Guatemala

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The Republic of Guatemala is a country in Central America bordering both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Its land borders include Mexico to the north, Belize to the northeast and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast.

Republica de Guatemala
Official language Spanish
Capital Guatemala
President Alfonso Portillo
Area
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 103th
108,890 km2
0.4%
Population


 - Total (2000)


 - Density
Ranked 63rd


12,974,361


119/km2
IndependenceSeptember 15, 1821
Currency Quetzal
Time zone UTC-6
National anthem Guatemala Feliz
Internet TLD.GT
Calling Code502

Contents

History

From the 4th to the 11th century, the lowlands of the Peten region of Guatemala was the heart of the flourishing Maya civilization. After the collapse of the lowland states, the Mayan states of the central highlands continued until they were conquered by the Spanish, who arrived in 1523. As was true elsewhere in the Americas and Australasia the arrival of Europeans brought population crashes due to epidemic diseases that included smallpox, measles, influenza amd bublonic plague. Pulmomary plague epidemics erupted in 1545, 1548, 1576 and 1581.

Guatemala became independent of Spain in 1821, first briefly as part of Mexico, later 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 frequent revolutions, coups and non-democratic governments. A guerilla war was ended in 1996, leading to democratically held elections in 1999.

Politics

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 minister which are appointed by the president.

Departments

Guatemala is divided into 22 departments (departamentos):

Geography

Guatemala is roughly the size of the American state of Ohio or the island of Newfoundland. Except for the coastal areas, Guatemala is mostly mountainous, with a hot tropical climate - more temperate in the highlands. The highest and most rugged area is the Cuchamatan Mountains in the Northwest. The rugged terrain helps to explain the survival of largely autonomous Mayan language communities. 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. Lago de Izabal is situated close to the Caribbean coast.

Economy

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. Since assuming office in January 1996, former President Álvaro Enrique Arzú Irigoyen worked to implement a program of economic liberalization and political modernization. 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. Economic growth should remain at the same level in 2000 provided world agricultural prices do not plunge.

Demographics

More than half of Guatemalans are primarily the descendants of indigenous Maya people. Most of the remainder are Westernized Maya and mestizos (mixed European and indigenous ancestry) are known as Ladinos. Most of Guatemalans are rural although urbanization is accelerating. The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism with which many indigenous Guatemalans have incorporated traditional forms of worship. Protestantism and traditional Mayan religions are practiced by an estimated 40% and 1% of the population, respectively.

Although the official language is Spanish, it is not universally understood among the indigenous population; various Maya language dialects are still spoken, especially in rural areas. 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).

Culture

The encounter between Mayan civilization and Spanish colonialism can still be seen throughout Guatemala.

Sources

  • Jim Handy. 1984. Gift of the Devil: A History of Guatemala. South End Press. ISBN 0896082482.

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