Guatemala is the northern-most of the seven Central American nations. It is bordered by Mexico on the north and west; Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador in the east; and the Pacific Ocean in the south. The country has three major geographic regions. The temperate higlands is where much of the population lives run along the Pacific coast. There is a tropical region that runs along the Pacific coast, the the eastern border areas, and into the narrow Caribbean coast. And then there is the poorly watered tropical northern lowlands, known as the Petén. The birthplace of the ancient Mayan civilization was the Guatemalan highlands. The Maya was one of the great Meso-American cultures. They flourished not only in Guatemala, but and surrounding regions especially the Mexican Yucatan during the first millennium A.D. Modern Guatemala began with the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado (1524). The country after the overthrow of Spanish rule, a brief Mexican Empire, and the collpse United Provinces of Central America acieved independence (1839). The country, however, failed to establish democratic rule. Like other Latin American countries, caudillos have played a major role. A major figure in Guatemala's history was dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera who comtrolled or strongly influenced the country for four decades (1898-1920). Gen. Jorge Ubico Castaneda also ruled as a dictator (1931-44). Guatemala since World War II has had several military and civilian governments along with a 36-year guerrilla war. The government signed a peace agreement formally ending the conflict (1996). Estimates suggest more than 0.2 million were killed and may have created 1 million refugees. And like many Latin Americn countries, Guatemala has failed to build a prosperous econmy offering prosperity to its people. Guatemala has a very large Native American population.
Guatemala is the northern-most of the seven Central American nations. It is the third-largest country in Central America, about the size of the Ameriacan sate of Virginia. Despite its small size, the elevations in the highhlands reaching to about 4,200 meters giving rise to many diverse ecosystems. One assessment describes 14 different ecosystems. The country shares borders with Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. Within Guatemala’s relatively small area are 14 distinct ecosystems found at elevations varying from sea level to higher than 4,200 meters (14,000 feet). It is bordered by Mexico on the north and west; Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador in the east; and the Pacific Ocean in the south. The country has three major geographic regions.
First and most prominently is The highlands because this is where much of the population lives. The higlands cut across the south western area of the country, part of a mountain chain running north into Mexico. It is part of the Pacific ring of fire and the Andes to the south and the Rockies to the north. The mountainous highlands is the area that gave birth to the Mayan civilization. The volcanic highlands run through the country west to east from Mexico east to El Salvador. The higher elevations are in the western sector and lower as you approach the Salvadoran border. The climate in the highlands is temperate. The temperatures can drop dramatically depndomg on how high up you go. Precipitation varies greatly, but depends primrily on which side of the highlands mountain chain. Abundant precipitation to the west, more arid conditions to the east.
Second is a narrow tropical region that runs along the Pacific coast and into the narrow Caribbean coast. Along the Pacific coast there is a highly productive agricultural area that was once cobered in tropical forest but now is mostly sugarcane plantations and a little up into the highlands coffee plantations. Gutaemala has a narrow Pacific Coast covred by wetlands, mangrove swamps, and beaches with black sand because of the volcanic mountains.
Third is the poorly watered tropical northern lowlands, known as the Petén. It is very lightly populated, largely becasuse of the rid conditions. It was once tropical forests, but has been deforested, especilly in the southern region. Major Mayan sites like Tikal are located in the north.
The birthplace of the ancient Mayan civilization was the Guatemalan highlands. The Maya was one of the great Meso-American cultures. They flourished not only in Guatemala, but and surrounding regions especially the Mexican Yucatan during the first millennium A.D. Modern Guatemala began with the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado (1524). The country after the overthrow of Spanish rule, a brief Mexican Empire, and the collpse United Provinces of Central America acieved independence (1839). The country, however, failed to establish democratic rule. Like other Latin American countries, caudillos have played a major role. A major figure in Guatemala's history was dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera who comtrolled or strongly influenced the country for four decades (1898-1920). Gen. Jorge Ubico Castaneda also ruled as a dictator (1931-44). Guatemala since World War II has had several military and civilian governments along with a 36-year guerrilla war. The government signed a peace agreement formally ending the conflict (1996). Estimates suggest more than 0.2 million were killed and may have created 1 million refugees.
Guatemala like many Latin American countries, failed to build a prosperous econmy offering prosperity to its people. The problems appear to relate to the country's Spanish colonial heritage. It is not entirely clear why Latin Ametrica appears to be lagging behind many Asian countries, but surely education is an important factor. Guatemala is one of the Latin American countries that has had particular difficulties developing a modern economy, although it often ranks in a mid range among Latin American countries in many indices of economic developmnt, although lagging in GDP per capita. The Civil War Was surely a factor and there has been some economic growth simnce the peace accords (1996). Guatemala is one of mzny Latin Aerican countries with GDP percpita far below the mores prosperous countries, including Brazil and the Southern Cone countries. Percapita income is bout onethir of these countries. The economy is is largely agricultual. The primasry crops are the basic Central American mix, coffee, sugar, and bananas. Advanes in recent years are due to the end if the Civil War which has brought in some foreign investment. The Government with the end of the Civil War has implemented needed reforms and macroeconomic stabilization efforts. Another factor has been the the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) (2006). This has also increased foreign investment, mostly by American countries in the export sector. Income destribution is still a major pronlem with Amer-indians living on the fringe of the nastionl monied economy. As in other Central American countries, Guatemala has a large expatriate community in the United States. Remitances from this community are a major element if the national economy, equal to an amazing two-thirds of th cojuntry's exports.
The clothing worn by Guatemalan children until recently varied by social class and ethnicity. The upper-class is Guatemala was largely, but not enirely of European ancestry. The middle-class was more mixed compose of people of Europan and mestizo ancestry. The lower-class is composed of mestizo and Amer-Indian ancestry. Guatemala has one of Latin American's largest Amerindian populations in percentagecterms. The ethnic component is, however, less purely racial than is the case in the United States. Culture is an even moreimportant factor than education. An Indian speaking Spanish abd wearing European clothes can eaily enter the middle class. Upper and affluent middle-class children wore Western styles. The clothing was indestinguish about from stylish European dress. This was the case throughout Gutelmalan history since the Conquest until after World War II. The actual garments involved varied chronologically depending on the twist and turns of mostly European fashion. Guatemala had the strongest cultural ties wih Spain, but commercial contacrs ith several European countries nd the United states. Lower-class Guatmalans wore second-hand European garments, campesino clothing, and Indian clothing. Urban children wore more of a mix. The children in the contryside were more likely to wear campesino and Indian clothing.
The ethnic structure of Guatemala is a complicated matter. Guatemala has a very large Native American / Amerindian population. (For some reason authors tend to use the term 'Amerindian' for Latin American peoples and 'Native American' for North American peoples.) Amerindians throughout much of Latin America, especially the Spanish-speaking countries are called indigenous (indígena) people. Statistical estimates vary. There are several reasons fo this. Guatemala does not have a strong statistical system and the issues involved in measuring ethnicity would challenge the most sophisticated system. In addition there are both ethnic and cultural (here language is a key element) issues involved and many Guatemalans do not destinguish between the two. For many Guatemalans how a person dresses, lifestyle, and the language he or she speaks largely defines ethnicity. And political isdsues are also at play. For these reasons, available stastistics probably underestimatee the Amerindian population. Many people who live in the cities and speak Spanish may no longer identify themselves as Amerindians despite their bloodlines. This is an issue in Guatemalan society and politics. Guatemala has a growing population of over 15 million people (2012). About 60 percent of the population is Mestizo--mixed European and Amerindian bloodlines. In Spanish the term Ladino is often used meaning Latins. There are a small number of people with entirely European ethnicity, but they are often included with the mestizo group because there are so few and culturally they are largely indestinguishable from most mestizos. A key element here is that they all speak Spanish.
Mestizos/Ladinos consist of a wide duversity of people, including much of Guatemala's elite and middle classes to very poor urban and rural people. There is, however, a pronounced socil class element. The elite groups tends to be drawn from the more ethnically European (mostly Spanush) than the majority of the mestizo group. Many have descened from the original Spanish colonists and later European immigrants. Estimates of the size of the largely Mayan Amerindian population is disputed. The most common estimaste we see is about 40 percent, but there are mich higher estimastes. The difference depends to some degree on how you define ethnicity, bloodlines or culture. But there are also political issues at play. The Amerindians are divided into tribal groups. These include: K'iche (9 percent), Kaqchikel (8 percent), Mam (8 percent), Q'eqchi (6 percent), and other Mayan groups (9 percent). The non-Mayan Amerindian population is very small. [2001 Census] The data should be considered only rough estimates, but probably is a good relative indicator, at least among Amerindian groups. And they do not accurately indicated the diversity of the the Amerindian population which includes many small populations. The Government recognizes 23 official Amerindian languages. The population is about evenly divided between uraban and rural. The population mix, howevcer, is different. The mestizo population is larger in urban areas and the meriindian popultion larger in rural areas. Most Amerindians have continued a distinct identity, living on lands and villages in the western Highlands--the birthplace of the classic Mayan civilization. Many continue to speak a Mayan language, although they may also understand Spanish to a varying degree. Many continue to practices various aspects of their pre-Colombian civiliization. Most pronounced are Mayan spiritual practices, often blended with Roman Catholic practices.
Unlike mestizos, many Amerindians commonly live in poverty on the edge of Guatemalan society. One source suggests that is to a degree by choice because their traditional lifestyles are ecologically and spiritually satisfying. They seem to have largely chosen to remain isolated from national life--meaning mestizo cultural patterns. The Guatemalan government in the past has attempted to suppress Amerindin culture and turn Spanish into a universal nationl language. at times brutal measures have been employed. This was a factor in the tragic Civil War. And even non-committed civilins were caught in the crossfire between guerrillas and the government. In some cases the Army even targetted them. There were some massacres. It is unclear as to the precise casuse. Sime argue that thE army was attempting to discourage rural Amerindian people from aiding the guerrillas. The Government as part of the peace agreements ending the war has pledged to respect and promote indigenous culture (1996). There are also some people of African Aorigins, largely located in the coastal regions. there are small communities of garifunas (black Caribs) long the small Caribbean coast. These are another mixed group, descending from the native non-Mayan Carib peoples and rebellious black slaves from the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent. They fiercely resisted British domination and the British deported them to the Central American coast (18th century). Most of the area became modern Belize, but Guatemala also has a Caribbean coast.
The Guatemalan Highlands were the birthplace of the Mayan civilization. The Mayans had a highly developed religion which played a major role in the society. The popal moo or creation epic centers on the Maze God, the deity at the center of the Mayan cosmos. He is killed by the Lords of Death, but rescued by his children, the hero twins. The Spanish conquest was launched shortly after the conquest of Mexico (1519-21). Pedro de Alvarado moved south into Guatemala 1524, commanding a mixed force of Spanish conquistadors and native allies (mostly from Tlaxcala and Cholula). He did not find the gold and silver he had hoped to seize, but a major goal was to wipe out all traces of Mayan religion which as in Mexico the Spanish sall as idolteous and bhirrent. They set out to Christianize the population. Unlike the Aztecs, however, there was no quick victory. The Maya were quickly defeated in the Highlands, but it took more than a century to completely defeat them (1697). Mayan documents which were mostly religious in nature were destroyed. The Amer-Indian population was forced to ostensibly convert to Roman Catholic Christianity. The Inquisition was active and only Catholic immigrants, mostly Spanish, were allowed into the colony. The Amer-Indians as was the Spanish practice were converted into landless peasants working on large estates owned by colonial land owners. This meant that the Amer-Indian peasantry was poorly educated, largely illiterate and had only a minimal understanding of Catholicism. Overt practice of Mayan religion was suppressed, but folk practices persisted. Guatemala remained entirely Catholic throughout the colonial period. The Church was a major part of the conservative colonial structure. Revolution against colonial rule began early in he 19th century during the Napoleonic Wars, but did not reach Guatemala for some time (1823). The new Latin American republics, including Guatemala adopted freedom of religion, but the population remained almost entirely Catholic until after World War II (1939-45), at least overtly. Christianity continues to be the principal religion in modern Guatemala, but there has been a major shift. Many priests became increasingly liberal and willing to reach out to Amer-Indian population, in many cases moving way from their religious foundation. Like Pope Francis there was shift toward socialism and a failure to understand the powerful wealth generating force of capitalism. Ironically, in sharp contrast to Chinese Communists of alm people, they seem unaware of the failure of socialism to generate prosperous economies. The Roman Catholic Church continues to be the major church in the country. About half of the population identifies as Catholic, however, this often means more of a cultural than a religious orientation. Many who identify as Catholics do not actively practice the religion or attend church. Many Catholic churches are largely empty. Protestant Christianity in Guatemala is now the second largest religion in the country and far more dynamic than the Catholic church. They are, however, divided into several denominations. Nearly 40 percent of the Guatemalan population now identifies as Protestant. The first Protestant missionary to reach Guatemala was Frederick Crowe (1843). He was expelled by President Rafael Carrera (1845). In Guatemala there was was a a conflict between Liberals and conservative who strongly supported the Church. This occurred in many other of the Latin American republics. Carrera has been described as a Roman Catholicism fanatic. Gradually attitudes changed. Liberal President Rufino Barrios invited several Presbyterian Methodist, and Baptist missionaries to Guatemala to undermine the political power of the Catholic Church (1882). While this has political consequences, few Guatemalans conveyed to Protestantism. This only changed with the growth of the evangelical movement in the United States. Many churches promoted missioners in Latin America, including Guatemala. Guatemalan Protestants are especially prominent in the northern highlands and among the Mayan population. Unlike the modern trend in Catholicism, Protestants are much more focused on religious worship. There is also a non religious segment, although rather small. This would include atheists, agnostics, and others. This segment has been estimated at about 10 percent. There are also small numbers of many other regions, including Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Traditional Maya Religion, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism.
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