gwätmä´l, officially Republic of Guatemala, republic (2005 est. pop. 14,655,000), 42,042 sq mi (108,889 sq km), Central America. The country is bounded on the north and west by Mexico, on the east by Belize and the Caribbean Sea, on the southeast by Honduras and El Salvador, and on the southwest by the Pacific Ocean. The capital and largest city is Guatemala City. In addition to the capital, important cities include Puerto Barrios, San José, Quezaltenango, and Antigua Guatemala.
A highland region, where most of the population lives, cuts across the country from west to east. The rugged main range includes the inactive volcano Tajumulco, which is the highest point in Central America (13,816 ft/4,211 m). The range is flanked on the Pacific side by a string of volcanoes (some active), such as Tacaná, Acatenango, and Agua. Volcanic eruptions, floods, and hurricanes have plagued Guatemala throughout history. In the center of the range is Lake Atitlán, and south of the highlands is the Pacific coastal lowland. North of them are the Caribbean lowland and the vast tropical forest known as Petén. Lake Petén Itzá is in N central Guatemala. The largest river is the Motagua, which flows into the Caribbean at the port of Puerto Barrios. North of the Motagua is the Lake Izabal–Río Dulce system, which was a major waterway in colonial times.
About 60% of the population is of mixed Mayan and Spanish descent (Ladinos) and about 40% are of purely Mayan origin. The latter have historically suffered from discrimination, poverty, and relative geographical isolation. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion, and there are also Protestant and traditional Mayan minorities. Spanish is the language of about 60% of the people; the balance speak several indigenous dialects.
Coffee, sugar, and bananas are the leading commercial and export crops in Guatemala's mainly agricultural economy. There is some manufacturing, primarily of refined sugar, textiles and clothing for the U.S. market, furniture, and chemicals. Zinc and lead concentrates are mined. There are nickel and petroleum deposits in the north, and a petroleum industry has developed, although it has been limited by political unrest and environmentalist opposition. Extensive jade deposits are found in E central Guatemala. The Mayan town of Chichicastenango is a popular site for the nation's tourist industry. The leading imports include fuel, machinery, transportation equipment, construction materials, grain, fertilizers, and electricity. The United States, El Salvador, and Mexico are the major trading partners.
Guatemala is governed under the constitution of 1986 as amended. It provides for a president who is popularly elected for four years and may not serve consecutive terms. Members of the 158-member Congress of the Republic are also elected for four-year terms. The major political parties are the National Centrist Union (UCN), the Christian Democratic party (DCG), the National Advancement party (PAN), and the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG). Guatemala is divided administratively into 22 departments.
The Maya-Quiché (see Quiché) inhabited Guatemala long before the arrival of the Spanish. They were defeated (1523–24) by the Spaniard Pedro de Alvarado, who became captain general of Guatemala. The first colonial capital was Ciudad Vieja, or Santiago. The conquerors found little of the gold they sought, but cocoa and indigo were raised with forced labor. Central America became independent from Spain in 1821. Guatemala was first a part of the Mexican Empire of Agustín de Iturbide and then became a nucleus of the Central American Federation. After the federation collapsed, Guatemala became a separate nation (1839).
Guatemalan interference in the affairs of other Central American republics during the 19th and early 20th cent., under the conservative dictatorships of Rafael Carrera and Manuel Estrada Cabrera and under the liberal, Justo Ruffino Barrios, caused intense hostility and finally led to the Washington Conference of 1907, which established the Central American Court of Justice. Jorge Ubico became president in 1931, and his tenure was marked by repressive rule and an improvement in the nation's finances.
After Guatemala declared war on the Axis powers in 1941, the large German-owned coffee holdings were expropriated. Popular discontent led to Ubico's overthrow in 1944 and his replacement by Juan José Arévalo. Arévalo launched a series of labor and agrarian reforms that were continued by Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, who succeeded him in 1951. A law expropriating large estates angered foreign plantation owners, particularly the United Fruit Company. As Communist influence in the Arbenz government increased, relations with the United States deteriorated. In 1954 the United States aided the anti-Arbenz military force that placed Col. Carlos Castillo Armas in power. When Castillo Armas was assassinated three years later, Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes became president. Guatemalan bases were used to train anti-Castro guerrillas in the early 1960s; around the same time, dissident leftist military officers and students combined to form a guerrilla movement.
In 1963 the prospect of the return to power of Arévalo led to a military coup under the defense minister, Enrique Peralta Azurdia. However, leftist guerrilla activity and terrorism mounted, in turn provoking rightist repression. In 1966 the moderate leftist Julio César Méndez Montenegro was elected president; he allowed the army to conduct a major anti-insurgency campaign against the guerrillas in which thousands were killed. In Aug., 1968, in the continuing violence, the U.S. ambassador was assassinated.
In the 1970 election, Col. Carlos Arana Osorio, an extreme conservative, was chosen president. He imposed a one-year state of siege in an attempt to end the violence. In the early 1970s many labor and political leaders were killed and several foreign diplomats were kidnapped. When no candidate received an absolute majority in the presidential election of 1974, the legislature declared Gen. Kjell Laugerud García the winner, even though Gen. José Efraín Ríos Montt, the antigovernment candidate, had allegedly won a plurality.
Violence continued in the 1970s and 1980s, with reports that anti-insurgency campaigns were destroying Indian villages and killing tens of thousands. In 1977 the United States cut off military aid to Guatemala. After three elections widely regarded as fraudulent, Gen. Ríos Montt took power in a 1982 coup and ruled by decree; he was deposed the next year by another strongman, Gen. Oscar Mejias Victores. During the early 1980s leftist guerrillas formed what became known as the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Union (URNG) and began an insurgency against the government.
A civilian reformist, Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo, became president in 1985, after elections held under a new constitution, but his government did not seem to pose a substantial challenge to the power of the military. He was succeeded in 1990 by Jorge Serrano Elías, a right-wing businessman; Serrano adopted unpopular austerity measures, and in 1993, when he attempted to institute rule by decree, he was forced by the army to resign. Ramiro de León Carpio, the attorney general for human rights, was elected by the congress to succeed Serrano and won passage of anticorruption reforms.
In 1996, Álvaro Arzú Irigoyen, a former mayor of Guatemala City and foreign minister, won the presidency. He conducted a purge of top military officers and, in Dec., 1996, his government signed a UN-supervised peace accord with the URNG guerrillas, who subsequently regrouped as a political party. The 1999 presidential elections were won by Alfonso Portillo Cabrera, a lawyer and rightist associated with former dictator Ríos Montt and backed by the Guatemalan Republican Front. A draft settlement reached in 2002 with Belize concerning their disputed border contained maritime, but not land, concessions by Belize; the agreement must be approved by national referendums in both nations.
Óscar Berger Perdomo, a conservative former mayor of Guatemala City and the leader of the Grand National Alliance, won the presidency in Dec., 2003, after a runoff election. In the first round of voting in November, Ríos Montt made a bid for the presidency despite a ban on candidates who had overthrown a government. He came in third, and the November vote was marred by violence and intimidation that was largely blamed on his supporters. In early 2004 former President Portillo was implicated in a corruption scandal, and he fled to Mexico. Some 10,000 soldiers were demobilized in May–June, 2004, and in July the government paid compensation to victims of human-rights violations that occurred during the civil war. UN supervision of the peace process ended in Dec., 2004. Rains from Tropical Storm Stan caused flooding and mudslides in Oct., 2005, that resulted in hundreds of deaths in Guatemala. Since 2002 the country has suffered from increasing gang and, more recently, anti-gang vigilante violence.