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Guatemala History Timeline

1500s

  • (1523-24) Pedro de Alvarado, Spanish adventurer, defeated the indigenous Maya; Guatemala became Spanish colony
1800s
  • (1821) Guatemala became independent
  • (1822) Guatemala joined Mexican empire
  • (1823) Guatemala part of the United Provinces of Central America, included Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua
  • (1839) Guatemala fully independent
  • (1844-65) Conservative dictator Rafael Carrera ruled Guatemala
  • (1873-85) Liberal President Justo Rufino Barrios ruled Guatemala; Barrios developed army, introduced coffee growing, modernized the country
1900s
  • (1931) Jorge Ubico became president; term marked by repressive rule, country's finances improved
  • (1941) Guatemala declared war on Axis powers
  • (1944) Ubico overthrown; Juan Jose Arevalo became president, introduced social-democratic reform, included redistributing land to landless peasants, set up social security system
  • (1951) Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman became president, continued Arevalo's reforms
  • (1954) Land reforms stopped with accession to power of Colonel Carlos Castillo in coup backed by US, prompted by Arbenz's nationalization of plantations of United Fruit Company
  • (1963) Castillo assassinated; Colonel Enrique Peralta became president
  • (1966) Civilian rule restored; Cesar Mendez elected president
  • (1970) Military backed Carlos Arena, elected president
  • (1970s) Military rulers embarked on program to eliminate left-wingers, resulted in 50,000 (or more) deaths
  • (1976) Guatemala earthquake left millions homeless, 27,000 killed
  • (1981) Death squads killed around 11,000 in response to anti-government guerrilla activity
  • (1982) General Efrain Rios Montt gained power after military coup
  • (1983) General Mejia Victores ousted Montt in coup
  • (1985) Under new constitution, Marco Vinicio Cerezo elected president, Guatemalan Christian Democratic Party won legislative elections
  • (1989) Attempt to overthrow Cerezo failed
  • (1991) Jorge Serrano Elias elected president; Belize restored diplomatic relations with Guatemala
  • (1993) Serrano forced to resign, attempted to impose authoritarian regime; Ramiro de Leon Carpio elected president by the legislature
  • (1994) Guatemala Revolutionary National Unity peace talks began
  • (1995) Ceasefire declared by rebels; Guatemala criticized for widespread human rights abuses by UN, US
1900s continued
  • (1996) Alvaro Arzu elected president, signed peace treaty agreement with rebels, ended 36 years of civil war
  • (1998) Human rights campaigner, Bishop Juan Gerardi, murdered
2000s
  • (2000) Alfonso Portillo sworn in as president
  • (2001) $1.8 million in compensation paid to families of 226 men, women, children killed in Las Dos Erres in 1982
  • (2002) Guatemala, Belize agreed on draft settlement in long-standing border dispute, both nations held referendums on draft settlement
  • (2003) Oscar Berger, conservative businessman, won presidential election
  • (2004) Efrain Rios Monett, former military leader, placed under house arrest; major cuts to army, bases closed, 10,000 soldiers retired; victims of civil war paid $3.5 million in damages; 11 killed when police evicted squatters from private farm; UN stated Guatemala suffered from crime, social injustice, human rights violations
  • (2005) Government ratified Central American free trade deal with US, resulted in street protests; tropical storm Stan swept through Guatemala, killed hundreds; anti-drugs investigator arrested in US on drug trafficking charges
  • (2007) Guatemala ratified international adoption treaty, committed to ensure that babies not bought or stolen; Alvaro Colom won presidential election
  • (2008) Former president Alfonso Portillo extradited from Mexico to face corruption charges linked to disappearance of $15 Million
  • (2009) Ex-paramilitary officer, Felipe Cusanero, first person to be jailed for forced disappearance of civilians in Guatemala civil war; retired colonel first army officer convicted of crimes committed during civil war
  • (2010) Guatemala's police chief and anti-drugs czar fired over theft of cocaine; state of emergency declared after Pacaya volcano erupted

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This page was last updated on April 7, 2017.