Country profile: Guatemala
A country of striking
features and a strong indigenous culture, Guatemala's natural beauty
and powerful identity stand in stark contrast to its bloody past and
Mountainous, heavily forested and dotted
with Mayan ruins, lakes, volcanoes, orchids and exotic birds, Guatemala
is one of the most beautiful countries in Central America.
Its indigenous population, the Maya, make
up about half of the population. Mayan languages are spoken alongside
Spanish, the official tongue. Many Guatemalans are of mixed
Guatemala's beauty and strength of identity have not been
accompanied by cohesion and prosperity. In 1996 it emerged from a
36-year-long civil war which pitted leftist, mostly Mayan insurgents
against the army, which - backed by the US - waged a vicious campaign
to eliminate the guerrillas.
Guatemalan pilgrims at a procession to honour the Virgin of Guadeloupe
More than 200,000 people - most of them civilians - were killed or disappeared.
an official finding that 93% of all atrocities carried out during the
war had been committed by the security forces, moves to bring those
responsible to account started only after a long delay.
live in one of the most inequitable societies in the region. Poverty is
particularly widespread in the countryside and among indigenous
Illiteracy, infant mortality and malnutrition are
among the highest in the region, life expectancy is among the lowest
and, in common with many of its neighbours, the country is plagued by
organised crime and violent street gangs. It is a major corridor for
smuggling drugs from South America to the United States.
talks and international mediation, a long-running territorial dispute
with neigbouring Belize remains unresolved. Guatemala lays claim to
thousands of square kilometres of land.
- Full name: Republic of Guatemala
- Population: 14 million (UN, 2009)
- Capital: Guatemala City
- Major languages: Spanish, more than 20 indigenous languages
- Major religion: Christianity, indigenous Mayan beliefs
- Life expectancy: 67 years (men), 74 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 quetzal = 100 centavos
- Main exports: Coffee, sugar, bananas, fruits and vegetables, meat, petroleum, cardamon
- GNI per capita: US $2,680 (World Bank, 2008)
- Internet domain: .gt
- International dialling code: + 502
President: Alvaro Colom
Engineer and businessman
Alvaro Colom narrowly won the presidential election in November 2007 as
centre left candidate of the National Unity for Hope (UNE).
He took office in January 2008.
He defeated right-wing
retired general Otto Perez Molina, who said he would take a tough
approach - mano dura, or strong hand - to social problems.
Colom does not belong to any of Guatemala's 23 Mayan ethnic groups, he
is an ordained Mayan minister, and won a large share of the vote from
the indigenous groups that represent 40% of the population.
Following his victory, he said he would create a government with a ''Mayan face'' that would seek national unity.
also pledged to deal with the country's high crime and murder rates by
tackling corruption in the security forces and judiciary, taking on the
drug barons, and working to lift people out of poverty.
former deputy minister of economy inherits one of the poorest countries
in Spanish speaking Latin America, where a large proportion of the
population live on less than US$2 a day and the rich oppose tax
In May 2009, Mr Colom's presidency was clouded by
controversy when a murdered lawyer, in a video recorded before his
death, said the president and other senior officials were trying to
kill him and would be responsible for his murder.
protesters marched though the capital to demand Mr Colom's resignation
in response. The president insists he was not involved in the death of
the lawyer, Rodrigo Rosenberg.
Press freedom is enshrined in Guatemala's constitution, and newspapers freely criticise the government.
many journalists face intimidation because of their reporting, often in
the form of anonymous threats. Reporters who expose corruption are
Private operators dominate the media
scene. Four national TV channels share the same owner and have a
virtual monopoly in TV broadcasting. They have been criticised for
being pro-government. Two state TV channels are licensed but are not