Honduras, which goes to the polls in presidential elections on Sunday, is a small country at the heart of Central America’s “triangle of death,” plagued by gangs, poverty and corruption.
Gang war, migrant caravans –
Its near 10 million people suffer from one of the highest murder rates in the world outside war zones.
Last year there were 37.6 recorded homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. With Mexico, Honduras is also among the most dangerous places to be a journalist, with 85 killed in the last two decades.
Alongside neighbors El Salvador and Guatemala, it forms the “triangle of death”, plagued by the murderous gangs called “maras” that control drug trafficking and organized crime. Their violence has helped trigger a wave of illegal immigration to the United States, notably by minors who fear being forced into gangs.
Large migrant caravans of thousands of Hondurans traveling north by foot have set off alarm bells in Mexico and the US.
In 2018 hundreds of Honduran children were separated from their parents in the US under then president Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” of illegal immigration. He abandoned the practice after a popular backlash.
Independent since 1821, Honduras has endured many coups, armed uprisings and conflicts with its neighbors, including with Guatemala in 1880 and the brief so-called Football War with El Salvador in 1969.
An almost uninterrupted period of military rule for nearly 20 years ended in 1982 with the election of President Roberto Suazo Cordova. Since then the center-right Liberal Party and right-wing National Party have fought it out for power.
Elected under the liberal banner in 2005, President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown four years later in a military coup backed by the right and the business world, after swinging to the left and cozying up to Venezuela’s late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
Outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez, known as “JOH”, was first elected under the National Party banner in a disputed 2013 poll and re-elected in 2017. The opposition said the vote was rife with fraud.
Hernandez soon faced violent protests demanding that he stand down after controversial health and education decrees. His brother Tony was arrested in 2019 for allegedly trafficking 185 tonnes of cocaine to the US, and jailed for life there in March.
Even though Hernandez supported US anti-drug campaigns, traffickers caught by the US claim to have paid bribes to the president’s inner circle. He strongly denies this and says drug cartels are trying to get back at him for standing against them.
Coffee and Hurricanes
Honduras is one of Latin America’s poorest countries, with more than half of the population living below the poverty line. Their plight was made worse by the pandemic and the devastation caused by hurricanes Eta and Iota.
It is the world’s fifth-biggest coffee producer, with the industry also its biggest employer. It also exports bananas, timber, corn, pineapple, palm oil, rice, beans and prawns.
Remittances by emigrants account for nearly 20 percent of gross domestic product. More than a million Hondurans live abroad, especially in the US, its main trading partner. But endemic and worsening graft has put it 157th out of 180 countries in NGO Transparency International’s corruption index.
The ruins of the ancient city of Copan in the west of the country is a UNESCO world heritage site, with around 1,000 buildings gathered around an acropolis.
But the “Mayan Athens” — which had its golden age from the fifth to the ninth century — is in a precarious state.