Guatemala DescriptionThe fabled Maya people flourished throughout the Yucatan Peninsula and Guatemala for centuries. This very advanced civilization constructed great cities, grand palaces, pyramids and observatories, as well as advanced works of art, astronomy, literature and mathematics.
For somewhat mysterious reasons, the Maya society began its general decline across the entire area in the 10th century, yet remnants of this extraordinary people and a quite sizeable population of descendants still exist in Guatemala and all across the Yucatan today.
In fact, even though they remain the largest population majority in the country and their languages and religions survived, they sadly live in poverty, and if you will, form an almost forgotten and repressed minority-majority.
When the Spanish conquistadors and their leader, Perdro de Alvarado, arrived in 1523, they quickly defeated the weaker Maya forces and aggressively began the colonization of the land; large farms were established and the remaining Indians were forced to work them.
For the almost 300 hundred years that followed, the Spanish colonial powers ruthlessly exploited and persecuted the remaining Maya, all but erasing their culture from the map of world history.
After the overthrow of the Spanish King by Napoleon, Guatemala and others declared their independence from Spain in 1821. Then, Guatemala, as well as Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua formed the United Provinces of Central America, but that federation quickly dissolved, and Guatemala became an independent republic in 1838.
Unfortunately (like many new countries) this new country experienced a lengthy series of coups, dictatorships, insurgencies, human atrocities, and long stretches of brutal military rule.
In the 1940s, two reformist presidents were elected; presidents that permitted free expression, legalized unions, encouraged social reform, and the formation of political parties. It's referred to as the "Ten Years of Spring," but it was short-lived.
In 1949 the Guatemalan Party of Labor (PGT), the communist party in Guatemala was formed. It gained prominence during the government of Col. Jacobo Arbenz.
Arbenz was forced out of office and the repressive military regained control, and eventually Guatemala slipped into a 36-year civil war; over 200,000 civilians were murdered, and of course, the country's economy was ruined.
Eventually the USA - the major supplier of military assistance to the country - tired of the civil war, and eliminated all of its financial aid; this action finally forced the election of a civilian, but controversies and coups would quickly return.
Finally, in 1996, the government signed a peace agreement with the leftist rebels, formally ending the conflict which had left countless people dead and over one million homeless refugees.
And then what happened? Well, currently the country has stabilized, but I would stay tuned, as Guatemala's government (be it civilian or military) frequently alters it course.
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This page was last modified on September 29, 2015.