Honduras is a Central American country with Tegucigalpa its capital, bordering Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatamala, the Pacific Gulf of Fonseca and the Atlantic Caribbean Sea. A former colonial territory, it has a population of about 8.5 million people (2013) and ethnic groups who are mostly of mixed European and Amerindian descent, speak Spanish and identify with Roman Catholicism. The country is one of the poorest in the world, and has the highest murder rate globally. The nation is a republic with President Porfirio Lobo Sosa the head of state since 2010.
The territory of Honduras incorporates the lands of indigenous peoples, particularly the Mayan culture. Europeans arrived in the early 16th century and colonised the region, seeking to exploit its gold reserves. Honduras became part of the Spanish Empire but became independent of Spain in 1821, after which it was briefly annexed by the Mexican Empire. In 1840, Honduras became fully independent on leaving the Federal Republic of Central America.
Until the mid-twentieth century, the economy of Honduras was dominated by U.S. companies that set up banana plantations and invested foreign capital. Democratic institutions emerged but were vulnerable to authoritarian politics and revolutions. President Tiburcio Carías Andino (1876-1969) ensured stable government until 1948 and remained a player behind the scenes, but ultimately the country came under the control of a military junta which ruled until 1982. The country then became a base for right-wing groups to fight the Marxist Sandinista government of Nicaragua and support anti-leftist forces in El Salvador.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated the country, killing over 5,000 people, but the country recovered in the following years. Honduras suffered another coup in 2009, but has since returned to civilian administration.
Over half of the 8.5 million residents of Honduras live in poverty, particularly in rural areas, and the nation endures the world's highest murder rate, mainly due to high levels of organised crime. The quality of education remains problematic, especially with more than half of Hondurans under the age of 24. About 50% of the population live in urban areas, with around 1 million in and around the capital, Tegucigalpa. About 90% of people are of mixed European and Amerindian descent, and approximately 97% identify with the Roman Catholic religion.