Military rule, corruption, a huge wealth gap, crime and natural disasters have rendered Honduras one of the least developed and least secure countries in Central America.
Until the mid-1980s Honduras was dominated by the military, which enthusiastically supported US efforts to stem revolutionary movements in the region.
Since then, civilian leaders have sought to curb the power of the military - with varying degrees of success.
Some army officers have been charged with human rights abuses, but many have still to be prosecuted for violations committed in the 1980s.
Honduran society is rife with economic inequality. Malnutrition, poor housing and infant diseases are widespread.
The country has a youthful population; 50% of Hondurans are under the age of 19. But endemic poverty, chronic unemployment and the prospects offered by drug trafficking have contributed to a virulent crime wave conducted mainly by youth gangs known as "maras".
The maras are said to have tens of thousands of members and use threats and violence to control poorer districts in towns and cities.
Meanwhile, police officers have been implicated in high-profile crimes, and the police are thought to have been involved in the murders by death squads of youths and street children.
Honduras was devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. At least 5,000 people were killed and 70% of the country's crops were destroyed. The damage was estimated at $3bn, setting development back by decades.
Thousands of Hondurans leave the country each year, most of them for the US. The money sent home by the overseas workers is an important source of income for many families.
The economy was dominated, until the mid-20th century, by foreign-owned banana companies that wielded outsized influence in politics and controlled wide swaths of land. Still a major exporter of the fruit, Honduras is also Central America's second biggest coffee producer. Part of a regional free trade deal with the United States, Honduras developed its textile industry to diversify away from dependence on agriculture.
- Full name: Republic of Honduras
- Population: 7.7 million (UN, 2011)
- Capital: Tegucigalpa
- Area: 112,492 sq km (43,433 sq miles)
- Major languages: Spanish, indigenous languages, English
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 71 years (men), 76 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 lempira = 100 centavos
- Main exports: Coffee, bananas, shellfish, meat, timber, gold and other minerals
- GNI per capita: US$1,870 (World Bank, 2010)
- Internet domain: .hn
- International dialling code: +504
President: Porfirio Lobo Sosa
Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo Sosa of the right-wing National Party won a November 2009 election organised by the interim authorities which took over following the military-backed ouster of President Manuel Zelaya Rosales.
Porfirio Lobo Sosa - onetime left-winger turned right-winger
Mr Lobo was sworn into office in January 2010 as Mr Zelaya went into exile, marking the closure of seven months of political chaos set off by his ouster by troops in June 2009. When Mr Zelaya was toppled he was flown out of the country while still in his pajamas but he sneaked back in September and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy.
US and Latin American governments criticized the coup and many countries denounced Mr Lobo's election under a de facto government as illegitimate, but months of mediation and talks failed to reverse the coup and restore Mr Zelaya.
Mr Lobo won 56% against 38% for Elvin Santos, the candidate of the Liberal Party, which was deeply split between supporters of Mr Zelaya and his coup-backed interim replacement, Roberto Micheletti. The turnout was given as 60%.
After the election, Mr Lobo promised to form a unity government and launch a national dialogue aimed at overcoming the crisis. His campaign included promises to boost investment, jobs and security.
Born in 1948, Porfirio Lobo Sosa is a wealthy rancher who was once viewed as left-leaning after studies in Soviet Moscow in the 1980s, but since then has moved to the right. He was elected to Congress in 1990, and only narrowly lost the 2005 presidential election to Manuel Zelaya.
Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has been one of the western hemisphere's most dangerous countries for journalists, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
More than a dozen journalists have been killed since the start of 2010, and attacks on opposition media have gone unpunished, RSF reports.
Media freedom is restricted by punitive defamation laws, and reporters tend to exercise self-censorship.
There were 958,500 internet users at the end of 2009 (Internetworldstats).