Guatemala

About Guatemala

Geography
History
Economy
Culture
Policy
Guide
History
Geography
Economy
Culture
Political system, law and government
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General Resources
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Guatemala -- Geography --

Official Name: Republic of Guatemala
Location: Central America, bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between El Salvador and Mexico, and bordering the Gulf of Honduras between Honduras and Belize
Geographic coordinates: 15 30 N, 90 15 W
Capital: Guatemala City
Area: 108,889 sq km
Land boundaries: total: 1,687 km
border countries: Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico
Coastline: 400 km
Climate: tropical; hot, humid in lowlands; cooler in highlands
Terrain: mostly mountains with narrow coastal plains and rolling limestone plateau
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m; highest point: Volcan Tajumulco 4,211 m
Natural resources: petroleum, nickel, rare woods, fish, chicle, hydropower
Natural hazards: numerous volcanoes in mountains, with occasional violent earthquakes; Caribbean coast extremely susceptible to hurricanes and other tropical storms


Guatemala -- History --

The history of Guatemala can be traced back to the arrival of the first human settlers, presumed to have migrated from the north at least 12,000 years ago. For much of that time, the civilization that developed there flourished, with little to no contact with cultures from outside of Mesoamerica. The Maya civilization dominated the region for nearly 2000 years before the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century, although most of the Great Classic Maya cities of the Peten region of Guatemala's northern lowlands were abandoned by the year 1000 AD. The states of the central highlands, however, were still flourishing until the arrival of the Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado, who subjugated the native states, beginning in 1523.

Guatemala remained a Spanish colony for nearly 300 years, before gaining its independence in 1821. It was then a part of the Mexican Empire until becoming fully independent in the 1840s. Since then, Guatemala's history has been divided into periods of democratic rule and periods of civil war and military juntas. Most recently, Guatemala emerged from a 36-year civil war, reestablishing a representative government in 1996.

Guatemala -- Economy --

Economy - overview: Guatemala is the most populous of the Central American countries with a GDP per capita roughly one-half that of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. The agricultural sector accounts for about one-tenth of GDP, two-fifths of exports, and half of the labor force. Coffee, sugar, and bananas are the main products, with sugar exports benefiting from increased global demand for ethanol. The 1996 signing of peace accords, which ended 36 years of civil war, removed a major obstacle to foreign investment, and Guatemala since then has pursued important reforms and macroeconomic stabilization. The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) entered into force in July 2006 and has since spurred increased investment in the export sector, but concerns over security, the lack of skilled workers and poor infrastructure continued to hamper foreign participation. The distribution of income remains highly unequal with more than half of the population below the national poverty line. Other ongoing challenges include increasing government revenues, negotiating further assistance from international donors, curtailing drug trafficking and rampant crime, and narrowing the trade deficit. Given Guatemala's large expatriate community in the United States, it is the top remittance recipient in Central America, with inflows serving as a primary source of foreign income equivalent to nearly two-thirds of exports. Economic growth will slow in 2009 as export demand from US and other Central American markets drop and foreign investment slows amid the global slowdown.

GDP: $68.58 billion (2008 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 4% (2008 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $5,300 (2008 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 13.1%; industry: 25%; services: 61.9% (2008 est.)
Labor force: 4.056 million (2008 est.)
Unemployment rate: 3.2% (2005 est.)
Population below poverty line: 56.2% (2004 est.)
Public debt: 23.6% of GDP (2008 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 11.4% (2008 est.)
Agriculture - products: sugarcane, corn, bananas, coffee, beans, cardamom; cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens
Industries: sugar, textiles and clothing, furniture, chemicals, petroleum, metals, rubber, tourism
Exports: $7.862 billion (2008 est.)
Exports - commodities: coffee, sugar, petroleum, apparel, bananas, fruits and vegetables, cardamom
Exports - partners: US 41.7%, El Salvador 9.5%, Honduras 8.5%, Mexico 6.4%, Costa Rica 4.4% (2008)
Imports: $13.38 billion (2008 est.)
Imports - commodities: fuels, machinery and transport equipment, construction materials, grain, fertilizers, electricity
Imports - partners: US 35.7%, Mexico 10%, China 7.3%, El Salvador 4.7%, Costa Rica 4.1% (2008)


Guatemala -- Culture --

The culture of Guatemala reflects strong Mayan and Spanish influences and continues to be defined as a contrast between poor Mayan villagers in the rural highlands, and the urbanized and relatively wealthy mestizos population who occupy the cities and surrounding agricultural plains.

Language: Although Spanish is the official language, it is not universally spoken among the indigenous population, nor is it often spoken as a second language. Twenty-one distinct Mayan languages are spoken, especially in rural areas, as well two non-Mayan Amerindian languages, Xinca, an indigenous language, and Garifuna, an Arawakan language spoken on the Caribbean coast.

Religion: 5060% of the population is Catholic, 40% Protestant, and 1% follow the indigenous Maya faith. Catholicism was the official religion during the colonial era. However, Protestantism has increased markedly in recent decades. More than one third of Guatemalans are Protestant, chiefly Evangelicals and Pentecostals. Protestantism and traditional Mayan religions are practiced by an estimated 40% and 1% of the population, respectively.


Guatemala -- Political system, law and government --

Politics of Guatemala takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Guatemala is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Congress of the Republic. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Guatemala's 1985 Constitution provides for a separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The 1993 constitutional reforms included an increase in the number of Supreme Court justices from 9 to 13. The terms of office for president, vice president, and congressional deputies were reduced from five years to four years; for Supreme Court justices from six years to five years, and increased the terms of mayors and city councils from 30 months to four years.

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