Useful Notes: Guatemala

The territory of what is now known as Guatemala was once inhabitated by the Maya civilization until around 900 AD, when their civilization collapsednote  and was replaced by local kingdoms. These kingdoms were eventually conquered by the Spanish conqueror army, who established the Captaincy General of Guatemala (composed by Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and the Mexican state of Chiapas).

In 1821, the Captaincy proclaimed its independence and subsequent incorporation into the Mexican Empire. However, when the empire collapsed a couple of years later, the countries separated (Chiapas remained part of Mexico) and formed the United Provinces of Central America, at least until 1840 when the provinces had all declared themselves independent.

In 1898 the country fell for the first time into a dictatorship, and would pass almost the entire twentieth century alternating between political unstability, coup d’etats, military governments and guerrilla operations. As a result of that, the country fell into a civil war between the various revolutionary armies and the government that lasted thirty six years and ended only in 1996. Since then, it has recovered the political stability and democratic institutions, but the problems of the long war (including poverty, crime rates, scorched earth and ethnic clashes) still linger today. Life expectancy is 66 years for men, and 73 for women.

The official language is Spanish, though not everyone on the country speaks it. Actually, there’s a good size of the population that speaks the indigenous languages (23 Mayan languages, not counting some dialects and other non-Mayan languages).

Guatemala has some kind of feud with Belize and, by extension, the United Kingdom. Turns out the territory of Belize was once part of the Spanish colony, something for which they have made a claim; actually, they only recognized the country in 1990, but the dispute, though civil, still remains active.

Famous Guatemalans:
  • Doroteo "Mateo" Flores, long distant runner. Won gold in the panamerican Olympics in 1955 and First Place on the Boston Marathon in 1952. Considered the best athlete in the country.
  • Manuel Estrada, dictator from 1898 to 1920, infamous for allowing the entry of the United Fruit Company to the country (the Trope Namer of the Banana Republic) and for trying to install a cult of Minerva (yes, that Minerva).
  • General Miguel Ydígoras, dictator from 1958 to 1963, who is notorious mainly because he once challenged the Mexican president to a duel because of a fishing issue (of course, it didn’t come to fruiction).
  • Miguel Ángel Asturias, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1967. His most famous book is El Señor Presidente (Mister President), where he analyses the usual characteristics of a Latin American dictator (though his main inspiration was the aforementioned Manuel Estrada).
  • Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous woman of K’iche’ ethnicy (the same ethnicy detailed on the Popol Vuh), who won the Nobel Peace prize in 1992 for her work helping refugees of the Guatemalan Civil War.

The Guatemalan flag
The central white stripe symbolizes peace and purity, while the sky blue side stripes signifies the skies and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. At the center is the coat-of-arms, featuring a scroll, upon which is written the date of Guatemala's independence (September 15, 1821), atop which is perched a Resplendent Quetzal, the country's national bird whose importance dates back to the Mayas. Behind the two are a pair of crossed swords, representing honor, a pair of crossed rifles, signifying the people's readiness to defend their homeland, and a pair of laurel wreaths, symbolizing victory.