The Lower Class
Traditionally, the poor in Honduras have lived
rural areas. The lack of economic opportunity in rural
the subsequent migration to the cities have led to an
number of urban poor.
During the colonial period, the low population density
country made land readily available for small subsistence
When the concentration of land for cotton and cattle
in the 1950s, the situation in the rural areas changed. By
1960s, poor rural families were struggling for survival on
parcels of land that had ever-decreasing rates of
productivity. By 1965 landlessness had become a problem.
The increase in the number of landless peasants led to
greater numbers migrating to cities in search of
employment and in
the emergence of a peasant movement in national politics.
majority of those unable to practice subsistence farming
in rural areas, however, and sought work as farm workers;
percent of the labor force in 1993 was in agriculture.
displaced peasants migrated to the cities in search of
in the service sector (20 percent of the total labor force
1993), manufacturing (9 percent of the total labor force),
construction (3 percent of the total labor force). Still
joined the peasant movement and migrated to areas where
enterprises were being established or to areas where
militant peasant groups were appropriating land.
The poorest peasants still practice subsistence farming
of five hectares or less. Many others work as
sharecroppers or rent
land for cash. The majority of peasants are forced to seek
full-time or part-time laborers, depending on the season
size of the farms on which they are employed. At best,
provides income to supplement the meager earnings from
small parcels of land. At worst, this work represents
source of income.
Although official unemployment figures are not very
underemployment is widespread in the countryside and is
increasingly a problem in urban centers as well.
(ranging between 15 and 75 percent) is usually a result of
seasonal nature of most of the available agricultural
the 1980s, the level of underemployment also rose in areas
Caribbean coast where banana and sugarcane plantations are
Although work in sugarcane fields is seasonal, banana
are a source of long-term contracts or even permanent
The labor surplus in the interior highlands is evidence of
severe economic plight of most Hondurans.
In the 1980s, land pressures, an increasing number of
peasants, and the declining standard of living of the
working class galvanized the ranks of peasant
labor unions. The first national peasant group to
organize, in the
1950s, was the National Federation of Honduran Peasants
Nacional de Campesinos de Honduras--Fenach). The National
Association of Honduran Peasants (Asociación Nacional de
de Honduras--Anach) was established in 1962 as a competing
association. By the time of the economic crisis of the
associations had become equally militant and
National Union of Peasants (Unión Nacional de
formed in the 1960s. It began as a militant organization
in the international Christian socialist movement, but by
was a less combative association. Many other politically
peasant organizations operated in Honduras. Their roles
strategies have varied from alienating the government and
with land takeovers and other militant tactics to a joint
agricultural project with the military in 1989.
Since the 1954 banana workers' strike, the labor
Honduras has been the strongest in Central America; in
percent of urban labor and 20 percent of rural labor were
unionized. Unions are strongest in the public sector, the
agricultural sector, and the manufacturing sector.
by the labor movement range from providing crucial support
sympathetic administrations to adopting more combative
during general strikes.
Although the labor and peasant movements represent
groups that cannot be politically ignored, their influence
varied considerably since the 1950s. The two movements
weakened somewhat by repeated government attempts to
organizations. They were also weakened by internal
the presence of opportunistic individuals in leadership
The economic crisis of the 1980s and the imposition of the
adjustment policies during that decade have also taken a
these organizations. Confrontations between these groups
government were frequent in the early 1990s. On more than
occasion, strikes in key sectors of the economy led to the
government's calling in the army.
Data as of December 1993