Article

Sobre Guatemala

Guatemala

Guatemala

Guatemala has the distinction of being the home of one of the Americas’ ancient
cultures: the Mayan civilization. That indigenous civilization, which goes as far back as
2,000 BC, was based mainly in modern-day Guatemala, and to a lesser degree in
southern Mexico (including Quintana Roo, Yucatan and Chiapas regions), and portions
of Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras.
The Mayan civilization (which was centered in the highlands of Guatemala) came to an
abrupt end when the Spanish conquered the country in 1525. Spanish colonial
authorities established the Captaincy General of Guatemala to govern over Central
America (which included what’s now southern Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras,
Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Guatemala). When the Central American countries
became independent of Spain in 1821, Guatemala became part of the Federal Republic
of Central America (which included the other modern-day Central American countries,
except for Panama – which was part of Colombia at the time). Due to unresolved
political differences, that Federation dissolved, with Guatemala and neighboring
countries becoming independent of one another in 1841.
Since then, Guatemala went through a series of authoritarian regimes. By the early 20 th
century, much of the country’s economy was agricultural, and was controlled by foreign
agribusiness interests, in particular the American firm United Fruit Company (UFC) –
whose interests were the industrial-level production & export of the region’s agricultural
crops (ranging from coffee to sugar cane, bananas, etc.). Because of their heavy
reliance on agricultural exports at the time, Guatemala, along with neighboring
Honduras and other Central American states, were the inspiration behind the political
term “banana republic” (used by journalists to describe the governments that existed in
that region).
During the mid-1940s, a pro-democracy movement that pushed for open elections
resulted in a reformist government (led by Guatemalan politician Juan José Arévalo,
who instituted a literacy program and a freer electoral process). One of his supporters,
fellow politician Jacobo Arbenz, was elected into the country’s presidency in 1951, who
put through a sweeping agrarian reform law (which confiscated idle lands and gave
them to landless peasants). Since such measures angered international agribusiness
interests, elements of the U.S. government (concerned about the alleged spread of
Communism in the region) encouraged the eventual overthrow of Arbenz and his
government by that country’s military in 1954 – which included the aerial bombing of
portions of the capital (such as the government’s oil reserves), along with smaller towns.
For decades since that dramatic event, the country had been ruled by the military.
For all intents & purposes, Guatemala was in a state of civil war from 1960 to 1996, due
to the military regime’s policies. On and off military operations in the country’s Mayan
highlands were conducted over time (targeting rebels who were suspected of taking
sanctuary in those regions). Guatemala’s civil war never gained much international
media attention, despite U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s concern over the spread of

Communism in Central America (highlighted by the rise of the Sandinista government in
Nicaragua during the 1980s, Reagan’s support of “contra” rebel forces against the
Sandinistas at that time, a civil war raging in El Salvador, and neighboring Honduras
and Costa Rica getting caught up in those conflicts at the time). What little media
attention Guatemala generated during the 1980s were massacres ordered by the
military ruler at the time (Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt – who received not only support from
Reagan, but from staunch anti-Communist conservative American evangelical
preachers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson). By 1996, a peace accord was signed
between the Guatemalan government and was what was left of that country’s
insurgency, which never achieved the prominence of the FMLN guerrillas in neighboring
El Salvador during the 1980s (who successfully negotiated a more favorable agreement
with conservative Salvadoran rulers when their civil war ended in the early 1990s).
In recent times, Guatemala, no longer under military rule, has been striving to rectify its
controversial period of the 1980s, encouraged by local human rights activists like
Rigoberta Menchú (who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her efforts to promote
indigenous rights and justice against members of the country’s military). Guatemala’s
now-civilian-led government wants to diversify its economy away from its agrarian past,
by taking steps to increase tourist activity in the country (using its Mayan ruins as a
major attraction). By 2013, some 1.7 million visitors came to Guatemala (an increase
from 826,000 in 2000). That number rose to 2.1 million in 2017, drawn not only to the
country’s Mayan ruins, but to its little-known eco-tourist destinations like Lake Atitlán.