Guatemala

map of Guatemala

Geography

Guatemala is located in Northern Central America, and is bordered by Mexico, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador. Guatemala's land area is 42,042 square miles, which is about the size of Tennessee.

Guatemala has narrow coastal plains along its Pacific and Caribbean coasts. It is mostly mountainous and heavily forested. The country also has 33 volcanoes, some of which are still active. The Pacaya volcano provides excitement for the city of Guatemala with the occasional mild eruption of lava and ash. Interestingly, the majority of Guatemalan population resides in volcanic basin areas.

The Guatemala climate varies from tropical along the coast to cooler in the highlands. Depending on the altitude, average temperatures range from 37 °C (99 °F) to 20°C (68 °F). The country's rainy season runs from May to September, when 8 to 10 inches of rain falls.

Demographics

Over 13 million people live in Guatemala. The capital, Guatemala City, is the largest city in Central America and is home to more than 7 million people. The rest of the country is very rural.

Guatemala has one of the most unequal income distributions in the hemisphere. Half of all income earned in Guatemala is earned by the wealthiest 10 percent of the population. About 32 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day and 1 in 8 Guatemalans lives on less than $1 a day. Infant mortality and illiteracy in Guatemala are among the worst in the hemisphere.

Guatemala's population is comprised of people of European descent (22 percent), indigenous people (65 percent), and the remainder represented by African, Asian, Middle Eastern and Caribbean immigrants. The country is approximately three quarters Roman Catholic, with a growing number of Protestant Evangelical churches.

Spanish is the predominate, official, and business language of Guatemala. Additionally, 26 languages exist in the indigenous population. Guatemalan Sign Language is based on a combination of Mexican Sign Language and American Sign Language. Highland Maya Sign Language is used among the Quiché Maya of rural Guatemala.

Disabled Populations

Few programs for people with disabilities are run by the government or private sector. The primary care of disabled individuals is provided by the family. These families are already often laden with the burden of being impoverished and often untrained in caring for their disabled family member. Resources are scarce and transportation is difficult.

History and Ties to the United States

The Guatemalan region was home to the ancient Mayan civilization through its eventual collapse in 900 CE. Regional kingdoms dominated Guatemalan history from 900 CE until the beginning of the Spanish Colonial era. The area was conquered and colonized by Spain in 1524. The Spaniards invaded the highlands and subjected the indigenous nations to Spanish rule until 1821, when Guatemala proclaimed its independence.

Following Guatemala's independence from Spain, and until recent years, Guatemala has been subjected to numerous dictatorships, civil unrest, and the occasional attempt at a democratic government. Ethnic conflict, between the Ladino elite and the indigenous Indian population, erupted for the first time in 1944. The conflict was fueled by a complicated mix of class, regional, political, and ethnic differences in evidence since the colonial times.

The Guatemalan Civil War (1960-96) involved the government, right-wing paramilitary organizations, and left-wing insurgents. A variety of factors contributed: social and economic injustice and racism against the indigenous population. After 36 years of political instability and civil war, the government of Guatemala signed peace accords in December 1996.

The United States is home to an immigrant population estimated to be between a half million and a million Guatemalans who fled the country during its civil war.

U.S. adoptive parents also have a long history of adopting children from Guatemala. Over 20,000 Guatemalan children were adopted by American families from 2004 to 2008.

Government

Official name:Republic of Guatemala
Official language: Spanish
Capital city: Guatemala City
Type of government:    republic, democracy
Voting: universal rights and compulsory
National day: Independence Day, Sept. 15

Economy

Currency: Guatemalan quetzal and U.S. dollar
Gross domestic product: $61.4 billion
GDP per capita (2006): $5,000

Resources

The Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Guatemala

The World Bank, Guatemala