Early history to the Middle Ages
The first traces of settlement point to tribes that lived in the region about 7500 years ago and founded the first permanent settlements about 5500 years ago. Guatemala’s cultural history is shaped by the Maya empire. Their heartland stretched from today’s southern Mexico to western Honduras and El Salvador. In the Pet¨¦n region and in the highlands in particular, numerous settlement remains – such as the former Mayan cult town of Tikal from the early days of Mayan culture – are reminiscent of that time. According to AbbreviationFinder, the Mayan Empire existed between about 2000 BC. and AD 1550 Already 1500 BC there were settlements on the Pacific coast, 1000 BC. Kaminaljuy¨² was founded, which was a political and economic center. The Mayan civilization reached its greatest bloom between AD 200 and 900.
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Until the beginning of the 16th century, the highlands were dominated by the empires of the Quich¨¦ and the Cakchiquel from Mexico, which fell into separate parts in the middle of the 15th century. After the arrival of the Spaniards, some of the Mayan descendants withdrew to the city of Tayasal in northern Guatemala, where they were able to maintain their independence until the end of the 17th century. However, the vast majority of the local population was killed in the 16th century by the illnesses and social hardships associated with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors (the Central American region did not regain the population density it had in the pre-Columbian period until the 20th century owned).
From 1527 the Spaniards penetrated today’s Guatemala and in 1570 built the Audiencia de Guatemala, which was governed by the city of Guatemala and encompassed an area that stretched from today’s Mexican Chiapas to Costa Rica. Until the early 19th century, today’s Guatemalan territory was administered and governed as part of the Vice Kingdom of New Spain. In 1773, an earthquake destroyed Santiago de Guatemala and Guatemala City was rebuilt instead where it is today.
At the end of the 18th century, the Creoles ruling the country began to turn away from the Spanish crown. The consequences of the French Revolution and the Revolutionary Wars in Europe were also felt in Guatemala and groups formed in the country that pursued liberal political and economic goals. However, in the first two decades of the 19th century, Guatemala’s Creole leadership remained loyal to the Spaniards. In 1812, a constitution was passed that gave the Central American colonial empire a political say. However, this was revised by the Spanish royal family as early as 1814 after Napoleon’s defeat in Europe. This revived the Creole opposition to Spanish rule in Central America and after the constitution was reintroduced in 1820.
For a short time, Guatemala joined the newly formed Empire of Mexico, then became part of the Central American Federation, but in which a civil war broke out between conservative and liberal forces. As a result, Guatemala declared independence for the second time in 1838 – now as a sovereign state.
Until well into the 20th century, the internal contradictions between liberals and conservatives remained the main domestic political issue in Guatemala. The country’s economy began to prosper from the middle of the 19th century, but domestic disputes coupled with the oppression of the Indian population led to civil war-like conditions. Border conflicts with neighboring El Salvador were always added to these.
In 1898 Manual Estrada Cabrera came to power (until 1920), which made Guatemala economically dependent on US planting companies, especially the United Fruit Company. At the same time, Indian guerrilla movements began to emerge at the turn of the century, some of which are still active today. General Jorge Ubico came to power in 1931, who achieved economic stabilization while suppressing the opposition. After his fall in 1944, elected successors came to the government, but their radical land reforms were reversed in 1954 by a coup sponsored by the United States.
Social tensions in the country developed into a civil war between the military and insurgents of the URNG (Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity) in the second half of the 20th century. After an interregnum by the military until 1966, elected governments followed, which were replaced by a military leadership after the coup by General JE Rios Montt in 1982. Another coup brought General OH Mej¨ªa Victores into power, which held elections to a constituent assembly in 1984. The Christian Democrat Marco Vinicio Cerezo Ar¨¦valo was elected in 1986. But the 80s and the first half of the 90s were still characterized by attempted coups, violence against Indians and an active guerrilla movement.
From the beginning of the 1990s there was gradual social equilibrium, the power of the military was increasingly restricted. In 1991 the new president J. Serrano Elias (1991 to 1993) was elected by a large majority and had started negotiations with the URNG. In 1993 the human rights lawyer Ramiro de Le¨®n Carpio succeeded him and the following year a “truth commission” was formed. Its mission was to clear up the human rights violations of the civil war. In 1995, an agreement was signed on the identity and rights of the Indians, and under the government of President Alvaro Arz¨² Irigoyen, who had been in office since 1996, the URNG announced an indefinite ceasefire in April, which was followed by the official peace agreement in the same year. After 36 years it was the civil war.
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After tackling the country’s social problems, 1998 became a year of natural disasters: volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, floods and landslides cost many lives. In 1999, comprehensive international aid programs were adopted for the affected regions of Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. In 2000, the Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (FRG) candidate, Alfonso Antonio Portillo Cabrera, came to power as the new president, who was given a difficult task given the country’s situation. In September 2001, he was forced to declare the disaster level for 30 days due to a devastating drought. Right-wing conservative entrepreneur Oscar Berger, former mayor of Guatemala City, became president in 2004. In October 2005, the tropical storm “Stan” probably killed over 1,000 people; Rainfalls lasting over a week led to numerous landslides and floods, especially in the coastal region. In 2008 the entrepreneur Álvaro Colom Caballeros became the first Social Democratic President of Guatemala. He was followed in 2012 by Otto P¨¦rez Molina from the Patriotic Party.
Of the commitments made with the peace treaty after the civil war, many have so far not been met or only partially fulfilled by the state. The fight against violence and corruption has not achieved any notable success. Guatemala still has one of the highest homicide rates on the continent, especially the murders of women are increasing. It can be assumed that the highest military and government circles are involved in organized crime.