Honduras, which inaugurated Xiomara Castro as its first-ever woman president Thursday, is a small country with idyllic beaches at the heart of Central America’s “triangle of death,” plagued by gangs, poverty and corruption.
Gang war, migrant caravans
More than a million of Honduras’s nearly 10 million people live in the United States. Those who remain, suffer one of the highest murder rates in the world outside war zones.
In 2020, 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 92 killed in the last two decades.
Along with neighbors El Salvador and Guatemala, Honduras forms the so-called “triangle of death” plagued by the murderous gangs called “maras” that control drug trafficking and organized crime.
Poverty affects about seven in 10, according to the Fosdeh NGO.
The violence has helped trigger a wave of illegal immigration northward, notably by minors who fear being forced into gangs.
In 2018, hundreds of Honduran children were separated from their parents in the United States under then-president Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” of illegal immigration. He abandoned the practice following a 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.
Zelaya later created the leftist Libre party which brought his wife, now-president Castro, to power.
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 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 last year.
Even though Hernandez supported US anti-drug campaigns, traffickers caught in the United States claimed to have paid bribes to the president’s inner circle.
He strongly denies the allegations 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. Its plight was worsened by the coronavirus and the devastation caused by hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020.
It is the world’s fifth-biggest coffee producer, and the industry is its biggest employer.
It also produces bananas, timber, corn, pineapple, palm oil, rice, beans, prawns and tobacco, and the United States is its main trading partner.
Remittances by emigrants account for nearly 20 percent of gross domestic product.
But endemic and worsening graft has it ranked 157 out of 180 countries on 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 some 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.