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World Mission

Guatemala

Basic info

  • Area: 108,889 sq km / 42,042 sq mi
  • Population: 17,263,239
  • Infant mortality: 21.3 per 1000 live births
  • Life expectancy: 71.9
  • Urbanisation: 51.1%
  • Literacy: 79.3%

History

The Maya civilization (2,000 BC – 250 AD) was among those that flourished in the region, with little contact with cultures outside Mesoamerica. The modern history of Guatemala began with the Spanish conquest of Guatemala in 1511.

Most of the great Mayan cities of the Petén Basin region had been abandoned by the year 1000 AD. The states in the Belize central highlands flourished until the arrival in 1525 of Pedro de Alvarado, the Spanish Conquistador.

Guatemala was part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, for nearly 330 years; this Captaincy, or Capitanía, included the territories comprosing modern Mexico, and the modern countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The Capitania became independent in 1821, and became a part of the First Mexican Empire until 1823. From 1824 it was a part of the Federal Republic of Central America, until the Republic dissolved in 1841, when Guatemala became fully independent. In the late 20 century, Guatemala experienced a series of authoritarian governments.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Guatemala's potential for agricultural exploitation attracted several foreign companies to it, the most prominent being the United Fruit Company (UFC). These companies, supported by the country's authoritarian rulers, and the United States government through their support for brutal labour regulations and massive concessions to wealthy landowners. In 1944, the policies of Jorge Ubico led to a popular uprising which began the ten-year Guatemalan Revolution. The presidencies of Juan José Arévalo and Jacobo Árbenz saw sweeping social and economic reforms, including a significant increase in literacy and a successful agrarian reform program.

The progressive policies of Arévalo and Árbenz led to the United Fruit Company lobbying the United States government for their overthrow, and a US-engineered coup in 1954 ended the revolution and installed a military regime in its place. This was soon followed by other military governments, and jolted off a civil war between the government and guerrillas that lasted from 1960 to 1996. The war saw human rights violations, including a genocide of the indigenous Maya population by the United States-backed military.

Following the end of the war in 1997, Guatemala re-established a representative democracy. It has since struggled to enforce the rule of law and suffers a high crime rate, as well as continued extrajudicial killings, often executed by security forces.

Environment

Guatemala is mountainous with small patches of desert and sand dunes. It has hilly valleys, except for the south coast and the vast northern lowlands of Petén department. Two mountain chains enter Guatemala from west to east, dividing Guatemala 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.

All major cities are located in the highlands and Pacific coast regions; by comparison, Petén is sparsely populated. These three regions vary in climate, elevation, and landscape, providing dramatic contrasts between hot, humid tropical lowlands and colder, drier highland peaks. Volcán Tajumulco, at 4,220 metres (13,850 feet), is the highest point in the Central American countries.

The rivers are short and shallow in the Pacific drainage basin, larger and deeper in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico drainage basins. These rivers include the Polochic and Dulce Rivers, which drain into Lake Izabal, the Motagua River, the Sarstún, which forms the boundary with Belize, and the Usumacinta River, which forms the boundary between Petén and Chiapas, Mexico.

Economy

Guatemala is the largest economy in Central America, with a GDP per capita of US$5,200. However, Guatemala faces many social problems and is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. The income distribution is highly unequal with more than half of the population below the national poverty line and just over 400,000 (3.2%) unemployed. The CIA World Fact Book considers 54% of the population of Guatemala to be living in poverty in 2009.

Remittances from Guatemalans living in United States now constitute the largest single source of foreign income.

Some of Guatemala's main exports are fruits, vegetables, flowers, handicrafts, cloths and others. In the face of a rising demand for biofuels, the country is growing and exporting an increasing amount of raw materials for biofuel production, especially sugar cane and palm oil. Critics say that this development leads to higher prices for staple foods like corn, a major ingredient in the Guatemalan diet. As a consequence of the subsidisation of US American corn, Guatemala imports nearly half of its corn from the United States that is using 40 percent of its crop harvest for biofuel production.

Mines produce gold, silver, zinc, cobalt and nickel. The agricultural sector accounts for about two-fifths of exports, and half of the labor force. Organic coffee, sugar, textiles, fresh vegetables, and bananas are the country's main exports. Inflation was 3.9% in 2010.

Ethnic groups

Ethnic Groups(%)

Mestizo

7164244

Amerindian

7077927

Other

3021066

Religion

Religion(%)

Roman Catholic

8355407

Protestant

5817711

No affiliation

2813907

Other religions

276211

Protestant Denominations

Pentecostal, Independent Evangelical

Languages

  • 93%%

    Spanish

  • 7%%

    Other, inc Mayan languages