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Guatemalan History

1954-06-17 CIA exile army lands in Guatemala. Organised by John Foster Dulles and United Fruit Co.

    CIA-sponsored rebels overthrow elected government of Guatemala Military junta selects colonel Armas President of Guatemala Carlos Castillo Armas, Dictator and President of Guatemala, is assassinated by a palace guard with leftist sympathies

Coup d'état

1982-03-23 Guatemala military coup under General Efraín Rios Montt, President Romeo Lucas flees

Event of Interest

1983-01-07 President Reagan ends US arms embargo against Guatemala

    Military coup in Guatemala, Dictator and former General Efraín Rios Montt flees Guatemala adopts constitution Constitution of Guatemala takes effect Vinicio Cerezo becomes only the second freely elected President of Guatemala since CIA-sponsored coup in 1954 5 Central American presidents sign peace accord in Guatemala US beats Guatemala 2-1 in 3rd round of 1990 world soccer cup Jorge Serrano Elias elected President of Guatemala Jorge Serrano Elias sworn in as President of Guatemala Guatemala president Jorge Serrano overthrown by army Ramiro de Leon Carpio elected President of Guatemala Guatemala's leftist guerrillas sign key accord with government of President Alvaro Arzu aimed at ending 35 years of civil war Eighty-four people are killed and more than 180 injured as 47,000 football fans attempt to squeeze into the 36,000-seat Estadio Mateo Flores in Guatemala City. Guatemala becomes a member of the Berne Convention copyright treaty Three Salvadoran deputies to the Central American Parliament and their driver are murdered in Guatemala Five former Guatemalan paramilitaries are sentenced to 7,710 years in jail for their role in the Plan de Sanchez massacre in 1982 33,000 people are evacuated after Guatemala's Volcano of Fire erupts 48 people are killed by a magnitude 7.3 earthquake in Guatemala 6 people are killed and 41 are injured after a bus plunges 30 metres down a gorge in Guatemala 11 people are killed and 18 are injured after a gunfire attack in Guatemala City 44 people are killed and 45 are injured after a bus crashes into a ravine in Northern Guatemala Mudslide on the outskirts of Guatemala City leaves at least 131 dead and 300 missing Two Guatemalan military officers are convicted of sexual slavery during country's civil war - first ever prosecution of sexual slavery during an armed conflict 19 girls killed in a fire at a government-run care center in San José Pinula, Guatemala

The Conquest

The Maya civilization was already somewhat fragmented when Europeans arrived in the early 1500's, and the weak and divided Maya were easily conquered by the Spaniards. Pedro de Alvarado, sent by Hernán Cortés, was engaged in the conquest of the highlands of Guatemala from 1523 to 1527. Alvarado was a Spanish conquistador and governor of Guatemala, and was known for his skill as a soldier and his cruelty to native populations.

Alvarado first allied himself with the Cakchiquel nation to fight against their traditional rivals, the Quiché nation. Once he felt militarily secure, Alvarado turned against the Cakchiquels, meeting them in several battles until they were subdued in 1530. Battles with other tribes continued up to 1548, when the Kek'chí in Nueva Sevilla, Izabal were defeated, leaving the Spanish to rule.

Those of native blood descended to the bottom of the new social hierarchy. The lands were carved up into large estates and the people ruthlessly exploited by the new landowners. The last cities conquered were Tayasal, capital of the Itzá Maya, and Zacpetén, capital of the Ko'woj Maya, both in 1697. These cities endured several attempts, including a failed attempt by Hernán Cortés in 1542. In order to conquer these last Maya sites, the Spaniards had to attack them on three fronts, one coming from Yucatan, another from Belize, and the third one from Alta Verapaz.

Guatemala - History

Three distinct stages—Mayan indigenous, Spanish colonial, and modern republican—have left their mark on the history of Guatemala. These separate ways of life persist, but are slowly merging.

Guatemala includes much of the old Mayan civilization, which may date back as early as 300 BC . The classical Mayan period lasted from about AD 300 to 900 and featured highly developed architecture, painting, sculpture, music, mathematics (including the use of zero), a 365-day calendar, roads, and extensive trade. This great pre-Columbian civilization seems to have collapsed around AD 900, and by the 12th century, the Mayas had disintegrated into a number of separate Amerindian groups. The Amerindians offered resistance to the Spanish expedition sent by Hernán Cortés from Mexico and led by Pedro de Alvarado during 1523�, but by the end of that time, their subjugation to Spain was virtually complete.

Alvarado founded the first Guatemalan capital, Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, in 1524. Because of several earthquakes, the capital was moved a number of times until it became permanently established at Guatemala City in 1776. From 1524 until 1821, Guatemala (City and Province) was the center of government for the captaincy-general of Guatemala, whose jurisdiction extended from Yucatán to Panama. Economically, this was mainly an agricultural and pastoral area in which Amerindian labor served a colonial landed aristocracy. The Roman Catholic religion and education regulated the social life of the capital. Spanish political and social institutions were added to Amerindian village life and customs, producing a hybrid culture.

In 1821, the captaincy-general won its independence from Spain. After a brief inclusion within the Mexican Empire of Agustín de Iturbide (1822�), Guatemala, along with present-day Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, formed the United Provinces of Central America in 1824. This federation endured until 1838�. Guatemala proclaimed its independence in 1839 under the military rule of Rafael Carrera, an illiterate dictator with imperial designs. None of his ambitions were realized, and he died in 1865.

Guatemala then fell under a number of military governments, which included three notable administrations: Justo Rufino Barrios (1871�), the "Reformer," who was responsible for Guatemala's transition from the colonial to the modern era Manuel Estrada Cabrera (1898�), whose early encouragement of reform developed later into a lust for power and Jorge Ubico (1931�), who continued and elaborated on the programs begun by Barrios.

Guatemalan politics changed with the election of reform candidate Juan José Arévalo Bermejo in 1945. Arévalo's popularity marked one of the first mass-based movements in Guatemalan politics. In 1951, Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán was elected. Following Arévalo's approach to land reform, Árbenz expropriated holdings of the United Fruit Co., a US firm. The United States alleged communist influence within the Árbenz government, and began mobilizing opposition against him. In the summer of 1954, Col. Carlos Castillo Armas and an army of Guatemalan exiles, backed by the CIA, invaded Guatemala from Honduras and toppled Árbenz. Castillo took over, restored expropriated properties, and ruled by decree until he was assassinated by a presidential palace guard in July 1957.

After a period of confusion, Gen. Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes became president in January 1958. His administration was essentially a military dictatorship, even though he claimed to follow democratic principles. He was particularly hard on his domestic critics, denouncing them as communists. He was equally bombastic on the international stage, denouncing the United States, quarreling with Mexico over fishing rights, and challenging the UK over Belize. He was also contemptuous of Fidel Castro, and allowed Guatemala to be a training area for the exiles in the abortive US invasion of the Bay of Pigs in April 1961.

In March 1963, Ydígoras was overthrown by Defense Minister Col. Enrique Peralta Azurdia, who declared a state of siege. For two years, Peralta ruled dictatorially, and continued to assert Guatemala's claims on Belize. In September 1965, the Peralta regime announced a new constitution and elections, and in March 1966, Dr. Julio César Méndez Montenegro was elected president. He was the first civilian president since Árbenz, and would be the last for some time. During his term, the army and right-wing counterterrorists proceeded to kill hundreds of guerrillas, who were believed to be sponsored by Cuba, and claimed destruction of the guerrilla organization by the end of 1967. Uprooted from the countryside, the guerrillas concentrated their efforts on the capital, where, in 1968, guerrillas assassinated US Ambassador John G. Mein.

Guatemala returned to military rule as Col. Carlos Arana Osorio was elected president in 1970. He instituted the country's first comprehensive development plan, but the plan was upset by guerrilla violence, which now engulfed the country. Ambassador Karl von Spreti of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was murdered in April 1970 by leftists. Many prominent Guatemalans were killed or held for ransom. In response to the violence, Arana suspended civil liberties from November 1970 to November 1971. In 1974, Arana's candidate, Gen. Kjell Laugerud Garc໚, was confirmed by Congress as president, after an election marred by charges of fraud. Laugerud followed a centrist policy and obtained a measure of popular support. During his tenure, guerrilla violence decreased, and some political liberties were restored. The principal challenge to Laugerud's administration was the need to rebuild Guatemala after the catastrophic earthquake of February 1976.

A militant rightist, Gen. Fernando Romeo Lucas Garc໚, was elected president in 1978. As guerrilla violence continued, there was also an upsurge of activity by right-wing 𢷪th squads," which, according to unofficial Guatemalan sources, committed over 3,250 murders in 1979 and even more during 1980. In addition, hundreds of Amerindians were reportedly massacred during antiguerrilla operations. The Carter administration objected to Guatemala's deteriorating human rights record, whereupon the military charged that communist influence had reached the White House.

The new government of Brig. Gen. Oscar Humberto Mej໚ Victores declared that the coup was undertaken to end ⊫uses by religious fanatics" and pledged continued efforts to eradicate the "virus of Marxism-Leninism." Elections for a constituent assembly were held, as promised, in July 1984. In May 1985, the assembly promulgated a constitution for a new government with an elected Congress. The general elections of November 1985 were followed by a runoff election in December. The overwhelming winner was Mario Vincio Cerezo Arévalo of the Guatemalan Christian Democratic Party (DCG). He also brought a majority into Congress. In January 1981, the main guerrilla groups united and escalated while the government went into crisis. The elections of March 1982 were won by Laugerud's handpicked candidate, Gen. Angel Anl Guevara. Three weeks later, a coup placed in power a ȫorn-again" Protestant, Gen. José Efraín Ríos Montt. After his month-long amnesty offer to the guerrillas was rejected, he declared a state of siege in July, and the antiguerrilla campaign intensified. The government's counterinsurgency killed between 2,600 and 6,000 in 1982, and drove up to a million Guatemalans from their homes by the end of 1983. In March 1983, Ríos lifted the state of siege and announced that elections for a constituent assembly would be held in July 1984. But Ríos, who had fought off some 10 coup attempts during his administration, was overthrown in August 1983.

Political violence decreased under Cerezo, who withstood two attempted coups. But he was unable to make any progress on human rights in Guatemala, and was unwilling to risk prosecution of military personnel who had been the most serious violators. As the economy worsened, political instability increased, including violence.

The elections of 11 November 1990 necessitated a runoff election, which was won by Jorge Serrano of the Movement for Solidarity and Action (Movimiento para Acción y Solidaridad—MAS). Serrano's inauguration in January 1991 marked the first transition in memory from one elected civilian government to another. Serrano promised to negotiate with insurgents and bring to justice both corrupt former officials and human rights violators.

But Serrano overplayed his hand politically. On 25 May 1993 Serrano declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. A week later, the military intervened and removed Serrano from office. It then restored the constitution and allowed Congress to select Serrano's successor. This unusual service of the military in defense of democracy led to the naming of Ramior de León Carpio as president on 5 June. De León, a human rights advocate, promised to bring to justice those responsible for the dismal state of human rights in Guatemala. He also proposed reductions in the military, which predictably were not well-received by the officer corps.

On 29 December 1996, under the government of Alvaro Arzu, the Guatemalan government signed a peace accord with the guerilla Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity. This signaled the end of Central America's longest-running guerilla war. Peace came in phases beginning with an informal cease-fire in March 1996, along with the signing of the socioeconomic accord. The latter had taken a year to negotiate and called for the government to raise its tax revenues from 8% to 12% of GDP and increase its spending in health, education, and housing. The last accord, signed in Mexico City in September 1996, called for legislative and judicial reforms. It also included a reassessment of the military's role, as the parties agreed to remove the army from public security functions and to annul the law that provided for the Civil Defense Patrols established in the 1980s to fight guerillas in the highland villages.

In February 1999, the country's Historical Clarification Commission blamed the army for more than 90% of the deaths or disappearances of more than 200,000 Guatemalans during the 36-year civil war. In many instances, the army committed genocide against entire Mayan villages, the report concluded. The three-member commission blamed the United States government for supporting right-wing regimes even though it knew about the atrocities being committed by the army. An earlier report by the Catholic Church revealed similar findings. During a short visit to Guatemala in March 1999, US president Bill Clinton said his country had been wrong for supporting the Guatemalan army. He pledged to support the peace process. In May, the peace process suffered a setback when Guatemalans rejected 50 key constitutional reforms that would have diminished the role of the army and given protection and recognition to Amerindian languages and traditional customs, in a vote in which only about 20% of Guatemalans took part. In November of 1999, Alfonso Portillo, a populist lawyer, captured 47.8% of the vote in the presidential election, not enough to prevent a runoff election, held a month later. Portillo, a member of the conservative Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), was a controversial candidate. During his campaign, he confirmed reports that he had killed two men in the Mexican state of Guerrero and had fled to avoid prosecution in 1982. Portillo said the killings were in self-defense and that he left because he could not have gotten a fair trial. He was also criticized for close ties to former dictator Gen. José Efraín Ríos Montt, whose 17-month regime in 1982� was blamed for some of the worst atrocities against Amerindians. Ríos Montt, as FRG's secretary general, worked closely with Portillo. The populist attorney built support with promises to reduce crime, one of the worst problems facing the nation after the war. Crime was rampant throughout the nation, with dramatic increases in murders, kidnappings, and armed robbery. Portillo also promised to aid the poor and curb unemployment, a message that did not go unheard in a nation where 64% of Guatemalans are unemployed or underemployed. In the December runoff election, Portillo captured 68.3% of the vote to win the presidency. His party captured 63 of 113 seats in Congress, while the conservative PAN won 37 seats. A leftist coalition captured 9 seats.

New presidential and parliamentary elections were scheduled for late 2003. Former dictator Ríos Montt, now 77 years old, was widely perceived as the favorite to win the election. He was seeking to overturn a constitutional ban preventing former coup plotters from running for public office. Although he failed to overturn the ban 1999, the influence of sitting president Portillo on the Supreme Court might help Ríos Montt clear his way to be the official candidate for the Guatemalan Republican Front. The meager economic growth experienced in recent years, the fact that more than 60% of the country live in poverty, and the increasing levels of crime and violence might help Ríos Montt, perceived as tough on crime, to convince Guatemalans to give him a second chance, this time as an elected leader.

Volcanoes in Guatemala

21. There are more than 30 volcanoes in Guatemala, out of which three are active.

22. Suchitan, Ixtepeque, Acatenango, Atitlan, Moyuta, Agua, Cerro Santiago, Tajumulco, Chingo, Quezaltepeque, Chiquimula, Cuilapa-Barbarena, Flores, Fuego, Ipala Volc Field, Santa Maria, Almolonga, Santo Tomas, Tahual, Pacaya, Tecuamburro and Toliman are the names of some of the volcanoes from the region.

23. The active volcanoes in Guatemala include – Fuego, Pacaya and Santiaguito.

Flag of Guatemala

Border talks

2002 September - Guatemala and Belize agree on draft settlement to their long-standing border dispute at talks brokered by Organization of American States (OAS). Both nations will hold referendums on draft settlement.

2003 November - Presidential elections go to second round. Former military leader Efrain Rios Montt, trailing in third place, accepts defeat.

2003 December - Conservative businessman Oscar Berger - a former mayor of Guatemala City - wins the presidential election in the second round.

Guatemala - along with Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras - agrees on a free-trade agreement with the US.

2004 May - Former military leader Efrain Rios Montt is placed under house arrest.

2004 May/June - Major cuts to the army bases are closed and 10,000 soldiers are retired.

2004 July - $3.5 million in damages paid to victims of civil war. Move follows state's formal admissions of guilt in several well-known human rights crimes.

2004 December - UN mission, set up to monitor post-civil war peace process, winds up, but the UN says Guatemala still suffers from crime, social injustice, human rights violations.

2005 March - Government ratifies Central American free trade deal with US amid street protests in capital.

2005 November - Guatemala's leading anti-drugs investigator is arrested in the US on charges of drug trafficking.

2006 July - A Spanish judge issues a warrant for the arrest of former military leader Efrain Rios Montt and other former officials over atrocities committed during the civil war.

2006 December - The government and the UN agree to create a commission - to be known as the CICIG - to identify and dismantle powerful clandestine armed groups.

2007 May - Guatemala ratifies an international adoption treaty, committing it to ensure that babies are not bought or stolen.

Guatemala Culture

Religion in Guatemala

About 60% of the population are Catholic. Most of the remaining population are Protestant with a smaller percentage of the population having indigenous Mayan beliefs. Some indigenous communities hold services combining Catholicism with pre-Columbian rites.

Social Conventions in Guatemala

Guatemala is the most populated of the Central American republics and is the only one which is predominantly Indian, although the Spanish have had a strong influence on the way of life. Full names should be used when addressing acquaintances, particularly in business. Dress is conservative and casual wear is suitable except in the smartest dining rooms and clubs.

Locals are often suspicious of foreigners taking photographs, particularly of young children. Before approaching children for photos, or even just to talk to them, you should check with an an adult that this is acceptable. However, if you are in any doubt, refrain from doing so. You may be asked to pay a small amount of money to take photographs of both children and adults.


Even after the peace agreement, there were violent reprisals for Guatemalans attempting to bring to light the extent of the military’s crimes. A former foreign minister has called Guatemala a “kingdom of impunity,” referring to the obstacles to holding the perpetrators accountable. In April 1998, Bishop Juan Gerardi presented a Catholic Church report detailing state violence during the civil war. Two days later, he was murdered inside his parish garage.

General Ríos Montt was able to avoid justice for decades for the genocide he ordered on indigenous Maya. He was finally prosecuted in March 2013, with statements from over 100 survivors and relatives of victims, and was found guilty two months later, sentenced to 80 years in prison. However, the verdict was quickly vacated on a technicality—many believe this was due to pressure by Guatemalan elites. Ríos Montt was released from military prison and placed under house arrest. He and his intelligence chief were set to be retried in 2015, but the proceedings were delayed until 2016, at which point he had been diagnosed with dementia. The court decided that no punishment would be given even if he was found guilty. He died in the spring of 2018.

Guatemala - History

Timeline: Guatemala

A chronology of key events:

2000 BC- 250 AD: Mayan Preclassic Period

250 AD- 900 AD: Mayan Classic Period during which many Maya cities reached their historically recognized height of making great contributions to astrology, mathematics, writing, language, architecture, religion, and agriculture.

900 AD &ndash 1523: Mayan Postclassic Period. At its peak, the Mayan Civilization was one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world. (Today there are 24 distinct Maya ethnic groups, each with their own language, totaling roughly 55% of the 2009 population of 14 million people.)

1523-24 - Spanish adventurer Pedro de Alvarado defeats the indigenous Maya and turns Guatemala into a Spanish colony.

1821 - Guatemala becomes independent and joins the Mexican empire the following year.

1823 - Guatemala becomes part of the United Provinces of Central America, which also include Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

1839 - Guatemala becomes fully independent.

1844-65 - Guatemala ruled by conservative dictator Rafael Carrera.

1873-85 - Guatemala ruled by liberal President Justo Rufino Barrios, who modernizes the country, develops the army and introduces coffee growing.

1931 - Jorge Ubico becomes president his tenure is marked by repressive rule and then by an improvement in the country's finances.

1941 - Guatemala declares war on the Axis powers.

--Social-democratic reforms--

1944 - Juan Jose Arevalo becomes president following the overthrow of Ubico and introduces social-democratic reforms, including setting up a social security system and redistributing land to landless peasants.

1951 - Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman becomes president, continuing Arevalo's reforms.

1954 - Land reform stops with the accession to power of Colonel Carlos Castillo in a coup backed by the US and prompted by Arbenz's nationalization of plantations of the United Fruit Company.

1963 - Colonel Enrique Peralta becomes president following the assassination of Castillo.

1966 - Civilian rule restored Cesar Mendez elected president.

1970 - Military-backed Carlos Arena elected president.

--Human rights violated--

More than 200,000 were killed, or disappeared, in 36 year conflict (1960-1996)

1970s - Military rulers embark on a program to eliminate left-wingers, resulting in at least 50,000 deaths.

1976 - 27,000 people are killed and more than a million rendered homeless by earthquake.

1981 - Around 11,000 people are killed by death squads and soldiers in response to growing anti-government guerrilla activity.

1982 - General Efrain Rios Montt (b. 1926) gains power following military coup. He was responsible for some of the worst atrocities committed during the war.

1983 - Montt ousted in coup led by General Mejia Victores, who declares an amnesty for guerrillas.

1985 - Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo elected president and the Guatemalan Christian Democratic Party wins legislative elections under a new constitution.

1989 - Attempt to overthrow Cerezo fails civil war toll since 1980 reaches 100,000 dead and 40,000 missing.

1991 - Jorge Serrano Elias elected president. Diplomatic relations restored with Belize, from whom Guatemala had long-standing territorial claims.

1992 &ndash Rigobera Menchu Tum awarded Nobel Peace Prize

1993 - Serrano forced to resign after his attempt to impose an authoritarian regime ignites a wave of protests Ramiro de Leon Carpio elected president by the legislature.

1994 - Peace talks between the government and rebels of the Guatemalan Revolutionary National Unity begin right-wing parties win a majority in legislative elections.

1995 - Rebels declare a ceasefire UN and US criticize Guatemala for widespread human rights abuses.

--End of civil war--

1996 - Alvaro Arzu elected president, conducts purge of senior military officers and signs peace agreement with rebels, ending 36 years of war.

1998 - Bishop Juan Gerardi, a human rights campaigner, murdered.

1999 - UN-backed commission says security forces were behind 93% of all human rights atrocities committed during the civil war, which claimed 200,000 lives, and that senior officials had overseen 626 massacres in Maya villages.

2000 - Alfonso Portillo sworn in as president after winning elections in 1999.

2001 December - President Portillo pays $1.8 million in compensation to the families of 226 men, women and children killed by soldiers and paramilitaries in the northern village of Las Dos Erres in 1982.

--Border talks--

2002 September - Guatemala and Belize agree on draft settlement to their long-standing border dispute at talks brokered by Organization of American States (OAS). Both nations will hold referendums on draft settlement.


November - Presidential elections go to second round. Former military leader Efrain Rios Montt (FRG party) trails in third place, accepts defeat.

2003 December - Conservative businessman Oscar Berger - a former mayor of Guatemala City - wins presidential election in second round.

Guatemala - along with Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras - agrees on free-trade agreement with US.

2004 May - Former military leader Efrain Rios Montt placed under house arrest.

2004 &ndash Rigoberta Menchu Tum appointed as the Goodwill Ambassador to the Peace Accords.

2004 May/June - Major cuts to the army bases are closed and 10,000 soldiers are retired.

2004 July - $3.5 million in damages paid to victims of civil war. Move follows state's formal admissions of guilt in several well-known human rights crimes.

2004 September - Deadly clashes as police try to evict around 600 squatters from private farm. Eleven people are killed.

2004 December - UN mission, set up to monitor post-civil war peace process, winds up. But UN says Guatemala still suffers from crime, social injustice, human rights violations.

2005 March - Government ratifies Central American free trade deal with US amid street protests in capital.

2006 December- UN International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala is founded, with a two year mandate as an independent body to support the Public Prosecutor&rsquos Office, National Police, and other State institutions in the investigation of difficult and sensitive cases, to uncover illegal and clandestine security groups, in order to dismantle them.

2009 April &ndash CICIG&rsquos mandate is renewed for another two years.

--Storm deaths--

2005 October - Hundreds of people are killed as Tropical Storm Stan sweeps through, triggering landslides and floods.

2005 November - Guatemala's leading anti-drugs investigator is arrested in the US on charges of drug trafficking.

2006 July - A Spanish judge issues a warrant for the arrest of former military leader Efrain Rios Montt and other former officials over atrocities committed during the civil war.

2006 December - Government and the UN agree to create a commission - to be known as the CICIG - to identify and dismantle powerful clandestine armed groups.

2007 February - Three El Salvador politicians and their driver are murdered near Guatemala City. The trio were members of the Central American Parliament, based in the capital.

2007 May - Guatemala ratifies an international adoption treaty, committing it to ensure that babies are not bought or stolen.


2007 July - Amnesty International urges the government to ratify the CICIG as a first step towards tackling the culture of impunity it says has contributed to Guatemala's soaring murder rate.

2007 August - International election monitors say they are worried about the high murder rate among political candidates and activists in the run-up to the 9 September polls.

2007 November - Alvaro Colom of centre-left National Unity of Hope Party wins presidential elections with nearly 53 percent of the vote. Rigoberta Menchu, a campaigner for Mayan rights, is the first female indigenous presidential candidate.

2008 October - Former president Alfonso Portillo is extradited from Mexico to face corruption charges linked to disappearance of $15m (£8.5m) earmarked for Guatemalan defense department.

2008 November - Fifteen bus passengers including a Dutch national are shot dead and then set on fire in eastern Guatemala in what police believe to be a drug-related incident.

2009 May - President Alvaro Colom denies allegations of involvement in murder of a prominent who in a video made before to his death claimed Colom and other top officials were out to kill him.

2009 September - An ex-paramilitary officer, Felipe Cusanero, becomes the first person to be jailed for the forced disappearance of civilians in Guatemala's civil war.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/09/02 15:46:50 GMT

3321 12th Street NE, Washington, DC 20017

This site is maintained by the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
as a means of informing the general public of the Commission's work
on behalf of the people of Guatemala


Early history Edit

Human settlement on the present site of Guatemala City began with the Maya who built a city at Kaminaljuyu. The Spanish colonists established a small town, which was made a capital city in 1775. At this period the Central Square with the Cathedral and Royal Palace were constructed. After Central American independence from Spain the city became the capital of the United Provinces of Central America in 1821.

The 19th century saw the construction of the monumental Carrera Theater in the 1850s, and the Presidential Palace in the 1890s. At this time the city was expanding around the 30 de junio Boulevard and elsewhere, displacing native settlements from the ancient site. Earthquakes in 1917–1918 destroyed many historic structures. Under Jorge Ubico in the 1930s a hippodrome and many new public buildings were constructed, although peripheral poor neighborhoods that formed after the 1917–1918 earthquakes continued to lack basic amenities.

During the Guatemalan Civil War, terror attacks beginning with the burning of the Spanish Embassy in 1980 led to severe destruction and loss of life in the city. In May 2010 two disasters struck: the eruption of the Pacaya volcano, and two days later Tropical Storm Agatha.

Contemporary history Edit

Guatemala City serves as the economic, governmental, and cultural epicenter of the nation of Guatemala. The city also functions as Guatemala's main transportation hub, hosting an international airport, La Aurora International Airport, and serving as the origination or end points for most of Guatemala's major highways. The city, with its robust economy, attracts hundreds of thousands of rural migrants from Guatemala's interior hinterlands and serves as the main entry point for most foreign immigrants seeking to settle in Guatemala.

In addition to a wide variety of restaurants, hotels, shops, and a modern BRT transport system (Transmetro), the city is home to many art galleries, theaters, sports venues and museums (including some fine collections of Pre-Columbian art) and provides a growing number of cultural offerings. Guatemala City not only possesses a history and culture unique to the Central American region, it also furnishes all the modern amenities of a world class city, ranging from an IMAX Theater to the Ícaro film festival (Festival Ícaro), where independent films produced in Guatemala and Central America are debuted.

Guatemala City is located in the mountainous regions of the country, between the Pacific coastal plain to the south and the northern lowlands of the Peten region.

The city's metropolitan area has recently grown very rapidly and has absorbed most of the neighboring municipalities of Villa Nueva, San Miguel Petapa, Mixco, San Juan Sacatepequez, San José Pinula, Santa Catarina Pinula, Fraijanes, San Pedro Ayampuc, Amatitlán, Villa Canales, Palencia and Chinautla forming what is now known as the Guatemala City Metropolitan Area.

The city is subdivided into 22 zones ("Zonas") designed by the urban engineering of Raúl Aguilar Batres, each one with its own streets ("Calles"). avenues ("Avenidas") and sometimes "Diagonal" Streets, making it pretty easy to find addresses in the city. Zones are numbered 1–25 with Zones 20, 22 and 23 not existing as they would have fallen in two other municipalities' territory. [8] Addresses are assigned according to the street or avenue number, followed by a dash and the number of meters it is away from the intersection. [9]

For example, the INGUAT Office on "7a Av. 1-17, Zona 4" is a building which is located on Avenida 7, 17 meters away from the intersection with Calle 1, toward Calle 2 in zone 4.

7a Av. 1-17, Zona 4 and 7a Av. 1-17, Zona 10, are two radically different addresses.

Short streets/avenues do not get new sequenced number, for example, 6A Calle is a short street between 6a and 7a.

Some "avenidas" or "Calles" have a name in addition to their number, if it is very wide, for example Avenida la Reforma is an avenue which separates Zone 9 and 10 and Calle Montúfar is Calle 12 in Zone 9.

Calle 1 Avenida 1 Zona 1 is the center of every city in Guatemala.

Zone One is the Historic Center, (Centro Histórico), lying in the very heart of the city, the location of many important historic buildings including the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura (National Palace of Culture), the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Congress, the Casa Presidencial (Presidential House), the National Library and Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Plaza, old Central Park). Efforts to revitalize this important part of the city have been undertaken by the municipal government.

Besides the parks, the city offers a portfolio of entertainment in the region, focused on the so-called Zona Viva and the Calzada Roosevelt as well as four degrees North. Casino activity is considerable, with several located in different parts of the Zona Viva. The area around the East market is being redeveloped.

Within the financial district are the tallest buildings in the country including: Club Premier, Tinttorento, Atlantis building, Atrium, Tikal Futura, Building of Finances, Towers Building Batteries, Torres Botticelli, Tadeus, building of the INTECAP, Royal Towers, Towers Geminis, Industrial Bank towers, Holiday Inn Hotel, Premier of the Americas, among many others to be used for offices, apartments etc. Also included are projects such as Zona Pradera and Interamerica's World Financial Center.

One of the most outstanding mayors was the engineer Martin Prado Vélez, who took over in 1949, and ruled the city during the reformist Presidents Juan José Arévalo and Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, although he was not a member of the ruling party at the time and was elected due his well-known capabilities. Of cobanero origin, married with Marta Cobos, he studied at the University of San Carlos under his tenure, among other modernist works of the city, infrastructure projects included El Incienso bridge, the construction of the Roosevelt Avenue, the main road axis from East to West of the city, the town hall building, and numerous road works which meant the widening of the colonial city, its order in the cardinal points and the generation of a ring road with the first cloverleaf interchange in the city. [10]

In an attempt to control the rapid growth of the city, the municipal government (Municipalidad de Guatemala) headed by longtime Mayor Álvaro Arzú, has implemented a plan to focus growth along important arterial roads and apply Transit-oriented development (TOD) characteristics. This plan denominated POT (Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial) aims to allow taller building structures of mixed uses to be built next to large arterial roads and gradually decline in height and density moving away from such. It is also worth mentioning, that due to the airport being in the south of the city, height limits based on aeronautical considerations have been applied to the construction code. This limits the maximum height for a building, at 60 meters (200 feet) in Zone 10, up to 95 meters (312 feet) in Zone 1. [8]

Despite its location in the tropics, Guatemala City's relatively high altitude moderates average temperatures. The city has a tropical savanna climate (Köppen Aw) bordering on a subtropical highland climate (Cwb). Guatemala City is generally very warm, almost springlike, throughout the course of the year. It occasionally gets hot during the dry season, but not as hot and humid as in Central American cities at sea level. The hottest month is April. The rainy season extends from May to October, coinciding with the tropical storm and hurricane season in the western Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, while the dry season extends from November to April. The city can at times be windy, which also leads to lower ambient temperatures.

The city's average annual temperature ranges are 22–28 °C (72–82 °F) during the day and 12–17 °C (54–63 °F) at night its average relative humidity is 82% in the morning and 58% in the evening and its average dew point is 16 °C (61 °F). [11]

Climate data for Guatemala City (1990–2011)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 30.0
Average high °C (°F) 24.3
Daily mean °C (°F) 18.7
Average low °C (°F) 13.2
Record low °C (°F) 6.0
Average rainfall mm (inches) 2.8
Average rainy days 1.68 1.45 2.00 4.73 12.36 21.14 18.59 19.04 20.82 14.59 6.18 2.64 125.22
Average relative humidity (%) 74.3 73.4 73.2 74.3 77.3 82.4 80.8 80.9 84.5 82.0 79.2 76.0 77.8
Mean monthly sunshine hours 248.4 236.2 245.6 237.9 184.4 155.3 183.4 191.8 159.0 178.0 211.7 209.2 2,440.9
Source: Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Meteorologia, e Hidrologia [12]

Volcanic activity Edit

Four stratovolcanoes are visible from the city, two of them active. The nearest and most active is Pacaya, which at times erupts a considerable amount of ash. [13] These volcanoes lie to the south of the Valle de la Ermita, providing a natural barrier between Guatemala City and the Pacific lowlands that define the southern regions of Guatemala. Agua, Fuego, Pacaya and Acatenango comprise a line of 33 stratovolcanoes that stretches across the breadth of Guatemala, from the Salvadorian border to the Mexican border.

Earthquakes Edit

Lying on the Ring of Fire, the Guatemalan highlands and the Valle de la Ermita are frequently shaken by large earthquakes. The last large tremor to hit the Guatemala City region occurred in the 1976, on the Motagua Fault, a left-lateral strike-slip fault that forms the boundary between the Caribbean Plate and the North American Plate. The 1976 event registered 7.5 on the moment magnitude scale. Smaller, less severe tremors are frequently felt in Guatemala City and environs.

Mudslides Edit

Torrential downpours, similar to the more famous monsoons, occur frequently in the Valle de la Ermita during the rainy season, leading to flash floods that sometimes inundate the city. Due to these heavy rainfalls, some of the slums perched on the steep edges of the canyons that criss-cross the Valle de la Ermita are washed away and buried under mudslides, as in October 2005. [14] Tropical waves, tropical storms and hurricanes sometimes strike the Guatemalan highlands, which also bring torrential rains to the Guatemala City region and trigger these deadly mudslides.

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