In the area today, Guatemala flourished the
high culture of the Maya people between the 300 and 900
AD. It had stagnated when Spain colonized the region in
the 1520s. After independence in 1821, Guatemala was
first included in the empire of Mexico, then in the
Central American Union and eventually became an
independent republic in 1838.
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Guatemala, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
A couple of thousand years before our times, people
became settled in what is today Guatemala. Eventually,
the high-ranking Mayan culture grew in the highlands. It
spread to what is now southern Mexico and neighboring
countries to the south. Mayans were eminent
mathematicians, astronomers and architects. During the
glamorous period of Mayan culture between the 300 and
900 century, the temple town of Tikal in northern
Guatemala was built.
When the Spanish conquerors came to the area in the
1520s, the Maya civilization had long since passed its
peak. The kingdom had been divided into a number of
smaller city states that fought among themselves. The
Spaniards were able to quickly take control of the
entire region, which was proclaimed to the Viceroy of
New Spain. The military superiority of the Europeans and
the diseases they brought with them had devastating
consequences for the Maya people, even though some of
them sought refuge in the inaccessible mountains.
Spanish settlers gradually seized land and ruthlessly
exploited the indigenous peoples as labor.
The Mexicans' revolt against colonial power in 1821
also led Central America to become independent. The area
was first included in Mexico, but after two years the
Central American Union was formed. However, this was
characterized by contradictions between local leaders (caudillos).
The Union collapsed beginning in 1838, when Rafael
Carrera entered Guatemala City. Carrera was a
conservative caudillo who came to dominate politics in
Guatemala until his death in 1865.
Independence meant no change in the social structure
established during the colonial era. Power remained with
a small group of landlords who, with the support of the
Catholic Church and the military, used the poor
Guatemalans as labor. The economy was unilaterally based
on plantation cultivation and growth was slow.
In 1871 the so-called liberal revolution began. The
economy was modernized by investing in improved
infrastructure, growing export crops and increasing
foreign investment. The power of the church was broken
and its large lands were sold to private stakeholders,
often German immigrants. Coffee began to grow in the
The indigenous peoples lost in connection with this
vast land area, which they owned collectively, and they
became even more dependent on day labor. In the early
1900s, bananas started growing in the lowlands. The
American banana company United Fruit Company became one
of Guatemala's most influential landowners.
The coup ends the period of democracy
The last representative of the era was General Jorge
Ubico, who was elected president in 1931. During Ubico,
political repression increased and during World War II
he succeeded in beating both nationalists in the army
and progressive intellectuals. It paved the way for a
popular rise and in 1944 Ubico was forced to resign.
Now Guatemala's first democratic period began. A new
constitution was written that guaranteed basic civil
liberties and rights. President Juan José Arévalo and
his successor Jacobo Árbenz modernized the economy and
implemented social reforms. Great efforts were made to
build hospitals, schools and housing. A campaign was
launched to increase literacy among the population.
Trade unions were formed.
Attempts were also made to break the US grip on the
country's foreign policy and economy. A law on land
redistribution was passed in 1952 and became a threat to
major landowners, including the United Fruit Company.
The US then stopped all aid with the motivation that
Communists threatened Guatemala's stability. When a
group of exile Guatemalans with US support in 1954
marched into the country to overthrow Árbenz, the
president did not receive the support of the army.
Official apology for massacre
President Colom sends an official apology to the relatives of the victims of
the massacre in the village of Dos Erres in 1982. He calls the incident a shame
in Guatemala's history (see August 2011). Around 250 people
were murdered in the massacre that lasted for a couple of days.
Pérez Molina elected president
In the second round of the presidential election, the right-wing party PP's
Otto Pérez Molina wins with 54 percent of the vote against 46 percent for Manuel
Baldizón, who belongs to the relatively newly formed party Líder (see
May 2009). In the second round, Baldizón is supported by UNE / Ghana.
No winner in the first round
In the first round of the presidential election, PP candidate Otto Pérez
Molina receives 36 percent of the vote, which is a significantly lower figure
than the opinion polls pointed out and far from the 50 percent required to win
already in the first round. Two come Líder's candidate, businessman Manuel
Baldizón, with 23 percent. In the contemporary congressional elections, PP
becomes the largest with 56 seats. UNE-Ghana receives 48 seats, Líder and Union
for National Change (UCN) receive 14 each, Engagement, Renewal and Order (Creo)
receive 12, and the other 14 seats.
Jail sentences for 1980s massacres
A court sentenced four former government soldiers to lengthy prison sentences
for a massacre of civilians in the village of Dos Erres in 1982. The soldiers
receive 30 years in prison for each of 201 murder victims, many of whom were
women, the elderly and children. In practice, they cannot sit in jail for more
than 50 years under the law. The villagers were shot or beaten to death because
they were suspected of cooperating with the left guerrillas who were then active
in the country.
The president's wife is refused to stand for election
An appeals court rejects Sandra Torres as presidential candidate, stating
that her divorce from President Colom is "legal fraud" in order to circumvent
the constitutional ban on the president's close relatives to run for election
(see March 2011). Shortly thereafter, the Constitutional Court
comes to the same conclusion. Thus, Torres, who has been two in the opinion
polls, is disqualified from the presidential election in September, and the
ruling party UNE and the allied Ghana are thus left without a candidate. The
right-wing PP candidate Otto Pérez Molina is clearly the favorite for the
27 dead in massacres
A massacre in northern Guatemala is another reminder that drug-related
violence seems to be moving across the border from Mexico. 27 farm workers are
found murdered, most beheaded, on a large farm. The Mexican drug cartel Zetas is
suspected to have carried out the massacre as the landlords were unable to state
where the farm's owner was. An emergency permit is introduced in the province of
El Petén (see also December 2010).
Ex-President is freed
A court acquits ex-President Portillo of the corruption charges in the
absence of evidence (see October 2008 and January 2010). However, Portillo is
banned from leaving the country pending the appeal and the US request to have
him extradited has been processed. Two co-accused former ministers are also
released. The verdict is a severe setback for Cicig, who is investigating the
organized crime's infiltration of state power.
The president's wife candidate in the election
President Colom's wife Sandra Torres de Colom confirms that she is running
for UNE and Ghana in the September presidential election. However, the candidacy
contravenes the constitution which states that a close relative of a sitting
president must not stand in presidential elections - and a few days after the
announcement, the presidential couple is applying for divorce. Torres says she
leaves a loving marriage for the nation. Opposition candidate Otto Pérez Molina
accuses the pair of trying to circumvent the Constitution.
The state of emergency is canceled
The state of emergency in the province of Alta Verapaz is lifted (see
December 2010). Over 20 suspected members of the Mexican drug league Zetas have
been arrested without arrest warrant during the state of emergency.
Valallians should stop violence
In an attempt to avoid electoral violence, similar to the one that erupted
during the 2007 election campaign (see Modern History), 21 of the 25 parties
that registered for the September 2011 elections agreed on an "ethics pact" to
uphold a number of "democratic principles" ".