The Republic of Guatemala (Spanish: República de Guatemala) is a country in Central America that shares borders with Mexico to the north and west, Belize to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the south. Guatemala has coasts on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The 2002 national census reported 11,237,196 total persons, of which nearly 60% are ladino (mestizo), just under 40% represent one of Guatemala's 21 ethnolinguistically maya groups, and a small minority are Garifuna or Xinca.
Just prior to contact with agents of the Spanish conquest, the region that is now Guatemala was divided among a handful of Maya states. Most prominent among them were the already powerful K'iche' and the Kaqchikel, who had begun a campaign of expansion in the late 15th century. With the arrival of Spanish and indigenous forces under Pedro de Alvarado in 1524, the Kaqchikel allied themselves with the invaders and the K'iche' army was defeated. Alvarado continued his conquest southward and was appointed governor of Guatemala by Charles I of Spain in 1527.
Guatemala gained its independence from Spain in 1821 as the Captaincy-General of Guatemala, which included current day Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Chiapas. It was incorporated into the newly formed Mexican Empire under Augustín de Iturbide. Chiapas remained a part of Mexico but the rest of the territory withdrew in 1823 to form The Federal Republic of Central America. The federation dissolved in civil war between 1838 and 1840 and the current territory of Guatemala was consolidated.
The U.S. backed overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 led to a civil war beginning in 1960 that intensified during the 1970s and 1980s and finally came to an end in 1996.
Aside from it's neighbour, Belize, Guatemala is the most northern of the Central American countries, with an area of 108,889sq km. Around two thirds of the country is mountainous, with narrow coastal plains to the east along the Caribbean shore, and to the west facing the Pacific. The northern part of the country consists of a heavily forested limestone plateau. One of the volcanoes within the mountainous region, Tajumulco, is the highest peak in Central America, at 4,211m. The largest body of water, Lake Izabal, is found among the marshy plains of the east.
Guatemala is a tropical country with a hot and humid climate, especially along the coast, and in the low-lying regions of the northern plateau which experiences year-round rain. The highlands are both cooler and dryer and are home to the majority of the population. The average yearly rainfall can be as low as 20 inches in the highlands yet as high as 100 inches over the north of the country.
Guatemala has been predominantly Catholic throughout most of its history as a nation. Many local variations of folk catholicism exist, having evolved as syncretic amalgams of traditional Catholic beliefs and indigenous practices.
Evangelical protestantism has enjoyed growing popularity in the latter half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first century, claiming up to 20% of the population. More than 70% still identify as Catholic.
Notes and references
- South America, Central America and the Caribbean 2007, Routledge