Honduras is a democratic republic. The President, elected every four years, holds the executive power. The legislative power is handled by the National Congress, whose members are also elected to four-year terms, based on popular vote. The President appoints Governors to run each of the eighteen geographic departments. Within each department there are municipalities, run by councils who are elected. The 128 members of the National Assembly run the legislative branch.
Slightly larger than the American state of Tennessee, Honduras has three distinct geographic areas: lowlands on its two coasts, and rugged mountains in the interior. While the mountainous regions make a full-fledged agriculture industry difficult to sustain, the valley areas produce enough vegetation to support livestock and smaller farms.
Honduras also controls a number of islands off of its Caribbean coast to the northeast, and in the Gulf of Fonseca to the southwest. Bordered by Nicaragua to the southeast, Guatemala to the west, and El Salvador to the southwest, Honduras has weathered its share of border dispute. A 200 year old dispute with El Salvador was eventually settled by the International Court of Justice in 1993.
The land now known as Honduras was a key expansion for the ancient Mayan Empire, which flourished for hundreds of years before falling apart in the ninth century. Christopher Columbus' fourth voyage to the New World in 1504 brought Europeans to the area. Columbus is said to have found the land while fleeing a storm, and exclaimed Gracias a Dios que hemos salido de estas honduras! or Thank God we've escaped these treacherous depths!, thereby giving Honduras its name. Soon, the Spanish arrived to establish communities and harvest resources. The colonists were often met with hostility by native Hondurans. The local currency is named for a well-known resistance leader, Lempira.
After winning independence from Spain in 1821, Honduras was briefly part of the Mexico before joining a Central American federation. Strife amongst the members led to its dissolution in 1839. While Honduras was independent from that point forward, reunification of the federation was a primary goal of Honduran foreign policy until World War I.
Although Honduras has remained an independent nation, its government has been subject to literally hundreds of coups, takeovers, border disputes, and rebellions. While democracy has stabilized Honduras' government since 1981, many of the aftereffects of this past remain.
For much of its history Honduran exports have included bananas, clothing, coffee, lumber, precious metals, sugar, textiles, and wood products. In fact, Honduras is often labeled the Banana Republic because of its history with major employers and banana suppliers Chiquita and Dole. Major trade partners include the United States, and European countries including Belgium, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Even with aid from its trade partners, the IMF, and the World Bank, reliance on their agriculturally based economy has left the Honduran economy and jobs vulnerable to price fluctuations of commodities such as bananas and coffee, and to natural disasters such as Hurricane Mitch.
Honduras was already one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere, before Hurricane Mitch. But in 1998, the hurricane caused another US$3 billion in damage, making Honduras' economic situation even more disadvantaged. Many Hondurans, reliant on the banana companies for employment, lost their jobs while trees were replanted and maturing.
Another hindrance to further development has been the underutilization of resources, both human and natural. Forests of precious timber, like mahogany, are forested. However, they are not replanted, so future generations will not have the opportunity to harvest future crops.
More than 85 percent of the population lives below poverty levels. Yet somehow, in spite of their misfortune - or perhaps because of it - the Honduran people still are resilient and maintain a deep sense of pride in their country.
Honduras is rich in cultural traditions and artifacts. The ancient Mayan city of Copan, in the western part of Honduras, was partially restored in the 19th century. Contemporary Honduran art, crafts and music often borrow from ancient tradition, but also reflect a more recent Honduran history of poverty and strife.