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mapa de guatemala click on the image to enlarge
Like many other countries in Latin America it is widely believed that the first inhabitants of Guatemala were nomadic hunter gathers who had traveled across the Bering Straits to reach the Americas. It is thought that theses tribes of people first reached Central America around 12000 BC. After a period of initial settlement during which time agriculture was developed, the more advanced culture of the Ancient Mayan people began to emerge. Archaeological evidence shows that the Mayan had started to build ceremonial architecture by approximately 1000 BC and by 6000 BC some of the earliest Mayan complexes had been constructed.

El Castillo de San Felipe de Lara click on the image to enlarge
The period between 300 AD and 900 AD is known as The Classic Period of the Mayan, this is because Mayan architecture and culture flourished during this time. The Mayan refined the calendar, they developed a more advanced written language and all the large Mayan cities, that can be still seen today, were built during the Classical Period.

However, this peak of Mayan development was only for a short period. By 750 AD problems had arose and the collapse of this society had begun. There are many theories on what happened. For example at this point in time the climate changed and therefore there may have been a food shortage. In any case, populations decreased and cities were gradually abandoned. By 830 AD development and construction had stopped. Some cities in Belize and Yucatan survived for a bit longer, but in Guatemala the people abandoned the cities and redistributed to the villages in the high lands.

No other major civilisations developed in Guatemala after the demise of the Mayan but many of the Mayan traditions lived on amongst the people.

Catedral de Guatemala click on the image to enlarge
The next major players in Guatemala’s history were the Spanish. The Spanish failed to conquer this area by force, but they later succeeded through the Catholic Church. The name ¨Goathemala¨ was given to the area by the Spanish conquistadors; it was derived from indigenous words meaning ¨Land of many trees¨.

During the colonial period, Guatemala was a Captaincy General of Spain, but technically still a part of New Mexico. It extended from Southern Mexico to Costa Rica. However this region was not as rich in minerals (gold and silver) as Mexico or Peru and was therefore not considered important. Its main products were sugarcane, cocoa, blue aņil dye, red dye from cochineal insects and precious woods used in artwork for churches and palaces in Spain.

mapa de guatemala click on the image to enlarge
On September 15, 1821,Guatemala became independent. The new Guatemalan Republic included part of Soconusco region, and what are now the countries of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Its 1.5 million inhabitants were concentrated in urban centers.

In 1821, the province of El Salvador convinced the other Guatemalan provinces to join the Mexican Empire, an idea of Agustin Iturbide. But a year later Iturbide was forced to abdicate, his empire collapsed and Guatemala separated from Mexico, losing the regions of Chiapas and Soconusco.

The Guatemalan provinces formed the United Provinces of Central America, also called the Central American Federation (Federacion de Estados Centroamericanos). The capital city remained Guatemala City, which is still today the most populous city in Central America.

A politically unstable period followed, aggravated by the collapse of the world market for aņil (indigo), the country's main export to Europe, due to the invention of synthetic dyes. This prompted each province to leave the Federation, from 1838 to 1840, beginning with Costa Rica, and Guatemala became an independent nation.

Carlos Castillo Armas click on the image to enlarge
Guatemalan history is marked by the Cold War between the U.S. and the USSR. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with a small group of Guatemalans, overthrew the freely-elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 after the government expropriated unused land owned by the United Fruit Company, a U.S.-based banana merchant. The CIA codename for the coup was Operation PBSUCCESS, its second successful overthrow of a foreign government. The subsequent military rule, beginning with dictator Carlos Castillo Armas, led to over 30 years of civil war that, from 1960, led to the death of an estimated 200,000 Guatemalan civilians. Due to the military's use of rampant torture, disappearances, "scorched earth" warfare and many other brutal methods, the country became a pariah state internationally.

From the 1950s to the 1990s (with a suspension of military aid between 1977 and 1982), the US government directly supported Guatemala's army with training, weapons and money. The United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets) were sent to Guatemala to transform its army into a "modern counter-insurgency force" and made it the most powerful and sophisticated in Central America. CIA involvement included the training of 5,000 Cubans opposed to Fidel Castro and airstrips in its territory for what later became the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961. In 1999, then US president Bill Clinton stated that the United States was wrong to have provided support to Guatemalan military forces that took part in the brutal civilian killings.

Current URNG symbolIn 1982, four Marxist groups formed the guerrilla organization Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG).

UNESCO Director-General, and Mrs Rigoberta Menchú click on the image to enlarge
In 1992, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous human rights activist, for her efforts to bring international attention to the government-sponsored genocide against the indigenous population.

Alvaro Arzu Irigoyen click on the image to enlarge
The bloody 36-year war ended in 1996 with a peace accord between the guerrillas and the government of President Álvaro Arzú, negotiated by the United Nations. Both sides made major concessions. The army controlled urban centers, while URNG maintained a strong presence in the countryside. According to the U.N.-sponsored Truth Commission, government forces and paramilitaries were responsible for over 90% of the human rights violations during the war. During the first 10 years, the victims of the state-sponsored terror were primarily students, workers, professionals, and opposition figures of all political tendencies, but in the last years, they were thousands of mostly rural Mayan farmers and non-combatants. More than 450 Mayan villages were destroyed and over one million people became refugees. This is considered one of the worst ethnic cleansings in modern Latin America. In certain areas, such as Baja Verapaz, the Truth Commission considered that the Guatemalan state engaged in an intentional policy of genocide against particular ethnic groups.

Since the peace accord, Guatemala has enjoyed successive democratic elections, most recently in 2003. However, corruption is still rampant at all levels of government. A huge cache of National Police files discovered in December 2005 revealed methods of public security officials to quell unrest of citizens during the Civil War.
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