|In Guatemala, a country with diverse culture and nature,
there is a struggle for resources. A battle that the
indigenous people lose to a small elite. The poor population
is also gearing up for a relatively new threat: climate
change that is already hitting hard.
Guatemala is a small
Central American country with an area of 108,890 square
kilometers. There are few reliable sources on the country's
population. According to the latest official census, around
14 million live in Guatemala, while other sources estimate a
population of around 17 million. The capital is Ciudad de
Guatemala (Guatemala City) and is the most populous and
urban city in Central America. Nevertheless, the largest
proportion of the population are indigenous peoples and
small farmers, living in close proximity and in line with
nature. In 2015, Guatemala was ranked as one of the world's
ten most vulnerable countries for climate change by the
Global Climate Risk Index. The country is also marked by a
36-year-long civil war that ended in 1996.
At the 2019 presidential election, the conservative,
former prison director, Alejandro Giammettei, won with the
party Vamos. Giammettei took over the presidency in January
2020 from Jimmy Morales, and is among other opponents of gay
marriage, abortion and the death penalty. Through the
election campaign, he promised to fight corruption, while
during his time as prison director he was indicted and
jailed for multiple killings, but the verdict was eventually
upheld. It is also alleged that Giammettei is backed by the
same powerful elite who helped outgoing President Morales
shut down the UN-appointed International Commission on
Impunity (CICIG), and he has confirmed he will not renew
their mandate. CICIG is a product of the peace agreement
signed in 1996 and the abolition of CICIG is a major setback
to the fight for justice and against impunity.
The period 1944-1954 is known as the Revolution in
Guatemala's history. Former professor, Juan José Arévalo,
was elected president in 1944 in the wake of a popular
uprising and coup against US-backed dictator Jorge Ubico.
The Arévalo government introduced a number of social reforms
that included raising minimum wages and literacy programs,
as well as a working environment law in 1947. In 1951,
Jacobo Árbenz took power and continued social reforms,
opening up more to the organization of workers and a more
open public debate. Nevertheless, it was agricultural reform
- capable of redistributing unused, large plots of land to
small farmers and compensating landowners - that led a
CIA-led coup by Árbenz.
In other words, land reform went against landowners and
foreign financial interests. Particularly threatened was the
United Fruits Company (UFC), which in practice did not pay
taxes and owned practically Puerto Barrio, Guatemala's only
port to the Atlantic. The coup is therefore seen as a
reaction to the UFC's lobbying efforts by the Truman and
Eisenhower governments, where they convinced the government
that Guatemala had intentions to ally with the Soviet Union.
The politics led by Arévalo and Árbenz, on the other hand,
railed against a social democratic policy, although the
latter and the land reform had some influence from the
Communist Party. In the wake of the coup, Guatemala was once
again a country ruled by authoritarian dictatorships that
eventually led to a civil war in 1960.
The war was between guerrilla groups in different
regions, representing small farmers and indigenous peoples,
and the state. The military tactics of the military (the
state) were particularly brutal, including the use of sexual
violence where the female body was a territory for the
exercise of power. Split and ruler methods were also often
used in communities to scare people from supporting
After 36 years of civil war, the peace agreement was
signed between guerrilla representatives from the Union
Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) and the
Guatemalan state in 1996. During the civil war, about
200,000 people were killed and 40,000 disappeared. 400
villages were leveled (about 80 percent of the villages in
the Ixil region were wiped out), at least 100,000 people
fled to Mexico and around a million people became refugees
in their own country. Only in recent years has the country
begun to prosecute some of the civil war offenses. In 1999,
the United Nations-appointed Truth Commission for Guatemala
concluded that the Guatemalan state was responsible for
genocide in four regions of the country in the period
1981-84, and that most massacres and violations of human
rights committed were carried out by the state. Efraín Ríos
Montt ruled Guatemala for 17 months between 1982 and 1983
when the worst actions were carried out. As late as 2013,
Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against
After the war, the state still uses violent repression as
an instrument of social control. Despite the peace
agreement, the disarmament of the military is small as the
war's military force has insisted on retaining its positions
of power. They continue to justify that their warfare was
worthy and necessary in the fight against communism.
Guatemala is a middle-income country, but the
distribution of income is among the most skewed in the
world. Agriculture still constitutes a large part of the
economy where small farmers often live off basic commodities
such as corn and beans. Capitalist large estates are another
common form of agriculture, where goods such as coffee,
banana, sugar and palm oil are produced. Otherwise, the
economy mainly consists of the service industry and money
that migrants in the United States send to their families
(10% of GDP).
Countryaah.com, Guatemala has a gini coefficient of 53,
indicating extreme inequality. Women and indigenous peoples
are hardest hit and their involvement in economic
development is limited, as well as territorial and ethnic
discrimination. It is precisely these sections of the
population that are now facing an expansion of natural
resource extraction such as mining, hydropower, oil
extraction, sugar and palm oil plantations.
Exclusion and racism have produced structural, legal, and
institutionalized forms of violence and discrimination that
particularly appeal to indigenous peoples, especially those
living in rural areas. The country is ruled by a small elite
that sits on both money and power. It is a vastly segregated
society still characterized by colonial divides where the
white population rules over the majority - mestizos and
Inequality - some indicators (Sources: UNDP and
World Bank 2018 and 2019)
- 49 percent of the population lives in rural areas.
- 3 per cent of the population lives in poverty in
2019 (this has increased from 51 per cent in 2006).
- 75 percent of indigenous people live in poverty. The
poorest counties are the counties with the highest
number of indigenous peoples (Totonicapan, Sololá,
Quiché, Alta Verapaz, Chimaltenango, Baja Verapaz,
Huehuetenango and San Marcos). Here, 8 out of 10
children are chronically malnourished.
- 260 people own 56% of the country's economy. This
means that 0.001 percent of the population controls more
than half of the nation's wealth.
- 62 percent of all financial income is controlled by
20 percent of the population.
- 5% of Guatemala's major farms occupy more than 65%
of arable land.
- Only 2 per cent of the municipalities are governed
by a female mayor.
- 6 percent of women complete high school.
- The average age of women at first child is 21 years.
- The average number of school years is 7.2 years for
men and 6.7 years for women.
- 17 per cent of all workers have access to welfare
- 73 per cent of the population work in the informal
Capital: Guatemala City
Population: 15.19 million (2016)
Life expectancy: 72.3 (2016)
Infant mortality: 22 per 1000 (2016)
GDP per capita (PPP): US $ 7,900 (2016)
Religion: Catholicism, Protestantism,
Indigenous Religions (Maya)
Official Languages: Spanish
Currency Unit: Quetzal
Export Articles: Coffee, sugar, oil,
clothing, bananas, fruits and vegetables, cardamom, precious
stones and metals, electricity.
Regional relations: Member of CELAC, CAFTA-DR,
OAS, Pacific Alliance, PetroCaribe, (observer), Union Latina