Its western coast fronts to Pacific Ocean and its shorter eastern coast fronts the Gulf of Honduras in the Caribbean Sea. There are no natural harbors on the west coast.
Its main environmental issues include:
The earliest human habitation in Guatemala dates to at least as early as 14,000 years before present. Early Native American peoples were hunter/gatherers, but pollen samples from the Petén Basin as well as the western coastal area demonstrate maize to have been farmed in the region by 5500 years before present. Habiatation areas as early as 8500 years before present have been excavated at Quiché and Sipacate, Escuintla along the central Pacific coast.
Archaeologists divide prehistory of the region into the pre-Classic period (2000 BC to 250 AD), the Classic period (250 to 900 AD), and the Calistic from 900 to 1500 AD. The advanced nature of the Calistic is evinced by excavations of monumental architecture, including an altar in La Blanca, San Marcos, from 1000 BC; ceremonial sites at Miraflores and El Naranjo from 801 BC; the earliest monumental masks; and the Mirador Basin centers of Nakbé, Xulnal, El Tintal, Wakná and El Mirador.
El Mirador was the most populous urban center in pre-Columbian America. Both the El Tigre and Monos pyramids encompass a volume greater than 250,000 cubic meters. Mirador was the first politically organized state in the Americas. In total, ancient Mayan Guatemala held numdrous cities tied together with ancient stucco paved roadways, which were several kilometers long, up to 40 meters wide, and two to four meters above the ground; these transportation routes are visible from aloft amid the most extensive virgin tropical rainforest in Mesoamerica.
After almost three centuries as a Spanish colony, Guatemala won its independence in 1821.
During the second half of the 20th century, it experienced a variety of military and civilian governments, as well as a 36-year guerrilla war.
In 1996, the government signed a peace agreement formally ending the conflict, which had left more than 200,000 people dead and had created, by some estimates, some 1 million refugees.
Geographic Coordinates: 15 30 N, 90 15 W
Area: total: 108,890 sq km (108,430 sq km land and 460 sq km water)
Capitol: Guatemala City - 1.075 million (2009)
Coastline: 400 km
Maritime Claims: Territorial sea to 12 nautical miles; Exclusive economic zone to 200 nautical miles; Continental shelf to 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
Climate: Tropical; hot, humid in lowlands; cooler in the highlands.
Capital: Guatemala City
Topography of Guatemala. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Ecology and biodiversity
1. Penten-Veraruz moist forests covers most of northern Guatemala
2. A patch of the Belizian pine forests ecoregion is located in northeast Guatemala.
4. Central American Atlantic moist forest
6. . One of the driest areas in Central America, the Motagua Valley area, is the location of the Motagua Valley thornscrub
7. The Central American pine-oak forests ecoregion spans southern Guatemala.
8. Along the border with Mexico lies the Chiapas Depression dry forests.
9. Chiapas montane forests
10. Sierra Madre de Chiapas moist forest
Ecoregions of Guatemala. Source: World Wildlife fund
The Biodiversity throughout Mesoamerica primarily consists of complex mosaic of dry forest, lowland moist forest, and montane forest ecosystems.
The Pacific Central-American Coastal large marine ecosystem runs along the Pacific coast of Central America.
Tikal National Park is within the Department of Petén in north-eastern Guatemala. The nearest major town is Santa Elena in the municipality of Flores. The park is contained within the Maya Biosphere Reserve which encompasses more than ten percent of Guatemala's land area. The park forms a block to the south east of the Biosphere Reserve, adjacent to the San Miguel La Palotada Biotope to the west, and bounded in the south by a 10 to15 kilometer wide Biosphere Reserve Buffer Zone to the south. The northern and eastern boundaries are surrounded by a multiple-use area which adjoins the protected areas within the Biosphere Reserve.
|Totonicapan, in the Department of Totonicapan, along the Pan American Highway, in close proximity to a volcanic crater. Source: Wikimedia Commons.|
|The volcanic Lake Atitlan in the south of Guatemala at sunrise, as the fishermen begin their day.|
|Cerro Verde, Guatemala. Source: Steve Cornelius|
People and society
Population: 14,099,032 (July 2012 est.)
More than half of Guatemalans are descendants of indigenous Mayan peoples. Westernized Mayans and mestizos (mixed European and indigenous ancestry) are known as Ladinos. Most of Guatemala's population is rural, though urbanization is accelerating. The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism, into 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. Though the official language is Spanish, it is not universally understood among the indigenous population. The peace accords signed in December 1996 provide for the translation of some official documents and voting materials into several indigenous languages.
Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed Amerindian-Spanish - in local Spanish called Ladino) and European 59.4%, K'iche 9.1%, Kaqchikel 8.4%, Mam 7.9%, Q'eqchi 6.3%, other Mayan 8.6%, indigenous non-Mayan 0.2%, other 0.1% (2001 census)
0-14 years: 38.1% (male 2,678,340/female 2,582,472)
15-64 years: 58% (male 3,889,573/female 4,130,698)
65 years and over: 3.9% (male 252,108/female 291,272) (2011 est.)
Population Growth Rate: 1.948% (2012 est.)
Birthrate: 26.48 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Death Rate: 4.92 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)
Net Migration Rate: -2.08 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Life Expectancy at Birth: 71.17 years
male: 69.29 years
female: 73.14 years (2012 est.)
Total Fertility Rate: 3.18 children born/woman (2012 est.)
Languages: Spanish 60%, Amerindian languages 40% (23 officially recognized Amerindian languages, including Quiche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, Garifuna, and Xinca)
Literacy: 69.1% (2002 census)
Urbanization: 49% of total population (2010) growing at a 3.4% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)
Population below the poverty line: 56.2% (2004 est.)
The Mayan civilization flourished throughout much of Guatemala and the surrounding region long before the Spanish arrived, but it was already in decline when the Mayans were defeated by Pedro de Alvarado in 1523-24. The first colonial capital, Ciudad Vieja, was ruined by floods and an earthquake in 1542. Survivors founded Antigua, the second capital, in 1543. Antigua was destroyed by two earthquakes in 1773. The remnants of its Spanish colonial architecture have been preserved as a national monument. The third capital, Guatemala City, was founded in 1776.
Guatemala gained independence from Spain on September 15, 1821; it briefly became part of the Mexican Empire, and then for a period belonged to a federation called the United Provinces of Central America. From the mid-19th century until the mid-1980s, the country passed through a series of dictatorships, insurgencies (particularly beginning in the 1960s), coups, and stretches of military rule with only occasional periods of representative government.
1944 to 1986
In 1944, Gen. Jorge Ubico's dictatorship was overthrown by the "October Revolutionaries," a group of dissident military officers, students, and liberal professionals. A civilian President, Juan Jose Arevalo, was elected in 1945 and held the presidency until 1951. Social reforms initiated by Arevalo were continued by his successor, Col. Jacobo Arbenz. Arbenz permitted the communist Guatemalan Labor Party to gain legal status in 1952. The army refused to defend the Arbenz government when a U.S.-backed group led by Col. Carlos Castillo Armas invaded the country from Honduras in 1954 and quickly took over the government. Gen. Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes took power in 1958 following the murder of Colonel Castillo Armas.
In response to the increasingly autocratic rule of Ydigoras Fuentes, a group of junior military officers revolted in 1960. When they failed, several went into hiding and established close ties with Cuba. This group became the nucleus of the forces that were in armed insurrection against the government for the next 36 years. Four principal left-wing guerrilla groups--the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), the Revolutionary Organization of Armed People (ORPA), the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR), and the Guatemalan Labor Party (PGT)--conducted economic sabotage and targeted government installations and members of government security forces in armed attacks. These organizations combined to form the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) in 1982.
Shortly after President Julio Cesar Mendez Montenegro took office in 1966, the army launched a major counterinsurgency campaign that largely broke up the guerrilla movement in the countryside. The guerrillas then concentrated their attacks in Guatemala City, where they assassinated many leading figures, including U.S. Ambassador John Gordon Mein in 1968. Between 1966 and 1982, there was a series of military or military-dominated governments.
On March 23, 1982, army troops commanded by junior officers staged a coup to prevent the assumption of power by Gen. Angel Anibal Guevara, the hand-picked candidate of outgoing President and Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia. They denounced Guevara's electoral victory as fraudulent. The coup leaders asked retired Gen. Efrain Rios Montt to negotiate the departure of Lucas and Guevara.
Rios Montt was at this time a lay pastor in the evangelical protestant "Church of the Word." He formed a three-member military junta that annulled the 1965 constitution, dissolved Congress, suspended political parties, and canceled the electoral law. After a few months, Rios Montt dismissed his junta colleagues and assumed the de facto title of "President of the Republic."
Guerrilla forces and their leftist allies denounced Rios Montt. Rios Montt sought to defeat the guerrillas with military actions and economic reforms; in his words, "rifles and beans." The government began to form local civilian defense patrols (PACs). Participation was in theory voluntary, but in reality, many Guatemalans, especially in the heavily indigenous northwest, had no choice but to join either the PACs or the guerrillas. Rios Montt's conscript army and PACs recaptured essentially all guerrilla territory--guerrilla activity lessened and was largely limited to hit-and-run operations. However, Rios Montt won this partial victory at an enormous cost in civilian deaths, in what was probably the most violent period of the 36-year internal conflict, resulting in about 200,000 deaths of mostly unarmed indigenous civilians.
On August 8, 1983, Rios Montt was deposed by his own Minister of Defense, Gen. Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores, who succeeded him as de facto President of Guatemala. Rios Montt survived to found a political party (the Guatemalan Republican Front) and to be elected President of Congress in 1995 and 2000. Awareness in the United States of the conflict in Guatemala, and its ethnic dimension, increased with the 1983 publication of the book I, Rigoberta Menchu, An Indian Woman in Guatemala.
General Mejia allowed a managed return to democracy in Guatemala, starting with a July 1, 1984 election for a Constituent Assembly to draft a democratic constitution. On May 30, 1985, after 9 months of debate, the Constituent Assembly finished drafting a new constitution, which took effect immediately. Vinicio Cerezo, a civilian politician and the presidential candidate of the Christian Democracy Party, won the first election held under the new constitution with almost 70% of the vote, and took office on January 14, 1986.
1986 to 2011
Upon its inauguration in January 1986, President Cerezo's civilian government announced that its top priorities would be to end the political violence and establish the rule of law. Reforms included new laws of habeas corpus and amparo (injunction), the creation of a legislative human rights committee, and the establishment in 1987 of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman. Cerezo survived coup attempts in 1988 and 1989, and the final 2 years of Cerezo's government were also marked by a failing economy, strikes, protest marches, and allegations of widespread corruption.
Presidential and congressional elections were held on November 11, 1990. After a runoff ballot, Jorge Serrano was inaugurated on January 14, 1991, thus completing the first transition from one democratically-elected civilian government to another.
The Serrano administration's record was mixed. It had some success in consolidating civilian control over the army, replacing a number of senior officers and persuading the military to participate in peace talks with the URNG. Serrano took the politically unpopular step of recognizing the sovereignty of Belize. The Serrano government reversed the economic slide it inherited, reducing inflation and boosting real growth.
On May 25, 1993, Serrano illegally dissolved Congress and the Supreme Court and tried to restrict civil freedoms, allegedly to fight corruption. The "autogolpe" (or self-initiated coup) failed due to unified, strong protests by most elements of Guatemalan society, international pressure, and the army's enforcement of the decisions of the Court of Constitutionality, which ruled against the attempted takeover. Serrano fled the country.
On June 5, 1993, the Congress, pursuant to the 1985 constitution, elected the Human Rights Ombudsman, Ramiro De Leon Carpio, to complete Serrano's presidential term. De Leon, not a member of any political party and lacking a political base but with strong popular support, launched an ambitious anticorruption campaign to "purify" Congress and the Supreme Court, demanding the resignations of all members of the two bodies.
Despite considerable congressional resistance, presidential and popular pressure led to a November 1993 agreement brokered by the Catholic Church between the administration and Congress. This package of constitutional reforms was approved by popular referendum on January 30, 1994. In August 1994, a new Congress was elected to complete the unexpired term.
Under De Leon, the peace process, now brokered by the United Nations, took on new life. The government and the URNG signed agreements on human rights (March 1994), resettlement of displaced persons (June 1994), historical clarification (June 1994), and indigenous rights (March 1995). They also made significant progress on a socioeconomic and agrarian agreement. National elections for president, the Congress, and municipal offices were held in November 1995. With almost 20 parties competing in the first round, the presidential election came down to a January 7, 1996 runoff in which National Advancement Party (PAN) candidate Alvaro Arzu defeated Alfonso Portillo of the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) by just over 2% of the vote. Under the Arzu administration, peace negotiations were concluded, and the government signed peace accords ending the 36-year internal conflict in December 1996. The human rights situation also improved during Arzu's tenure, and steps were taken to reduce the influence of the military in national affairs.
In a December 1999 presidential runoff, the FRG's Portillo won 68% of the vote to 32% for Oscar Berger (PAN). Portillo's impressive electoral triumph, with two-thirds of the vote in the second round, gave him a claim to a mandate from the people to carry out his reform program. Berger, representing the Grand National Alliance (GANA) party, won the November 9, 2003 presidential election, receiving 54.1% of the vote. His opponent, Alvaro Colom Caballeros of the National Unity of Hope (UNE) party, received 45.9% of the vote.
In February 2004, after his 2000-2004 term ended, Portillo fled to Mexico to escape corruption charges. In October 2008, Mexican authorities extradited him to Guatemala to face the charges. In March 2010, a Guatemalan court ruled to approve Portillo’s extradition to the United States to face money-laundering charges after resolution of domestic charges. Portillo appealed that decision, but in August 2011, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court issued a ruling disposing of his appeal. On November 15, outgoing President Colom publicly announced that he authorized Portillo’s extradition to the United States. His extradition to the United States has been deferred, however, pending the outcome of an appeal by Guatemalan authorities on domestic embezzlement charges; he remains in prison.
Colom won the November 2007 presidential election against retired General Otto Perez Molina, with 52.8% of the vote versus 47.2%.
Congressional, municipal, and first-round presidential elections took place on September 11, 2011. The final round of presidential elections took place on November 6, 2011. Perez Molina won the November 6, 2011 election, defeating Manuel Baldizon of the Renewed Democratic Liberty Party with 54% of votes. The administration of Otto Perez Molina was inaugurated on January 14, 2012.
Common and violent crime, aggravated by a legacy of violence and vigilante justice, presents a serious challenge. Impunity remains a major problem, primarily because democratic institutions, including those responsible for the administration of justice, have developed only a limited capacity to cope with this legacy. Guatemala's judiciary is independent; however, it suffers from inefficiency, corruption, and intimidation.
Guatemala's 1985 constitution provides for a separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The 1993 constitutional reforms included an increase in the number of Supreme Court justices from 9 to 13. The reforms reduced the terms of office for president, vice president, and congressional representatives from 5 years to 4 years, and for Supreme Court justices from 6 years to 5 years; they increased the terms of mayors and city councils from 2-1/2 years to 4 years.
The president and vice president are directly elected through universal suffrage and limited to one term. A vice president can run for president after 4 years out of office. The Supreme Court consists of 13 justices who are elected by the Congress from a list of 26 qualifying candidates submitted by the bar association, law school deans, a university rector, and appellate judges. The Supreme Court and local courts handle civil and criminal cases. There also is a separate Constitutional Court.
Members of Congress are elected through a modified proportional representation system via the D’Hondt method; 127 members are chosen from lists in 23 electoral districts, and 31 members are chosen from a national list. Guatemala City and 332 other municipalities are governed by similarly elected mayors or councils. Guatemala has 22 administrative subdivisions (departments) administered by governors appointed by the president.
Government Type: constitutional democratic republic
Capital: Guatemala City - 1.075 million (2009)
Administrative divisions: 22 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento);
Independence Date: Independence Day, 15 September (1821)
Legal System: civil law system; judicial review of legislative acts Guatemala has not submitted an International Court of Justice (ICJ) declaration; the Congress ratified Statute of Rome on 18 January 2012, and International criminal court (ICCt) jurisdiction entered into force on 23 February 2012.
International environmental agreements
Guatemala is party to international agreements on Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling.
The U.S. and Central American countries signed the CONCAUSA (Conjunto Centroamerica-USA) agreement at the Summit of the Americas in December 1994. CONCAUSA is a cooperative plan of action to promote clean, efficient energy use; conserve the region's biodiversity; strengthen legal and institutional frameworks and compliance mechanisms; and improve and harmonize environmental protection standards.
Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America with a GDP per capita roughly one-half that of the average for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The agricultural sector accounts for nearly 15% of GDP and half of the labor force; key agricultural exports include coffee, sugar, and bananas.
After the signing of the final peace accord in December 1996, Guatemala was well-positioned for rapid economic growth over the next several years, until a financial crisis in 1998 disrupted the course of improvement. The subsequent collapse of coffee prices left what was once the country's leading export sector in depression and had a severe impact on rural income. Economic growth fell in 2009 as export demand from U.S. and other Central American markets declined and foreign investment slowed amid the global recession, but the economy recovered gradually in 2010 and higher growth in 2011 was expected, though this is expected to taper off slightly in 2012. Guatemala's macroeconomic management is historically sound, preserving stability and mitigating the slowdown in growth brought on by the global economic crisis in late 2008. While Guatemala’s foreign debt levels are modest, recent deficit spending and low tax collection have limited the space for further accumulation of debt. Debt rose under President Colom. During his tenure, Guatemala continued programs initiated by prior governments to promote foreign investment, enhance competitiveness, and expand investment in the export and tourist sectors. Colom also added some high-profile conditional-cash-transfer and other social programs. These social programs appear to be on the way to becoming institutionalized. Following the implementation of these investment-related programs and the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows increased from $592 million in 2006 to $753 million in 2008. The onset of the global economic crisis caused FDI inflows to decline to $600 in 2009 before rebounding to $806 million in 2010.
Guatemala's economy is dominated by the private sector, which generates nearly 90% of GDP. Agriculture contributes 13.3% of GDP and accounts for 26% of exports. Most manufacturing is light assembly and food processing, geared to the domestic, U.S., and Central American markets. Over the past several years, tourism and exports of textiles, apparel, and nontraditional agricultural products such as winter vegetables, fruit, and cut flowers have boomed, while more traditional exports such as sugar, bananas, and coffee continue to represent a large share of the export market.
The United States is the country's largest trading partner, providing 37% of Guatemala's imports and receiving 38.5% of its exports. The government's involvement is small, with its business activities limited to public utilities--some of which have been privatized--ports and airports, and several development-oriented financial institutions.
Guatemala ratified the CAFTA-DR on March 10, 2005, and the agreement entered into force between Guatemala and the U.S. on July 1, 2006. CAFTA-DR eliminates customs tariffs on as many categories of goods as possible; opens services sectors; and creates clear and readily enforceable rules in areas such as investment, government procurement, intellectual property protection, customs procedures, electronic commerce, the use of sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures to protect public health, and resolution of business disputes. It also provides for protection of internationally recognized labor rights and environmental standards.
President Colom entered into office with the promise to increase education, healthcare, and rural development, and in April 2008 he inaugurated a conditional cash transfer program, modeled after programs in Brazil and Mexico, that provide financial incentives for poor families to keep their children in school and get regular health check-ups.
At only 11.2% of GDP in 2011 (up from 10.5% in 2010), Guatemala’s tax collection is lower than the Latin American average of 13.9%. In addition to raising overall tax revenues, continuing priorities include increasing transparency and accountability in public finances, broadening the tax base, strengthening the enforcement of tax laws, and completing implementation of financial sector reforms.
The United States, along with other donor countries--especially Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Japan--the European Union, and the international financial institutions, have increased development project financing since the signing of the peace accords. However, donor support remains contingent upon Guatemalan Government reforms and counterpart financing.
Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America. According to the World Bank, Guatemala has one of the most unequal income distributions in the hemisphere. The wealthiest 20% of the population consumes 51% of Guatemala’s GDP. As a result, about 51% of the population lives on less than $2 a day and 15% on less than $1 a day. Poverty among indigenous groups, which make up 38% of the population, averages 76% and extreme poverty rises to 28%. 43% of children under five are chronically malnourished, one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world. Guatemala's social development indicators, such as infant mortality, chronic child malnutrition, and illiteracy, are among the worst in the hemisphere. The United States has provided disaster assistance and food aid in response to natural disasters including Hurricane Stan, which caused extensive mudslides in Guatemala in October 2005; in response to El Nino-related drought in 2009 and 2010; and following severe flooding from Tropical Storm Agatha and other heavy rainfall in late 2010, as well as following more heavy rainfall in 2011.
Given Guatemala's large expatriate community in the United States, it is the top remittance recipient in Central America, with inflows serving as a primary source of foreign income equivalent to nearly two-thirds of exports or one-tenth of GDP.
GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $73.95 billion (2011 est.)
GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $46.7 billion (2011 est.)
GDP- per capita (PPP): $5,000 (2011 est.)
GDP- composition by sector:
services: 63.2% (2011 est.)
Industries: sugar, textiles and clothing, furniture, chemicals, petroleum, metals, rubber, tourism
Currency: Quetzales (GTQ)
- Bruce G.Trigger, Wilcomb E.Washburn and Richard E. W.Adams. 2000. The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas
- Richardson Gill. 2000. The Great Maya Droughts. University of New Mexico Press
- Walter Randolph Adams and John P.Hawkins. 2007. Health Care in Maya Guatemala: Confronting Medical Pluralism in a Developing Country. University of Oklahoma Press