There is evidence of permanent settlements in Honduras several centuries before the time of Christ. They were populated by the ancestors of some of the surviving indigenous groups that still exist in the country: the Lenca, Pech, Tolupan, Tawahka and Chortí Maya. The most well-known and advanced pre-Columbian civilization was that of the Mayas in Copan. Located in the westernmost part of Honduras, Copan was situated at the southernmost extreme of the Maya empire that extended due north through Guatemala into the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.
Copan was the most developed center for art, science and astronomy in the ancient Mayan world. Ruins contemporary with those of Copan yet not of Mayan origin are still to be found near Comayagua. The Lenca tribe (the largest of the surviving indigenous groups) under the leadership of the warrior Lempira – for whom the national currency is named – offered the greatest resistance to the invasion of Spanish imperial forces in the 16 th century.
Christopher Columbus landed on the northern coast of Honduras during his fourth and final voyage in 1502. At Punta Caxinas on August 14 of that year the first Mass on the continental Americas was celebrated by Fray Alejandro, a Franciscan priest who accompanied the voyage. The conquest of Honduras, however, did not begin in earnest for another 20 years, and included forays by the infamous conquistador of Mexico, Hernán Cortés, and some of his associates. After initial conflict among imperial representatives, revolt and an epidemic of infectious diseases of European origin that decimated the indigenous population, the Spanish colonial government became more consolidated.
Veins of gold and silver discovered early on, always of the highest priority to the Spanish colonists, became quickly depleted. A terrain inhospitable to both farming and transportation, and harassment by pirates and British settlers on the north coast – aided by the indigenous Miskito of the eastern rainforests, all contributed to make Honduras the poorest and least attractive of the Spanish colonies. Many colonial churches still in existence dot the countryside, and ruins of fortresses from the era can be seen in Trujillo, Omoa and Comayagua.
On September 15, 1821, Honduras, along with Mexico and the other Central American colonies declared independence from Spain. Shortly thereafter the Central American countries formed their own federation separate from Mexico. Honduran Francisco Morazan, sometimes referred to as “the George Washington of Central America,” served as president of that federation almost continuously from 1830 to 1838. Honduras became an independent nation on November 15, 1838, and enacted its first of many constitutions early the following year. From then until the present the government has fluctuated between liberal, conservative and military governments. The scourge of widespread corruption, incompetence and self-interest at the expense of the welfare of the country has plagued every level of the Honduran government and the entire public sector since the outset and continues almost unabated to the present. Similar criminal activity has characterized the behavior of entrepreneurs, both native and foreign, throughout the country’s history to the present day. A significant but ambivalent phase in Honduras’ national history was the development of the foreign controlled banana industry in the 1900’s, which at times resorted to bribery, support of revolutionary forces and the involvement of the US military to protect and advance its interests. Workers in the industry eventually rose up in a strike in the mid-1950’s that rapidly swept across the country. It lasted 69 days and marked the birth of the labor movement in Honduras. Other milestones in modern Honduran history include the 1969 Soccer War with neighboring Salvador, and the use of Honduran territory by US-supported Contras attempting to undermine the socialist Sandinista government in next-door Nicaragua in the 1980s. That period was accompanied by the ruthless repression of anyone in Hondurans considered to be a communist sympathizer carried out by the notorious hit squad Battalion 3-16.
By far the event that has had the greatest impact on Honduras in recent history was the horrific experience of Hurricane Mitch in October of 1998. The hurricane did billions of dollars of damage and left more than 10,000 Hondurans dead or missing
Franciscan Friars of the Renewal