Independence Day of the Republic of Honduras
Honduras, officially Republic of Honduras, Spanish República de Honduras, country of Central America situated between Guatemala and El Salvador to the west and Nicaragua to the south and east. The Caribbean Sea washes its northern coast, the Pacific Ocean its narrow coast to the south. Its area includes the offshore Caribbean department of the Bay Islands. The capital is Tegucigalpa (with Comayagüela), but—unlike most other Central American countries—another city, San Pedro Sula, is equally important industrially and commercially, although it has only half the population of the capital.
The bulk of the population of Honduras lives a generally isolated existence in the mountainous interior, a fact that may help to explain the rather insular policy of the country in relation to Latin and Central American affairs. Honduras, like its neighbours in the region, is a developing nation whose citizens are presented with innumerable economic and social challenges, a situation that is complicated by rough topography and the occasional violence of tropical weather patterns, including the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
More than three-fourths of the land area of Honduras is mountainous, lowlands being found only along the coasts and in the several river valleys that penetrate toward the interior. The interior takes the form of a dissected upland with numerous small peaks. The main surface features have a general east-west orientation. There is a narrow plain of alluvium bordering the Gulf of Fonseca in the south. The southwestern mountains, the Volcanic Highlands, consist of alternating layers of rock composed of dark, volcanic detritus and lava flows, both of middle to early Cenozoic age (i.e., about 2.6 to 65 million years old). The northern mountains in other regions are more ancient, with granite and crystalline rocks predominating.
The climate is generally hot, with high humidity in the tropical coastal lowlands becoming modified by elevation toward the interior. Lowlands below 1,500 feet (460 metres) have mean annual temperatures between 79 and 82 °F (26 and 28 °C). The north coast is occasionally affected from October to April by cool northern winds of continental origin. Mountain basins and valleys, from 2,000 to 4,000 feet (600 to 1,200 metres), have mean annual temperatures of 66 and 73 °F (19 and 23 °C). At Tegucigalpa, located on hilly terrain at an elevation of 3,200 feet (975 metres), the rainy season starts in May and continues until mid-November, with temperatures sometimes reaching 90 °F (32 °C) in May and dropping to 50 °F (10 °C) in December, the coolest month. Around 7,000 feet (2,100 metres) mean annual temperatures are about 58 °F (14 °C). In the northern and eastern coastal and alluvial plains and on adjacent mountains, mean annual precipitation ranges from 70 to 110 inches (1,800 to 2,800 mm) or more, with a less rainy season from March to June; these areas occasionally have summer hurricanes that are accompanied by heavy rains. Pacific plains and mountain slopes get 60 to 80 inches (1,500 to 2,000 mm) of rain annually but from December to April receive little or no rain. Interior sheltered mountain basins and valleys receive 40 to 70 inches (1,000 to 1,800 mm) annually.
In eastern Honduras the coastal and lagoon swamps have mangrove and palm forests, and west of these are low, rainy, sandy plains with pine (Pinus caribaea) savanna, extending inland for 40 miles (65 km) or more. West of the pine savanna, in low valleys and on lower mountains, which are rainy all year, and on the low, rainy northern mountains are broad belts of dense evergreen broad-leaved forests with many species of large trees, including mahogany, lignum vitae, Spanish cedar, balsa, rosewood, ceiba, sapodilla, and castilloa rubber. The high, rainy mountain slopes of highland Honduras support excellent oak-pine forests. Open, dry, deciduous woodlands and temperate grasslands are spread throughout the interior highland basins and valleys. The Pacific plains and adjacent mountain slopes have deciduous tropical forests and savannas. Mangroves occupy the low coastal swamps.
Insects, birds, and reptiles are the most conspicuous animal forms. There are many species of butterflies, moths, beetles, bees, wasps, spiders, ants, flies, and mosquitoes, many of them beautifully coloured. Waterfowl in large numbers inhabit the coastal areas. Crocodiles, snakes, lizards (giant iguana and others), and turtles are found in the tropical forest areas. The fauna also includes deer, peccaries, tapir, pumas, jaguars, and ocelots. Fish and mollusks are abundant in lagoons and coastal waters. Deforestation of some interior regions since the Spanish conquest has led to serious soil erosion, and, since the mid-20th century, pesticides used by banana producers have caused environmental damage along coastal regions.
To safeguard native flora and fauna, numerous national parks, protected forests, and biological reserves were established in the late 1980s and ’90s, including Mount Bonito National Park (1987), which covers 434 square miles (1,125 square kilometres), and the protected forests Cuero y Salado (1987) and Isopo Point (1992). Extending more than 60 square miles (155 square km) near the Guatemalan border is Mount Azul de Copán National Park (1987), an area of rainforest that surrounds the famous Mayan ruins of Copán. La Tigra National Park was established in 1980 and covers 92 square miles (238 square km) of cloud forest near Tegucigalpa.
Honduras has been inhabited since well before the 1st century ce. The ruins at Copán in western Honduras indicate that the area was the centre of Mayan civilization before the Maya migrated to the Yucatán Peninsula. Most of the American Indians are Lenca and are now found in the southwest, near the Guatemala border, close to the most important Indian centres of the pre-Columbian period. Small, isolated groups of non-Spanish-speaking Indians—such as the Jicaque, Miskito (Mosquito), and Paya—continue to live in the northeast, although their numbers are declining. Of the total population, about nine-tenths is mestizo (a mixture of Spanish and Indian). Blacks of West Indian origin and Garifuna (Black Caribs) make up a significant part of the population along the Caribbean coast, an area where English is widely spoken.
The official language of Honduras is Spanish, and the predominant religion is Roman Catholicism, some two-thirds of the population being adherents. The largest of the remaining groups are Protestant, with notable congregations in the east and on the Bay Islands. There has been rapid growth in Protestant churches, especially since the upheaval caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
A pronounced shift in population took place during the early part of the 20th century from the interior to the hot, humid northern coast, where employment opportunities were provided by the United Fruit Company. These northwestern lowlands and the western and southern highlands constitute the most densely populated parts of the country. The population grew extremely fast during the mid-20th century, posing a considerable problem in employment and housing. Although the rate of growth slowed somewhat by the 1990s, it remained well above the world average.
The majority of the population is rural, living in small villages or isolated settlements; more than half of Hondurans are urban residents. During the 1980s and ’90s there was an especially rapid increase in urban population in and around Tegucigalpa, with accompanying overcrowding of housing, suburban development, air and water pollution, and rising crime rates. In the rest of the country, the mountainous, forested terrain and poor roads added to the local isolation.