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República de Guatemala
Flag of Guatemala Guatemala Coat of Arms
( In Detail) ( In Detail)
National motto: " El Pais De La Eterna Primavera" "The Country of The Eternal Spring"
Location of Guatemala
Official language Spanish (Official)
(23 indigenous languages have been officially recognised, but all transactions are in Spanish)
Capital Guatemala City
President Óscar Berger
- Total
- % water
Ranked 103rd
108,890 km²
- Total (2004)
- Density
Ranked 62nd
HDI (2003) 0.663 ( 117th) – medium
Independence from Spain September 15, 1821
Currency Quetzal
Time zone UTC-6
National anthem Guatemala Feliz
Internet TLD .gt
Calling Code 502
The Republic of Guatemala ( Spanish: República de Guatemala, IPA: [re'puβlika ðe gwate'mala]) is a country in Central America, in the south of the continent of North America, situated between 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.

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History - Contents

From the 3rd century BC to the 11th century AD, the lowlands area of the Petén and Izabal regions of Guatemala were several indigenous states on the central highlands. Alta Verapaz is known for the fact that, after failing to conquer it by the sword the Spanish entered by the Church, with missionaries who defended the Indians from the cruel treatments of the Spanish army. Many Pre-Columbian Mayan books were lost due to the policy of the Spaniards during the colonial period of burning them. However, several survive, including: The " Popol Vuh", "Anales de los Kakchiqueles", and "Chilam Balam", books that were discovered and preserved by Spanish missionary friars. The name "Goathemala" was given by the Spanish conquistadores to this land, which derives from indigenous words that mean "Land of many trees".During the Spanish colonial period, Guatemala was a Captaincy General (Capitanía General de Goathemala) of Spain. It extended from the Soconusco region - located in what is now the southern part of Mexico (states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo, and Yucatan) - to Costa Rica. From a political point of view, this region was not as rich in mineral resources (gold and silver) as Mexico and Peru were. Therefore, it did not have the same importance as those two Viceroyalties had. Its main products were sugarcane, cocoa, and añil (dye obtained from indigo plant to dye textiles).Tired of being forced to trade exclusively with Spain, the Guatemalan elite declared independence of Spain in September 15, 1821. At that time, the Guatemalan Republic included the Soconusco region, as well as what are now the countries of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Such a big country had a mere 1.5 million habitants, mostly concentrated on the urban centers of the young Republic.However, in 1822, the province of El Salvador convinced the other Guatemalan provinces to join the Mexican Empire, an idea created by Agustin Iturbide. This Empire was short-lived, however, and a year later Guatemala separated itself from Mexico after Iturbide was forced to abdicate and his empire collapsed. As a result of this annexation, Guatemala lost the Soconusco region, which is now part of Mexico. After this, the Guatemalan provinces formed the United Provinces of Central America, also referred to as the Central American Federation (Federacion de Estados Centroamericanos). The Capital City remained Guatemala City, which to this day continues to be the biggest and most modern urban center in the entire Central American region.A politically unstable period followed, aggravated by the collapse of the world market for añil (indigo), main export product from the region to Europe. This resulted in each province separating itself from the Federation, beginning with the province of Costa Rica. This confederation fell apart in 1838 to 1840, and Guatemala became an independent nation.Guatemala has long claimed all or part of the territory of neighboring Belize, which used to be part of the Guatemalan Republic since Colonial times. However, Great Britain occupied this territory, and Belize remains English-speaking to this day. While Guatemala recognized Belize's independence in 1991, the territorial dispute between them has not yet been finalized. Negotiations are currently underway under the auspices of the Organization of American States to conclude the dispute. For details, see: [1], and the OAS page [2].Guatemalan history has been marked by the scenario of the Cold War between the USA and the USSR. The Central Intelligence Agency, supported by a small group of Guatemalan citizens, orchestrated the overthrow of the democratic socialist freely-elected Guatemalan government in 1954. This was known as Operation PBSUCCESS and led to over thirty years of unrest in the nation in which over 100,000 Guatemalans were killed, mostly indigenous Mayan Indians, more than 450 Mayan villages were destroyed, and over one million people became refugees. This is alleged to be one of the worst ethnic cleansings in modern times. Contributing reasons include US support of every successive, non-democratic government in Guatemala. From the 1950s until the 1990s, the U.S. directly supported Guatemala's army by supplying it with combatant training, weaponry, and money. The U.S. sent the Green Berets to Guatemala to transform its Army into a "modern counter-insurgency force," making their army the most powerful and sophisticated in Central America.Further involvement of the CIA in Guatemala included the training of 5,000 anti- Castro Cubans for what would become the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. 1996 marked the end of a bloody 36-year war with the guerrilla Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG). The signing of the peace treaty was orchestrated by the government of democratically elected President Alvaro Arzu. Since then, the country has enjoyed successive democractic elections, most recently in 2003. However, corruption is still rampant throughout all levels of government. A huge cache of National Police files discovered in December of 2005 revealed methods of public security officials to quell unrest of citizens during the civil war [3].Militarily, the Guatemalan army defeated the URNG. However, due to the brutal methods of the military, the country had become a pariah state internationally. In 1992, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Rigoberta Menchu, an indigenous human rights activist, for her efforts to bring international attention to the government sponsored genocide against the indigenous population.

Politics - Contents

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.

Departments - Contents

The departments of Guatemala
The departments of Guatemala
Guatemala is divided into 22 departments (departamentos):
  1. Alta Verapaz
  2. Baja Verapaz
  3. Chimaltenango
  4. Chiquimula
  5. El Petén
  6. El Progreso
  7. El Quiché
  8. Escuintla
  9. Guatemala
  10. Huehuetenango
  11. Izabal
  12. Jalapa
  13. Jutiapa
  14. Quetzaltenango
  15. Retalhuleu
  16. Sacatepéquez
  17. San Marcos
  18. Santa Rosa
  19. Sololá
  20. Suchitepequez
  21. Totonicapán
  22. Zacapa

Geography - Contents

Map of Guatemala
Map of Guatemala
Except for the south coastal area, and the vast lowlands of the Peten in the north, Guatemala is mountainous, with a hot tropical climate – more temperate in the highlands, and drier in the easternmost departments. All 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 largest lake Lago de Izabal is situated close to the Caribbean coast. Guatemala's location on the Atlantic Ocean has left it a target for hurricanes, including Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and Hurricane Stan in 2005, in which upwards of 1,500 died.

Economy - Contents

The agricultural sector accounts for one quarter 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.In 2005, after massive street protests, Guatemala's congress ratified the Dominican Republic - Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) between several Central American nations and the U.S.. However, owing to the extensive damage and economic impacts caused by Hurricane Stan in October 2005, the government is in period of stand-by analyis and acceptance as it contemplates how it will be possible to implement the mechanisms and stipulations of the DR-CAFTA by the due starting date in February of 2006.

Demographics - Contents

According to the CIA World Fact Book, Mestizos (mixed Amerindian-Spanish; locally called Ladino) and Europeans (primarily of Spanish, German, English, Italian, and Scandinavian descent) comprise 60% of the population and Amerindians comprise approximately 40% of the population ( K'iche (Quiché) 9.1%, Kaqchikel 8.4%, Mam 7.9%, Q'eqchi 6.3%, other Mayan 8.6%, indigenous non-Mayan 0.2%, other 0.1%).CIA World Fact Book - most of Guatemala's population is rural, urbanization is accelerating. Guatemala City (approx. 3 million) is expanding at an amazing rate, and Quetzaltenango (approx. 150 thousand) is growing rapidly as well. Generally impoverished farmers move to the outskirts of the city temporarily or permanently seeking higher wages. These barrios are virtually lawless. In addition, since 2001 the US has been deporting at a high rate. Many Guatemalans return from Southern California with advanced skills in organized crime. Crime is epidemic in Guatemala City and is a growing concern in Xela and other smaller cities.Smaller towns which are blessed with steady tourism, such as the towns around Lago Atitlan, are faring better. There is a measure of increasing prosperity and decreasing interference from the army. It remains to be seen how well these places can adapt to the changing conditions, particularly the influx of foreigners and their vices.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 33% and 1% of the population, respectively.Although the official language is Spanish, it is not universally understood among the indigenous population; 23 distinct Mayan 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).

Religion - Contents

Roman Catholicism was by far the strongest religion during the colonisation times. However, Protestant denominations have increased markedly, especially under the brutal dictatorship of evangelical pastor General Efrain Rios Montt. Around 1 in 3 Guatemalans are Protestant chiefly Evangelical, and Pentecostal. The remainder are Roman Catholic.Practice of traditional Mayan religions are increasing as a result of the cultural protections established in the peace accords. The Jewish population hovers around the 1,000 member mark.The current Roman-Catholic leader of Guatemala is Mons. Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri.

Culture - Contents

Influences of the Maya and the Spanish colonists are strong throughout Guatemala. In the cities, European influence (especially German) is well evidenced. Much of the clothing and food is still made in the traditional Mayan way in small villages in the highlands, and many Mayan ruins can be found. Along the small Caribbean coast, there are influences of African culture in the religious ceremonial songs, dances and food.
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