Guatemala Government - History

Guatemala Government - History

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Guatemala is a democracy with a President elected directly by the people. It has a unicameral legislature and a supreme court elected by the Congress.
PresidentPortillo Cabrera, Alfonso Antonio
Vice PresidentReyes Lopez, Juan Francisco
Min. of Agriculture, Livestock, & HungerSett, Carlos
Min. of Communications, Transportation & Public Worksde Ramos, Flora Marina Escobar Gordillo
Min. of CultureLux de Coti, Otilia
Min. of DefenseMoran Munoz, Robin
Min. of EconomyRamirez Ceberg, Patricia
Min. of EducationTorres, Mario
Min. of Energy & MinesArchila, Raul
Min. of Environment & Natural ResourcesLavarreda, Sergio
Min. of Foreign RelationsGutierrez, Edgar
Min. of Government (Interior)Reyes, Jose Adolfo
Min. of LaborMoreira, Victor
Min. of Public FinanceWeymann, Eduardo
Min. of Public HealthBolanos, Mario
Attorney Generalde Leon, Carlos David
Solicitor GeneralRosales, Luis Alfonso
Sec. Gen. of the PresidencyMijangos, Luis
Pres., Bank of GuatemalaSosa Lopez, Lizardo
Ambassador to the USRivera, Ariel
Permanent Representative to the UN, New YorkRosenthal, Gert

Recent Central American History

To understand Guatemala’s Civil War, the defining moment in modern Guatemalan history, that officially began in 1960 and ended 36 years later, it is necessary to first explore the economic and social conditions of the country with an indigenous Maya majority. Dating back to Spanish Colonial times, Guatemala’s governments have been racist, elitist, militaristic, and corrupt. Access to land and resources, the lifeblood of the Maya people, has been historically restricted, and the landowners who controlled the agricultural economy have consistently used coercive methods to extract extremely cheap migrant labor from indigenous and mixed-race (ladino) people. In the 20 th century, United Fruit Company, now Chiquita, employed what was essentially a monopoly over Guatemala’s economy, acquiring 40% of the arable land in the country through a series of contracts that they signed with dictator Jorge Ubico. In October of 1944, Guatemala’s government changed when the people elected Jose Arevalo, ushering in the “Ten Years of Springtime,” a brief era in which democratic reform in the country blossomed. Arevalo enacted a series of reform that provided basic social services to poor people across the country, but the glaring obstacle to a truly independent Guatemala was United Fruit Company’s concentration of land and their dominance of the economy. Arevalo’s democratically elected predecessor, Colonel Jacobo Arbenz, decided to confront the foreign influence over the nation’s economy by nationalizing the land and re-distributing it, principally to the indigenous Maya.

Arbenz’ move, while perhaps justified, was certainly radical to the United States. What was perhaps even more radical was that Arbenz had legalized the Communist party in Guatemala, and while Arbenz was not himself a Communist, the members of the PGT (Partido Guatemalteco del Trabajo) were active in the government, especially on the issue of land reform. In an Eisenhower administration that was engaged in militant anti-communism around the world, the United States saw the seizure of land, the re-distribution of land, and the existence of an active Communist party as a serious threat to regional security. In 1954, in an operation named PBSUCESS, the CIA planned and executed a coup against Jacobo Arbenz by supporting Colonel Castillo Armas in the first Cold War conflict in the Western hemisphere. In a daring and, perhaps, arrogant display, the United States asserted control over the domestic affairs of Guatemala, ensuring the restoration of United Fruit Company’s landholdings and providing military and economic assistance to a military regime that supported US interests. The consequences of the 1954 coup against Jacobo Arbenz, executed nearly flawlessly from a US perspective, would reverberate around not only Guatemala for the next four decades, but around the entire Western Hemisphere for the duration of the Cold War. The events of 1954 played a direct role in the Cuban Revolution five years later, including that a young Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who was in Guatemala City and an ally of Arbenz when the United States executed the coup, was profoundly impacted by the experience.

The vast majority of the people in Guatemala were opposed to the United States influence in their country, but any outward expression of opposition to the new military regime was met with secret police death squads. Castillo Armas unleashed a repression that murdered thousands of communists, teachers, students, and others who they perceived to be a threat to stability. The armed resistance to the government began in 1959, when some members of the military became angry that the United States had used Guatemala as a launching point for their Bay of Pigs invasion. They launched a coup that failed, but the seeds of revolution had been sown. Members of this attempted coup fled the cities and retreated into the countryside to form the origins of guerilla factions, like the FAR (Fuerzas Armadas Rebeldes), who were determined to lead a communist revolution.

The communists failed miserably in their mission during the 1960s. Superior government forces who had been trained by the United States routed the communists, including a visit from the Green Berets that nearly decimated the communists into non-existence. After their failures, some leaders decided to change strategies. Whereas before the communists had tried to re-create the foco strategy of the Cuban Revolution of the island nation just across the Gulf of Mexico, some of the leaders now believed that they needed more of a prolonged people’s war, similar to the likes of the successful North Vietnamese movement. In Guatemala, the “people” are indigenous, so the communist guerilla Mario Payeras started creating alliances with indigenous people in the remote Western Highlands. Payeras’ band of guerillas, known as the EGP (Ejercito de Guerillas Pobres), built a coalition with the largest indigenous peasant organization in Guatemala, the CUC (Comite de Unidad Campesina). As the road to widespread war became more and more inevitable, the communist guerillas believed they had the support of hundreds of thousands of peasants by 1980.

What followed is one of the saddest chapters in the spiral of violence that encompassed the entire Western Hemisphere through the second half of the 20 th century. A difficult question that Guatemalans and historians have to confront is how and why this Civil War, a common experience among Latin American countries at the time, turned to genocide. There are no easy answers. When the communists launched their offensives against the military, the government responded with a scorched-earth campaign that is responsible for the slaughter of 200,000 Mayan people. The government would sweep through the village and murder anyone who was there, regardless of their involvement (or lack thereof) in the guerilla movement. Unarmed women, children, and men were raped, terrorized, tortured, and murdered, their bodies desecrated by soldiers who were often recruited from the same types of communities they were razing. The Reagan regime funded the military’s efforts, afraid of another Nicaragua in Central America.

Following the genocide, the guerilla movement was essentially over. After the Cold War, the military regime was forced to negotiate a peace process and conclude the Civil War. Their crimes against humanity were investigated by the United Nations. Their report details the genocidal terror unleashed upon the Maya people.

Following the peace process, Guatemala dismantled 2/3 of its military. The soldiers who had belonged to one of the most highly trained and organized militaries in the Western hemisphere were largely granted immunity, allowing them to participate in private and public life within Guatemala. Some of these soldiers formed criminal organizations that provided intelligence gathering and hit squads for people willing to pay. Many former officers in the military became high-ranking politicians, ascending to the presidency and the Interior Minister in some cases (Insight Crime investigation). In addition to these criminal organizations who are highly connected to corruption in Guatemala’s government, there has also been the development of a serious gang problem in the country. Thus, a highly complex picture of crime, corruption, impunity, and violence in Guatemala arises. Alliances among criminal organizations can quickly disintegrate, people with enough money and power can bribe judges and dismantle investigations, and in order for anything to be done, international organizations attempting to bring some semblance of justice to the country must work with government officials who are often profoundly corrupt.

International and domestic attempts have been made to hold high-ranking members of the military accountable for the genocide they ordered and carried out. These efforts have produced mixed results. One such example was the trial of General Efrain Rios Montt. In 2013, a court in Guatemala City convicted Rios Montt of genocide and other crimes against humanity, but, three days later, the Guatemalan Supreme Court nullified the decision on a technicality. Before the re-trial, Rios Montt died. Some military officers and criminals responsible for extraordinary violence have been found guilty, but the reality is that most of the former members of the military and the members of the criminal organizations that exist today live with impunity from their crimes, though it remains a violent, tumultuous, and uncertain impunity.

What is overwhelmingly tragic about the circumstances in Guatemala is the vulnerability of indigenous and mixed-race women and children. Indigenous Maya have faced violent oppression from racist governments for centuries. Now, heavily-armed gangs and criminal organizations control the territories in which these people live and exert a reign of terror over these communities. Over time, these people have responded to this oppression in a variety of ways. Sometimes, they protest non-violently, sometimes they take up arms against those persecuting them, sometimes they co-exist with their enemies and carve out whatever opportunities they can find, and sometimes they flee the violence, seeking a better set of circumstances than those in their home country.

Source: Greg Grandin, The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America and the Cold War. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Menchú, Rigoberta. I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. Edited and Introduced by Elisabeth Burgos-Debray. Translated by Ann Wright. London, UK: Verso, 2009.

This article offers a detailed description of the Guatemalan Civil war, its origins, and its impact. Beginning with an analysis of the economic and racial conditions that preceded the Civil War in Guatemala, it describes the Arevalo and Arbenz administrations and the land reforms they pursued. The article then offers an account of the CIA-sponsored coup in 1954 and the Civil War that was started in 1960. Finally, the conflict between the government and the indigenous communities that resulted in a genocide is explained. This article focuses on the role of US Intervention and claims the responsibility for the genocide lays in the United States government and the military regime of Guatemala.

Insight Crime is a fantastic resource for learning more about organized crime in Central America. This Guatemala profile reflects on the history of the Civil War, and connects this history to the modern circumstances in Guatemala. It explains the rise of drug smugglers, or transportistas, and how they established drug transportation networks with the support of corrupt military and police. As the country exited Civil War, it explains that the military and police stayed heavily involved in organized crime, and it also explain the growth of gangs, such as MS-13 and Barrio 18. This profile also seeks to explain the relationship between Mexican cartels and the organized crime networks in Guatemala. Additionally, the profile explores the judicial system and the prison systems in the largest Central American nation. Insight Crime has also conducted numerous investigations about Central American corruption and criminal organizations that offer a clearer picture of organized crime across the region.

This is to read more about the conclusions of the UN Truth Commission that found evidence of the genocide, find the report here. This also has some information about the prosecutions of war crimes over the last 2 decades.

To read about direct United States intervention in Guatemala and to learn about how Washington trained army commanders that ordered a genocide, see this source.

To read a heartbreaking account of what is happening at the border in the Trump administration, and to read about the intersections of race, gender, and age that produce particularly vulnerable migrants, read this source.

This entry was posted on March 23, 2019 at 1:37 pm and is filed under Guatemala with tags Guatemala, Guatemalan Civil War, US Intervention, Violence in Central America. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Preclassic Maya

The Preclassic Maya period spanned from 1,800 B.C. to 250 A.D. During this period, the Mayans developed additional agricultural and artistic skills. It’s thought that the Mayans were influenced by the Olmec culture in Mexico, a culture that’s often referred to as the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica. The Olmec built pyramidal structures and large stone heads, two objects that were important aspects of Mayan culture. Other artistic, religious and political influences were passed along to the Mayans too, including a writing system and the use of a calendar known as the “Long Count.”

Increasingly, the Mayans became better farmers. Terrace farming, drainage ditches, and even the development of fertilizers were used. Better food production meant more food more food meant more time for people to specialize in other occupations, including writing, architecture, math, and astronomy.

During the Middle Preclassic period (1,000–300 B.C.), the Mayan population continued to increase. By 500 B.C., the Petén site of Nakbé had become one of the first real Mayan cities. At this time other settlements – including Tikal, Cival, and El Mirador – were building their first ceremonial and astronomical structures. A shared language and belief system is also thought to have existed throughout the region at this time—this would have provided the necessary social glue for further development.

The Late Preclassic period lasted from around 300 B.C. to 250 A.D. and saw the continued growth of Nakbé, until around 100 B.C. when the focus shifted to the town of El Mirador, which was 7.5 miles (12 km) north. El Mirador would become a large city, with a population of around 100,000.

Mayan society was quite stratified at this time. Rulers and shamanic priests held religious ceremonies based upon astronomical and calendrical events. Other specialty occupations also flourished, including scribes, architects, farmers, and tradesmen. Agriculture continued to intensify as irrigation – using large reservoirs and canal networks – developed.

Near the end of the Preclassic period, environmental disasters and warfare afflicted the region. El Mirador was abandoned in 150 A.D. after drought reduced the agricultural production of the region. The eruption of the Ilopango Volcano in El Salvador also played a role—a large part of the region was covered in ash, which led to the abandonment of Kaminaljuyú around 250 A.D. Trade between the Mayans and Mexico was disrupted and re-routed to cities in the northern lowlands.

Timeline: Guatemala’s Brutal Civil War

The NewsHour is airing a two-part series on Guatemala this week, beginning with a focus on the high levels of violence against women. Over and over again in our reporting, the legacy of brutality left by decades of civil war was referenced as a major contributor to both the abuse and murder of women in Guatemala and the general attitude of impunity with which many violent crimes are committed in Guatemala.

More than 200,000 people were killed over the course of the 36-year-long civil war that began in 1960 and ended with peace accords in 1996. About 83 percent of those killed were Mayan, according to a 1999 report written by the U.N.-backed Commission for Historical Clarification titled “Guatemala: Memory of Silence.” The report also concluded that the vast majority, 93 percent, of human rights violations perpetrated during the conflict were carried out by state forces and military groups.

U.S. involvement in the country was also singled out by the commission as a key factor contributing to human rights violations, including training of officers in counterinsurgency techniques and assisting the national intelligence apparatus.

Timeline of some key events:

1954 – The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency backed a coup commanded by Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas against the democratically-elected president, Jacobo Arbenz. He was considered a communist threat, especially after legalizing the communist party and moving to nationalize the plantations of the United Fruit Company.

Following the coup, Castillo was declared president, and set about reversing land reforms that benefited poor farmers. He also removed voting rights for illiterate Guatemalans.

1960– Guatemala’s 36-year civil war began as left-wing guerilla groups started battling government military forces. The country was now under autocratic rule by Gen. Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes, who assumed power in 1958 following the murder of Col. Castillo Armas.

The long conflict was marked by abductions and violence, including mutilations and public dumping of bodies.

1966 – Civilian rule was restored to Guatemala and Cesar Mendez was elected president, but the civil war only intensified with a major counterinsurgency campaign by the army.

1970 – Military-backed Carlos Arana was elected president, and he immediately placed the country under a state of siege, giving the military more control over civilians. For the next decade, a series of military-dominated governments escalated violence against guerilla groups and indigenous communities.

1981– The Inter-American Human Rights Commission released a report blaming the Guatemalan government for thousands of illegal executions and missing persons in the 1970s, and documenting accounts of the slaughter of members of Indian communities.

1982 – General Efrain Rios Montt seized power following a military coup. He annulled the 1965 constitution, dissolved Congress and suspended political parties.

Montt formed local civilian defense patrols alongside the military in the country and rural indigenous regions, through which he was able to reclaim most guerrilla territory.

This crackdown against the newly-united coalition, the Guatemalan Revolutionary National Unity, marks one of the most violent periods of the civil war during which a large number of indigenous civilians killed.

1985 – A new constitution was drafted and democratic elections for president resumed two years after Montt was ousted in another coup.

1993 – Then-President Jorge Serrano illegally dissolved Congress and the Supreme Court and restricted civil rights, but was later forced to resign.

1994 – Under President Ramiro De Leon Carpio, the former human rights ombudsman, peace talks between the government and rebels of the Guatemalan Revolutionary National Unity began and agreements were signed on several issues including human rights.

1996 –A new president, Alvaro Arzu, was chosen in a runoff election. Under Arzu peace negotiations were finalized. Peace accords ending the 36-year internal conflict were signed in December of 1996.

Today Guatemala is led by President Álvaro Colom of the National Unity for Hope. Almost 15 years after the end of the civil war, violence and intimidation continue to be a major problem in political and civilian life. Organized crime groups operate with relative impunity, an issue that appears likely to factor prominently in the country’s next presidential election later this year.

The 1970s

Instead of loosening its grip in response to the guerillas’ retreat, the military nominated the architect of the cruel 1966 counterinsurgency campaign, Colonel Carlos Arana Osorio. As noted by Guatemala scholar Susanne Jonas, he had the nickname of the "butcher of Zacapa." Arana declared a state of siege, seized power in the countryside from elected officials, and began kidnapping armed insurgents. In an attempt to stave off political protest regarding a proposed deal he wanted to make with a Canadian nickel-mining company—which many opponents felt amounted to selling off Guatemala’s mineral reserves—Arana ordered mass arrests and suspended the constitutional right of assembly. Protests occurred anyway, leading to an army occupation of the University of San Carlos, and death squads began a campaign of assassinating intellectuals.

In response to the repression, a movement called the National Front Against the Violence brought together opposition political parties, church groups, labor groups and students to battle for human rights. Things had calmed down by the end of 1972, but only because the government had captured the leadership of the PGT, torturing and killing its leaders. The government also took some steps to alleviate the extreme poverty and wealth inequality in the country. Death squad killings never stopped completely, however.

The 1974 election was fraudulent, resulting in the victory of Arana’s hand-picked successor, General Kjell Laugerud García, who had run against a general favored by the opposition and leftists, Efraín Ríos Montt. The latter would become associated with the worst campaign of state terror in Guatemalan history. Laugerud implemented a program of political and social reforms, permitting labor organizing again, and the levels of state violence decreased.

A major earthquake on February 4, 1976 resulted in the death of 23,000 people and one million others lost their housing. Added to difficult economic conditions, this led to the displacement of many indigenous highland peasants, who became migrant laborers and began to meet and organize with Ladino Spanish speakers, students, and labor organizers.

This led to a growth in the opposition movement and the emergence of the Committee for Peasant Unity, a national peasants and agricultural workers organizations led primarily by Maya.

The year 1977 saw a major workers’ strike, the “Glorious March of the Miners of Ixtahuacán,” that began in an indigenous, Mam-speaking region of Huehuetenango and attracted thousands of sympathizers as it made its way to Guatemala City. There were reprisals from the government, however: three student organizers from Huehuetenango were killed or disappeared the following year. By this time, the government was selectively targeting militants. In 1978, a death squad, the Secret Anticommunist Army, published a death list of 38 figures and the first victim (a student leader) was gunned down. No police pursued the assassins. Ball, Kobrak, and Spirer state, “Oliverio's death typified state terror in the early years of the Lucas García government: a selective assassination by heavily-armed, non-uniformed men, often performed in broad daylight in a crowded urban location, for which the government would then deny any responsibility.” Lucas García was elected president between 1978 and 1982.

Other major opposition figures were murdered in 1979, including politicians—Alberto Fuentes Mohr, leader of the Social Democratic Party, and Manuel Colom Argueta, former mayor of Guatemala City. Lucas García was worried about the successful Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, where rebels brought down the Somoza dictatorship. In fact, the rebels had begun to reestablish their presence in rural areas, creating a base in Maya communities of the western highlands.

Republic of Guatemala | República de Guatemala

The Maya civilization flourished in Guatemala and surrounding regions during the first millennium A.D. After almost three centuries as a Spanish colony, Guatemala won its independence in 1821. During the second half of the 20th century, it experienced a variety of military and civilian governments as well as a 36-year guerrilla war.
In 1996, the government signed a peace agreement formally ending the conflict, which had led to the death of more than 100 000 people and had created some 1 million refugees.
(Source: CIA - The World Factbook)

Local Time = UTC -6h
Actual Time: Mon-June-21 08:10

Capital City: Guatemala (City) (metro area pop. 2.5 million).

Other Cities: Quetzaltenango, Escuintla.

Type: Constitutional democratic republic.
Constitution: May 1985 amended November 1993.
Independence: 15 September 1821 (from Spain).

Location: Central America, bordering the Gulf of Honduras (Caribbean Sea) and the North Pacific Ocean.
Area: 109,000 km² (42,085 sq. mi.)
Terrain: fertile coastal plains, mountainous.

Climate: Tropical on coasts, temperate in highlands.

Nationality: Guatemalan(s).
Population: 15,8 million (2014)
Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed Spanish-Indian), indigenous.
Religions: Christian, traditional Mayan.
Languages: Spanish, 24 indigenous languages (principally K'iche', Kaqchikel, Q'eqchi', and Mam).
Literacy: 70%

Natural resources: Petroleum, nickel, rare woods, fish, chicle, hydropower.

Agriculture products: Sugarcane, corn, bananas, coffee, beans, cardamom cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens.

Industries: Sugar, textiles and clothing, furniture, chemicals, petroleum, metals, rubber, tourism.

Exports - commodities: sugar, coffee, petroleum, apparel, bananas, fruits and vegetables, cardamom, manufacturing products, precious stones and metals, electricity

Imports - commodities: fuels, machinery and transport equipment, construction materials, grain, fertilizers, electricity, mineral products, chemical products, plastic materials and products

Imports - partners: USA 38.3%, China 13.4%, Mexico 11.8%, El Salvador 4.9% (2015)

Currency: Quetzal (GTQ), US Dollar (USD)

Official Sites of Guatemala

Congreso de la Republica de Guatemala
The Congress of the Republic of Guatemala (in Spanish).

Diplomatic Missions
Mision Permanente de Guatemala ante las Naciones Unidas
Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the United Nations.
Embassy of Guatemala in the U.S.
Washington, D.C.
Guatemalan Diplomatic Missions Abroad
Address list of Guatemalan Diplomatic Missions Abroad.

Map of Guatemala
Political map of Guatemala.
Administrative Map of Guatemala
Map of Guatemala showing the administrative regions.

Google Earth Guatemala
Searchable map and satellite view of Guatemala.
Google Earth Guatemala (City)
Searchable map and satellite view of Guatemala's capital.

Map of Central America and the Caribbean
Reference Map of Central America and the Caribbean.

Guate daily (in Spanish).
La Hora
Guatemala News (in Spanish).
Prensa Libre
Guatemala News (in Spanish).
Guatemala's English-language Magazine.
Siglo Veintiuno, a Guatemala daily newspaper (in Spanish)

Arts & Culture

Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes
Official website of the ministry of culture and sport.

Arte Maya Tz'utuhil
Guatemalan Mayan Indian artists. (US server)

Maya Culture

Business & Economy

Travel and Tour Consumer Information

Destination Guatemala - Travel and Tour Guides

Discover Guatemala: Guatemala City, Palacio Nacional de la Cultura, Museo Popol Vuh (collections of Maya art) Antigua Guatemala (city in the central highlands and a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Lake Atitlán (best lake in country), Tikal (ancient Mayan citadel), Pacaya (active volcano), Semuc Champey (natural turquoise pools), Las Verapaces (cloud forests), Chichicastenango (craft market and indigenous Maya culture), Amatique Bay (at Gulf of Honduras), Quetzaltenango (Guatemala's second largest city near Santa María volcano), Esquipulas (Black Christ of Esquipulas), Escuintla (department capital), El Peten (Maya culture and jungle), Izabal (Lake Izabal).

Find accommodation, hotels, attractions, and much more.

Official travel and tourism site of Guate, by Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo (INGUAT).

Puerta al Mundo Maya
Ecotourism handled by Q'eqchi' communities.

Conoce Guatemala
Guatemala visitor information by terra TV (in Spanish)

Fotos de Guatemala
Guatemala Pictures.
Guatemala On The Web
Site about Guatemala, with a Travel Forum.

City Guide
Guatemala City
Alcaldía Municipal de Guatemala - Official site of Guatemala City.

Tour Operators
Guatemalan tourism and travel agency.


Environment & Nature


Guatemala: Memory of Silence (pdf)
A report by the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) in order to clarify with objectivity, equity and impartiality, the human rights violations and acts of violence connected with the armed confrontation that caused suffering among the Guatemalan people.

Guatemala - Politics, government, and taxation

Guatemala is a constitutional democratic republic that is divided into 22 departments and governed by a 3-branch system, consisting of the executive, legislative, and judicial. The legislative branch consists of the National Congress, a 1-house legislature composed of 116 members, while the judicial branch is headed by the Supreme Court of Justice. The president serves as both the chief of state and the head of government and has the authority to appoint departmental governors and cabinet members.

Current president Alfonso Portillo of the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) was elected by a landslide victory in his December 1999 campaign against candidate Oscar Berger of the National Advancement Party (PAN). The FRG and the PAN are the 2 major political parties active in Guatemala today a third party, the New Nation Alliance (ANN), plays a minor role in the nation's political races. The PAN (the party to which Portillo's predecessor Alvaro Arzú belonged) is conservative and business-oriented while the FRG is conservative and populist, at least according to the platform Portillo used to win the presidency. Both parties support rigorous economic programs that put emphasis on fiscal discipline and macroeconomic stability, but Portillo and the FRG also support policies that work to the benefit of economically disadvantaged Guatemalans. Among the policies proposed by Portillo during his first year as president were a hike in the minimum wage, the decentralization of political power, and others with similar populist themes. However, Portillo's proposals were not met with a spirit of cooperation in Congress, and little has been done to better the situation of the poor since he took office in early 2000.

The Guatemalan government traditionally has not exerted a great amount of control on the economy through regulations or other interventionist measures, preferring to keep its involvement minimal, as evident in the fact that the private sector generates more than 85 percent of the GDP. This hands-off approach has been bolstered by recent decisions to privatize the state telecommunications, electric generation, and electric distribution companies, as well as by new policies that lift restrictions and regulations on trade and investment in Guatemala. The government has also been frugal in its support of public and social programs Guatemala's education and health systems leave much to be desired, often to the detriment of disadvantaged Guatemalans.

The tax system is currently undergoing reform as the Guatemalan government attempts to make taxation a more lucrative tool. In 1996, Guatemala's tax revenue accounted for just 8 percent of its GDP, putting it at the second lowest rate in the Western hemisphere. The peace accords signed in 1996 called for an increase that would bring tax revenues up to 12 percent of the GDP by 2000, providing greater funding for social programs. Unfortunately, the parties who signed on to this fiscal pact (government, social organizations, and business leaders) have not all given it their steadfast support, and tax revenues for 2000 only amounted to slightly more than 10 percent of the GDP. Among the taxes on which Guatemala relies for revenue are customs duties , sales taxes, and excises on liquor and tobacco. Additional taxes under discussion for reform or implementation in Guatemala currently include the value-added tax and new taxes to be applied to a variety of industries.

Legislative Branch Of The Government Of Guatemala

The legislative branch of government is made up of the Congress of Guatemala. This unicameral legislative body has 158 members, who are elected by the general population for a term of 4 years. Each member is selected based on party-list proportional representation, 31 of whom are elected from a national list. The other 127 congressional deputies are elected to represent the 22 departments of Guatemala. The number of deputies from each department is based on its population size. The Department of Guatemala, where the capital is located, is divided into 2 districts and has the largest representation in Congress with 30 members. Congress is responsible for drafting, reading, and introducing new legislation and policies. These bills are then negotiated and voted on. If passed, bills go on to the President to be signed into law.

While serving in Congress, members may decide to change political parties or remove themselves from one political affiliation in order to establish a new political party. Currently, 95 seats are held by political parties in support of the government and 63 in opposition. The supporting political parties include: Renewed Democratic Liberty (44 seats), Todos (18 seats), Patriotic Party (17 seats), National Convergence Front (11 seats), and CREO-Unionist Party (10 seats).

Guatemala Government, History, Population & Geography

Environment—international agreements:
party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol

Geography—note: no natural harbors on west coast

Population: 12,007,580 (July 1998 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 43% (male 2,629,861 female 2,522,112)
15-64 years: 54% (male 3,213,744 female 3,216,415)
65 years and over: 3% (male 199,738 female 225,710) (July 1998 est.)

Population growth rate: 2.71% (1998 est.)

Birth rate: 36.02 births/1,000 population (1998 est.)

Death rate: 6.96 deaths/1,000 population (1998 est.)

Net migration rate: -1.99 migrant(s)/1,000 population (1998 est.)

Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.88 male(s)/female (1998 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 47.68 deaths/1,000 live births (1998 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 66.04 years
male: 63.4 years
female: 68.81 years (1998 est.)

Total fertility rate: 4.81 children born/woman (1998 est.)

noun: Guatemalan(s)
adjective: Guatemalan

Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed Amerindian-Spanish—in local Spanish called Ladino) 56%, Amerindian or predominantly Amerindian 44%

Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, traditional Mayan

Languages: Spanish 60%, Amerindian languages 40% (23 Amerindian languages, including Quiche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi)

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 55.6%
male: 62.5%
female: 48.6% (1995 est.)

Country name:
conventional long form: Republic of Guatemala
conventional short form: Guatemala
local long form: Republica de Guatemala
local short form: Guatemala

Government type: republic

National capital: Guatemala

Administrative divisions: 22 departments (departamentos, singular—departamento) Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, Chimaltenango, Chiquimula, El Progreso, Escuintla, Guatemala, Huehuetenango, Izabal, Jalapa, Jutiapa, Peten, Quetzaltenango, Quiche, Retalhuleu, Sacatepequez, San Marcos, Santa Rosa, Solola, Suchitepequez, Totonicapan, Zacapa

Independence: 15 September 1821 (from Spain)

National holiday: Independence Day, 15 September (1821)

Constitution: 31 May 1985, effective 14 January 1986
note: suspended 25 May 1993 by President SERRANO reinstated 5 June 1993 following ouster of president

Legal system: civil law system judicial review of legislative acts has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage: 18 years of age universal

Executive branch:
chief of state: President Alvaro Enrique ARZU Irigoyen (since 14 January 1996) Vice President Luis Alberto FLORES Asturias (since 14 January 1996) note—the president is both the chief of state and head of government
head of government: President Alvaro Enrique ARZU Irigoyen (since 14 January 1996) Vice President Luis Alberto FLORES Asturias (since 14 January 1996) note—the president is both the chief of state and head of government
cabinet: Council of Ministers named by the president
elections: president elected by popular vote for a four-year term election last held 12 November 1995 runoff held 7 January 1996 (next to be held NA November 1999)
election results: Alvaro Enrique ARZU Irigoyen elected president percent of vote—Alvaro Enrique ARZU Irigoyen (PAN) 51.2%, Jorge PORTILLO Cabrera (FRG) 48.8%

Legislative branch: unicameral Congress of the Republic or Congreso de la Republica (80 seats members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
elections: last held on 12 November 1995 to select 80 new congressmen (next to be held in November 1999)
election results: percent of vote by party—NA seats by party—PAN 43, FRG 21, FDNG 6, DCG 4, UCN 3, UD 2, MLN 1
note: on 11 November 1993 the congress approved a procedure that reduced its number from 116 seats to 80 the procedure provided for a special election in mid-1994 to elect an interim congress of 80 members to serve until replaced in the November 1995 general election the plan was approved in a general referendum in January 1994 and the special election was held on 14 August 1994

Judicial branch: Supreme Court of Justice (Corte Suprema de Justicia) additionally the Court of Constitutionality is presided over by the President of the Supreme Court, judges are elected for a five-year term by Congress

Political parties and leaders: National Centrist Union or UCN [Juan AYERDI Aguilar] Christian Democratic Party or DCG [Alfonso CABRERA Hidalgo] National Advancement Party or PAN [Raphael BARRIOS Flores] National Liberation Movement or MLN [Mario SANDOVAL Alarcon] Social Democratic Party or PSD [Sergio FLORES Cruz] Revolutionary Party or PR [Carlos CHAVARRIA Perez] Guatemalan Republican Front or FRG [Efrain RIOS Montt] Democratic Union or UD [Jose CHEA Urruela] New Guatemalan Democratic Front or FDNG [Rafael ARRIAGA Martinez]

Political pressure groups and leaders: Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations or CACIF Mutual Support Group or GAM Agrarian Owners Group or UNAGRO Committee for Campesino Unity or CUC Alliance Against Impunity or AAI
note: former guerrillas known as Guatemalan National Revolutionary Union or URNG signed peace treaty with government on 29 December 1996 URNG guerrillas formally disbanded 29-30 March 1997 and are in the process of forming a political party of the same name

International organization participation: BCIE, CACM, CCC, ECLAC, FAO, G-24, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ITU, LAES, LAIA (observer), NAM, OAS, OPANAL, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNU, UPU, WCL, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO

Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Pedro Miguel LAMPORT Kelsall
chancery: 2220 R Street NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 745-4952 through 4954
FAX: [1] (202) 745-1908
consulate(s) general: Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco

Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Donald J. PLANTY (18 July 1996)
embassy: 7-01 Avenida de la Reforma, Zone 10, Guatemala City
mailing address: APO AA 34024
telephone: [502] (2) 31-15-41
FAX: [502] (2) 31-88-85

Flag description: three equal vertical bands of light blue (hoist side), white, and light blue with the coat of arms centered in the white band the coat of arms includes a green and red quetzal (the national bird) and a scroll bearing the inscription LIBERTAD 15 DE SEPTIEMBRE DE 1821 (the original date of independence from Spain) all superimposed on a pair of crossed rifles and a pair of crossed swords and framed by a wreath

Economy—overview: The agricultural sector accounts for one-fourth of GDP and two-thirds of exports and employs more than half of the labor force. Coffee, sugar, and bananas are the main products. Manufacturing and construction account for one-fifth of GDP. Since assuming office in January 1996, President ARZU has worked to implement a program of economic liberalization and political modernization. The signing of the Peace Accords in December 1996, which ended 36 years of civil war, removed a major obstacle to foreign investment. In 1997, Guatemala met its economic targets when GDP growth accelerated to 4.1% and inflation fell to 9%. The government also increased tax revenues—historically the lowest in Latin America—to 9% of GDP and created a new tax administration. It also successfully placed $150 million in dollar-denominated notes in the international markets. Debt service costs should decline in 1998. Remaining challenges for the administration in 1998 include completing a deal with the IMF and stabilizing monetary policy. Throughout 1997, the Central Bank maintained a tight money supply, helping to control inflation, but it also caused high interest rates and led to operating losses for the bank. Early in 1998, it relaxed its monetary policy in an effort to correct these problems, but increased pressure on the quetzal has prompted the bank to intervene to prop up its value.

GDP: purchasing power parity—$45.8 billion (1997 est.)

GDP—real growth rate: 4.1% (1997 est.)

GDP—per capita: purchasing power parity—$4,000 (1997 est.)

GDP—composition by sector:
agriculture: 24%
industry: 21%
services: 55% (1997 est.)

Inflation rate—consumer price index: 9% (1997 est.)

Labor force:
total: 3.32 million (1997 est.)
by occupation: agriculture 58%, services 14%, manufacturing 14%, commerce 7%, construction 4%, transport 2.6%, utilities 0.3%, mining 0.1% (1995)

Unemployment rate: 5.2% (1997 est.)

revenues: $NA
expenditures: $NA

Industries: sugar, textiles and clothing, furniture, chemicals, petroleum, metals, rubber, tourism

Industrial production growth rate: 1.9% (1996)

Electricity—capacity: 766,000 kW (1995)

Electricity—production: 3.1 billion kWh (1995)

Electricity—consumption per capita: 282 kWh (1995)

Agriculture—products: sugarcane, corn, bananas, coffee, beans, cardamom cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens

total value: $2.9 billion (f.o.b., 1997 est.)
commodities: coffee, sugar, bananas, cardamom, petroleum
partners: US 37%, El Salvador 13%, Honduras 7%, Costa Rica 5%, Germany 5%

total value: $3.3 billion (c.i.f., 1997 est.)
commodities: fuel and petroleum products, machinery, grain, fertilizers, motor vehicles
partners: US 44%, Mexico 10%, Venezuela 4.6%, Japan, Germany

Debt—external: $3.38 billion (1996 est.)

Economic aid:
recipient: ODA, $274 million (1994)

Currency: 1 quetzal (Q) = 100 centavos

Exchange rates: free market quetzales (Q) per US$1׬.2580 (January 1998), 6.0653 (1997), 6.0495 (1996), 5.8103 (1995), 5.7512 (1994), 5.6354 (1993)

Fiscal year: calendar year

Telephones: 210,000 (1993 est.)

Telephone system: fairly modern network centered in the city of Guatemala
domestic: NA
international: connected to Central American Microwave System satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean)

Radio broadcast stations: AM 91, FM 0, shortwave 15

Radios: 400,000 (1993 est.)

Television broadcast stations: 25

Televisions: 475,000 (1993 est.)

total: 884 km (102 km privately owned)
narrow gauge: 884 km 0.914-m gauge (single track)

total: 13,100 km
paved: 3,616 km (including 140 km of expressways)
unpaved: 9,484 km (1996 est.)

Waterways: 260 km navigable year round additional 730 km navigable during high-water season

Pipelines: crude oil 275 km

Ports and harbors: Champerico, Puerto Barrios, Puerto Quetzal, San Jose, Santo Tomas de Castilla

Merchant marine: none

Airports: 479 (1997 est.)

Airports—with paved runways:
total: 12
over 3,047 m: 1
2,438 to 3,047 m: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 2
914 to 1,523 m: 6
under 914 m: 2 (1997 est.)

Airports—with unpaved runways:
total: 467
2,438 to 3,047 m: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 9
914 to 1,523 m: 124
under 914 m: 333 (1997 est.)

Military branches: Army, Navy, Air Force

Military manpower—military age: 18 years of age

Military manpower—availability:
males age 15-49: 2,827,992 (1998 est.)

Military manpower—fit for military service:
males: 1,846,963 (1998 est.)

Military manpower—reaching military age annually:
males: 132,208 (1998 est.)

Military expenditures—dollar figure: $132.9 million (1998 est.)

Military expenditures—percent of GDP: 0.66% (1998 est.)

Disputes—international: border with Belize in dispute talks to resolve the dispute are ongoing

Illicit drugs: transit country for cocaine shipments illicit producer of opium poppy and cannabis for the international drug trade active eradication program of cannabis and opium poppy

Diplomatic Relations

Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, 1824 .

Diplomatic relations were established on August 4, 1824, when President James Monroe received Antonio José Cañaz as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary on August 4, 1824.

Establishment of the American Legation in Guatemala, 1826 .

Chargé d’Affaires John Williams presented his credentials to the Federation of Central American States on May 3, 1826.

Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Independent Guatemala, 1849 .

Chargé d’Affaires Elijah Hise presented his credentials to the Republic of Guatemala on or shortly before January 21, 1849.

American Legation Raised to Embassy, 1882 .

The American Legation in Guatemala was raised to Embassy status when Henry C. Hall, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, presented his credentials on August 10, 1882.

Watch the video: Brief Political History of Guatemala (February 2023).

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