Christopher Columbus explored Honduras in 1502, leading to Spanish colonization. Once inhabited by various aboriginal groups, Honduras declared independence from Spain in 1821 and alternated between liberal and authoritarian governments during much of the 19th and 20th centuries. U.S. corporations, especially the United Fruit Company, exerted enormous influence over Honduras during the early 20th century. Honduras regained democratic government following elections in 1982.
Pre-contact inhabitants of the Honduras region included the Lencas, Jicaques and Paya. The Maya flourished in western Honduras during the 8th century, with the civilization reaching its peak long before contact with Europeans.
Gil González de Ávila started the colonization of Honduras in 1524. Except for some silver production, the Spanish largely ignored Honduras during their rule. Honduras joined the 1821 rebellion of Central American provinces and briefly became part of United Provinces of Central America before declaring independence in 1838.
Honduras experienced a brief era of prosperity under the liberal government of Marco Aurelio Soto in the late 19th century. However, military dictators and American corporations dominated Honduras during much of the 20th century. Democracy briefly returned to Honduras during the 1950s, only to be replaced again by military government, following a 1963 coup.
After the stable return of democracy in 1982, a succession of elected governments tried to deal with economic problems and a growing drug trade. Honduran governments also tried to distance themselves from conflicts in neighboring Nicaragua and El Salvador.