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Recent Growth

Figure 5. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by Sector, 1992

Source: Based on information from Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Report: Nicaragua, Honduras [London], No. 2, 1993, 5.

Honduran president Rafael Leonardo Callejas Romero, elected in November 1989, enjoyed little success in the early part of his administration as he attempted to adhere to a standard economic austerity package prescribed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF--see Glossary) and the World Bank (see Glossary). As the November 1993 presidential elections drew closer, the political fallout of austere economic measures made their implementation even less likely. Any hope for his party's winning the 1993 election was predicated on improving social programs, addressing employment needs, and appeasing a disgruntled, vocal public sector. However, reaching those goals required policies that moved away from balancing the budget, lowering inflation, and reducing the deficit and external debt to attract investment and stimulate economic growth.

Callejas inherited an economic mess. The economy had deteriorated rapidly, starting in 1989, as the United States Agency for International Development (AID) pointedly interrupted disbursements of its grants to Honduras to signal displeasure with the economic policies of the old government and to push the new government to make economic reforms. Nondisbursal of those funds greatly exacerbated the country's economic problems. Funds from the multilateral lending institutions, which eventually would help fill the gap left by the reduction of United States aid, were still under negotiation in 1989 and would be conditioned first on payment of arrears on the country's enormous external debt.

Between 1983 and 1985, the government of Honduras--pumped up by massive infusions of external borrowing--had introduced expensive, high-tech infrastructure projects. The construction of roads and dams, financed mostly by multilateral loans and grants, was intended to generate employment to compensate for the impact of the regionwide recession. In reality, the development projects served to swell the ranks of public-sector employment and line the pockets of a small elite. The projects never sparked private-sector investment or created substantial private employment. Instead, per capita income continued to fall as Honduras's external debt doubled. Even greater injections of foreign assistance between 1985 and 1988 kept the economy afloat, but it soon became clear that the successive governments had been borrowing time as well as money.

Foreign aid between 1985 and 1989 represented about 4.6 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP--see Glossary). About 44 percent of the government's fiscal shortfall was financed through cash from foreign sources. Side effects of the cash infusion were that the national currency, the lempira (L; for value of the lempira--see Glossary), became overvalued and the amount of exports dropped. A booming public sector, with its enhanced ability to import, was enough to keep the economy showing growth, based on private consumption and government spending. But the government did little to address the historical, underlying structural problems of the economy--its overdependence on too few traditional commodities and lack of investment. Unemployment mushroomed, and private investment withered.

By 1989 President Callejas's broad economic goal became to return Honduran economic growth to 1960-80 levels. During the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, the country's economy, spurred mostly by erratically fluctuating traditional agricultural commodities, nevertheless averaged real annual growth of between 4 and 5 percent. At the end of the 1980s, however, Callejas had few remaining vehicles with which to pull the country out of the deep regionwide recession of the 1980s. Real growth between 1989 and 1993 translated to mostly negative or small positive per capita changes in the GDP for a population that was growing at close to 4 percent annually (see fig. 5).

President Callejas attempted to adhere to conditions of desperately needed new loans. Cutting the size of the public sector work force, lowering the deficit, and enhancing revenues from taxes--as mandated by the multilateral lending institutions--were consistently his biggest stumbling blocks. Despite his all-out effort to reduce the public-sector deficit, the overall ratio of fiscal deficit to the GDP in 1990 showed little change from that in 1989. The total public-sector deficit actually grew to 8.6 percent of the GDP, or nearly L1 billion, in 1991. The 1993 deficit expanded to 10.6 percent of the GDP. The Honduran government's medium-term economic objectives, as dictated by the IMF, were to have generated real GDP growth of 3.5 percent by 1992 and 4 percent by 1993. In fact, GDP growth was 3.3 percent in 1991, 5.6 percent in 1992, and an estimated 3.7 percent in 1993. The economy had operated so long on an ad hoc basis that it lacked the tools to implement coherent economic objectives. Solving the most immediate crisis frequently took precedence over long-term goals.

Data as of December 1993

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