The World of Info



Guatemala city


The current Indian inhabitants (índigenas) of the highlands are for the most part still closely linked to the Maya culture that originated there around 1200 BC. After more than three centuries of Spanish rule that ended in 1821, Guatemala became an independent republic in 1839. This was followed by a period of dictatorship. In 1944, the 'October Revolution' put an end to this. In the years 1944-1954, the democratically elected centre-left governments of Arévalo and Arbenz modernised the economy, improved the infrastructure and implemented social and agrarian reforms. Expropriation laws passed under President Arbenz brought him into conflict with large landowners and the American United Fruit Company, then by far the largest and most important plantation owner in Guatemala. In 1954, Arbenz, who sought support in Eastern Europe against a diplomatic offensive by the US that feared an expansion of communism and supported a coup, was deposed.

Military rule followed. Land reforms were reversed and trade unions banned. The left-wing resistance united in 1982 in the URNG ('Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca'). General Presidents Lucas García and Rios Montt fought the guerrillas with brute military force. Suspected Indian villages were razed to the ground, with an estimated 200,000 victims. In 1983, General Oscar Mejía Victores deposed Rios Montt, and in 1986 civilian President Vinicio Cerezo was elected in democratic elections. He was succeeded by President Jorge Serrano in 1990. Serrano owed his victory in part to a decision by the Constitutional Court which prevented General Rios Montt from taking part in the elections because of his involvement in the 1982 coup. In May 1993, Serrano dissolved Parliament and the Supreme Court in an attempt to seize all power. This met with such resistance that he was replaced for the remainder of the term by the Human Rights Ombudsman, Ramiro de León Carpio. There were no significant improvements in human rights under this government either.

In 1996, Alvarado Arzú of the PAN ('Partido de Avanzado Nacional') party defeated his opponent candidate Alfonso Portillo Cabrera of the FRG ('Frente Republicano Guatemalteco'). Again, the Constitutional Court prevented General Rios Montt from participating in the elections. On 29 December 1996, the Peace Accords were signed between the PAN government and the URNG, ending the civil war. The URNG was legalised as a political party in December 1998. The UN (MINUGUA) and a number of donor countries, including the Netherlands, support the implementation of these accords. Hurricane Mitch, which raged across Central America in 1998, caused relatively little damage in Guatemala.

General elections for the presidency, parliament and local authorities were held on 7 November 1999. Turnout at 53% was significantly higher than in 1995. In a second round in December, FRG candidate Alfonso Portillo Cabrera won over PAN candidate Berger. The Portillo government took office in January 2000 promising full implementation of the Peace Accords. Lack of political support for this in parliament, of which Rios Montt was president, has been a major factor in the poor implementation of this policy.

In 2003, President Portillo's role was marginalised by his own party, the FRG. Rios Montt, on behalf of the FRG, stood as a candidate in the presidential elections. Initially, his candidacy was rejected by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Supremo Electoral, TSE). According to the Guatemalan constitution, people who have come to power through a coup (and their relatives up to the third degree) are excluded from running for president. However, the Constitutional Court deemed this rejection unfounded and the TSE had to accept Rios Montt's candidacy.

On 9 November 2003, the first round of the presidential election was held, at the same time as elections for the parliament and local authorities. Rios Montt was eliminated in the first round with 19% of the votes. Presidential candidates Berger (34%) and Colom (26%) participated in the second round of the presidential election on 28 December 2003. Berger eventually won with 54.13% of the votes. Colom declined Berger's offer to participate in his government. He prefers constructive and democratic opposition.

Although all sorts of irregularities were anticipated, the elections were peaceful except for a few incidents during the first round in the countryside. The EU and the OAS had sent election observers to Guatemala. Their overall assessment of the course of the elections was positive.

In 2007, Alvaro Colom became the new president of Guatemala. The businessman promised to fight poverty in Guatemala. He received approximately 53% of the votes, 6% more than retired general Otto Perez Molina, against whom he ran in the second round of the presidential elections. In November 2008, there was a bus shooting in which 15 people died, including a Dutchman. In 2010, a state of emergency was declared after the eruption of the Pacaya volcano. In November 2011, Otto Perez Molina of the right-wing Patriotic Party won the elections and became president in January 2012. In late November 2012, there are two major earthquakes with more than fifty deaths.

In May 2013, Rios Montt will stand trial on charges of crimes against humanity. The trial will continue in 2015. In August 2015, Molina resigns after Congress waived his immunity over an allegation of involvement in a Customs bribery scandal. In October 2015, Jimmy Morales wins the presidential election. In November 2016, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala decide to set up a joint security unit to fight cross-border gangs. In August 2017, President Morales ordered the resignation of the head of the UN anti-corruption commission, who supported prosecutors to lift Morales' political immunity.

Conservative candidate and ex-prison warden Alejandro Giammattei takes office in January 2020 after defeating his centre-left opponent Sandra Torres in the presidential election.


Elmar Landeninformatie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info