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República de Guatemala
Republic of Guatemala
Flag of Guatemala Coat of arms of Guatemala
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: El País de la Eterna Primavera
(English: "The Land of Eternal Spring") [citation needed]
Anthem: Himno Nacional de Guatemala
Location of Guatemala
(and largest city)
Guatemala City
14°38′N 90°30′W
Official languages Spanish
Government Presidential republic
 - President Óscar Berger
Independence From Spain 
 - Date September 15, 1821 
 - Total 108,890 km² (106th)
42,042 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 0.4
 - July 2005 estimate 12,800,000 (70th)
 - Density 134.6/km² (85th)
348.6/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $62.78 billion (71st)
 - Per capita $4,155 (116th)
HDI  (2004) 0.673 (medium) (117th)
Currency Quetzal (GTQ)
Time zone (UTC-6)
Internet TLD .gt
Calling code +502

Guatemala, officially the Republic of Guatemala (Spanish: República de Guatemala, IPA: [re'puβlika ðe ɰwate'mala]), is a country in Central America, in the south part of North America, bordering Mexico to the northwest, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize and the Caribbean Sea to the northeast, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast.


Main article: History of Guatemala
  "El Tigre Complex",in El Mirador
"El Tigre Complex",in El Mirador

The first proof of human settlers in Guatemala goes back to 10,000 BC. Although there is some evidence not yet clearly proved that put this date at 18,000 BC, some obsidian arrow heads have been found in different parts of Guatemala such as Piedra Parada near Guatemala city, Chivacabé in Huehuetenango, Chajbal in El Quiché, Nahualá in Sololá, and other regions. There is archeological proof that early Guatemalan settlers were hunters and gatherers -- pollen samples from Petén and the Pacific coast indicate that maize crops were developed around 3500 BC. Archaic sites have been documented in Quiché in the Highlands and Sipacate, Escuintla on the central pacific coast line (6500 BC)

By 2500.BC, small settlements were developing in Guatemala’s Pacific Lowlands, including such places as Tilapa, La Blanca,Ocós, El Mesak, Ujuxte, and others, where the oldest ceramic pottery from Guatemala have been found. From 2000 BC heavy concentration of pottery in the Pacific Coast Line has been documented. Recent excavations suggest that the Highlands were a geographic and temporal bridge between Early Preclassic villages of the Pacific coast and later Petén lowlands cities.

Recent excavations in the Antigua Valley, at Urías and Rucal, have yielded stratified materials for the Early and Middle Preclassic, the first pottery in the Antigua Valley is very well made and not simply a copy of either coastal or Piedmont types. Their paste analyses, however, indicate that the vessels were made on clays from different environmental zones, suggesting to them that these were people from the Pacific coast who expanded into the Antigua Guatemala Valley. There are at least 5000 archaeological sites in Guatemala, 3000 of them in Petén alone.

In Monte Alto near La Democracia, Escuintla some giant stone heads and Potbellies or Barrigones have been found, dated at 1800 BC, the so named Monte Alto Culture, they are classified as Pre-Olmec, letting the door open to the opinion of some scholars, that the Olmec Culture was born in that area of the Pacific Lowlands, although the size is the only relation with the posterior dated Olmec heads, it is more accurate to say that the Monte Alto Culture was the first Complex Culture of Mesoamérica and the Predecessors of all the other cultures. In Guatemala, there are some sites with unmistaken Olmec style, such as Chocolá in Suchitepéquez, La Corona, in Escuintla, and Tak'alik A´baj, in Retalhuleu, that is the only ancient City in America with Olmec and Mayan features. The renown Archeologist Dr. Richard Hansen, the director of the archaeological project of The Mirador Basin is sure that the Maya at Mirador Basin developed the first True political state in America, (Tha Kan Kingdom), around 1500 BC, although Maize (corn) pollen samples have been documented in lakes in the area dated in 2400 BC, not as thought before that the Olmec was the mother culture in Mesoamerica, he thinks, due to recent finding at Mirador Basin, Northern Petén, Guatemala, that the Olmec and Mayas developed its cultures, separately, and merged in some places like Tak'alik Abaj on the Pacific Low Lands; there is no evidence yet to link the Pre Classic Maya from Petén and those from the Pacific coast, but undoubtedly, they had cultural and economical links.

 Nakbé, Mid Preclassic Palace remains,  The Mirador Basin
Nakbé, Mid Preclassic Palace remains, The Mirador Basin

Northern Guatemala has particularly high densities of Late Pre-classic sites, including Naachtun, Xulnal, El Mirador, Porvenir, Pacaya, La Muralla, Nakbé, Tintal, Wakná (formerly Güiro), Uaxactún, and Tikal. Of these, El Mirador, Tikal, Nakbé, Tintal, Xulnal and Wakná are the largest in the Maya world, Such size was manifested not only in the extent of the site, but also in the volume or monumentality, especially in the construction of immense platforms to support large temples. Many sites of this era display monumental masks for the first time (Uaxactún, El Mirador, Cival, Tikal and Nakbé ). These masks often seem to depict powerful natural forces such as Sun and Earth The Archeologist divide the cultural History of Mesoamerica in 3 periods: The Pre-Classic from 2000 BC to 250 AD, (Early: 2000 BC to 800 BC, Middle: 800 to 400 BC, and Late 400 BC to 250 AD), Classic from 250 to 900 AD, (Early 250 to 550 AD, Middle from 550 to 700 AD and Late 700 to 900 AD), and Post Classic from 900 to 1500 AD, (Early 900 to 1200 AD, and Late 1200 to 1500 AD)

Until a few years ago, the Pre Classic, was thought to be a formative period, with small villages of farmers, that lived in huts, and few permanent buildings, but this concept has been proved to be a big mistake, due to recent findings all over Guatemala, such as an altar in La Blanca, San Marcos, some 3 mt. in diameter from 1000 BC; Ceremonial sites at Miraflores, and El Naranjo from 800 BC, near Kaminal Juyú, in Guatemala City, El Portón in Baja Verapaz, The Mural paintings in San Bartolo, Petén, the Stucco Masks and monuments in Cival and of course The Mirador Basin major cities of Nakbé, Xulnal, Tintal, Wakná and Mirador, the Cradle of the Maya Civilization, where, the cities were not only numerous, but very sophisticated, and developed, with architectonic structures from 1400 BC, indeed the two biggest cities of the Maya Civilization (El Mirador and Tintal) are there, with the same religious believes, astronomical, mathematics and writing knowledge that those in the Classic period.

The city of El Mirador was the biggest city in ancient America, has the largest pyramid in the world, at 2,800,000 Mt2 of volume (some 200,000 more than the Giza pyramid in Egypt), and was by far the most populated city in the pre-Columbian America. In fact, Mirador was the first politically organized state in America, named the Kan Kingdom in ancient texts. There were 26 cities, some bigger than Tikal, the Jewel of the Classic period, all connected by huge Sacbeob (plural for highways ), or Sacbé (singular), meaning "White road", several km long and up to 40 mts. wide and 2 to 4 mts. above the ground, paved with stucco, that are clearly distinguishable from the air in the most extensive virgin tropical rain forest left in Mesoamerica, thus, these were kingdoms equal in power and culture to those in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, etc.

The Classic is represented by countless sites, mainly in Petén, although there are Classic sites in any region in Guatemala, The Post Classic is represented by different kingdoms like the Itzá and Ko'woj in the Lakes area in Petén that were the last cultures in Mesoamérica to be conquered by the Spaniards on 1697 when Tayasal capital of the Itzá fell; and, by the Mam, Ki'ch'es, Kack'chiquel, Tz'utuh'il, Pokom'chí, Kek'chi and Chortí among others in the Highlands, Izabal, Petén and the Pacific Lowlands that kept the essential believes of the Maya Civilization but don't reach the splendour of the Pre Classic and Classic cities. In fact, they still retain the use of not only their languages, but also their believes and cosmology., even more they use the Tzolk'in calendar in their ceremonies and for crops.

Colonial period

The name Guatemala, was derived from Cuauhtemalan, meaning the land of many trees, the name that the Tlaxcaltecs Indians that came with the Spaniards gave to Iximché, the capital of the Cack'chik'el tribe,(cakchiquel), and generalized to name the country, by the Spaniards.

There were peaceful expeditions, since 1518, and, as mentioned in the "Memorial de Sololá", a deadly epidemic killed thousands in the country (by the descriptions, most certainly Viruela, Spanish smallpox). Hernán Cortés granted a permit to Captain Pedro de Alvarado, to conquer this land. On December 6, 1523, He leaves Tenochtitlán, with 120 Cavalry, 160 crossbowers and riflemans, 4 heavy artillery pieces, and 300 infantry men, along with 20,000 tlaxcaltec, cholulas, and mexicas. He entered Guatemala from Soconusco on the Pacific lowlands, to a place named Xetulul Humbatz, (Zapotitlan), and started its conquest in Xepau Olintepeque, when the Kiche's 72,000 men, leaded by Tecún Umán, (now Guatemala's national heroe), was killed by Pedro de Alvarado, then he went to Gumarcaj, (Utatlan),the Kiche' capital, burning it on March 7, 1524. He then proceed to Iximche, and established near there in Tecpan on July 25, 1524, to launch several campaigns to other cities, as Chuitinamit the capital of the Tzutuhils,(1524), Mixco Viejo, capital of the Pokomams, and Zaculeu, capital of the Mams, (1525). He was named Captain General in 1527. the battles with the Kak'chik'els continued up to 1530, the last battles were on 1548 when the Kek'chí in Nueva Sevilla , Izabal where defeated. Fray Bartolome de las Casas, pacified the Keck'chí in Alta Verapaz without violence.

During the colonial period, Guatemala was a Captaincy General (Capitanía General de Goathemala) of Spain, and a part of New Spain (Mexico). It extended from the Soconusco region - now in southern Mexico (states of Chiapas, Tabasco) - to Costa Rica. This region was not as rich in minerals (gold and silver) as Mexico and Peru, and was therefore not considered to be as important. Its main products were sugarcane, cocoa, blue añil dye, red dye from cochineal insects, and precious woods used in artwork for churches and palaces in Spain.

The first Capital was named Tecpan Goatemalan, founded in July 25, 1524 with the name of Villa de Santiado de Goathemala) and was located near Iximché, the Kak'chik'el's Capitol City, It was moved to Ciudad Vieja on November 22 1527, when the Kak'chik'el attacked the city. in September 11, 1541 the city was flooded when the lagoon in the crater of the Agua Volcano collapsed due to heavy rains and earthquakes, and was moved 4 miles to Antigua Guatemala,on the Panchoy Valley, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This City was destroyed by several earthquakes in 1773-1774, and the King of Spain, granted the authorization to move the Captaincy General, to the Ermita Valley, named after a Catholic Church to the Virgen de El Carmen, in its current location, founded in January 2, 1776.


On September 15, 1821, Guatemala became independent. The new Guatemalan Republic included the Soconusco region, and what are now the countries of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Its 1.5 million inhabitants were concentrated in urban centres.

On October 3, 1821, the Captaincy-General of Guatemala, (formed of Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras). Officially proclaimed its independence from Spain and its incorporation into the Mexican Empire. This region had been formally subject to New Spain throughout the colonial period, but as a practical matter was administered separately. All but Chiapas soon separated from Mexico after Iturbide was forced to abdicate.

The Guatemalan provinces formed the United Provinces of Central America, also called the Central American Federation (Federacion de Estados Centroamericanos). The capital city remained Guatemala City, which is still today the most populous city in Central America.

A politically unstable period followed, aggravated by the collapse of the world market for añil (indigo), the country's main export to Europe, due to the invention of synthetic dyes. This prompted each province to leave the Federation, from 1838 to 1840, beginning with Costa Rica, and Guatemala became an independent nation.

Guatemala has long claimed all or part of the territory of neighbouring Belize, formerly part of the Spanish colony, and later occupied by the United Kingdom. Guatemala recognized Belize's independence in 1991, but their territorial dispute is not resolved. Negotiations are currently underway under the auspices of the Organization of American States to conclude it. See: [1] and the OAS page [2] Main Source: <Historia General de Guatemala> ISBN 84-88622-07-4

Modern period

Dictator Jorge Ubico y Castañeda was forced to resign his office on July 4, 1944 in response to a wave of protests and a general strike. His replacement, General Juan Federico Ponce Vaides, was later forced out of office by a coup d'état led by Major Francisco Javier Arana and Captain Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán on October 20, 1944. About 100 people were killed in the coup. The country was led by a military junta made up of Arana, Arbenz, and Jorge Toriello Garrido. The Junta called Guatemala's first free election, which was won with a majority of 85 per cent by the prominent writer and teacher Juan José Arévalo Bermejo, who had lived in exile in Mexico for 14 years. Arévalo was the first democratically-elected president of Guatemala to fully complete the term for which he was elected. His "Christian Socialist" policies, inspired by the U.S. New Deal, were criticized by landowners and the upper class as communist.

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

In 1954, Arévalo's freely-elected Guatemalan successor Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)and a small group of Guatemalans (landowners, the old military cast and the Catholic Church, after the government instituted decree No. 900 that expropriated unused land owned including large tracts owned by the United Fruit Company, a U.S.-based banana merchant (Chiquita Banana). The CIA codename for the coup was Operation PBSUCCESS, its second successful overthrow of a foreign government after the 1953 coup in Iran. Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas was installed as president in 1954 and ruled until he was assassinated by a member of his personal guard in 1957.

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

The same year, a group of disaffected young Army officers initiated a guerrilla insurgency movement, known as the November 13 Revolutionary Movement (MR-13). A splinter of this group became the Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FAR, that was supported by the clandestine Communist party, PGT (Guatemalan Workers Party). In 1966 Julio César Méndez Montenegro was elected president of Guatemala under the banner of a "Democratic Opening". Mendez Montenegro was the candidate of the Revolutionary Party, a center-left party which had its origins in the post-Ubico era. It was during this time that rightist paramilitary organizations, such as the "White Hand", (Mano Blanca), and the Anticommunist Secret Army, (Ejército Secreto Anticomunista), were formed Those organizations were the forerunners of the infamous "Death Squads." The United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets) were sent to Guatemala to transform its army into a modern counter-insurgency force and made it the most powerful and sophisticated in Central America.

In 1970 Colonel Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio was elected president. The remnants of the guerrilla insurgency moved to the Western Highlands. In the disputed election of 1974, General Kjell Lauguerud 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. In 1978 in a fraudulent election General Romeo Lucas García assumed power. The 1970s' saw the birth of two new guerrilla organizations, The Poor Guerrilla Army (EGP) and the Organization of the Peoples in Arms (ORPA), who began and intensified by the end of the seventies, guerrilla attacks that included urban and rural guerrilla warfare, mainly against the military and some of the civilian supporters of the army. In 1979 the United States President, Jimmy Carter, order a ban on all military aid to the Guatemalan Army for blatant abuses to Human Rights. Almost immediately, the Israeli Government took on the job to supply the Guatemalan Army with advisers, weapons and other military supplies.

In 1980 a group of Quiché Indians took over the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City, taking hostage diplomatic personnel. Even though the Spanish government wanted the occupation to be ended through negotiations and strictly forbade an assault on its embassy, the Guatemalan government launched an assault that killed almost everyone inside as a result of a fire that consumed the building. The Guatemalan government claimed that the activists set the fire and immolated themselves. However, the Spanish ambassador, who survived the fire, disputed this claim, noting that the Guatemalan police intentionally killed almost everyone inside and set the fire to erase traces of their acts. As a result of this violation of international law and human rights, the government of Spain broke diplomatic relations with Guatemala (the only time that such act has taken place between Spain and one of its former colonies in modern times). This corrupt government was overthrown in 1981 when another fraudulent election was not supported by the people and the army. General Efraín Ríos Montt was named President of the military junta, initiating a bloody campaign of torture, disappearances, and "scorched earth" warfare. The country became a pariah state internationally. Ríos-Montt was overthrown by General Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores, who called for an election of an national constitutional assembly to write a new constitution, leading to a free election in 1986, which was won by Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo, the candidate for 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. During the "scorched earth" era more than 45,000 Guatemalans left the country going to Mexico, where they were gathered in Communities by the Mexican Government in Chiapas and Tabasco.

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

The bloody 35-year war od repression ended in 1996 with a peace accord between the guerrillas and the government of President Álvaro Arzú, negotiated by the United Nations through intense brokerage by 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, government forces and paramilitaries were responsible for over 93% [3] of the human rights violations during the war. During the first 10 years, the victims of the state-sponsored terror were primarily students, workers, professionals, and opposition figures of all political tendencies, 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 250,000 people became refugees. This is considered one of the worst ethnic cleansings in modern Latin America. 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 Civil War [4]. In 1999, then US 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 [5].

Since the peace accord, Guatemala has enjoyed successive democratic elections, most recently in 2003. The current government has successfully signed free trade agreements with the United States and the rest of Central America through CAFTA, and other agreements with Mexico, and Panama.


More information on politics and government of Guatemala can be found at Politics of Guatemala, the main article in the Politics and government of Guatemala series.

Politics of Guatemala takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Guatemala is both head of state and head of government, and of a pluriform 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.

Administrative divisions

Main article: Departments of Guatemala
The departments of Guatemala
The departments of Guatemala

Guatemala is divided into 22 departments (departamentos) and sub-divided into about 332 municipalities (municipios).

The departments include:

  1. Alta Verapaz
  2. Baja Verapaz
  3. Chimaltenango
  4. Chiquimula
  5. Petén
  6. El Progreso
  7. El Quiché
  8. Escuintla
  9. Guatemala
  10. Huehuetenango
  11. Izabal
  1. Jalapa
  2. Jutiapa
  3. Quetzaltenango
  4. Retalhuleu
  5. Sacatepéquez
  6. San Marcos
  7. Santa Rosa
  8. Sololá
  9. Suchitepéquez
  10. Totonicapán
  11. Zacapa

Guatemala is heavily centralized. Transportation, communications, business, politics, and most relevant urban activity takes place in Guatemala City, the largest city in Central America.

Guatemala City is has about 2 million inhabitants within the city limits and more than 5 million within in the urban area. This is a significant percentage of the population (12 million).


Map of Guatemala
Map of Guatemala
Main article: Geography of Guatemala
Guatemala Highlands
Guatemala Highlands

Guatemala is mountainous, except for the south coastal area and the northern vast lowlands of Petén department.Two mountain chains enter Guatemala from west to east, dividing the country into three major regions: the highlands, where the mountains are located; the Pacific coast, south of the mountains; and the Petén region, north of the mountains. These areas vary in climate, elevation, and landscape, providing dramatic contrasts between hot and humid tropical lowlands and highland peaks and valleys.

The southern edge of the western highlands is marked by the Sierra Madre, which stretches from the Mexican border south and east, and continues at lower elevations toward El Salvador. The mountain chain is characterized by steep volcanic cones, including Tajumulco Volcano (4,220 m/13,845 ft), the highest point in the country and Central America. All of Guatemala’s 37 volcanoes (4 of them Active Pacaya, Santiaguito, Fuego and Tacaná), are in this chain, and earthquakes are frequent in the highlands.

The northern chain of mountains begins near the Mexican border with the Cuchumatanes range, then stretches east through the Chuacús and Chamá sierras, down to the Santa Cruz and Minas sierras, near the Caribbean Sea. The northern and southern mountains are separated by the Motagua valley, where the Motagua river and its tributaries drains from the highlands into the Caribbean being navigable in its lower end, where it forms the boundary with Honduras.

Its climate is hot and humid in the Pacific and Petén Lowlands – more temperate in the highlands, to freezing cold at the high of the Cuchumatanes range, and hot/drier in the easternmost departments.

The rivers are short and shallow in the Pacific vertient, larger and deeper, such as the Polochic which drains in Lake Izabal Río Dulce,(Motagua) and Sartún that forms the boundary with Belice in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico vertient (Usumacinta, which forms the boundary between Chiapas, Mexico and Petén and its tributaries such as La Pasión and San Pedro.

All major cities are in the Highlands and the Pacific Lowlands. Major cities are the capital Guatemala City, elevation 1,506 mts. (Central Highlands,Quetzaltenango elevation 2,011 mts.(Western Higlands]], Escuintla elevation 300 mts., Mazatenango elevation 220 mts. and Coatepeque elevation 515 mts, (Pacific Lowlands). The largest lake Lago de Izabal(589,6 km²), is close to the Caribbean coast. Volcán Tajumulco,4,112 mt., the highest point in Central America, is located in the western department of San Marcos.

Guatemala's location on the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean makes it a target for hurricanes, including Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and Hurricane Stan in October of 2005, which killed more than 1,500 people. (The damage was not wind related, but floodings). The Last Major Earthquake was in Febraury 4, 1976, killing more than 25,000 in the Central Highlands


Main article: Economy of Guatemala

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 exports. Manufacturing and construction account for one-fifth of GDP. Also economically important are remittances, "remesas" in Spanish, from Guatemalans working in the U.S., largely on an illegal and temporary basis.

The signing of the peace accords that ended the decades-long Civil War removed a major obstacle to foreign investment. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch caused relatively little damage to Guatemala compared to neighboring countries, especially Honduras.

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, despite massive street protests, Guatemala's congress ratified the Dominican Republic - Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) between several Central American nations and the United States.


According to the CIA World Fact Book, Mestizos, known as Ladinos in Central America, (mixed Amerindian-Spanish, or pure Amerindian but Spanish-speaking) and people of European descent (primarily of Spanish, but also those of German, English, Italian, and Scandinavian descent) comprise 60% of the population while Amerindians comprise approximately 40% (K'iche 9.1%, Kaqchikel 8.4%, Mam 7.9%, Q'eqchi 6.3%, other Mayan 8.6%, indigenous non-Mayan 0.2%, other 0.1%)[6]. Other ladino ethnic groups include the Garifuna who are descended from African slaves and live mainly in Livingston and Puerto Barrios, and other blacks and mulattos which account for 1-2% of the population; Arabs of Lebanese and Syrian descent, and Asians, mostly of Chinese descent, compromise around 3% of the population[7]. There is also a growing Korean community in Guatemala City and in nearby Mixco, currently numbering about 50,000.

Though most of Guatemala's population is rural, urbanization is accelerating. Guatemala City (approx. 3 million residents) is expanding at a rapid rate, and Quetzaltenango, the second largest city (approx. 300 thousand residents), is growing as well. Rural-to-urban migration is fuelled by a combination of government neglect of the countryside, low farm gate prices, oppressive labor conditions on rural plantations, the high concentration of arable land in the hands of a few wealthy families, and the (often unrealistic) perception of higher wages in the city.

The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism. Protestantism and traditional Mayan religions are practiced by an estimated 33% and 1% of the population, respectively. It is common for traditional Mayan practices to be incorporated into Christian ceremonies and worship, a process known as syncretism.

In 1900, Guatemala had a population of 885,000 [8]. Over the course of the twentieth century the population of the country grew by a factor of fourteen, the fastest growth rate in the Western Hemisphere. The ever-increasing pattern of emigration to the United States has led to the growth of Guatemalan communities in California, Florida, Illinois, New York,Texas and elsewhere since the 1970s.


Although the official language is Spanish, it is not universally spoken among the indigenous population, nor is it often spoken as a second language; Twenty-one distinct Mayan languages are spoken, especially in rural areas, and Garifuna is spoken by a small number of people on the Caribbean coast. Xinca, a nearly-extinct non-Mayan language, is also indigenous to Guatemala. Twenty-three languages are recognized as National Languages according to DECRETO NÚMERO 19-2003.

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 the teaching of 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, including Spanish.


Roman Catholicism was the only religion during the colonial era, and remains the dominant faith with about two-thirds of the population as adherents. However, Protestant denominations have increased markedly in recent decades, especially under the reign of dictator and evangelical pastor General Efraín Ríos Montt. Around one third of Guatemalans are Protestant, chiefly Evangelicals and Pentecostals.

The practice of traditional Mayan religion is increasing as a result of the cultural protections established under the peace accords. The government has instituted a policy of providing altars at every Mayan ruin found in the country so that traditional ceremonies may be performed there.

There are also small communities of Jews (about 1200), Muslims (1200), and members of other faiths.

The current Roman Catholic leader of Guatemala is Mons. Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri.


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. Many middle and upper-class children go to private schools. Some of these schools are: Colegio Americano de Guatemala (CAG) . The country also has one public university (Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala), and 9 private ones (see List of universities in Guatemala). Only 69.1% of the population aged 15 and over are literate, the lowest literacy rate in Central America.[1]


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. Guatemala City is home to many of the nation’s libraries and museums, including the National Archives, the National Library, and the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, which has an extensive collection of Maya artifacts. There are private museums, such as the Ixchel (textiles). The Colonial Museum, in Antigua Guatemala, has large exhibits of colonial artwork. Almost each of the 329 municipalities in the country has an small museum. Tikal National Park has a fine local museums, as well as the Dolores, Petén, "South Petén Regional Maya Museum". Two theaters in the country are the most famous, the "Teatro Nacional de Guatemala", a very modern structure, in Guatemala City, and the Quetzaltenango National Theater, a Neo-Colonial style building. Miguel Angel Asturias, won the Literature Nobel Prize in 1966.

Guatemala Biodiversity and Ecosystems

According to Parkswatch and the IUCN[1], Guatemala is considered the fifth Biodiversity Hot Spot in the world[2]. The country has 14 ecoregions ranging from Mangrove forest (4 species), in both ocean littorals with 5 different ecosystems, Dry forest and Thorn bushes in the Eastern Highlands, Subtropical and Tropical rain forest, Wetlands, Cloud Humid forest in the Verapaz region, Mix and Pine forest in the Highlands. 36.3% or about 3,938,000 hectares of Guatemala is forested (2005). Of this, 49.7% or roughly 1,957,000 hectares is classified as primary forest, the most biodiverse form of forest. including 17 Conifer (Pines, Cypress and the endemic Abies Guatemalensis) species, the most in any Tropical region of the world. Guatemala has listed 252 wetlands, including 5 lakes, 61 lagoons. 100 rivers, 3 swamps[9], 6 of those wetlands are of international importance or RAMSAR sites[3]. Tikal National Park, with 11 micro climes in it, was the first mix UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the world. Guatemala has some 1246 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. Of these, 6.7% are endemic, meaning they exist in no other country, and 8.1% are threatened species. Guatemala is home to at least 8681 species of vascular plants, of which 13.5% are endemic. 5.4% of Guatemala is protected under IUCN categories I-V. Guatemala has the largest percentage of Protected areas in Central America, with a total of 91 protected areas and more than 28% of the territory as a protected area. [4].

Miscellaneous topics


  1. ^ "LA Literacy Rates" UNESCO Institute for Statistics, September 2006, retrieved January 15, 2007.

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