Introduction to Guatemala:

The civilization of the Maya flourished in Guatemala (meaning land of trees) and surrounding regions during the first millennium A.D. ("Anno Domini", which means "the year of out lord"). After nearly 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. The Guatemalan government signed a peace agreement formally ending the conflict, in 1996, which had left more than 100,000 people dead and had created more than 1 million refugees. Today Mayan ruins decorate the landscape attracting tourists, anthropologists and archeologists while poverty plagues much of the nation and crime remains a problem.

Physical Geography:

Location: Guatemala is located in Central America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Honduras and Belize and bordering the North Pacific Ocean between El Salvador and Mexico.

Longitude and Latitude:
Latitude: 15°30'N Longitude: 90°15'W
Map of Guatemala (Photo 1)

Size: Area: 108,890 km2

Physical Features:
Minimum height: 0 m (Pacific Ocean)
Maximum height: 4220 m (Volcan Tajumulco)
Water: 0.42%
Lands under cultivation: 17%
Wild pasture lands: 24%
Forests: 26%
Coastline: 400 km
Longest river: 486 km
Land boundaries: 1,687 km
Countries bordered: Mexico 962 km, Belize 266 km,
El Salvador 203 km, Honduras 256 km

Terrain: Mountainous with fertile coastal plain

Climate: Temperatures in Guatemala vary greatly from area to area due to the differences in altitude. The lowlands and plains have an average yearly temperature of about 80 °F (27 °C), with some seasonal change. Mountain valleys which are 4,000 to 6,000 feet (1,200 to 1,800 meters) high are usually somewhat mild. They have a yearly average temperature of 60 °F to 70 °F (16 °C to 21 °C). The higher valleys sometimes have frost, and average 40 °F (4 °C).

Environmental Issues: Deforestation in the Peten rainforest, soil erosion and water pollution.

Natural Hazards: Numerous volcanoes, occasional violent earthquakes as well as hurricanes and other tropical storms on the Caribbean coast.

Natural Resources: Petroleum, nickel, rare woods, fish, chicle, hydropower


Population: 13,276,517 (July 2009 est.)

Population growth rate: 2.066% (2009 est.)

Capital City: Guatemala City, approx 2.5 million.

Major Cities: Mixco, Villa Nueva, Quezaltenango

Urban Distribution: 4.48 million (2000)
Rural Distribution: 6.90 million (2000)

Net Migration Rate: -2.21 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2009 est.) country comparisonto the world: 134

Age structure
0-14 years: 39.4% (male 2,664,058/female 2,573,006)
15-64 years:56.8% (male 3,655,184/female 3,884,331)
65 years and over: 3.8% (male 231,652/female 268,286) (2009 est.)

urban population:
49% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 3.4% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)

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)

Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Indigenous Mayan beliefs

Languages: 60% Spanish, 40% Amerindian languages. In Guatemala there are 23 officially recognized Amerindian languages, which include Quiche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, Garifuna, and Xinca.

Álvaro Colom, current president of Guatemala. (Photo 2)
The form of government of Guatemala is set up in a way known as a presidential representative democratic republic, in which the president is the head of state and head of government. In addition, the government is set up in the typical three-branch system, wherein the executive power is exercised by the government, legislative power is exercised by the government and Congress, and an independent judiciary. This separation of powers of the three branches was laid out in the 1985 Constitution of Guatemala. In 1993 reforms were made to the Constitution in which terms of office of nearly all members of government, including the president were reduced. In addition, it is worth noting that the country is divided in 22 administrative departments. Currently the president of Guatemala is Álvaro Colom, leader of the social-democratic National Union of Hope.
As well, the current vice-president, José Rafael Espada, is also a prominent member of the political party known as the National Union for Hope. Other important political parties in Guatemala include the Patriotic Party, led of Otto Pérez Molina, and the Grand National Alliance, led by Alejandro Giammattei. Also, it was in the 2007 elections that Colom and the National Union for Hope defeated Molina and the Partriotic Party. Furthermore, being a democratic republic, Guatemala follows practices of universal suffrage.

Education and Health:

Guatemala’s health system is divided into three main sectors. A public sector, which is mainly under the Ministerio de Salud Publica y Asistencia( Department of Public Health and Assistance. Also in this sector there is the Instituto Guatemanteco de Seguridad Social (Guatemalan Institute of Social Security). The last one provides benefits and health care for workers and their families in the formal sector who are covered. There is also a private for-profit sector and the private nonprofit sector, which include around 1100 nongovernmental organizations, 82% of them national.
An example of healthcare in Guatemala. (Photo 3)

Median Age:
total: 19.4 years
male: 18.9 years
female: 20 years (2009 est.)

Population growth rate: 2.066% (2009 est.)
Birth Rate: 27.98 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Death rate: 5. (s)/1,000 population (2009 est.)

Infant Mortality Rate:
total: 27.84 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 30.2 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 25.35 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 70.29 years
male: 68.49 years
female: 72.19 years (2009 est.)

HIV/AIDS - People living with HIV/AIDS: 59,000 (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - Deaths: 3,900 (2007 est.)

As of the Guatemalan education system there is a present struggle with problems that are stretching to the whole range of education courses available. Nursery schools and universities suffer (as long as they are in the hands of the state) from severe lack of money, less qualified instructors and inadequate and bad equipment training rooms. There are private schooling institutions that do not have to face money issues but they are a privilege only for the middle upper class. But the money is not the only problem; there is also the discrimination of the indigenous population. This is mostly because the kids’ parents don’t think there is a need to educate them. The main reason for them to think this way is fact these schools do not have in their curriculum the Maya language or any aspects of their culture included. Therefore, they often do not send them to school, especially during the period of harvest. High rates of drop-outs, non-moving-ups and low figures in elementary qualifications are the result of this fact.

In 2005 "Save the Children", which is an independent support initiative helping assist struggling children in the United States and all over the world, teamed up with Starbucks to develop the "Guatemala Education Initiative". This initiative is aimed at bringing quality bilingual education to children in the rural highlands of Guatemala. Starbucks has made countries heavily dependent on the cultivation of coffee beans a priority through donating money as well as volunteering time to the children and the initiative.

This is a sample video of the "Guatemala Education Initative"

Visit for more information on this iniative!

Environmental Issues:
Lake Atitlán. (Photo 4)

Some of the main environmental issues in Guatemala are the deforestation in the Peten rainforest; soil erosion and water pollution. “A thick, chocolate-colored scum floats on the normally clear blue waters of Lake Atitlán, in the southwestern Guatemalan province of Sololá, caused by agricultural fertilizers and untreated sewage from surrounding villages and farms. ''; stated Danilo Valladares in a report about environmental issues regarding the Guatemalan lake in 2009. The pollution of the water has cause harm not only for the fish, crustaceans, and aquatic plants but also for humans who come into contact with the polluted water. Therefore there is a need for these people to find another source of water. But pollution is not new for the population settled around the lake. However they have being warned not to drink or bath in this water since it has brought diseases like diarrhea in five percent of the population. This pollution has become an issue also for the truism; Lake Atitlan is one of the main attractions of the region. Tourists are now afraid to visit the lake as a result of the pollution and their concern of getting sick. Meanwhile, pollution of this wonderful lake continues as it has for decades, in silence, only now giving a tangible reason for alarm. Faced with the environmental disaster in the lake, the government planned to take 32 urgent actions in six areas of work: agriculture, environmental hygiene, infrastructure, waste management, local people and tourism, and institutions, at a cost of nearly 40 million dollars, according to the Environment Ministry.


Guatemala is the largest economy in Central America, in terms of populations and total production, but has one of the lowest level of human development.Despite some economic growth in the 1990s, Guatemala's economic development was severely constrained by a heavy dependence on the agricultural sector and by one of the most unequal distribution in the whole world, with the richest 10% of the population receiving 63 times more that the poorest 10% of the population in 2000. (South America, Central America and the Caribbean 2007. 15th ed.London and New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group).
Guatemala economy depend on the export of primary products which account for more than 70% of export earning. Coffee, bananas, cardamon, and sugar are the the traditional primary export products. However, the government has attempted to alter this dependency by the implementation of an export-oriented strategy aimed at export diversification rather than import substitution. Moreover, from the end of the civil conflict in 1996, the government has been implementing macroeconomic reforms to attract foreign investment.The implementation of a series of neo-liberals reforms and the path of free trade agreements such as Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) 2006 has increased foreign investment and the diversification of non-traditional exports such as ethanol (CIA - the World Fact).
Another aspect that has helped to the Guatemala economy is remittances.Remittances from Guatemalan living abroad form a large part of the economy.From 1996, remittances increased annually, becoming Guatemala's second largest hard currency inflow after commodities exports. In 2005, remittances, provided more than six times the revenue generated by coffee exports (South America, Central America and the Caribbean 2007. 15th ed.London and New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group).
However, poverty, unskilled labor, poor infrastructures, and hurricanes are one of the main factors that continue to challenge Guatemala economic development. The distribution of income remain high unequal. For instance,more than half of the population lies below national poverty line while 15% are in extreme poverty.GDP per capita is 5,200 US dollars(CIA - the World Fact).

Rural Sector:

Guatemala’s primary contribution to its GDP comes from the service industry generating an astounding 61% (2008) of the country’s revenue, the most profitable of which is tourism
(Encyclopedia of the Nations). Guatemala is steeped in heritage dating back 1000s of years to the Mayan empire. Tourists are drawn from all over the world to visit the ancient ruins of Tikal and surrounding temples and villages. In addition, Guatemala has a diverse landscape, ranging from tropical jungles and mountain lakes, to volcanic beaches and coral reefs. Tourism has proved so profitable that the Guatemalan government has taken measures to expand the industry. Tourism is the most profitable industry in Guatemala, but the most prominent feature of the country’s rural aspect is agriculture. The agribusiness itself has had a long and colorful past, being the center of domestic and international struggle for more than 40 years. Recent peace treaties in 1996 have put an end to a civil war that has claimed more than 100, 000 lives
(Understanding Contemporary Latin America). Though the efforts to reform are at the forefront of civil concern progress is slow in a region that has been exploited ever since it was first colonized by Europeans. It is estimated that less than 1% of landowners own 75% of Guatemala’s prime agricultural land
(Guatemala Background Paper: Part I). Guatemala’s remarkably unequal distribution of land stems from a series of tragic interventions by foreign powers, notably the USA’s involvement in the coup of 1954 backed by the CIA, to overthrow Guatemala’s democratically elected president. Agriculture itself only accounts 13.2% of the GDP, but employs approximately 50% of the labor force, while it is estimated that 90% of rural inhabitants live in poverty
(Guatemala Background Paper: Part I). It remains to be seen how successful the Guatemalan government. Modernization continues to be hindered by poor infrastructure, swidden practice and poorly defined legislation.

Urban Sector:

Services (61% of GDP): retail , financial services, transportation, and computer services, tourism (nationsencyclopedia)
Manufacturing (18.5% of GDP): Types--prepared food, clothing and textiles, construction materials, tires, pharmaceuticals (
Global Finance)
Rapid urbanization can cause many problems and the rapid influx of people into Guatemala’s cities coupled with poverty has resulted in Guatemala having the highest violent crime rate in Latin America. Guatemala City is a prime example where in 2008 “approximately 40 murders a week were reported”
(U.S. Department of State). Tourists are advised not to enter the city’s dreaded zone 1 area, where most bus terminal and cheap hotels reside (U.S. Department of State). Furthermore, gang violence is becoming prominent as more and more people are turning to narco-trafficking as a means of support. The steep rise in violence demonstrates an alarming need for strong and experience police force, which according to the US state department is virtually impossible.

Guatemalan culture is unique in many aspects, particularly because of the combined influences of both Spanish and Mayan culture upon Guatemalan
The Guatemalan national team defeats Mexico in a 2007 game. (Photo 5)
society. The culture of Guatemala is highly centred on music, sport, literature, cuisine, and religion, similarly to many other Latin American countries.
In less than a century Guatemalan literature has risen in importance on the international stage, and this development can be highly attributed to Miguel Ángel Asturias. Asturias was a Guatemalan writer and diplomat most noted for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1967. He gained recognition for his work due to the fact that he greatly helped Latin American literature in coming to prominence in Western culture whilst still emphasizing the unique culture of Guatemala, as well as indigenous aspects of Guatemalan life.
As with other Latin American countries, Guatemalans highly value the importance of soccer as part of their culture. Perhaps the most recognized Guatemalan footballer is Carlos Ruiz who has played on many of the top-tier teams of North America and Latin America. Ruiz also holds the prestigious rank of being the all-time leading goal-scorer for his national team.
Due to the mixed influences on Guatemalan culture it should not be surprising that Guatemalan music is also quite diverse and has a wide range of popular musicians as well. In Guatemala, Ricardo Arjona has gained widespread recognition and is arguably the best known singer and songwriter of Guatemalan origin. Howeve
A marimba, the national instrument of Guatemala. (Photo 6)
r, Arjona’s music is largely quite modern and pop-based, and does not represent the true diversity of Guatemalan music. The most distinguishing aspect of Guatemalan music is that of the use of the marimba. The marimba is an instrument that it closely related to the xylophone and is played all across the country, and it is for this reason that the marimba has gained the status of being the national musical instrument of Guatemala. In Guatemala the most common forms of music involve the marimba and string-instruments, and generally have a folk style. In certain areas, specifically near the Caribbean coast, there are different styles of music that are more highly-influenced by the Afro-Caribbean peoples. In addition, it is to be noted that a Guatemalan, singer Carlos Peña, was the winner of the highly popular television series called Latin American Idol.In addition, Guatemala’s cooking scene is quite diverse and really reflects the multiculturalism of the country. Guatemalan cuisine varies from region to region, and in some parts for example there is much Mayan influence whereas in other parts there is more Iberian influence. Staple foods of Guatemalan cuisine include corn, beans, and chilli peppers.
As in most of the rest of Latin America, Guatemala was highly influenced by Roman Catholicism. However, the 1960s saw Protestant Pentecostalism gain widespread popularity in the country to eventually become what is Guatemala’s predominant religion. In addition, as with other aspects of Guatemalan culture, their religion is also interspersed with aspects that were carried over from the old Mayan religions.

Unique Features:
Tikal National Park. (Photo 7)
Guatemala is a diverse land of many interesting aspects and features. For example, Guatemala is home to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than many other Latin American countries, including Paraguay, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. The three UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Guatemala are all top tourist attractions, particularly the impressive Mayan ruins of Tikal National Park. Tikal is most noted for the fact that it is one of the largest Mayan archaeological sites, and is believed to
A view of Guatemala City showing the many nearby volcanoes. (Photo 8)
have once been home to almost 100,000 Mayans.
Furthermore, Guatemala has other unique features in, for example, the fact of a long-standing border dispute with the neighbouring nation of Belize. Although, the two sides are tolerating a long-lasting stalemate at the present time, in previous years much violence and political tensions have been caused over this territorial dispute. Guatemala’s territorial claim is that of the entire country of Belize and that it was unjustly taken from Guatemala by colonial powers centuries ago. Belize however argues that Guatemala is merely trying to cover up their own expansionist goals by falsely claiming wrong-doing by the colonial powers of previous centuries, and is threatening the independence of a sovereign nation. Little has been done to resolve the tensions on this issue since the 1980s.
Other notable features of Guatemala include that of the country’s frequent volcanic and earthquake activity. Guatemala has experienced earthquakes in each of the past three years, but by far the most destructive was the earthquake of 1976. In 1976 approximately 23,000 people died and 76,000 were injured in an earthquake that measured at a 7.5 on the Richter scale. Guatemala also has many active volcanoes, including four that are very near to Guatemala City. In particular the volcano of Pacaya erupted violently in 1965 and has been continuously erupting ever since making it one of the most active volcanoes in Guatemala. Much of the earthquake and volcanic activity in Guatemala can be attributed to the fact that Guatemala lies on the highly active Montagua Fault Zone.


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