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This article is about the country in Central America. For other uses, see Guatemala (disambiguation).
Republic of Guatemala
República de Guatemala
Flag Coat of arms
  • "Libre Crezca Fecundo"[1]
  • "El País de la Eterna Primavera"
  • "The Land of the Eternal Spring"[2]
Anthem: Himno Nacional de Guatemala
National anthem of Guatemala
and largest city
Guatemala City
14°38′N 90°30′W / 14.633°N 90.500°W / 14.633; -90.500
Official languages Spanish
Ethnic groups (2010)
Demonym Guatemalan
Government Unitary presidential republic
 -  President Alejandro Maldonado (acting)
 -  Vice President Alfonso Fuentes Soria[3]
Legislature Congress of the Republic
Independence from the Spanish Empire
 -  Declared 15 September 1821 
 -  Declared from the
First Mexican Empire
1 July 1823 
 -  Current constitution 31 May 1985 
 -  Total 108,889 km2 (107th)
42,042 sq mi
 -  Water (%) 0.4
 -  2014 estimate 15,806,675[4] (66th)
 -  Density 129/km2 (85th)
348.6/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2015 estimate
 -  Total $124.941 billion[5]
 -  Per capita $7,680[5]
GDP (nominal) 2015 estimate
 -  Total $66.037 billion[5]
 -  Per capita $4,059[5]
Gini (2007) 55.1
HDI (2011) Steady 0.574[6]
medium · 125th
Currency Quetzal (GTQ)
Time zone CST (UTC−6)
Drives on the right
Calling code +502
ISO 3166 code GT
Internet TLD .gt

Guatemala (Listeni/ˌɡwɑːtɨˈmɑːləˌ ɡwæ-/ GWAH-tə-MAH-lə or GWAT-ə-MAH-lə; Spanish: [gwateˈmala]), officially the Republic of Guatemala (Spanish: República de Guatemala), 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, Honduras to the east and El Salvador to the southeast. With an estimated population of around 15.8 million, it is the most populous state in Central America. A representative democracy, Guatemala's capital and largest city is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, also known as Guatemala City.

The region of modern-day Guatemala had for centuries comprised the core of the Mayan civilization, which extended across Mesoamerica. Most of the country was conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century, becoming part of the viceroyalty of New Spain. Guatemala attained independence in 1821 as part of the Federal Republic of Central America, which dissolved in 1841.

From the mid to late 19th century, Guatemala endured chronic instability and civil strife. Beginning in the early 20th century, it was ruled by a series of dictators backed by the United Fruit Company and the United States government. In 1944, authoritarian leader Jorge Ubico was overthrown by a pro-democratic military coup, initiating the ten-year Guatemalan Revolution, which led to sweeping social and economic reforms. The revolution was ended by a U.S.-backed military coup in 1954.

From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala endured a bloody civil war fought between the U.S.-backed government and leftist rebels, which included massacres of the Mayan population perpetrated by the former in the Ixil Triangle.[7][8] Since the end of the war, Guatemala has witnessed both economic growth and successful democratic elections, though it continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, crime, drug trade, and instability.

Guatemala's abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems, which includes a large number of endemic species, contributes to Mesoamerica's designation as a biodiversity hotspot.[9] The country is also known for its rich and distinct culture, which is characterized by a fusion of Spanish and Indigenous influences.


The name "Guatemala" comes from the Nahuatl word Cuauhtēmallān, or "place of many trees", a derivative of the K'iche' Mayan word for "many trees".[10][11] This was the name the Tlaxcaltecan soldiers who accompanied Pedro de Alvarado during the Spanish Conquest gave to this territory.[12]


Main article: History of Guatemala


The first evidence of human habitation in Guatemala dates back to 12,000 BC. Some evidence, such as obsidian arrowheads found in various parts of the country, suggests a human presence as early as 18,000 BC.[13] There is archaeological proof that early Guatemalan settlers were hunters and gatherers. Pollen samples from Petén and the Pacific coast indicate that maize cultivation had been developed by 3500 BC.[14] Sites dating back to 6500 BC have been found in the Quiché region in the Highlands, and Sipacate and Escuintla on the central Pacific coast.

Archaeologists divide the pre-Columbian history of Mesoamerica into the Preclassic period (2999 BC to 250 BC), the Classic period (250 to 900 AD), and the Postclassic period (900 to 1500 AD).[15] Until recently, the Preclassic 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 Nakbé, Xulnal, El Tintal, Wakná and El Mirador.[citation needed]

Both the El Tigre and Monos pyramids encompass a volume greater than 250,000 cubic meters,[16] and the city lay at the center of a populous and well-integrated region.

Tikal Mayan 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 Petén. This period is characterized by heavy city-building, the development of independent city-states, and contact with other Mesoamerican cultures.[citation needed]

This lasted until approximately 900 AD, when the Classic Maya civilization collapsed.[17] The Maya abandoned many of the cities of the central lowlands or were killed off by a drought-induced famine.[17] 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.[17] A series of prolonged droughts, among other reasons (such as overpopulation), in what is otherwise a seasonal desert is thought to have decimated the Maya, who were primarily reliant upon regular rainfall.[18]

The Post-Classic period is represented by regional kingdoms, such as the Itza, Ko'woj, Yalain and Kejache in Petén, and the Mam, Ki'che', Kackchiquel, Chajoma, Tz'utujil, Poqomchi', Q'eqchi' and Ch'orti' in the Highlands. Their cities preserved many aspects of Mayan culture, but never equaled 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 1,000 km (620 mi) from the Maya area. Many outside influences are found in Maya art and architecture, which are thought to be the result of trade and cultural exchange rather than direct external conquest.

Colonial era (1519–1821)[edit]

Painting of a bearded man in early 16th-century attire including prominent ruff collar, wearing a decorative breastplate, with his right hand resting on his hip and his left hand grasping a cane or riding crop.
The Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado led the initial Spanish efforts to conquer Guatemala.[19]

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. Hernán Cortés, 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' (Quiché) nation. Alvarado later turned against the Kaqchikel, and eventually held the entire region under Spanish domination.[20] Several families of Spanish descent subsequently rose to prominence in colonial Guatemala, including the surnames de Arrivillaga, Arroyave, Alvarez de las Asturias, Aycinena, González de Batres, Coronado, Gálvez Corral, Mencos, Delgado de Nájera, de la Tovilla, and Varón de Berrieza.[21]

During the colonial period, Guatemala was an Audiencia and a Captaincy General (Capitanía General de Guatemala) of Spain, and a part of New Spain (Mexico).[22] The first capital, Villa de Santiago de Guatemala (now known as Tecpan Guatemala), was founded on 25 July 1524. It was located near Iximché, the Kaqchikel capital city. The capital was moved to Ciudad Vieja on 22 November 1527, as a result of the Kaqchikel attack on Villa de Santiago de Guatemala.

On 11 September 1541, the new capital was flooded when the lagoon in the crater of the Agua Volcano collapsed due to heavy rains and earthquakes; the capital was then moved 6 km (4 mi) to Antigua Guatemala, in the Panchoy Valley, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This city was destroyed by several earthquakes in 1773–1774. The King of Spain authorized the move of the capital to its current location in the Ermita Valley, which is named after a Catholic church to the Virgen de El Carmen. This new capital was founded on 2 January 1776.

Independence and the 19th century (1821–1847)[edit]

Criollos rejoice upon learning about the declaration of independence from Spain on September 15, 1821.

On 15 September 1821, the Captaincy-general of Guatemala (formed by Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras) officially proclaimed its independence from Spain; the Captaincy-general was dissolved two years later.[23] This region had been formally a part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain throughout the colonial period, but as a practical matter was administered separately. It was not until 1825 that Guatemala created its own flag.[24]

In 1838 the liberal forces of the Honduran leader Francisco Morazán and Guatemalan José Francisco Barrundia invaded Guatemala and reached San Sur, where they executed Chúa Alvarez, Carrera's father-in-law. They impaled his head on a pike as a warning to all followers of the Guatemalan caudillo.[25] On learning this, Carrera and his wife Petrona – who had come to confront Morazán as soon as they learned of the invasion and were in Mataquescuintla – swore they would never forgive Morazán even in his grave; they felt it impossible to respect anyone who would not avenge family members.[26]

After sending several envoys, whom Carrera would not receive – especially Barrundia whom Carrera did not want to murder in cold blood – Morazán began a scorched earth offensive, destroying villages in his path and stripping them of their few assets. The Carrera forces had to hide in the mountains.[27] Believing that Carrera was totally defeated, Morazán and Barrundia marched on to Guatemala City, where they were welcomed as saviors by the state governor Pedro Valenzuela and members of the conservative Aycinena Clan, who proposed to sponsor one of the liberal battalions, while Valenzuela and Barrundia gave Morazán all the Guatemalan resources needed to solve any financial problem he had.[28] The criollos of both parties celebrated until dawn that they finally had a criollo caudillo like Morazán, who was able to crush the peasant rebellion.[29]

Morazán used the proceeds to support Los Altos and then replaced Valenzuela by Mariano Rivera Paz, member of the Aycinena clan, although he did not return to that clan any property confiscated in 1829; in revenge, Juan José de Aycinena y Piñol voted for the dissolution of the Central American Federation in San Salvador a little later, forcing Morazán to return to El Salvador to fight to save his federal mandate. Along the way, Morazán increased repression in eastern Guatemala, as punishment for helping Carrera.[30] Knowing that Morazán had gone to El Salvador, Carrera tried to take Salamá with the small force that remained, but was defeated, losing his brother Laureano in the combat. With just a few men left, he managed to escape, badly wounded, to Sanarate.[31] After recovering to some extent, he attacked a detachment in Jutiapa and managed to get a small amount of booty which he handed to the volunteers who accompanied him and prepared to attack Petapa – near Guatemala City – where he was victorious, though with heavy casualties.[32]

In September of that year, he attempted an assault on the capital of Guatemala, but the liberal general Carlos Salazar Castro defeated him in the fields of Villa Nueva and Carrera had to retreat.[33] After an unsuccessful attempt to take the Quetzaltenango, Carrera was surrounded and wounded, and he had to capitulate to the Mexican General Agustin Guzman, who had been in Quetzaltenango since the time of Vicente Filísola's arrival in 1823. Morazán had the opportunity to shoot Carrera, but did not because he needed the support of the Guatemalan peasants to counter the attacks of Francisco Ferrera in El Salvador; instead, Morazán left Carrera in charge of a small fort in Mita, and without any weapons. Knowing that Morazán was going to attack El Salvador, Francisco Ferrera gave arms and ammunition to Carrera and convinced him to attack Guatemala City.[34]

Meanwhile, despite insistent advice to definitely crush Carrera and his forces, Salazar tried to negotiate with him diplomatically; he even went as far as to show that he neither feared nor distrusted Carrera by removing the fortifications of the Guatemalan capital, in place in since the battle of Villa Nueva.[33] Taking advantage of Salazar's good faith and Ferrera's weapons, Carrera took Guatemala City by surprise on April 13, 1839; Castro Salazar, Mariano Gálvez and Barrundia fled before the arrival of Carrera's militia men. Salazar, in his nightshirt, vaulted roofs of neighboring houses and sought refuge,[35][36] reaching the border disguised as a peasant.[35][36] With Salazar gone, Carrera reinstated Rivera Paz as Head of State of Guatemala.

Between 1838 and 1840 Guatemala faced a secessionist movement in the city of Quetzaltenango, who founded the breakaway State of Los Altos which sought independence from Guatemala. The most important members of the Liberal Party of Guatemala and liberal enemies of the conservative regime moved to Los Altos, leaving their exile in El Salvador.[37] The liberals in Los Altos began severely criticizing the Conservative government of Rivera Paz.[37] Los Altos was the region with the main production and economic activity of the former state of Guatemala. Without Los Altos, conservatives lost much of the resources that had given Guatemala hegemony in Central America.[37] The government of Guatemala tried to reach to a peaceful solution, but two years of bloody conflict followed

In 1840, Belgium began to act as an external source of support for Carrera's independence movement, in an effort to exert influence in Central America. The Compagnie belge de colonisation (Belgian Colonization Company), commissioned by Belgian King Leopold I, became the administrator of Santo Tomas de Castilla[38] replacing the failed British Eastern Coast of Central America Commercial and Agricultural Company.[38] Even though the colony eventually crumbled, Belgium continued to support Carrera in the mid-19th century, although Britain continued to be the main business and political partner to Carrera's regime.[39] Rafael Carrera was elected Guatemalan Governor in 1844.

Settlers from Germany arrived in the mid-19th century. German settlers acquired land and grew coffee plantations in Alta Verapaz and Quetzaltenango.

Republic (1847–1851)[edit]

On March 21, 1847, Guatemala declared itself an independent republic and Carrera became its first president.

Proclamation Coin 1847 of the independent Republic of Guatemala

During the first term as president, Carrera had brought the country back from extreme conservatism to a traditional moderation; in 1848, the liberals were able to drive him from office, after the country had been in turmoil for several months.[40][41] Carrera resigned of his own free will and left for México. The new liberal regime allied itself with the Aycinena family and swiftly passed a law ordering Carrera's execution if he dared to return to Guatemalan soil.[40]

The liberal criollos from Quetzaltenango were led by general Agustín Guzmán who occupied the city after Corregidor general Mariano Paredes was called to Guatemala City to take over the Presidential office.[42] They declared on August 26, 1848 that Los Altos was an independent state once again. The new state had the support of Doroteo Vasconcelos' regime in El Salvador and the rebel guerrilla army of Vicente and Serapio Cruz who were sworn enemies of Carrera.[43] The interim government was led by Guzmán himself and had Florencio Molina and the priest Fernando Davila as his Cabinet members.[44] On 5 September 1848, the criollos altenses chose a formal government led by Fernando Antonio Martínez.

In the meantime, Carrera decided to return to Guatemala and did so entering by Huehuetenango, where he met with the native leaders and told them that they must remain united to prevail; the leaders agreed and slowly the segregated native communities started developing a new Indian identity under Carrera's leadership.[45] In the meantime, in the eastern part of Guatemala, the Jalapa region became increasingly dangerous; former president Mariano Rivera Paz and rebel leader Vicente Cruz were both murdered there after trying to take over the Corregidor office in 1849.[45]

When Carrera arrived to Chiantla in Huehuetenango, he received two altenses emissaries who told him that their soldiers were not going to fight his forces because that would lead to a native revolt, much like that of 1840; their only request from Carrera was to keep the natives under control.[45] The altenses did not comply, and led by Guzmán and his forces, they started chasing Carrera; the caudillo hid helped by his native allies and remained under their protection when the forces of Miguel Garcia Granados – who arrived from Guatemala City were looking for him.[45]

On learning that officer José Víctor Zavala had been appointed as Corregidor in Suchitepéquez, Carrera and his hundred jacalteco bodyguards crossed a dangerous jungle infested with jaguars to meet his former friend. When they met, Zavala not only did not capture him, but agreed to serve under his orders, thus sending a strong message to both liberal and conservatives in Guatemala City that they would have to negotiate with Carrera or battle on two fronts – Quetzaltenango and Jalapa.[46] Carrera went back to the Quetzaltenango area, while Zavala remained in Suchitepéquez as a tactical maneuver.[47] Carrera received a visit from a Cabinet member of Paredes and told him that the he had control of the native population and that he assured Paredes that he would keep them appeased.[46] When the emissary returned to Guatemala City, he told the president everything Carrera said, and added that the native forces were formidable.[48]

Guzmán went to Antigua Guatemala to meet with another group of Paredes emissaries; they agreed that Los Altos would rejoin Guatemala, and that the latter would help Guzmán defeat his hated enemy and also build a port on the Pacific Ocean.[48] Guzmán was sure of victory this time, but his plan evaporated when, in his absence, Carrera and his native allies had occupied Quetzaltenango; Carrera appointed Ignacio Yrigoyen as Corregidor and convinced him that he should work with the k'iche', mam, q'anjobal and mam leaders to keep the region under control.[49] On his way out, Yrigoyen murmured to a friend: Now he is the King of the Indians, indeed![49]

Guzmán then left for Jalapa, where he struck a deal with the rebels, while Luis Batres Juarros convinced president Paredes to deal with Carrera. Back in Guatemala City within a few months, Carrera was commander-in-chief, backed by military and political support of the Indian communities from the densely populated western highlands.[50] During the first presidency from 1844 to 1848, he brought the country back from excessive conservatism to a moderate regime, and – with the advice of Juan José de Aycinena y Piñol and Pedro de Aycinena – restored relations with the Church in Rome with a Concordat ratified in 1854.[51]

Second Carrera government (1851–1865)[edit]

Captain General Rafael Carrera after being appointed President for Life in 1854.

After Carrera returned from exile in 1849 the president of El Salvador, Doroteo Vasconcelos, granted asylum to the Guatemalan liberals, who harassed the Guatemalan government in several different forms: José Francisco Barrundia did it through a liberal newspaper established with that specific goal; Vasconcelos gave support during a whole year to a rebel faction "La Montaña", in eastern Guatemala, providing and distributing money and weapons. By late 1850, Vasconcelos was getting impatient at the slow progress of the war with Guatemala and decided to plan an open attack. Under that circumstance, the Salvadorean head of state started a campaign against the conservative Guatemalan regime, inviting Honduras and Nicaragua to participate in the alliance; only the Honduran government led by Juan Lindo accepted.[40] In 1851 Guatemala defeated an Allied army from Honduras and El Salvador in the Battle of La Arada.

In 1854 Carrera was declared "supreme and perpetual leader of the nation" for life, with the power to choose his successor. He was in that position until he died on April 14, 1865. While he pursued some measures to set up a foundation for economic prosperity to please the conservative landowners, military challenges at home and in a three-year war with Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua dominated his presidency.

His rivalry with Gerardo Barrios, President of El Salvador, resulted in open war in 1863. At Coatepeque the Guatemalans suffered a severe defeat, which was followed by a truce. Honduras joined with El Salvador, and Nicaragua and Costa Rica with Guatemala. The contest was finally settled in favor of Carrera, who besieged and occupied San Salvador, and dominated Honduras and Nicaragua. He continued to act in concert with the Clerical Party, and tried to maintain friendly relations with the European governments. Before his death, Carrera nominated his friend and loyal soldier, Army Marshall Vicente Cerna y Cerna, as his successor.

Vicente Cerna y Cerna regime (1865–1871)[edit]

Vicente Cerna y Cerna was the president of Guatemala from 1865 to 1871.
Further information: Vicente Cerna y Cerna

Vicente Cerna y Cerna was the president of Guatemala from 24 May 1865 to 29 June 1871.[52] Several liberal authors, like Alfonso Enrique Barrientos,[53][full citation needed]describe Marshall Cerna's government in the following manner:[54][full citation needed]

A conservative and archaic government, badly organized and with worse intentions, was in charge of the country, centralizing all powers in Vicente Cerna, ambitious military man, who not happy with the general rank, had promoted himself to the Army Marshall rank, even though that rank did no exist and it does not exist in the Guatemalan military. The Marshall called himself President of the Republic, but in reality he was the foreman of oppressed and savaged people, cowardly enough that they had not dared to tell the dictator to leave threatening him with a revolution.

The State and Church were a single unit, and the conservative regime was strongly allied to the power of regular clergy of the Catholic Church, who then were among the largest landowners in Guatemala. The tight relationship between Church and State had been ratified by the Concordat of 1852, which was the law until Cerna was deposed in 1871.[55] Even the liberal generals like Serapio Cruz had realized that Rafael Carrera's political and military presence made him practically invincible. Thus the generals fought under his command,[40] and waited for a long time until Carrera's death to begin their revolt against the more tame Cerna.[56] During Cerna's presidency, liberal party members were prosecuted and sent into exile; among them, those who started the Liberal Revolution of 1871.[40]

Liberal governments (1871–1898)[edit]

Further information: Justo Rufino Barrios

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.[57] Barrios had ambitions of reuniting Central America and took the country to war in an unsuccessful attempt to attain it, losing his life on the battlefield in 1885 against forces in El Salvador.

Manuel Barillas was a Guatemalan general and President from 16 March 1886 to 15 March 1892. Manuel Barillas was unique among liberal presidents of Guatemala between 1871 and 1944: he handed over power to his successor peacefully. When election time approached, he sent for the three Liberal candidates to ask them what their government plan would be.[58] Happy with what he heard from general Reyna Barrios,[58] Barillas made sure that a huge column of Quetzaltenango and Totonicapán Indigenous people came down from the mountains to vote for general Reyna Barrios. Reyna was elected president. [59]

José María Reina Barrios was President between 1892 and 1898. During Barrrios's first term in office, the power of the landowners over the rural peasantry increased. He oversaw the rebuilding of parts of Guatemala City on a grander scale, with wide, Parisian style avenues built. He oversaw Guatemala hosting the first "Exposición Centroamericana" ("Central American Fair") in 1897. During his second term, Barrios printed bonds to fund his ambitious plans, fuelling monetary inflation and the rise of popular opposition to his regime.

His administration also work on improving the roads, installing national and international telegraphs and introducing electricity to Guatemala City. Completing a transoceanic railway was a main objective of his government, with a goal to attract international investors at a time when the Panama Canal was not built yet.

Manuel Estrada Cabrera regime (1898–1920)[edit]

Manuel Estrada Cabrera ruled Guatemala between 1898 and 1920.

After the assassination of general José María Reina Barrios on 8 February 1898, the Guatemalan cabinet called an emergency meeting to appoint a new successor, but declined to invite Estrada Cabrera to the meeting, even though he was the designated successor to the Presidency. There are two different descriptions of how Cabrera was able to become president. The first states that Cabrera entered the cabinet meeting "with pistol drawn" to assert his entitlement to the presidency,[60] while the second states that he showed up unarmed to the meeting and demanded the presidency by virtue of being the designated successor.[61]

The first civilian Guatemalan head of state in over 50 years, Estrada Cabrera overcame resistance to his regime by August 1898 and called for elections in September, which he won handily.[62] In 1898 the Legislature convened for the election of President Estrada Cabrera, who triumphed thanks to the large number of soldiers and policemen who went to vote in civilian clothes and to the large number of illiterate family that they brought with them to the polls.[63]

One of Estrada Cabrera's most famous and most bitter legacies was allowing the entry of the United Fruit Company into the Guatemalan economic and political arena. As a member of the Liberal Party, he sought to encourage development of the nation's infrastructure of highways, railroads, and sea ports for the sake of expanding the export economy. By the time Estrada Cabrera assumed the presidency there had been repeated efforts to construct a railroad from the major port of Puerto Barrios to the capital, Guatemala City. Due to lack of funding exacerbated by the collapse of the internal coffee trade, the railway fell 100 kilometres (60 mi) short of its goal. Estrada Cabrera decided, without consulting the legislature or judiciary, that striking a deal with the United Fruit Company was the only way to get finish the railway.[64] Cabrera signed a contract with UFCO's Minor Cooper Keith in 1904 that gave the company tax-exemptions, land grants, and control of all railroads on the Atlantic side.[65]

Estrada Cabrera often employed brutal methods to assert his authority. Right at the beginning of his first presidential period he started prosecuting his political rivals and soon established a well-organized web of spies. One American Ambassador returned to the United States after he learned the dictator had given orders to poison him. Former President Manuel Barillas was stabbed to death in Mexico City. Estrada Cabrera responded violently to workers' strikes against UFCO. In one incident, when UFCO went directly to Estrada Cabrera to resolve a strike (after the armed forces refused to respond), the president ordered an armed unit to enter a workers' compound. The forces "arrived in the night, firing indiscriminately into the workers' sleeping quarters, wounding and killing an unspecified number."[66]

In 1906 Estrada faced serious revolts against his rule; the rebels were supported by the governments of some of the other Central American nations, but Estrada succeeded in putting them down. Elections were held by the people against the will of Estrada Cabrera and thus he had the president-elect murdered in retaliation. In 1907 Estrada narrowly survived an assassination attempt when a bomb exploded near his carriage.[67] It has been suggested that the extreme despotic characteristics of Estrada did not emerge until after an attempt on his life in 1907.[68]

Guatemala City was badly damaged in the 1917 Guatemala earthquake.

Estrada Cabrera continued in power until forced to resign after new revolts in 1920. By that time his power had declined drastically and he was reliant upon the loyalty of a few generals. While the United States threatened intervention if he was removed through revolution, a bipartisan coalition came together to remove him from the presidency. He was removed from office after the national assembly charged that he was mentally incompetent, and appointed Carlos Herrera in his place on April 8, 1920.[69]

Jorge Ubico regime (1931–1944)[edit]

Main article: Jorge Ubico
General Jorge Ubico, the dictator of Guatemala from 1931 to 1944. He passed laws allowing landowners to use lethal force to defend their property.

The Great Depression which began in 1929 badly damage the Guatemalan economy and caused a rise in unemployment, leading to unrest among workers and laborers. Afraid of a popular revolt, the Guatemalan landed elite lent their support to Jorge Ubico, who had become well known for "efficiency and cruelty" as a provincial governor. Ubico won the election that followed in 1931, in which he was the only candidate.[70][71] After his election his policy quickly became authoritarian. He replaced the system of debt peonage, with a brutally enforced vagrancy law, requiring all men of working age who did not own land to a minimum of 100 days of hard labor.[72] The government used unpaid Indian labor to work on roads and railways. Ubico also froze wages at very low levels, and passed a law allowing land-owners complete immunity from prosecution for any action they took to defend their property,[72] an action described by historians as legalizing murder.[73] He greatly strengthened the police force, turning it into one of the most efficient and ruthless in Latin America.[74] The police were given greater authority to shoot and imprison people suspected of breaking the labor laws. The result of these laws was to create tremendous resentment against him among agricultural laborers.[75] The government became highly militarized; under his rule, every provincial governor was a general in the army.[76]

Ubico continued his predecessors policy of making massive concessions to the United Fruit Company, often at a cost to Guatemala. He granted the company 200,000 hectares (490,000 acres) of public land in exchange for a promise to build a port, a promise he later waived.[77] Since its entry into Guatemala, the United Fruit Company had expanded its land-holdings by displacing farmers and converting their farmland to banana plantations. This process accelerated under Ubico's presidency, with the government doing nothing to stop it.[78] The company received import duty and real estate tax exemptions from the government and controlled more land than any other individual or group. It also controlled the sole railroad in the country, the sole facilities capable of producing electricity, and the port facilities at Puerto Barrios on the Atlantic coast.[79]

Ubico saw the United States as an ally against the supposed communist threat of Mexico, and made efforts to gain its support. When the US declared war against Germany in 1941, Ubico acted on American instructions and arrested all people in Guatemala of German descent.[80] He also permitted the US to establish an air base in Guatemala, with the stated aim of protecting the Panama Canal.[81] However, Ubico was an admirer of European fascists, such as Francisco Franco and Benito Mussolini,[82] and considered himself to be "another Napoleon".[83] He dressed ostentatiously and surrounded himself with statues and paintings of Napoleon, regularly commenting on the similarities between their appearances. He militarized numerous political and social institutions—including the post office, schools, and symphony orchestras—and placed military officers in charge of many government posts.[84][85][86][87][88]

Guatemalan Revolution (1944–1954)[edit]

Jacobo Árbenz during his presidency. Árbenz' agrarian reform greatly benefited hundreds of thousands of peasants, but was deeply unpopular with the United Fruit Company.
Main article: Guatemalan Revolution
"Gloriosa victoria", by Mexican painter Diego Rivera, represents the Guatemalan coup of 1954. At the center of the painting, U.S Secretary of State John Foster Dulles shakes hands with Carlos Castillo Armas. CIA director, Allen Dulles, and John Peurifoy, the American Ambassador to Guatemala, are handing out money to Guatemalan Army officers, while natives work as slaves filling up UFCO ships with bananas. At the Ambassador's feet lies an anthropomorphic bomb with the smiling face of Dwight Eisenhower.

On 1 July 1944 Ubico was forced to resign from the presidency in response to a wave of protests and a general strike inspired by brutal labor conditions among plantation workers.[89] His chosen replacement General Juan Federico Ponce Vaides, was forced out of office on October 20, 1944 by a coup d'état led by Major Francisco Javier Arana and Captain Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán. About 100 people were killed in the coup. The country was led by a military junta made up of Arana, Árbenz, and Jorge Toriello Garrido.[90]

The Junta organized Guatemala's first free election, which was won with a majority of 86% by the philosophically conservative writer and teacher Juan José Arévalo, who wanted to turn the country into a liberal capitalist society.[91] His "Christian Socialist" policies were inspired to a large extent by the U.S. New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression.[92] Arévalo built new health centers, increased funding for education, and drafted a more liberal labor law,[93] while criminalizing unions in workplaces with less than 500 workers,[94] and cracking down on communists.[95] Although Arévalo was popular among nationalists, he had enemies in the church and the military, and faced at least 25 coup attempts during his presidency.[96]

Arévalo was constitutionally prohibited from constesting the 1950 elections. The largely free and fair elections were won by Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, Arévalo's defense minister.[97] Árbenz continued the moderate capitalist approach of Arévalo.[98] His most important policy was the agrarian reform bill passed in 1952,[99][100] which transferred uncultivated land to landless peasants.[99] Only 1710 of the nearly 350,000 private land-holdings were affected by the law,[101] which benefited approximately 500,000 individuals, or one-sixth of the population.[101]

Coup and civil war (1954–1996)[edit]

Despite their popularity within the country, the reforms of the Guatemalan Revolution were disliked by the United States government, which was predisposed by the Cold War to see it as communist, and the United Fruit Company (UFC), whose hugely profitable business had been affected by the end to brutal labor practices.[95][102] The attitude of the U.S. government was also influence by a propaganda campaign carried out by the UFC.[103]

U.S. President Harry Truman authorized Operation PBFORTUNE to topple Árbenz in 1952, with the support of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza García,[104] but the operation was aborted when too many details became public.[104][105] Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected U.S. President in 1952, promising to take a harder line against communism; the close links that his staff members John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles had to the UFC also predisposed him to act against Árbenz.[106] Eisenhower authorized the CIA to carry out Operation PBSUCCESS in August 1953. The CIA armed, funded, and trained a force of 480 men led by Carlos Castillo Armas.[107][108] The force invaded Guatemala on 18 June 1954, backed by a heavy campaign of psychological warfare, including bombings of Guatemala City and an anti-Árbenz radio station claiming to be genuine news.[107] The invasion force fared poorly militarily, but the psychological warfare and the possibility of a U.S. invasion intimidated the Guatemalan army, which refused to fight. Árbenz resigned on 27 June.[109][110]

Following negotiations in San Salvador, Carlos Castillo Armas became President on 7 July 1954.[109] Elections were held in early October, from which all political parties were barred from participating, and Castillo Armas was the only candidate, winning the election with 99% of the vote.[109] Castillo Armas reversed Decree 900 and ruled until July 26, 1957, when he was assassinated by Romeo Vásquez, a member of his personal guard. After the rigged[92] election that followed, General Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes assumed power. He is 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 Petén for what later became the US-sponsored, 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.

In 1963, the junta called an election, which it permitted Arevalo to return from exile and contest. However a coup from within the military, backed by the Kennedy Administration, prevented the election from taking place, and forestalled a likely victory for Arevalo. The new regime intensified the campaign of terror against the guerrillas that had begun under Ydígoras-Fuentes.[111]

In 1966, Julio César Méndez Montenegro was elected president of Guatemala under the banner "Democratic Opening". Mendez Montenegro was the candidate of the Revolutionary Party, a center-left party that had its origins in the post-Ubico era. During this time rightist paramilitary organizations, such as the "White Hand" (Mano Blanca), and the Anticommunist Secret Army (Ejército Secreto Anticomunista) were formed. Those groups 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 these troops and help transform its army into a modern counter-insurgency force, which eventually made it the most sophisticated in Central America.[112]

In 1970, Colonel Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio was elected president. By 1972, members of the guerrilla movement entered the country from Mexico and settled in the Western Highlands. In the disputed election of 1974, General Kjell Laugerud García defeated General Efraín Ríos 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, especially among the poor, whose housing was substandard. The government's failure to respond rapidly to the aftermath of the earthquake and to relieve homelessness, gave rise to widespread discontent, which contributed to growing popular unrest. In 1978, in a fraudulent election, General Romeo Lucas García assumed power.

The 1970s saw the rise of two new guerrilla organizations, the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP) and the Organization of the People in Arms (ORPA). They began guerrilla attacks that included urban and rural warfare, mainly against the military and some of the civilian supporters of the army. The army and the paramilitary forces responded with a brutal counter-insurgency campaign that resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths.[113] In 1979, the U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, who had until then been providing public support for the government forces, ordered a ban on all military aid to the Guatemalan Army because of its widespread and systematic abuse of human rights.[92] However, documents have since come to light that suggest that American aid continued throughout the Carter years, through clandestine channels.[114]

On January 31, 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 with armed forces that killed almost everyone inside due to a fire that consumed the building. The Guatemalan government claimed that the activists set the fire, thus immolating themselves.[115] However, the Spanish ambassador, who survived the fire, disputed this claim, saying that the Guatemalan police intentionally killed almost everyone inside and set the fire to erase traces of their acts. As a result, the government of Spain broke diplomatic relations with Guatemala.

This government was overthrown in 1982 and General Efraín Ríos Montt was named President of the military junta. He continued the bloody campaign of torture, forced disappearances, and "scorched earth" warfare. The country became a pariah state internationally, although the regime received considerable support from the Reagan Administration,[116] and Reagan himself described Ríos Montt as "a man of great personal integrity."[117] Ríos Montt was overthrown by General Óscar Humberto Mejía 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 Arévalo, 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 Menchú for her efforts to bring international attention to the government-sponsored, US backed genocide against the indigenous population.[118]

Since 1996[edit]

An 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, CIA trained paramilitaries were responsible for over 93 percent of the human rights violations during the war.[119]

Over the last few years, millions of documents related to crimes committed during the civil war were found abandoned by the former Guatemalan police. The families of over 45,000 Guatemalan activists are now reviewing the documents (which have been digitized) and this could lead to further legal actions. Paradoxically, the current democratically elected president, Otto Pérez 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.[120]

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. According to the report, Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica (REMHI), some 200,000 people died. More than one million people were forced to flee their homes and hundreds of villages were destroyed. The officially chartered Historical Clarification Commission attributed more than 93% of all documented violations of human rights to Guatemala's military government, and estimated that Maya Indians accounted for 83% of the victims. It concluded in 1999 that state actions constituted genocide.[121][122]

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.[119] 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.[123]

Since the peace accords Guatemala has witnessed both economic growth and successive democratic elections, most recently in 2011. In the 2011 elections, Otto Pérez Molina of the Patriotic Party won the presidency. He assumed office on January 14, 2012.

In January 2012, Efrain Rios Montt, the former dictator of Guatemala, appeared in a Guatemalan court on genocide charges. During the hearing, the government presented evidence of over 100 incidents involving at least 1,771 deaths, 1,445 rapes, and the displacement of nearly 30,000 Guatemalans during his 17-month rule from 1982–1983, according to the Washington Post, BBC, Siglo XXI (Spanish), and the LA Times. The prosecution wanted him incarcerated because of his potential for flight but the judge ruled that he could remain outside on bail. He was placed under house arrest and was watched by the Guatemalan National Civil Police (PNC). On May 10, 2013, Rios Montt was found guilty and sentenced to 80 years in prison. It marks the first time that a former head of state was found guilty for genocide by national court.[124] The conviction was later overturned, with Montt's trial resumed in January 2015.[125] In August 2015, a Guatemalan court ruled that Rios Montt can stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, but he cannot be sentenced due to his age and deteriorating health conditions.[126]

President Otto Pérez Molina government and "La Línea" case[edit]

Main article: Otto Pérez Molina

Retired general Otto Pérez Molina was elected president along with Roxana Baldetti, the first ever woman vice president in Guatemala; they began their term in office on 14 January 2012. But on 16 April 2015, UN anti-corruption agency CICIG issued a report that implicated several high-profile politicians including the vice president Roxana Baldetti private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón and the director of the Guatemalan Internal Revenue Service.[127] The revelations generated public outrage of such magnitude that had not been seen since the times of general Kjell Eugenio Laugerud Garcia presidency. The CICIG, working with the Guatemalan attorney general, revealed the scam known as "La Línea", following a year-long investigation that included wire taps; officials received bribes from importers in exchange for reducing tariffs the importers were required to pay,[127] a procedure that was rooted in a long tradition of customs corruption in the country, as successive military governments tried to raise funds for counterinsurgency operations during Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war.[128][129]

Citizens created an event on Facebook inviting all their friends to go to Guatemala City historic downtown to ask for vice president Baldetti's resignation with the hashtag #RenunciaYa (Resign Now). Within days, over 10,000 people said they would attend. Quickly the organisers realised that for the action to succeed, they had to guarantee that no one would be harmed, and the group set a series of rules making clear that no political party or group was behind that event, instructing protesters to follow the law, and urging people to bring water, food and sunblock but not cover their faces or wear party political colors.[130] Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Guatemala City, and due to the pressure, Baldetti resigned a few days later and was forced to remain in the country after the United States revoked her visa to visit that country. The Guatemalan government arraigned her, as there was enough suspicion to assume that she might be involved in "La Linea" scandal. This, and the prominent presence of US Ambassador Todd Robinson in the Guatemalan political scene since the scandal broke loose, brought up the suspicion in Guatemalans that the US government was behind the investigation because it needed an honest government in Guatemala to counter the presence of China and Russia in the region.[131]

Since then, the UN anti-corruption committee has reported on other cases and more than 20 government officials have stepped down, with some having been arrested. Of those, the largest are the ones that involve two former president private secretaries: Juan de Dios Rodríguez in the Guatemalan Social Service and Gustavo Martínez, who was involved in a bribery scandal in the coal power plant company, Jaguar Energy. Martínez was also president Perez Molina's son-in-law.[132]

Political opposition leaders have also been involved in CICIG investigations: several legislators and members of Libertad Democrática Renovada party (LIDER) were formally accused of bribery-related issues, prompting a large decline in the electorate trend for its presidential candidate, Manuel Baldizón, who before April was almost certain to become the next Guatemalan president in the 6 September 2015 presidential elections. Baldizón's popularity suffered a steep decline and he even went on to accuse CICIG leader, Iván Velásquez, of international obstruction with Guatemalan internal affairs before the Organization of American States.[133]

CICIG presented so many cases on Thursdays that Guatemalans started calling them "CICIG Thurdays". But it was a Friday press conference that brought up the crisis to its peak: on Friday 21 August 2015, CICIG and the Attorney General, Thelma Aldana, presented an investigation showing enough evidence to believe that both president Pérez Molina and former vice president Baldetti were the actual leaders of "La Línea". Baldetti was arrested that same day and an impeachment was requested for the president. As a result, several cabinet members resigned, and the clamor for the president's resignation grew to unprecedented levels after president Perez Molina defiantly assured the nation that he was not going to resign on a televised message broadcast on 23 August 2015.[134][135]

After a thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand the increasingly isolated president’s resignation, Guatemala’s Congress named a commission of five legislators to consider whether to remove the president’s immunity from prosecution. The request was approved by the supreme court. A major day of action kicked off early on Thursday August 27, with marches and roadblocks across the country. Urban groups, which have spearheaded regular protests since the scandal broke in April, on Thursday 27th sought to unite with rural and indigenous organizations who have orchestrated the road blocks.

This strike in Guatemala City was filled to bursting with a diverse and peaceful crowd ranging from the indigenous poor to the well-healed, and included many students from public and private universities. Hundreds of schools and businesses closed in support of the protests. The organization grouping Guatemala’s most powerful business leaders issued a statement demanding that Pérez Molina step down, and urged Congress to withdraw his immunity from prosecution.

The attorney general’s office released its own statement calling on the president to resign, "to prevent ungovernability that could destabilize the nation." As pressure mounted, the president’s former ministers of defence and the interior, who were named in the corruption investigation and resigned from cabinet recently, left the country.[136] Pérez Molina, meanwhile, has been losing support by the day. The powerful private sector -until then a loyal supporter of Pérez Molina, their former defender in the Army during the Guatemalan Civil War- called for his resignation; however, he also has managed to get support from entrepreneurs that are not affiliated to the private sector chambers: Mario López Estrada -grand child of former dictador Manuel Estrada Cabrera and the billionaire owner of cellular phone companies- had some of his executives assume the cabinet positions that had been vacated days before.[137]

The Guatemalan radio station Emisoras Unidas reported having a text message exchange with Perez Molina, who when asked about whether he planned to resign, wrote: "I will face whatever is necessary to face, and what the law requires." Some protesters have demanded the general election be postponed, both because of the crisis and because it is plagued with accusations of irregularities. Others warn that suspending the vote could lead to an institutional vacuum.[138] However, on 2 September 2015 Pérez Molina resigned from office after Congress impeached him the day before,[139] and on 3 September 2015 he was summoned to the Justice Department to face his first legal audience for La Linea corruption case.[140][141]


A map of Guatemala.
The highlands of Quetzaltenango.

Guatemala is mountainous with small desert and sand dune patches, hilly valleys, except for the south coastal area and the vast northern lowlands of Petén department. Two mountain chains enter Guatemala from west to east, dividing Guatemala into three major regions: the highlands, where the mountains are located; the Pacific coast, south of the mountains and the Petén region, north of the mountains.

All major cities are located in the highlands and Pacific coast regions; by comparison, Petén 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. Volcán Tajumulco, at 4,220 m, is the highest point in the Central American countries.

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 Sarstún that forms the boundary with Belize, and the Usumacinta River, which forms the boundary between Petén and Chiapas, Mexico.

Natural disasters[edit]

A town along the Pan-American Highway within a volcanic crater.

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.

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 Tacaná. 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.


Guatemala 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.[142] 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 8,681 species of vascular plants, of which 13.5% are endemic. 5.4% of Guatemala is protected under IUCN categories I-V.[citation needed]

In the department of Petén lies the Maya Biosphere Reserve of 2,112,940 ha,[143] making it the second largest forest in Central America after Bosawas.


Political system[edit]

Main article: Politics of Guatemala

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.

On 2 September 2015, Otto Pérez Molina resigned as President of Guatemala due to a corruption scandal and was replaced by Alejandro Maldonado until January 2016.[144] Congress appointed former Universidad de San Carlos President Alfonso Fuentes Soria as the new vice president in substitution of Maldonado.[3]

Foreign relations[edit]

Further information: Foreign relations of Guatemala

Guatemala has long claimed all or part of the territory of neighboring Belize, currently an independent Commonwealth realm that recognises Queen Elizabeth II as its Head of State. Due to this territorial dispute, Guatemala did not recognize Belize's independence until 1990, but the dispute is not resolved. Negotiations are currently under way under the auspices of the Organization of American States and the Commonwealth of Nations to conclude it.[145][146]


Further information: Military of Guatemala

Guatemala has a modest military, sized between 15,000 and 20,000 personnel.[147]

Administrative divisions[edit]

Guatemala is divided into 22 departments (departamentos) and sub-divided into about 335 municipalities (municipios).

Departments of Guatemala[148]
Number Flag Name Map Municipalities
1 Coat of arms of Alta Verapaz.png Alta Verapaz Altaverapazmap.jpg
2 Coat of arms of Baja Verapaz.gif Baja Verapaz Izabal mapa.png
3 Coat of arms of Chimaltenango Department.png Chimaltenango Chimaltenango map.png
4 Coat of arms of Chiquimula.png Chiquimula
5 Petén Department Coat of Arms.svg El Petén Peten mapa.png
6 Bandera PRO.JPG El Progreso Elprogresomap.jpg
7 ..El Quiché Flag(GUATEMALA).png El Quiché Mapaquiche2015.jpg
8 ..Escuintla Flag(GUATEMALA).png Escuintla Escuintla departamento.png
9 Coat of arms of Guatemala Department.png Guatemala Guatemala departamento.png
10 Huehuetenango Flag with Coat.png Huehuetenango
11 ..Izabal Flag(GUATEMALA).png Izabal Izabal mapa.png
12 Flag of Jalapa Department.gif Jalapa
13 Vlagjutiapa.gif Jutiapa
14 Vlagquetzaltenango.gif Quetzaltenango Quetzaltenango mapa.png
15 Vlagretalhuleu.gif Retalhuleu
16 Bandera de Sacatepéquez.svg Sacatepéquez Sacatepequezmap.png
17 Vlagsanmarcos.gif San Marcos San marcos departamento.png
18 Coat of arms of Santa Rosa.png Santa Rosa
19 Vlagsolola.gif Sololá
20 ..Suchitepéquez Flag(GUATEMALA).png Suchitepéquez
20 Vlagtotonicapan.gif Totonicapán
20 ..Zacapa Flag(GUATEMALA).png Zacapa


Main article: Economy of Guatemala
A proportional representation of Guatemala's exports.
Fields in Quetzaltenango.
An indoor market in the regional city of Zunil.
A ship picking up Guatemalan bananas for export.

Guatemala is the largest economy in Central America, with a GDP (PPP) per capita of US$5,200. Guatemala faces many social problems and is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. The distribution of income is 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 54.0% of the population of Guatemala to be living in poverty.[150][151]

In 2010, the Guatemalan economy grew by 3%, recovering gradually from the 2009 crisis, as a result of the falling demands from the United States and others Central American markets and the slowdown in foreign investment in the middle of the global recession.[152]

Remittances from Guatemalans living in United States now constitutes the largest single source of foreign income (two thirds of exports and one tenth of GDP).[150]

Some of Guatemala's main exports are fruits, vegetables, flowers, handicrafts, cloths and others. In the face of a rising demand for biofuels, the country is growing and exporting an increasing amount of raw materials for biofuel production, especially sugar cane and palm oil. Critics say that this development leads to higher prices of staple foods like corn, a major ingredient in the Guatemalan diet. As a consequence of the subsidization of US American corn, Guatemala imports nearly half of its corn from the United States that is using 40 percent of its crop harvest for biofuel production.[153] The government is considering ways to legalize poppy and marijuana production, hoping to tax production and use tax revenues to fund drug prevention programs and other social projects.[154]

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.[155] 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 thanks to the new foreign investment.

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.[156] Guatemala also has free trade agreements with Taiwan and Colombia.


Tourism has become one of the main drivers of the economy, with tourism worth $1.8 billion to the economy in 2008. Guatemala received about two million tourists annually. In recent years an increased number of cruise ships have visited Guatemalan seaports, leading to more tourists visiting the country.

In its territory there are fascinating Mayan archaeological sites (Tikal in the Peten, Quiriguá in Izabal, Iximche in Tecpan Chimaltenango and Guatemala City). As natural beauty destinations is Lake Atitlan and Semuc Champey. As historical tourism is the colonial city of Antigua Guatemala, which is recognized by UNESCO Cultural Heritage.

There is a strong interest of the international community for archaeological sites like the city of Tikal was built and inhabited in a period where the culture had its most literal and artistic expression, was ruled by a dynasty of 16 kings, the Maya of Tikal built many temples, a ball park, altars and steles in high and low relief.

Guatemala is very popular for its archaeological sites, pre-Hispanic cities as well as tourist-religious centers like the Basilica of Esquipulas in the city of Esquipulas and the beautiful beaches on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Guatemala. Other tourist destinations are the national parks and other protected areas such as the Maya Biosphere Reserve.



Guatemala's population (1950-2010).[157]

Guatemala has a population of 15,824,463 (2014 est). With only 885,000 in 1900, this constitutes the fastest population growth in the Western Hemisphere during 20th century.[158]

Guatemala is heavily centralized: transportation, communications, business, politics, and the most relevant urban activity takes place in the capital of Guatemala City, which numbers around 2 million inhabitants within the city limits and more than 5 million in the metropolitan, constituting over a third of the country's population.[150]

The estimated median age in Guatemala is 20 years old, 19.4 for males and 20.7 years for females.[150] Guatemala is demographically one of the youngest countries in the Western Hemisphere, comparable to most of central Africa and Iraq. The proportion of the population below the age of 15 in 2010 was 41.5%, 54.1% were aged between 15 and 65 years of age, and 4.4% were aged 65 years or older.[157]

Indigenous Guatemalan women in Antigua Guatemala.

A significant number of Guatemalans live outside of their country. The majority of the Guatemalan diaspora is located in the United States of America, with estimates ranging from 480,665[159] to 1,489,426.[160] The difficulty in getting accurate counts for Guatemalans abroad is because many of them are refugee claimants awaiting determination of their status.[161] Emigration to the United States of America has led to the growth of Guatemalan communities in California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Rhode Island and elsewhere since the 1970s.[162]

Below are estimates of the number of Guatemalans living abroad for certain countries:

Country Count Year
United States USA 480,665[159] – 1,489,426[160] 2000-2006
Mexico Mexico 23,529[160] – 190,000 2006-2010
Canada Canada 14,253[160] – 34,665[163] 2006-2010
Belize Belize 10,693[160] 2006
Germany Germany 5,989[160] 2006
Honduras Honduras 5,172[160] 2006
El Salvador El Salvador 4,209[160] 2006
Spain Spain 2,491[160] – 5,000[164] 2006-2010
France France 1,088[165] 2013

Ethnic groups[edit]

Guatemala is a highly diverse country, populated by a variety of ethnic, cultural, racial, and linguistic groups. According to the 2010 Census conducted by the National Institute of Statistics (INE), about 41.5 percent of the population is Mestizo (also known as Ladino), reflecting mixed indigenous and European heritage. A similar proportion of Guatemalans (41 percent) are of full Amerindian ancestry, which is among the largest percentage of any country in the Western Hemisphere. Most indigenous Guatemalans are of the Maya people, namely K'iche' (11.0 percent of the total population), Q'eqchi (8.3 percent), Kaqchikel (7.8 percent), Mam (5.2 percent), and "other Mayan" (7.6 percent). Less than one percent are indigenous non-Mayan.[166]

Whites of European descent (also called Criollo) represent the 18.5 percent of the population. The majority are descendants of German and Spanish settlers, followed by other ancestry groups such as French, Italian, English, Norwegian, Russian, and Irish.

A language map of Guatemala. The "Castilian" areas represent Spanish.

There are smaller communities present, including about 110,000 Salvadorans. The Garífuna, descended primarily from Black Africans who lived and intermarried with indigenous peoples from St. Vincent, live mainly in Livingston and Puerto Barrios. Afro-Guatemalans and mulattos descended primarily from banana plantation workers. There are also Asians, mostly of Chinese descent but also include Arabs of Lebanese and Syrian descent. There is also a growing Korean community in Guatemala City and in nearby Mixco, currently numbering about 50,000.[167] Guatemala's German population is credited with bringing the tradition of a Christmas tree to the country.[168]


Guatemala's sole official language is Spanish, spoken by 93 percent of the population as either the first or second language.

Twenty-one Mayan languages are spoken, especially in rural areas, as well as two non-Mayan Amerindian languages: Xinca, which is indigenous to the country, and Garifuna, an Arawakan language spoken on the Caribbean coast. According to the Language Law of 2003, these languages are unrecognized as National Languages.[169]

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, in addition to Spanish.[citation needed]

There are also significant number of German, Chinese, French and English language speakers.

Largest cities[edit]


Main article: Religion in Guatemala
The Catedral Metropolitana, Guatemala City.

Christianity continues to remain strong and vital for the life of Guatemalan society, but its composition has changed over generations of social and political unrest. Roman Catholicism, introduced by the Spanish during the colonial era, remains the dominant sect, accounting for 48.4% of the population as of 2007. Protestants make up 33.7% of the population, followed by 1.6% in other religions (such as Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism), and 16.1% claiming no religious affiliation. A more recent 2012 survey reveals Catholics at 47%, Protestants at 39%, other religions at 2.6%, and the non-religious at 11.6%.

From 1970 to 1986, Guatemala was a country of constant evangelical growth, however some surveys of CID-Gallup show fluctuations in later years, between 1990 and 2001 the evangelical population step of 26.4% to 25.3%, meaning that the size of the Protestant population did not change anything in more than a decade. And between 1998 and 2008 a series of fluctuations of 25% to 35%, Protestants increased from 29.4% to 31.7%, an increase of only 2%. These phenomena are explained that between 1986 and 1991 there was a fall of Protestantism in favor of other non-Christian religions and non-believers, who also flucturaron in the statistics.

Over the past two decades, particularly since the end of the civil war, Guatemala has seen heightened missionary activity. Protestant denominations have grown markedly in recent decades, chiefly Evangelical and Pentecostal varieties; growth is particularly strong among the ethnic Mayan population, with the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala maintaining 11 indigenous-language Presbyteries. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has grown from 40,000 members in 1984 to 164,000 in 1998, and continues to expand.[170][171]

The growth of Eastern Orthodoxy in Guatemala has been especially strong, with hundreds of thousands of converts in the last five years,[172][173][174] giving the country the highest proportion of Orthodox adherents in the Western Hemisphere.

Traditional Maya religion persists through the process of inculturation, in which certain practices are incorporated into Catholic ceremonies and worship when they are sympathetic to the meaning of Catholic belief.[175][176] Indigenous religious practices are 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 to facilitate traditional ceremonies.

A church in San Andrés Xecul.

Between 1990 and 2012, the PROLADES Corporation make a study of public opinion polls in Guatemala (including the Census, CID-Gallup poll, Instituto Nacional de Estadística, etc.), and also others investigations in past years.[177] [178]Its data reveal a relative decline in Catholicism and significant growth in Protestantism, irreligion, and minority faiths (including indigenous traditions).

Religious identity in Guatemala (1980-2012)
Date Roman Catholic Protestant No religion Others
January 1980 80% 19.1% N/A N/A
1982 75% 22.3% 1.6% 1.1%
1986 66% 30% 3% 1%
July 1990 60.4% 26.4% 11.1% 2.1%
March 1991 64% 21% 12% 3%
July 1995 63% 23.2% 10.5% 2.3%
1996 63% 25% 10% 2%
October 1997 70% 20% 7% 3%
December 1998 52.5% 29.5% 15.6% 2.4%
2001 58% 25.2% 14.3% 2.5%
2006 57.3% 30.7% 9.9% 2.1%
June 2007 48.4% 33.7% 16.1% 1.6%
September 2008 47.6% 31.7% 18.3% 2.4%
September 2010 47.7% 33.7% 15.2% 3.4%
2010 45% 29.7% 24.2% 1.1%
September 2012 47% 39% 11.6% 2.4%


During the colonial era Guatemala received immigrants (settlers) only from Spain. Between the 19th and 20th centuries, Guatemala counted whit waves of immigration from Europe in the mid 19th century and early 20th century.[clarification needed] Primarily from Germany, these immigrants installed coffee and cardamom fincas in Alta Verapaz, Zacapa, Quetzaltenango, Baja Verapaz and Izabal. To a lesser extent people also arrived from Spain, France, Belgium, England, Italy, Sweden, etc.

Many European immigrants to Guatemala were politicians, refugees and entrepreneurs as well as families looking to settle. Up to 1950 Guatemala was the Central American country that received the most immigrants, behind Costa Rica , and large numbers of immigrants are still received today.[clarification needed]

From the 1890s there have been small communities of Asians (in particular from Korea, China, Japan, Singapore and the Philippines) but in recent decades this has been growing. Also beginning with the First World War, the immigrant population is being strengthened by Jewish and Pakistani immigration.

During the second half of the twentieth century, Latin American immigration grew strong in Guatemala, particularly from other Central American countries, Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, etc. Although the majority of them resided only temporarily to go to their final destination, which was the United States.

Place Country Count year
1  El Salvador 12,484[179] – 50,000[180] 2002-2013
2  Mexico 11,484[179] 2002
3  Germany 10,000[181] 2010
4  Spain 9,311[182] 2014
5  Nicaragua 5,604[179] 2002
6  Honduras 5,491[179] 2002
7  United States 5,417[179] 2002
8  South Korea 5,000[183] 2013
9  Italy 1,800[184] 2007
10  Belize 950[179] 2002
11  Costa Rica 906[185] 2012
12  Israel 900[186] 2012
13  France 824[187] 2014
14  Colombia 757[179] 2002
15  Chile 273[188] 2005
Other Countries 9.489[179] 2002

* Including immigrants from Taiwan, China, Japan, Palestine, Iraq, Cuba, Venezuela, Canada, Switzerland, Russia, United Kingdom, Belgium, Sweden, among other countries.


Guatemala is among the worst performers in terms of health outcomes in Latin America with some of the highest infant mortality rates, and one of the lowest life expectancies at birth in the region.[189] Guatemala has about 16,000 doctors for its 16 million people and the WHO recommends about double that ratio.[190] Since the end of the Guatemalan Civil War in 1997 the Ministry of Health has extended healthcare access to 54% of the rural population.[191]

Healthcare has received different levels of support from different political administrations who disagree on how best to manage distribution of services - via a private or a public entity - and the scale of financing that should be made available.[191] As of 2013 the Ministry of Health lacked the financial means to monitor or evaluate its programs.[191]

Total health care spending, both public and private, has remained constant at between 6.4–7.3% of GDP.[192][193] Per-capita average spending was $368 a year in 2012.[193] Guatemalan patients choose between indigenous treatments or Western medicine when they engage with the health system.[194]


74.5% of the population aged 15 and over is literate, the lowest literacy rate in Central America. Although it has the lowest literacy rate, Guatemala has a plan to increase literacy over the next 20 years.[195]

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. Guatemala has one public university (USAC or Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala), and fourteen private ones (see List of universities in Guatemala). USAC was the first university in Guatemala and one of the first Universities of America.

Organizations such as Child Aid and Pueblo a Pueblo, which train teachers in villages throughout the Central Highlands region, are working to improve educational outcomes for children. Lack of training for rural teachers is one of the key contributors to Guatemala's low literacy rates.


Main article: Culture of Guatemala
A Guatemalan woman selling souvenirs.

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 Marroquín campus. Most of the 329 municipalities in the country has a small museum.


Guatemala has produced many indigenous artists who follow centuries-old Pre-Columbian traditions. 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 primitivist or naive aesthetic with European, North American, and other traditions.

The Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas "Rafael Rodríguez Padilla" is Guatemala'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 Vásquez, Luis Rolando Ixquiac Xicara, Carlos Mérida,[196] Aníbal López, Roberto González Goyri, and Elmar René Rojas.[197]


Further information: Guatemalan literature

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

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


Further information: Media of Guatemala

There are seven national newspapers in TV, some of them being Noti7, Telecentro Trece and Noticiero Guatevision. The Guatemala Times is a digital English news magazine.[198]


Further information: Music of Guatemala

Guatemalan music comprises a number of styles and expressions. Guatemalan social change has been empowered by music scenes such as Nueva cancion, which blends together histories, present day issues, and the 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 represented, 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.


Main article: Guatemalan cuisine
Black and red tamales in Guatemala.

Many traditional foods in Guatemalan cuisine are based on Maya cuisine and prominently feature corn, chilies and beans as key ingredients. There are also foods that are commonly eaten on certain days of the week. For example, it is a popular custom to eat paches (a kind of tamale made from potatoes) on Thursday. Certain dishes are also associated with special occasions, such as fiambre for All Saints Day on November 1, tamales and ponche (a hot drink, with actual pieces of fruit in it), which are both very common around Christmas.

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]