In pre-Columbian times the area which is now Honduras was part of the Mayan empire. Discovered by Columbus in 1502, Honduras was ruled by Spain as part of the Captain-Generalcy of Guatemala. In 1821 Honduras gained its independence from Spain and from 1823 was part of the Central American Federation. On 5 Nov. 1838 the country declared itself an independent sovereign state, free from the Federation. Political instability became the rule, punctuated by a period of more serious administration from 1876 to 1891. The instability, with one period of US military occupation, continued until 1933. From 1933 to 1949 Gen. Tiburcio Carias Andino ruled as a dictator. There followed a disturbed period of presidential elections, depositions and military juntas. Dr Ramón Cruz Velés was elected president in 1971 but a coup in 1972 led to his being superseded by Gen. López Arellano who ruled by decree until 1975 when he too was ousted by army officers in favour of Col. Melgar Castro. In 1978 a military junta took control, with the commander of the army, Gen. Policarpo Paz Garcia, nominated as head of state.
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