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History, Honduras in Modern Central America

Rafael Leonardo Callejas, Tiburcio Carias, United Brands, Soccer War, Ramon Villeda Morales

The relatively benign dictatorship (1932-1948) of Tiburcio Carias ended a long period of political disorder. After 1948 the military and landholding elite came to dominate the country, resisting modernization of political, social, or economic structures. Then a liberal, Ramon Villeda Morales, was elected by a constituent assembly in 1957; he led the country into the Central American Common Market (CACM) and initiated programs for agrarian reform and education. His policies, combined with apprehension over the rise of Communism in Cuba, brought about a coup led by Colonel Osvaldo Lopez Arellano in 1963.

Lopez held the reins of government for 11 of the next 12 years. The fragile Honduran economy was further weakened during his regime by a brief but costly war with El Salvador in 1969 over heavy immigration from that densely populated nation and simmering border disputes. The war was known as the Soccer War because it began shortly after teams from the two countries met in World Cup play. The final blow for Lopez was the exposure in 1974 of a $250,000 bribe paid to government officials by United Brands (successor to United Fruit). The army helped Colonel Juan Alberto Melgar Castro take power in 1975, but he was ousted in 1978 in another coup, led by General Policarpo Paz Garcia.

The central problem for Honduras in the late 1970s and the 1980s was political instability in neighboring countries. In 1980 General Paz signed a peace treaty with El Salvador, and there was progress toward constitutional government. In elections held in November 1981, the Liberal Party candidate, Roberto Suazo Cordova, won the presidency, but the military retained considerable influence. Honduras became a base for thousands of guerrillas fighting the Nicaraguan government, and the United States began holding regular military exercises in an effort to put additional pressure on Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.

In 1985 Jose Azcona Hoyo, a civilian, was elected president; he was succeeded by Rafael Leonardo Callejas, the winner of the 1989 presidential election. His administration was beset by strikes as it struggled with a desperate economic situation. In 1992 the International Court of Justice resolved many lingering border disputes between El Salvador and Honduras with a ruling that established new boundaries. In the 1993 presidential election Carlos Roberto Reina Idiaquez, a longtime human rights and political activist, defeated Callejas. Reina’s presidency restored civilian control by removing the police from the jurisdiction of the military and by implementing a plan to put the armed forces under a civilian defense minister beginning in 1999. In January 1998 Liberal Party candidate Carlos Flores Facusse, a newspaper publisher and former president of the Honduran Congress, succeeded Reina as president. In 2001 National Party candidate Ricardo Maduro was elected president, vowing to crack down on crime throughout the country.

In 1995 Honduras joined the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), a free trade organization. In late 1997 business leaders in Honduras and El Salvador agreed to construct a highway that would be an alternative to the Panama Canal. It would connect a Honduran port on the Caribbean Sea with a Salvadoran port on the Pacific Ocean. The Panama Canal has experienced some problems with congestion, and these are expected to grow. The presidents of both countries have pledged to support the project.

In October 1998 Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras, killing more than 5,000 people, according to estimates. The nation lost as much as 70 percent of its crops, and damage to roads and other infrastructure was expected to cost billions of dollars to repair. Some observers said that the storm had set development in Honduras back decades.

In August 1999 Honduras and El Salvador reached an agreement that settled the remaining border dispute between them. In November, however, relations with another neighbor, Nicaragua, worsened after the Honduran Congress approved a pact with Colombia that divided maritime territory in the Caribbean between them. Honduras recognized Colombian sovereignty over small islands near the coast of Nicaragua. Nicaragua disputes Colombia’s claim to those islands and the valuable fishing grounds around them.



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