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Guatemala is heavily centralized. Transportation, communications, business, politics, and the most relevant urban activity takes place in Guatemala City. Guatemala City has about 2 million inhabitants within the city limits and more than 5 million within the urban area. This is a significant percentage of the population (14 million).[22]


The highlands of Quetzaltenango

Guatemala lies between latitudes 13 and 18 N, and longitudes 88 and 93 W.

The country is mountainous with small desert and sand dune patches, hilly valleys filled with people, except for the south coastal area and the vast northern lowlands of Pet n department. Two mountain chains enter Guatemala from west to east, dividing the country into three major regions: the highlands, where the mountains are located; the Pacific coast, south of the mountains; and the Pet n region, north of the mountains. All major cities are located in the highlands and Pacific coast regions; by comparison, Pet n is sparsely populated. These three regions vary in climate, elevation, and landscape, providing dramatic contrasts between hot, humid tropical lowlands and colder, drier highland peaks. Volc n Tajumulco, at 4,220 m, is the highest point in the Central American states.

The rivers are short and shallow in the Pacific drainage basin, larger and deeper in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico drainage basins, which include the Polochic and Dulce Rivers, which drain into Lake Izabal, the Motagua River, the Sarst n that forms the boundary with Belize, and the Usumacinta River, which forms the boundary between Pet n and Chiapas, Mexico.

Guatemala has long claimed all or part of the territory of neighbouring Belize, formerly part of the Spanish colony, and currently an independent Commonwealth Realm which recognises Queen Elizabeth II as its Head of State. Due to this territorial dispute, Guatemala recognized Belize's independence until 1990, but the dispute is not resolved. Negotiations are currently underway under the auspices of the Organization of American States and the Commonwealth of Nations to conclude it.[23][24]

Natural disasters

Guatemala's location between the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean makes it a target for hurricanes, such as Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and Hurricane Stan in October 2005, which killed more than 1,500 people. The damage was not wind related, but rather due to significant flooding and resulting mudslides. The most recent was Tropical Storm Agatha in late May 2010 that killed more than 200.

A town along the Pan-American Highway and in close proximity to a volcanic crater Guatemala's highlands lie along the Motagua Fault, part of the boundary between the Caribbean and North American tectonic plates. This fault has been responsible for several major earthquakes in historic times, including a 7.5 magnitude tremor on February 4, 1976, which killed more than 25,000 people. In addition, the Middle America Trench, a major subduction zone lies off the Pacific coast. Here, the Cocos Plate is sinking beneath the Caribbean Plate, producing volcanic activity inland of the coast. Guatemala has 37 volcanoes, four of them are active: Pacaya, Santiaguito, Fuego and Tacan . Fuego and Pacaya erupted in 2010.

Natural disasters have a long history in this geologically active part of the world. For example, two of the three moves of the capital of Guatemala have been due to volcanic mudflows in 1541 and earthquakes in 1773.

Volcano Pacaya

On Thursday May 27, 2010, the Pacaya volcano started erupting lava and rocks, blanketing Guatemala City with black sand (and forcing the closure of the international airport). It was declared a "state of calamity." The Pacaya volcano left about of ash and sand through all of Guatemala City. Cleaning works are done.


Lake Atitl n

The country has 14 ecoregions ranging from mangrove forests to both ocean littorals with 5 different ecosystems. Guatemala has 252 listed wetlands, including 5 lakes, 61 lagoons, 100 rivers, and 4 swamps.[25] Tikal National Park was the first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guatemala is a country of distinct fauna. It has some 1246 known species. Of these, 6.7% are endemic and 8.1% are threatened. Guatemala is home to at least 8681 species of vascular plants, of which 13.5% are endemic. 5.4% of Guatemala is protected under IUCN categories I-V.

In the department of Pet n lies the Maya Biosphere Reserve of 2,112,940 ha,[26] making it the second largest forest in Central America after Bosawas.


Tz'utujil]] men in Santiago Atitl n Guatemalan women in Antigua Guatemala

According to the CIA World Fact Book, Guatemala has a population of 13,824,463 (2011 est). About 59% of the population is Ladino, also called Mestizo and European (mixed Amerindian and Spanish). Whites are a noticeably much smaller community (>1%), primarily of Spanish, but also those of Italian, German, British and Scandinavian descent. Amerindian populations include the K'iche' 9.1%, Kaqchikel 8.4%, Mam 7.9% and Q'eqchi 6.3%. 8.6% of the population is "other Mayan," 0.4% is indigenous non-Mayan, making the indigenous community in Guatemala about 40.5% of the population.[22]

There are smaller communities present. The Gar funa, who are descended primarily from Black Africans who lived with and intermarried with indigenous peoples from St. Vincent's, live mainly in Livingston and Puerto Barrios. Those communities have other blacks and mulattos descended from banana workers. There are also Asians, mostly of Chinese descent.Other Asian groups include Arabs of Lebanese and Syrian descent. There is also a growing Korean community in Guatemala City and in nearby Mixco, currently numbering about 10,000.[27] Guatemala's German population is credited with bringing the tradition of a Christmas tree to the country.[28]

In 1900, Guatemala had a population of 885,000.[29] Over the course of the twentieth century the population of the country grew, the fastest growth in the Western Hemisphere. The ever-increasing pattern of emigration to the U.S. has led to the growth of Guatemalan communities in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas, Rhode Island and elsewhere since the 1970s.[30]


The Civil War forced many Guatemalans to start lives outside of their country. The majority of the Guatemalan diaspora is located in the United States, with estimates ranging from 480,665[31] to 1,489,426.[32] The difficulty in getting accurate counts for Guatemalans abroad is because many of them are refugee claimants awaiting determination of their status.[33] Below are estimates for certain countries:

Country Count
USA 480,665[31] 1,489,426[32]
Mexico 23,529[32] 190,000
Belize 14,693[32]
Canada 14,256[32] 34,665[34]
Germany 5,989[32]
Honduras 5,172[32]
El Salvador 4,209[32]
Spain 2,491[32] 5,000[35]


An indoor market in Zunil

According to the CIA World Factbook, Guatemala's GDP (PPP) per capita is US$5,200; however, this developing country still faces many social problems and is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. The distribution of income remains highly unequal with more than half of the population below the national poverty line and just over 400,000 (3.2%) unemployed. The CIA World Fact Book considers 56.2% of the population of Guatemala to be living in poverty.[22][36]

Remittances from Guatemalans who fled to the United States during the civil war now constitute the largest single source of foreign income (two thirds of exports and one tenth of GDP).[22]

In recent years the exporter sector of nontraditional products has grown dynamically representing more than 53% of global exports. Some of the main products for export are fruits, vegetables, flowers, handicrafts, cloths and others.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in purchasing power parity (PPP) in 2010 was estimated at $70.15 billion USD. The service sector is the largest component of GDP at 63%, followed by the industry sector at 23.8% and the agriculture sector at 13.2% (2010 est.). Mines produce gold, silver, zinc, cobalt and nickel.[37] The agricultural sector accounts for about two-fifths of exports, and half of the labor force. Organic coffee, sugar, textiles, fresh vegetables, and bananas are the country's main exports. Inflation was 3.9% in 2010.

The 1996 peace accords that ended the decades-long civil war removed a major obstacle to foreign investment. Tourism has become an increasing source of revenue for Guatemala.

In March 2006 Guatemala's congress ratified the Dominican Republic Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) between several Central American nations and the United States.[38] Guatemala also has free trade agreements with Taiwan and Colombia.


Guatemalan girls in their traditional clothing in Chichicastenango

Guatemala City is home to many of the nation's libraries and museums, including the National Archives, the National Library, and the Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, which has an extensive collection of Maya artifacts. There are private museums, such as the Ixchel, which focuses on textiles, and the Popol Vuh, which focuses on Maya archaeology. Both museums are housed inside the Universidad Francisco Marroqu n campus. Almost each of the 329 municipalities in the country has a small museum.


Guatemala has produced many indigenous artists who follow centuries-old Pre-Columbian traditions. However, reflecting Guatemala's colonial and post-colonial history, encounters with multiple global art movements also have produced a wealth of artists who have combined the traditional so-called "primitivism" or "naive" aesthetic with European, North American, and other traditions. The Escuela Nacional de Artes Pl sticas "Rafael Rodr guez Padilla" is the country's leading art school, and several leading indigenous artists, also graduates of that school, are in the permanent collection of the Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno in the capital city. Contemporary Guatemalan artists who have gained reputations outside of Guatemala include Dagoberto V squez, Luis Rolando Ixquiac Xicara, Carlos M rida,[39] An bal L pez, Roberto Gonz lez Goyri, and Elmar Ren Rojas.[40]


The Iglesia de Santo Tom s, a church built around 1545

The Guatemala National Prize in Literature is a one-time only award that recognizes an individual writer's body of work. It has been given annually since 1988 by the Ministry of Culture and Sports.

Miguel ngel Asturias won the literature Nobel Prize in 1967. Among his famous books is El Se or Presidente, a novel based on the government of Manuel Estrada Cabrera.

Rigoberta Menchu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting oppression of indigenous people in Guatemala, is famous for her books I, Rigoberta Menchu and Crossing Borders.


The Music of Guatemala comprises a number of styles and expressions. Guatemalan social change has been empowered by music scenes such as Nueva cancion, which blend together histories, present day issues, and political values and struggles of common people. The Maya had an intense musical practice, as is documented by iconography. Guatemala was also one of the first regions in the New World to be introduced to European music, from 1524 on. Many composers from the Renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic, and contemporary music styles have contributed works of all genres. The marimba is the national instrument that has developed a large repertoire of very attractive pieces that have been popular for more than a century.

The Historia General de Guatemala has published a series of CDs of historical Music of Guatemala, in which every style is present, from the Maya, colonial period, independent and republican eras to current times. There are many contemporary music groups in Guatemala from Caribbean music, salsa, punta (Garifuna influenced), Latin pop, Mexican regional, and mariachi. There is also a vibrant scene for what is known in the Hispanic world as rock en Espa ol (Rock in Spanish).


Language Map of Guatemala, according to the Comisi n de Oficializaci n de los Dialectos Ind genas de Guatemala. The "Castilian" areas represent Spanish.

Although Spanish is the official language, it is not universally spoken among the indigenous population, nor is it often spoken as a second language by the elderly indigenous. Twenty-one Mayan languages are spoken, especially in rural areas, as well two non-Mayan Amerindian dialects, Xinca, an indigenous dialect, and Garifuna, an Arawakan dialect spoken on the Caribbean coast. According to Decreto N mero 19-2003, twenty-three dialects are unrecognized as National Languages.[41]

As a first and second language, Spanish is spoken by 93% of the population. The peace accords signed in December 1996 provide for the translation of some official documents and voting materials into several indigenous languages (see summary of main substantive accords) and mandate the provision of interpreters in legal cases for non-Spanish speakers. The accord also sanctioned bilingual education in Spanish and indigenous languages. It is common for indigenous Guatemalans to learn or speak between two to five of the nation's other languages, and Spanish.


Catedral Metropolitana in Guatemala City

In Guatemala 50 60% of the population is Catholic, 40% Protestant, 3% Eastern Orthodox and 1% follow the indigenous Mayan faith.[42] Catholicism was the official religion during the colonial era. However, Protestantism has increased markedly in recent decades. More than one third of Guatemalans are Protestant, chiefly Evangelicals and Pentecostals. It is common for relevant Mayan practices to be incorporated into Catholic ceremonies and worship when they are sympathetic to the meaning of Catholic belief a phenomenon known as inculturation.[43][44] The practice of traditional Mayan religion is increasing as a result of the cultural protections established under the peace accords. The government has instituted a policy of providing altars at every Mayan ruin found in the country so that traditional ceremonies may be performed there.

There are also small communities of Jews estimated between 1200 and 2000,[45] Muslims (1200), Buddhists at around 9000 to 12000,[46] and members of other faiths and those who do not profess any faith.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently has over 215,000 members in Guatemala, accounting for approximately 1.65% of the country's estimated population in 2008.[47] The first member of the LDS Church in Guatemala was baptized in 1948. Membership grew to 10,000 by 1966, and 18 years later, when the Guatemala City Temple[48][49] was dedicated in 1984, membership had risen to 40,000. By 1998 membership had quadrupled again to 164,000.[47] The LDS Church continues to grow in Guatemala; it has announced and begun the construction of the Quetzaltenango Guatemala Temple,[50] the LDS Church's second temple in the country.[51]

Recently, it was announced that 520,000 members of the Orthodox Catholic Church of Guatemala (OCCG) were received into communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The OCCG has an approximate membership of 527,000 faithful and catechumens, overwhelmingly indigenous, with 334 churches in Guatemala and southern Mexico, with 12 (formerly OCCG) clergymen and 14 seminarians, who are assisted in their pastoral ministry by 250 lay ministers and 380 catechists. The administrative offices of the OCCG are located on of land, with a community college and 2 schools with 12 professors/teachers. Additionally, the OCCG has an established monastery located on of land. Fourteen students from Guatemala, with full scholarship, are now enrolled in the St. Gregory Nazianzen Orthodox Theological Institute Licentiate degree program. The seminary is fully accredited by the Holy Metropolis Department of Education. Church in San Andr s Xecul

Funeral traditions

When people pass away in Guatemala, they are usually buried as soon as possible, so as to provide a quick passage to heaven. Funerals generally include candles and rum, and despite the local superstition that loud mourning and crying will slow down the deceased's journey to the next world; mourners usually cry very loudly, except at funerals for children. Deceased are buried with their treasured items to dissuade them from returning to haunt the people. [52]


The government runs a number of public elementary and secondary-level schools. These schools are free, though the cost of uniforms, books, supplies, and transportation makes them less accessible to the poorer segments of society and significant numbers of poor children do not attend school. Many middle and upper-class children go to private schools. The country also has one public university (USAC or Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala), and nine private ones (see List of universities in Guatemala). USAC was one of the first universities in America. It was officially declared a university on January 31, 1676 by royal command of King Charles II of Spain. Only 74.5% of the population aged 15 and over are literate, the lowest literacy rate in Central America. Although it has the lowest literacy rate, Guatemala is expected to change this within the next 20 years.[53] Schools such as Saint Joseph's College of Maine travel to villages such as Nueva de Concepcion to teach English and construct clinics in the village.

Medical anthropology and pluralism

In the 1950s, medical anthropologists such as Richard N. Adams, Benjamin D. Paul, and Lois Paul wrote monographs dedicated to the Maya medical beliefs and practices. Richard N. Adams, albeit secondary to his work, described the chasm between Maya medical beliefs and practices and Western science, and showed why Mayans rejected projects applied by the Institute of Nutrition for Central America and Panama (INCAP). His work is seen as setting the stage for four decades for medical anthropology in Guatemala by diagnosing the communication breakdown caused by ignorance of local beliefs and practices. Many of those once affiliated with INCAP have since published works on various topics of interest to medical anthropology in Guatemala.

In the 20th century, several things came to undermine the indigenous way of practicing medicine. First, the religious persecution first administered by Catholic Action, then Protestant evangelical religions, and finally by Catholic Charismatics resulted in the prohibition of their members from consulting traditional healers. Secondly, certain elements of Guatemalan society systematically killed the upper rank of the Maya priests. Third, starting in the 1980s, the Guatemalan national health care system, based heavily on Western medicine, began to suppress traditional healers by banning them from practicing. While the health care system made efforts to train local midwives, some persons accused those programs of not giving culturally appropriate, high-quality services.

The disparity between Western biomedicine and traditional care has created tensions, i.e., NGO programs primarily focus today on those with higher education levels those who speak Spanish and rivalries hamper communication between Western-trained health care providers and traditional practitioners. Additionally, the medical professionals of Western biomedicine neglect the social experience of the patients, as well as the social construction of disease. Studies conducted in Mexico, Guatemala, and other rural areas support the position that many Western biomedical practitioners shun remote areas either because they cannot earn enough money there or because they discriminate against ethnic minorities.

Today, patients must choose between the two systems based on the complex conditions surrounding the ailment and decide which medical system most likely will provide a cure for their ailment.[54]


Rigoberta Mench won the Nobel Peace prize in 1992 for her very important work in favor of the Mayan people, and the Mayan refugees in Mexico and the US. Miguel ngel Asturias won the Nobel prize in Literature in 1967 for his novel El Se or Presidente, which was controversial during Guatemala's civil war. Such novel portrayed the horrors endured by Guatemalans during their military-controlled governments.


There are seven national newspapers in Guatemala, one of them online-only, all of them in Spanish. Also five national television channels, two news programs, and many local radio news programs. Among the most known news programs in radio there are ''Patrullaje Informativo'', ''Radio Sonora'' and ''radio peri dico "El Independiente" from Nuevo Mundo Radio. The newspapers are: Al D a, the government official ''Diario de Centroam rica'', ''La Hora'', ''Plaza P blica'', ''Prensa Libre'', ''Nuestro Diario'' and ''Siglo.21''. The news programs on TV are ''Noti7'', Telecentro Trece and ''Noticiero Guatevision''. The Guatemala Times is a Digital English news magazine. ''The Guatemala Times''

See also

  • International rankings of Guatemala
  • List of Guatemalans
  • List of places in Guatemala


Further reading

External links

ace:Guatemala af:Guatemala als:Guatemala ar: an:Guatemala roa-rup:Guatemala frp:Goatemala ast:Guatemala ay:Watimala az:Qvatemala bm:Gatemala bn: zh-min-nan:Guatemala ba: be: be-x-old: bcl:Guatemala bg: bo: bs:Gvatemala br:Guatemala ca:Guatemala ceb:Guatemala cs:Guatemala cy:Guatemala da:Guatemala de:Guatemala dv: dsb:Guatemala et:Guatemala el: es:Guatemala eo:Gvatemalo ext:Guatemala eu:Guatemala ee:Guatemala fa: hif:Guatemala fo:Guatemala fr:Guatemala fy:G atemala ga:Guatamala gv:Yn Ghuatemaley gag:Gvatemala gd:Guatamala gl:Guatemala hak:K a-thi-m -l xal: ko: hy: hi: hr:Gvatemala io:Guatemala ilo:Guatemala bpy: id:Guatemala ia:Guatemala ie:Guatemala os: is:Gvatemala it:Guatemala he: jv:Guatemala kn: pam:Guatemala ka: kk: kw:Gwatemala rw:Gwatemala sw:Guatemala ht:Gwatemala ku:Guatemala mrj: la:Guatimalia lv:Gvatemala lb:Guatemala lt:Gvatemala lij:Guatemala li:Guatemala ln:Gwatemala jbo:guatemal lmo:Guatemala hu:Guatemala mk: ml: mr: arz: ms:Guatemala mn: my: nah:Cuauht mall n na:Guatemara nl:Guatemala ne: ja: frr:Guatemaala no:Guatemala nn:Guatemala nov:Guatemala oc:Guatemala mhr: uz:Gvatemala pnb: pap:Guatemala ps: pms:Guatemala nds:Guatemala pl:Gwatemala pt:Guatemala crh:Gvatemala ro:Guatemala qu:Watimala ru: sah: se:Guatemala sm:Tuatemala sa: sco:Guatemala sq:Guatemala scn:Guatemala simple:Guatemala ss:IGwathamala sk:Guatemala ( t t) sl:Gvatemala szl:Gwatymala so:Guatemala ckb: sr: sh:Gvatemala su:Guat mala fi:Guatemala sv:Guatemala tl:Guwatemala ta: tt: th: tg: tr:Guatemala uk: ur: ug: vi:Guatemala vo:Gvatem n fiu-vro:Guatemala war:Guatemala wo:Guwaatemala yi: yo:Guat m l diq:Guatemala zea:Guatemala bat-smg:Gvatemala zh:

Guatemala[1] is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast. Its area is 108,890 km2 (42,043 mi2) with an estimated population of 13,276,517.

A representative democracy, its capital is Guatemala de la Asunci n, also known as Guatemala City. Guatemala's abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems contributes to Mesoamerica's designation as a biodiversity hotspot.[2] The former Mayan civilization was a Mesoamerican civilization, which continued throughout the Post-Classic period until the arrival of the Spanish. The Mayas live in Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, the southern part of Mexico and northern parts of El Salvador.

Guatemala became independent from Spain in 1821, joining the Mexican Empire. After it became an independent country in its own right, it was ruled by a series of dictators, assisted by the United Fruit Company. The late 20th century saw Guatemala embroiled in a 36-year-long civil war. Following the war, Guatemala has witnessed both economic growth and successful democratic elections. In the most recent election, held in 2011, Otto P rez Molina of the Patriotic Party, won the presidency.



The origin of the name "Guatemala" is unclear, but several theories exist. "Guatemala" is derived from "Goathemala," which means "the land of the trees" in the Maya-Toltec language.[3] In Nahuatl, this word can be analyzed as k aw 'tree' + te:mal 'bunch' + tla:n 'place of', which is probably a translation of k'i: - e: 'K'iche' (Quich ), meaning 'forest', or literally 'many' + 'trees' (Campbell 1997:378). [4] Another theory is that it comes from the Nahuatl expression "Cuauhtitlan," meaning "between the trees". "Cuauhtitlan" was the name the Tlaxcaltecan soldiers who accompanied Pedro de Alvarado during the Spanish Conquest gave to this territory. Lastly, there is a theory that it is the Spanish corruption of a Nahoa word "coactmoct-lan," meaning "land of the snake eating bird."[5]



The first evidence of human settlers in Guatemala demonstrates a presence at least as early as 12,000 BC. Some evidence suggests a presence as early as 18,000 BC, such as obsidian arrow heads found in various parts of the country.[6] There is archaeological proof that early Guatemalan settlers were hunters and gatherers, but pollen samples from Pet n and the Pacific coast indicate that maize cultivation was developed by 3500 BC.[7] Sites dating back to 6500 BC have been found in Quich in the Highlands and Sipacate, Escuintla on the central Pacific coast.

Archaeologists divide the pre-Columbian history of Mesoamerica into the pre-Classic period (2000 BC to 250 AD), the Classic period (250 to 900 AD), and the Calistic from 900 to 1500 AD.[8] Until recently the Pre-Classic was regarded as a formative period, with small villages of farmers who lived in huts, and few permanent buildings. However, this notion has been challenged by recent discoveries of monumental architecture from that period, such as an altar in La Blanca, San Marcos, from 1000 BC; ceremonial sites at Miraflores and El Naranjo from 801 BC; the earliest monumental masks; and the Mirador Basin cities of Nakb , Xulnal, El Tintal, Wakn and El Mirador.

El Mirador was by far the most populated city in pre-Columbian America. Both the El Tigre and Monos pyramids encompass a volume greater than 250,000 cubic meters.[9] Mirador was the first politically organized state in America, named the Kan Kingdom in ancient texts. There were 26 cities, all connected by Sacbeob (highways), which were several kilometers long, up to 40 meters wide, and two to four meters above the ground, paved with stucco, that are clearly distinguishable from the air in the most extensive virgin tropical rain forest in Mesoamerica.

Tikal Maya Ruins The Classic period of Mesoamerican civilization corresponds to the height of the Maya civilization, and is represented by countless sites throughout Guatemala, although the largest concentration is in Pet n. This period is characterized by heavy city-building, the development of independent city-states, and contact with other Mesoamerican cultures.

This lasted until around 900 AD, when the Classic Maya civilization collapsed.[10] The Maya abandoned many of the cities of the central lowlands or were killed off by a drought-induced famine.[11] Scientists debate the cause of the Classic Maya Collapse, but gaining currency is the Drought Theory discovered by physical scientists studying lakebeds, ancient pollen, and other tangible evidence.[12] A series of prolonged droughts in what is otherwise a seasonal desert is thought to have decimated the Maya, who were primarily reliant upon regular rainfall.

The Post-Classic period is represented by regional kingdoms, such as the Itz and Ko'woj in the lakes area in Pet n, and the Mam, Ki'ch'es, Kack'chiquel, Tz'utuh'il, Pokom'ch , Kek'chi and Chort in the Highlands. These cities preserved many aspects of Mayan culture, but would never equal the size or power of the Classic cities.

The Maya civilization shares many features with other Mesoamerican civilizations due to the high degree of interaction and cultural diffusion that characterized the region. Advances such as writing, epigraphy, and the calendar did not originate with the Maya; however, their civilization fully developed them. Maya influence can be detected from Honduras, Guatemala, Northern El Salvador and to as far as central Mexico, more than from the Maya area. Many outside influences are found in Maya art and architecture, which are thought to result from trade and cultural exchange rather than direct external conquest.


Antigua]] After arriving in what was named the New World, the Spanish started several expeditions to Guatemala, beginning in 1519. Before long, Spanish contact resulted in an epidemic that devastated native populations. Hern n Cort s, who had led the Spanish conquest of Mexico, granted a permit to Captains Gonzalo de Alvarado and his brother, Pedro de Alvarado, to conquer this land. Alvarado at first allied himself with the Kaqchikel nation to fight against their traditional rivals the K'iche' (Quich ) nation. Alvarado later turned against the Kaqchikel, and eventually held the entire region under Spanish domination.[13] Several families of Spanish descent subsequently rose to prominence in colonial Guatemala, including the surnames de Arrivillaga, Arroyave, Alvarez de las Asturias, Gonz lez de Batres, Coronado, G lvez Corral, Mencos, Delgado de N jera, de la Tovilla, and Var n de Berrieza.[14]

During the colonial period, Guatemala was an Audiencia and a Captaincy General (Capitan a General de Guatemala) of Spain, and a part of New Spain (Mexico). It extended from the modern Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas (including the then separate administration of Soconusco) to Costa Rica. This region was not as rich in minerals (gold and silver) as Mexico and Peru, and was therefore not considered to be as important. Its main products were sugarcane, cocoa, blue a il dye, red dye from cochineal insects, and precious woods used in artwork for churches and palaces in Spain.

The first capital was named Tecpan Guatemala, founded on July 25, 1524 with the name of Villa de Santiago de Guatemala and was located near Iximch , the Kaqchikel capital city. It was moved to Ciudad Vieja on November 22, 1527, when the Kaqchikel attacked the city. On September 11, 1541 the city was flooded when the lagoon in the crater of the Agua Volcano collapsed due to heavy rains and earthquakes, and was moved to Antigua, on the Panchoy Valley, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This city was destroyed by several earthquakes in 1773 1774, and the King of Spain granted the authorization to move the capital to the Ermita Valley, named after a Catholic church to the Virgen de El Carmen, in its current location, founded on January 2, 1776.

Independence and 19th century


On September 15, 1821, the Captaincy-general of Guatemala (formed by Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras) officially proclaimed its independence from Spain and its incorporation into the Mexican Empire, which was dissolved two years later. This region had been formally subject to New Spain throughout the colonial period, but as a practical matter was administered separately. All but Chiapas soon separated from Mexico after Agust n I from Mexico was forced to abdicate.

The Guatemalan provinces formed the United Provinces of Central America, also called the Central American Federation (Federacion de Estados Centroamericanos). That federation dissolved in civil war from 1838 to 1840. Guatemala's Rafael Carrera was instrumental in leading the revolt against the federal government and breaking apart the Union. During this period a region of the Highlands, Los Altos, declared independence from Guatemala, but was annexed by Carrera, who dominated Guatemalan politics until 1865, backed by conservatives, large land owners and the church.

Guatemala's "Liberal Revolution" came in 1871 under the leadership of Justo Rufino Barrios, who worked to modernize the country, improve trade, and introduce new crops and manufacturing. During this era coffee became an important crop for Guatemala. Barrios had ambitions of reuniting Central America and took the country to war in an unsuccessful attempt to attain this, losing his life on the battlefield in 1885 against forces in El Salvador.

From 1898 to 1920, Guatemala was ruled by the dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera, whose access to the presidency was helped by the United Fruit Company. It was during his long presidency that the United Fruit Company became a major force in Guatemala.[15]

1944 to the end of the civil war

View of Antigua Guatemala from Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross), 2009

On July 4, 1944, dictator Jorge Ubico Casta eda was forced to resign his office in response to a wave of protests and a general strike. His replacement, General Juan Federico Ponce Vaides, was later also forced out of office on October 20, 1944 by a coup d' tat led by Major Francisco Javier Arana and Captain Jacobo Arbenz Guzm n. About 100 people were killed in the coup. The country was led by a military junta made up of Arana, Arbenz, and Jorge Toriello Garrido.

The Junta called Guatemala's first free election, which was won with a majority of 85% by the prominent writer and teacher Juan Jos Ar valo Bermejo, who had lived in exile in Argentina for 14 years. Ar valo was the first democratically elected president of Guatemala to fully complete the term for which he was elected. His "Christian Socialist" policies, inspired by the U.S. New Deal, were criticized by landowners and the upper class as "communist."

This period was also the beginning of the Cold War between the U.S. and the USSR, which was to have a considerable influence on Guatemalan history. From the 1950s through the 1990s, the U.S. government directly supported Guatemala's army with training, weapons, and money.

Guatemala City at night In 1954, Ar valo's freely elected Guatemalan successor, Arbenz, was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the 1954 Guatemalan coup d' tat. He considered himself a socialist. After his land reform, the CIA intervened because it feared that a socialist government would become a Soviet beachhead in the Western Hemisphere.[16] Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas was installed as president in 1954 and ruled until he was assassinated by a member of his personal guard in 1957. Substantial evidence points to the role of the American United Fruit Company (which changed its name in 1970 to Chiquita Brands International Inc) as instrumental in this coup, as the land reforms of Jacobo Arbenz were threatening the company's interests in Guatemala and it had several direct ties to the White House and the CIA. (See United Fruit Company History in Central America).

In the election that followed, General Miguel Yd goras Fuentes assumed power. He is most celebrated for challenging the Mexican president to a gentleman's duel on the bridge on the south border to end a feud on the subject of illegal fishing by Mexican boats on Guatemala's Pacific coast, two of which were sunk by the Guatemalan Air Force. Ydigoras authorized the training of 5,000 anti-Castro Cubans in Guatemala. He also provided airstrips in the region of Pet n for what later became the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961. Ydigoras' government was ousted in 1963 when the Guatemalan Air Force attacked several military bases. The coup was led by his Defense Minister, Colonel Enrique Peralta Azurdia.

Calle Santander tourist street in Panajachel, 2009 In 1966, Julio C sar M ndez Montenegro was elected president of Guatemala under the banner "Democratic Opening". Mendez Montenegro was the candidate of the Revolutionary Party, a center-left party which had its origins in the post-Ubico era. It was during this time that rightist paramilitary organizations, such as the "White Hand" (Mano Blanca), and the Anticommunist Secret Army, (Ej rcito Secreto Anticomunista), were formed. Those organizations were the forerunners of the infamous "Death Squads". Military advisers from the United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets) were sent to Guatemala to train troops and help transform its army into a modern counter-insurgency force, which eventually made it the most sophisticated in Central America.

In 1970, Colonel Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio was elected president. A new guerrilla movement entered the country from Mexico, into the Western Highlands in 1972. In the disputed election of 1974, General Kjell Laugerud Garc a defeated General Efra n R os Montt, a candidate of the Christian Democratic Party, who claimed that he had been cheated out of a victory through fraud. On February 4, 1976, a major earthquake destroyed several cities and caused more than 25,000 deaths. In 1978, in a fraudulent election, General Romeo Lucas Garc a assumed power.

The 1970s saw the birth of two new guerrilla organizations, The Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP) and the Organization of the People in Arms (ORPA), who began and intensified by the end of the seventies, guerrilla attacks that included urban and rural guerrilla warfare, mainly against the military and some of the civilian supporters of the army. In 1979, the U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, ordered a ban on all military aid to the Guatemalan Army because of the widespread and systematic abuse of human rights.

In 1980, a group of indigenous K'iche' took over the Spanish Embassy to protest army massacres in the countryside. The Guatemalan government launched an assault that killed almost everyone inside as a result of a fire that consumed the building. The Guatemalan government claimed that the activists set the fire and immolated themselves.[17] However, the Spanish ambassador, who survived the fire, disputed this claim, claiming that the Guatemalan police intentionally killed almost everyone inside and set the fire to erase traces of their acts. As a result of this incident, the government of Spain broke diplomatic relations with Guatemala.

This government was overthrown in 1982. General Efra n R os Montt was named President of the military junta, continuing the bloody campaign of torture, forced disappearances, and "scorched earth" warfare. The country became a pariah state internationally. R os Montt was overthrown by General scar Humberto Mej a Victores, who called for an election of a national constitutional assembly to write a new constitution, leading to a free election in 1986, which was won by Vinicio Cerezo Ar valo, the candidate of the Christian Democracy Party.

In 1982, the four guerrilla groups, EGP, ORPA, FAR and PGT, merged and formed the URNG, influenced by the Salvadoran guerrilla FMLN, the Nicaraguan FSLN and Cuba's government, in order to become stronger. As a result of the Army's "scorched earth" tactics in the countryside, more than 45,000 Guatemalans fled across the border to Mexico. The Mexican government placed the refugees in camps in Chiapas and Tabasco.

In 1992, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Rigoberta Mench for her efforts to bring international attention to the government-sponsored genocide against the indigenous population.

1996 to today

Outdoor market in Chichicastenango, 2009 The Guatemalan Civil War ended in 1996 with a peace accord between the guerrillas and the government, negotiated by the United Nations through intense brokerage by nations such as Norway and Spain. Both sides made major concessions. The guerrilla fighters disarmed and received land to work. According to the U.N.-sponsored truth commission the ("Commission for Historical Clarification"), government forces and state-sponsored paramilitaries were responsible for over 93% of the human rights violations during the war.[18] Over the last few years, millions of documents related to crimes committed during the civil war were found abandoned by the former Guatamelan police. Among millions of documents found, there was evidence that the former police chief of Guatemala, Hector Bol de la Cruz had been involved in the kidnapping and murder of 27-year-old student Fernando Garcia in 1984. The evidence was used to prosecute the former police chief. The families of over 45.000 Guatemalan activists are now reviewing the documents (which have been digitalized) and this could lead to further legal actions. Paradoxically, the current democratically elected president, Otto P rez Molina, could be a barrier to further legal action as he, a retired general, was the head of intelligence in Guatemala during the civil war.[19]

During the first ten years, the victims of the state-sponsored terror were primarily students, workers, professionals, and opposition figures, but in the last years they were thousands of mostly rural Mayan farmers and non-combatants. More than 450 Mayan villages were destroyed and over 1 million people became displaced within Guatemala or refugees. Over 200,000 people, mostly Mayan, were killed during the civil war.[20]

In certain areas, such as Baja Verapaz, the Truth Commission considered that the Guatemalan state engaged in an intentional policy of genocide against particular ethnic groups in the Civil War.[18] In 1999, U.S. president Bill Clinton stated that the United States was wrong to have provided support to Guatemalan military forces that took part in the brutal civilian killings.[21]

Since the peace accords, Guatemala has witnessed successive democratic elections, most recently in 2011. In the 2011 elections, Otto P rez Molina of the Patriotic Party, won the presidency. He assumed office on January 14, 2012. He names Roxana Baldetti as his vicepresident.

The estimated median age in Guatemala is 20 years old, 19.4 for males and 20.7 years for females.[22] This is the lowest median age of any country in the Western Hemisphere and comparable to most of central Africa and Iraq.


Guatemala is a constitutional democratic republic whereby the President of Guatemala is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Congress of the Republic. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. Otto Perez Molina is the President of Guatemala.

Departments and municipalities

Departments of Guatemala Map of Guatemala

Guatemala is divided into 22 departments (departamentos) and sub-divided into about 334 municipalities (municipios).

The departments are:

  1. 25pxAlta Verapaz

  2. 25pxBaja Verapaz

  3. 25pxChimaltenango

  4. 25pxChiquimula

  5. 25pxPet n

  6. 25pxEl Progreso

  7. 25pxEl Quich

  8. 25pxEscuintla

  9. 25pxGuatemala

  10. 25pxHuehuetenango

  11. 25pxIzabal

  12. 25pxJalapa

  13. 25pxJutiapa

  14. 25pxQuetzaltenango

  15. 25pxRetalhuleu

  16. 25pxSacatep quez

  17. 25pxSan Marcos

  18. 25pxSanta Rosa

  19. 25pxSolol

  20. 25pxSuchitep quez

  21. 25pxTotonicap n

  22. 25pxZacapa

Source: Wikipedia | The above article is available under the GNU FDL. | Edit this article

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