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History, Development After Independence

Samuel Zemurray, Francisco Morazan, liberal governments, United Fruit, fruit companies

Following independence from Spain in 1821 and from Mexico in 1823, Honduras joined the United Provinces of Central America. A Honduran, Francisco Morazan, led liberal forces to victory in a bloody civil war between 1827 and 1829 and was president of the federation for its last ten years. Two years before his downfall in 1840, Honduras declared its independence; however, stronger neighbors, especially Guatemala, exercised great influence in Honduran politics throughout the 19th century. From 1840 to the 1870s the republic was frequently ruled by conservative dictatorships, notably those of Francisco Ferrera, Juan Lindo, and Santos Guardiola. Elections meant little, and revolutions were frequent.

Liberal dictators, beginning with Marcos A. Soto in 1876, dominated the state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and they began to emphasize modernization and exports. The transfer of the capital from conservative Comayagua to liberal Tegucigalpa reflected both the triumph of the liberals and the renewed emphasis on mining, which the government stimulated by attracting foreign investment. U.S. mining companies played a major role in late-19th-century Honduran economic growth, although Honduras remained the least developed state in Central America.

In the 20th century U.S. fruit companies—United, Standard, and Cuyamel—rapidly made bananas the principal export of the country, as they competed ruthlessly for favorable concessions from the liberal governments. United Fruit purchased Cuyamel in 1929, but the fiercely competitive founder of Cuyamel, Samuel Zemurray, soon emerged as the head of the giant United. The fruit companies gave Honduras a major export commodity, developed its Caribbean ports, and contributed, indirectly, to the growth of San Pedro Sula as the major population center on the entire Central American Caribbean plain, even though they contributed little to the general development of the country. Most of Honduras remained illiterate, and underpopulated.

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