History and geography:
a key to understanding.


Central America

Stretches from Mexico’s southern border to Colombia’s northwestern border. Forms a bridge between North and South America.

Lies between the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

Its countries are Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.


108,890 km2 (42,042 sq. mi.)

14.8 million inhabitants: over 60% are Mayas; 40% are under age 15.


Languages : Spanish and 23 other officially recognized languages, 21 of them derived from Mayan, Garifuna, and Xincan.


Presidential republic

President : Otto Perez Molina

Currency : Quetzal (0,10 €)


Life expectancy: 71 years

Literacy rate: 69 %

Religion: Catholic with Mayan syncretism (60%) and Evangelical Protestant (40%)

Human Development Index : 0,574 or 131st of 187 countries (CONTENTS)

GDP (2010) :$41 billion (IMF) (France $2,563 billion; Germany $3,286 billion; Spain $1,410 billion; USA $14,527 billion; Brazil $2,090 billion)

Per capita GDP (2010) : $2,839

Growth rate (2010)  : 2,6 %

Percentage of the population that is underemployed or in fringe jobs : 60 %

GDP share of major economic sectors  :

agriculture : 11,3 %
industry: 29,2 %
services : 59,5 %

Minimum legal monthly salary : 2324 quetzales (230 €)

Guatemala City
The nation’s capital

3.2 million inhabitants in the greater metro area

49% of the population lives in 400 slums


1000 BC – 900 AD

Cradle and hub of Mayan civilization


For reasons that are still unknown, Mayan civilization declines.
Its large cities are abandoned.


Spanish conquest of Central America. Catholic priests wage a sometimes violent struggle to convert the Mayas to Christianity. Temples are destroyed, and the holy books (codices) are burned, to wipe out every trace of Mayan knowledge and belief, demonized by the Catholics.

September 15, 1821

In Ciudad de Guatemala, the Central American provinces declare their independence from the Spanish Crown.

The Spanish settlers award themselves the country’s best farmlands, expelling the Maya Indians to the cold, nearly barren lands of the altiplano.

Even today, many landless peasants are forced to go work as poorly-paid farmhands on vast latifundia, or huge estates belonging to wealthy landowners.


The North American corporation UFCO (United Fruit) opens headquarters in Guatemala, converting the country into a “banana republic.”
A state within the state, United Fruit sways governments to limit social reform and land redistribution efforts to promote minifundio or landless farmers.

From 1931 to 1944

General Jorge Ubico 
rules Guatemala with an iron hand, hunting down leftist movements and community organizations.
After 13 years of despotism, he loses all his international support. Widespread agitation forces him to resign.


The “October 1944 Revolution” leads to the democratic election in 1945 of Juan José Arevalo, followed by that of Colonel Jacobo Arbenz, in 1951.
A new constitution and progressive policies are voted in. But agrarian reform, a threat to US economic interests, is nipped in the bud,
ending the interlude of democracy.


Accused of Communist sympathies, the Arbenz government is overthrown 
in a coup engineered by the CIA, acting on instructions from Washington, DC and United Fruit, with the support of the Catholic hierarchy. It’s back to square one for social reform.

Starting in 1961

Social injustice spawns guerrilla movements, and the country sinks into a thirty-year civil war.

There are clashes nationwide between the guerrillas (civilians) and army, supported by the US government.

Romeo Lucas Garcia : 1978-1982
Efrain Rios Montt : 1982-1983
and Oscar Mejia Victores : 1983-1985

Under the dictatorships of these three generals, the counterinsurgency offensive consists of a scorched-earth policy and massacres of civilians in the countryside.

200,000 people were killed in the civil war and 50.000 went missing.
The United-Nations-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission reported and demonstrated that the Guatemalan government had engaged in a policy of genocide against the Maya people.

January 1986

Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo is democratically elected as Guatemala’s first civilian president after decades of military dictatorship. Despite this change, the guerrillas and army continue to wage war, and mass killings of Maya populations continue.

December 1996

A peace agreement ends the 36-year Guatemalan Civil War.

Since 1996

The country has been plagued with endemic social and criminal violence, making it one of the most violent countries in the world.
An average of 18 murders are committed daily.