are different. They are the National Party and the Liberal Party.
About 90 percent of the population is mestizo ( Spanish and Native American ancestry); the rest are Native Americans, blacks, and whites. The population is about 60 percent rural. The population of Honduras was 5,968,000 in 1995. Spanish is the official language and is spoken by almost all the Honduran people. English is spoken by some people in the


north and the Native Americans speak their own language. About 85 percent of the people are Roman Catholic and a few are Protestants.