Country Profile: Honduras
A lethal combination of drug wars and gang violence has turned Honduras – the original banana republic – into the most violent country in the world outside a war zone, and the violence has escalated since the 2009 coup that deposed left-leaning president Manuel Zelaya.
Elections for Zelaya’s successor did not take place until the end of 2013, when the conservative Juan Orlando Hernández became President for a four-year term, following a campaign marred by allegations of fraud and intimidation. On 23 April 2015 the Honduran Supreme Court struck down a constitutional prohibition barring incumbent presidents from running for a second term, paving the way for Hernández to remain in power after 2017.
Only weeks later, however, the Attorney General revealed that a network led by Hernández had defrauded the government of $120 million from 2010 to 2014 – the period of the interregnum following the military coup. The investigation also showed that some of those funds were used to fund Hernández’s 2013 presidential campaign.
San Pedro Sula, Siguatepeque, Choluteca and other major cities erupted in calls for the President’s resignation and on 5 June 2015 20,000 Hondurans took to the streets, bearing torches and shouting ‘JOH out, JOH out!’.
The protest movement, which became known as Los Indignados (the Outraged), included grassroots organizations and political parties that had fought to restore Manuel Zelaya, as well as ordinary citizens who had never taken to the streets before.
The Indignados offered a glimmer of hope in a country where years of authoritarian military rule and violent street clashes had left most Hondurans fearful of political activism.
After months of protests, President Hernández appeared to heed one of the Indignados’ main demands when he announced the creation of an anti-corruption commission supported by the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS). But, far from quelling the protests, the Indignados felt cheated. What they wanted was a Honduran version of the UN-funded commission in Guatemala – initiated after a wave of protests following a corruption scandal – which had real muscle and eventually forced President Pérez Molina and his deputy out of office. By contrast, the OAS-supported commission endorsed by Hernández is currently focusing on making recommendations on reforms to the justice system.
For the Indignados, the commission feels like a Band Aid on a gaping wound – an attempt to appease the protest movement rather than a tool for meaningful reform. However, the movement has waned recently, the protests having failed to usher in any significant change.
Amid escalating levels of violence and political repression, attacks on journalists and human rights activists have become commonplace and go largely unpunished. In March this year, the murder of internationally renowned environmental activist Berta Cáceres, of the Lenca indigenous group, who had campaigned against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, hit the headlines worldwide and caused outrage. Before her murder, Cáceres had reported 33 death threats linked to the campaign.
Given that violence in Honduras has reached epidemic proportions and the country has some of the worst social and economic conditions in the hemisphere, it is hardly surprising that a growing number of Hondurans seek to emigrate, mostly to the US. Children and adolescents from poor neighbourhoods, desperate to escape gang violence, are increasingly choosing to make the hazardous journey to the US on their own and Honduras is currently the country of origin for the highest number of unaccompanied minors apprehended along the US-Mexico border. Hondurans are not searching for the American Dream, they are fleeing from the nightmare of violence and repression in their country.
|Leader||Juan Orlando Hernández.|
|Economy||GNI per capita: $2,270 (Guatemala $3,430, United States $55,200).|
|Main exports||Garments (knit sweaters and t-shirts), coffee, insulated wire, palm oil.|
|People||8.1 million. Annual growth rate 1990-2015: 2.0%. People per square kilometre: 73 (UK 267).|
|Health||Infant mortality 17 deaths per 1,000 live births (Guatemala 24, US 6). Lifetime risk of maternal death: 1 in 300 (US 1 in 3,800). HIV prevalence rate: 0.4%. However, Honduras reports 60% of all HIV infection in Central America.|
|Environment||In recent years, the expansion of urban areas as well as the clearing of land for agricultural purposes has led to high levels of deforestation. Another major problem is the mining industry, which is largely responsible for the pollution of rivers, streams and lakes with heavy metals.|
|Religion||An estimated 85% of the population is Catholic and 10% Protestant.|
|Language||Spanish is the main and official language. The Afrocaribbean minority (about 300,000 strong) speaks Garifuna and there are many indigenous languages, including Chortí, Lenca, Mayangna, Miskito, Pech, and Tol.|
|Human Development Index||0.606 (Guatemala 0.627, US 0.915).|
Country ratings in detail
|Income distribution||Inequality has increased dramatically since the coup in 2009, poverty has worsened (64.5% of Hondurans currently live below the poverty line) and unemployment and underemployment have risen sharply. 2007 ★|
|Literacy||85% – with rates for men and women very similar. 2007 ★★|
|Life expectancy||74 years, up from 66 in 1990. Violence is one of the top five causes of death alongside heart disease, stroke, lung disease and AIDS – Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate. 2007 ★★★★|
|Freedom||Violence and intimidation against journalists, human rights activists and land-rights activists continue to go unpunished. 2007 ★★|
|Position of women||Violent deaths of women in Honduras increased by 263.4% between 2005 and 2013 and fewer than 3% of reported femicide cases are resolved by the courts. An estimated 27% of Honduran women report they have endured some form of physical violence. 2007 ★★|
|Sexual minorities||Discrimination against LGBTI people, especially transgender people, is widespread. Government agencies and private employers engage in anti-gay hiring practices. LGBTI activists and organizers often receive death threats. 2007 ★★|
|New Internationalist assessment||Politics ★★
Two years after winning an election marred by allegations of fraud and intimidation, President Juan Orlando Hernández was accused of involvement in a massive corruption scandal that led to a wave of nationwide protests in 2015. The adoption of a constitutional amendment allowing indefinite presidential re-election and the circumvention of a congressional vote on military policing has also led to strong concerns regarding the erosion of democratic governance. 2007 ★★★
This article is from
the October 2016 issue
of New Internationalist.
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