- For the city, see Guatemala City.
The Republic of Guatemala is a country in Central America, in the south of the continent of North America, bordering both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, Belize to the northeast, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast.
Main article: History of Guatemala
From the 4th to the 11th century, the lowlands area of the Peten region of Guatemala was the heart of the flourishing Maya civilization.
After the collapse of the lowland states, the Maya states of the central highlands continued until conquered by the Spanish, who first arrived in 1523 and colonised the area. Alta Verapaz is known for the fact that after failing to conquer it by the sword the Spanish entered by the cross, with missionaries. Almost all Pre-Columbian Maya books were lost due to the policy of Spaniards during the colonial period of burning them. The Popol Vuh, a Pre-Columbian Maya creation story, is one that survived.
Guatemala became independent of Spain in 1821, first as a part of the United Provinces of Central America. This confederation fell apart in a war from 1838 to 1840, and Guatemala became an independent nation.
Guatemalan history has since been marked by revolutions, coups, non-democratic governments, and various interventions by the United States. The Central Intelligence Agency with virtually no support of Guatemalan society, orchestrated the overthrow of the democratic Guatemalan government in 1954, known as Operation PBSUCCESS. This led to a period of unrest in the nation in which over 100,000 Guatemalans were killed. A 36-year war between the guerrilla and the Guatemalan Government ended in 1996 with the signing of a peace treaty. Guatemalan political violence ended in 1983, leading to successive successful democratic elections from 1985 to date. The most recent democratic election was in 2003. Guatemala still has to build an operative democracy based on the rule of law, equality before the law and respect of individual rights.
Main article: Politics of Guatemala
Guatemala's unicameral parliament, the Congreso de la República (Congress of the Republic) with 158 seats, is elected every four years, concurrently with the presidential elections. The President of Guatemala acts as the head of state and head of government. In his executive tasks, he is assisted by a cabinet of ministers, which he appoints.
See also: Guatemala election, 2003
Guatemala is divided into 22 departments (departamentos):
Map of Guatemala
Main article: Geography of Guatemala
Except for the coastal areas, Guatemala is mostly mountainous, with a hot tropical climate - more temperate in the highlands. Most of the major cities are situated in the southern half of the country; the major cities are the capital Guatemala City, Quetzaltenango and Escuintla. The large lake Lago de Izabal is situated close to the Caribbean coast.
Main article: Economy of Guatemala
The agricultural sector accounts for one-fourth of GDP, two-thirds of exports, and half of the labor force. Coffee, sugar, and bananas are the main products. Manufacturing and construction account for one-fifth of GDP.
The signing of the peace accords in December 1996, which ended 36 years of civil war, removed a major obstacle to foreign investment. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch caused relatively little damage to Guatemala compared to its neighbors.
Remaining challenges include beefing up government revenues, negotiating further assistance from international donors, and increasing the efficiency and openness of both government and private financial operations. Growth should remain at the same level in 2000 provided world agricultural prices do not plunge.
Main article: Demographics of Guatemala
Ladinos (Mestizos and westernized Amerindians) comprise approximately 55% of all Guatemalans. The unassimilated Amerindians descendants of indigenous Maya people constitute 43% of the population. Whites and others account for the remaining 2%. African descendants also exist, especially along the Caribbean coast, most notably the Garifuna.
Though most of Guatemala's population is rural, urbanization is accelerating.
The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism, into which many indigenous Guatemalans have incorporated traditional forms of worship. Protestantism and traditional Maya religions are practiced by an estimated 40% and 1% of the population, respectively.
Though the official language is Spanish, it is not universally understood among the indigenous population; various Maya languages are still spoken, especially in rural areas.
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).
Main article: Culture of Guatemala
Main influences of the Maya and Spanish colonists can still be seen throughout Guatemala. Much of the clothing and food is still made in the traditional Maya way, and many Maya ruins can be found. Along the Caribbean coast, influences of the African culture can be seen, heard and tasted in the religious ceremonial songs, the dances and food.
In Mormon culture, Guatemala is the most popular traditional location of the Book of Mormon land of Lehi-Nephi, though this is not official doctrine of the LDS Church. The popular LDS tourism service, Israel Revealed, has package tours that include various spots in Guatemala.
See also: Music of Guatemala
Last updated: 10-19-2005 21:54:54