A republic, in Central America, bounded on the N by the Gulf of Honduras and the Caribbean Sea, on the E by the Caribbean Sea, on the S by Nicaragua and the Gulf of Fonseca, on the SW by El Salvador and on the W by Guatemala. Christopher Columbus sailed along the Caribbean coast in 1502 and visited one of the nearby Bay Island s. He named the region Honduras, meaning “depths,” because of the sea depth here. After his conquest of Mexico, Hernan Cortes led an expedition to Honduras from 1524 to 1526. He ordered Pedro de Alvarado, another Spanish conquistador, to start settlements on the coast. Puerto Cortes was founded in 1525 and Comayagua in 1537. A governmental unit, an audiencia, was formed in 1542. The ruins of an important Mayan city, Copan, were discovered in 1576, then lost and not rediscovered until 1839.
With independence in 1821, Honduras became part of the Mexican Empire that Augustin de Iturbide ruled briefly as Emperor Augustin I. Honduras and the other Central American nations, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica, broke away and formed the Central American Federation in 1825. Manuel Jose Arce was the first president, and from 1829 Francisco Morazan was a popular dictator, but internal disagreements broke up the federation in 1838. After that Honduras endured long and violent conflict between liberals and conservatives. The British took over the Bay Island s in 1848 but 11 years later gave them up to Honduras. In 1860 the American freebooter, William Walker, used the island s as a base to attempt to conquer Honduras but failed. In 1894 Nicaragua forcibly seized the Mosquito Coast, which it shared with Honduras, but in 1960 the International Court of Justice awarded the northern section to Honduras.
Honduras’s dictatorial leader from 1933 to 1949 was Tiburcio Carias Andino. The period was marked by efforts to secure from the United Fruit Company of the United States better wages and working conditions for Honduran laborers. The 1960s and 1970s were marked by frequent coups, while long-stand ing differences between Honduras and El Salvador brought on a five-day war in 1969. It was not until October 1980 that the two nations signed a treaty settling their differences. On November 29, 1981, Roberto Suazo Cordova was elected president to head the first civilian regime since 1972. During the 1980s, Honduras served as a base for the Contra rebels against the Sand inista government of Nicaragua. Honduras’s economy became heavily dependent on aid from the United States, which supported the rebel bases, but popular discontent with the Contra presence resulted in massive demonstrations and the declaration of a state of emergency. In the early 1990s, Honduras tried to develop its economy to be more independent of American aid. In 1992 a treaty was signed with El Salvador, settling the border controversy between the two countries. In 1998, the country was devastated by Hurricane Mitch, which killed thousand s and destroyed much of the country’s crops and livestock. Tegucigalpa is the capital and largest city.