Guatemala (pronounced /ˌgwɑːtəˈmɑːlə/; Spanish: República de Guatemala, Spanish pronunciation: [reˈpuβlika ðe ɣwateˈmala]) is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast. Its area is 108,890 km² (42,043 mi²) with an estimated population of 13,276,517.
A representative democracy, its capital is Guatemala City. Guatemala’s abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems contributes to Mesoamerica’s designation as a biodiversity hotspot.
From simple farming villages dating from 2500 BCE, the Maya of Guatemala and the Yucatán developed a sophisticated civilization. Its heart was the northern Petén, where the oldest Mayan stelae and the ceremonial centre of Tikal are found. Mayan civilization declined after 900 CE, and the Spanish began subjugating the descendants of the Maya in 1523. Independence from Spain was declared by the Central American colonies in Guatemala City in 1821, and Guatemala was incorporated into the Mexican Empire until its collapse in 1823. In 1839 Guatemala became independent under the first of a series of dictators who held power almost continuously for the next century.
In 1945 a liberal-democratic coalition came to power and instituted sweeping reforms. Attempts to expropriate land belonging to U.S. business interests (see United Fruit Co.) prompted the U.S. government in 1954 to sponsor an invasion by exiled Guatemalans. In the following years Guatemala’s social revolution came to an end, and most of the reforms were reversed. Chronic political instability and violence henceforth marked Guatemalan politics; most of some 200,000 deaths that resulted from subsequent political violence were blamed on government forces. Thousands more died in 1976 when a powerful earthquake devastated the country.
In 1991 Guatemala abandoned its long-standing claims of sovereignty over Belize, and the two countries established diplomatic relations. It continued to experience violence as guerrillas sought to seize power. A peace treaty was signed in 1996, but labour discontent, widespread crime and poverty, and violations of human rights continued into the 21st century.
Guatemala City is home to many of the nation’s libraries and museums, including the National Archives, the National Library, and the Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, which has an extensive collection of Maya artifacts. There are private museums, such as the Ixchel, which focuses on textiles, and the Popol Vuh, which focuses on Maya archaeology. Both museums are housed inside the Universidad Francisco Marroquín campus. Almost each of the 329 municipalities in the country has a small museum.
Coffee, sugar, and bananas are the leading commercial and export crops in Guatemala’s mainly agricultural economy. There is some manufacturing, primarily of refined sugar, textiles and clothing for the U.S. market, furniture, and chemicals. Zinc and lead concentrates are mined. There are nickel and petroleum deposits in the north, and a petroleum industry has developed, although it has been limited by political unrest and environmentalist opposition. Extensive jade deposits are found in E central Guatemala. The Mayan town of Chichicastenango is a popular site for the nation’s tourist industry. The leading imports include fuel, machinery, transportation equipment, construction materials, grain, fertilizers, and electricity. The United States, El Salvador, and Mexico are the major trading partners.