Predominately rural and sparsely populated, Honduras is the second largest, after Guatemala, of the Central American republics. Its early history following independence in the 19th century was marked by instability and revolution, with 67 changes of government between 1855 and 1932, and three interventions by U.S. forces in the early part of this century. A measure of internal calm and minor reform was achieved until 1954, when the civilian president was ousted by the armed forces. Plagued by inefficiency and corruption, the military began gradually to move out of government in 1980, when a constituent assembly was elected to write a new constitution and lead the way to popular elections in 1981. Last month Roberto Suazo Cordoba of the Liberal Party was inaugurated as president of Honduras.

Although Honduras largely has been spared the upheavals of its neighbors, the effects of guerrilla wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala have begun to spill across its borders in several ways. Guerrilla operations along the Honduras-El Salvador frontier have led to increasing cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries. Fear that the successful Nicaraguan revolution may travel to Honduras, where thousands of soldiers of Nicaragua's ousted dictatorship have taken refuge, also have led to increasing charges of cooperation between these former soldiers and the Honduran armed forces in efforts to overthrow the Sandinista regime.

While U.S. interests in Honduras traditionally have been economic, centering on U.S. fruit companies, the military relationship between the two countries has grown over the past several years. With the justification that a strong Honduran military is needed to react to neighboring wars and prevent possible domestic subversion, the Reagan administration has boosted Honduras to the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the hemisphere. Critics of this policy charge that this will increase the internal power of the Honduran military and undermine the nascent civilian government.