Get AJS Updates!
Below is a general overview of Honduras, the country AJS's work primarily focuses on. You can also read about why it makes sense for North American Christians to support justice efforts in Honduras and about Honduras' 2009 coup and political crisis.
Honduras is a small Central American country of approximately 7 million people. It is about the size of Louisiana with mountainous terrain and tropical temperatures. The natural beauty of Honduras—from Caribbean beaches to cloud forests—coexists with the extreme poverty of most of the population. In many ways, Honduras is typical of a banana republic, with a long history of foreign control and intervention. In 1998 Honduras suffered the brunt of Hurricane Mitch, one of the most severe hurricanes of the century. Though most of the primary infrastructure in the country has been repaired, there are still many people who lost homes and businesses who have not yet recovered.
Nevertheless, this is a time of great hope for Honduras. The political turmoil of the 80's is over, the destruction of Mitch is slipping further into the past, and the Honduran people have more of a say in the governance of their country than ever before. Now is a time when real reform and healing is possible, when the determination and work of the people might very well be rewarded by a brighter future.
Honduras suffered a prolonged period of economic recession during the 1980s. Gradual economic growth in the 1990s, tied to economic reforms and the booming U.S. economy, was waylaid by the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. By 2000 the economy was again growing at 4.7%. One good economic effect of the hurricane was substantial debt relief from the U.S. and international monetary institutions.
The economy is largely based on agriculture. Coffee, bananas and cultivated shrimp are important exports. The maquiladora (garment factories) sector is the second largest in the world and an important source of employment. Honduras has rich resources in forests, marine areas and minerals, though these are often poorly utilized and threatened by extensive deforestation.
Unemployment is thought to be somewhere around 24%, and underemployment is pervasive. About 45% of Hondurans work in the service sector, 34% in agriculture, and 15% in manufacturing. Many Hondurans make their living in the informal sector-selling tortillas on the street, running neighborhood convenience stores from their home, repairing shoes door-to-door, etc.
Human rights and civil liberties are relatively well protected, at least in comparison to other Central American countries. The press is officially independent and human rights organizations are permitted. Civil participation in the government is relatively limited. Recent reforms have given Hondurans the opportunity to vote for the President and the Congress separately and have granted the Supreme Court a measure of political independence from the President.
When Honduras won independence from Spain in 1821, it first became part of Mexico, and then joined the short-lived Central American Federation. Honduras finally became its own independent country in 1838. Since its independence, Honduras has suffered close to 300 internal rebellions, civil wars, and changes of government. Honduras's political stability was not helped by the U.S. fruit companies (Standard Fruit, Cuyamel Fruit and United Fruit) who, by the early 1900s wielded enough economic power in Honduras to manipulate political factions as a part of their business rivalry.
In the 1980s Honduras became more important for its location than its bananas. The decade was marked by violent political turmoil in much of Central America, especially Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, which all share borders with Honduras. U.S. pressure removed the latest military dictatorship and put into place the democratic government that became the key U.S. ally in the region. The U.S. was able to use Honduras as a military base for supporting the Contras in Nicaragua and for training the Salvadoran army in anti-insurgency warfare. U.S. military involvement and economic aid waned in Honduras after 1990 when Nicaragua's revolutionary party lost the presidential election and the Contras left Honduras.
Since then, Honduras's government has remained stable, with regular, clean elections--with the notable exception of the 2009 political crisis. The country has continued to struggle with deep poverty. Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998 and though much of the infrastructure has since been repaired, signs of the hurricane remain, especially in the shantytowns of those made homeless by the storm.
State Dept. Honduras page
The Cost of
Short Term Missions by Jo Ann Van Engen
American Report by InfoPress
Honduras by Hemisphere Initiatives
Treating Systems, Not Symptoms by Rachel Medema of Sojourners Magazine