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Useful Notes / Guatemala

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Guatemala is the most populous and third largest country in Central America, and the fourth most populated country in the continent of North America after the United States, Mexico and Canada. Although the official language is Spanish, not everyone speaks it and the country is very diverse both culturally and linguistically. There are four major ethnic groups: the Ladinos, the Mayas, the Garifuna and the Xinca. It is also a very biologically diverse place, as one would expect from a place whose name means “place of many trees”.

The territory was once inhabited by Mayans, a civilization with noteworthy advances in the arts and sciences, especially astronomy. However, by the time the Spanish conqueror army came around, they were long gone,note  leaving only small kingdoms and city-states for the Spaniards to fight.


The Spanish established the Captaincy General of Guatemala, mostly comprising modern-day Central America, which in turned proclaimed its independence in 1821. After an annexation to the short-lived Mexican Empire, the territory once again reformed itself into the Federal Republic of Central America. At least until 1840 when the provinces had all declared themselves independent.

In 1898 the country fell into a dictatorship for the first time, and it would pass almost the entire twentieth century alternating between political unstability, coup d’etats, military governments and guerrilla operations, resulting in a bloody civil war between the revolutionary armies and the government.

Peace accords were signed in 1996 and since then, it has recovered political stability and democratic institutions. Sadly, the problems of the 36-year-long war (including widespread poverty, sky-high crime rates, economic inequality and ethnic clashes) still linger today. And many government officials and presidential candidates take pleasure in exploiting it to their own profit.


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.
  • And actor Oscar Isaac, who's Guatemalan-American.

Works set in Guatemala

  • The first part of El Norte, a 1983 film about two Mayan youths who are driven out of Guatemala by ethnic persecution, only to find different suffering in the United States.

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.

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