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Guatemala FactBook

Official Name: Republic of Guatemala.
Short form: Guatemala
Local long form: Republica de Guatemala
Local short form: Guatemala

Origin of the Name of Guatemala: The name Guatemala means land of the trees in the Maya-Toltec language.


Once the site of the impressive ancient Mayan civilization, Guatemala was conquered by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado in 1524 and became a republic in 1839 after the United Provinces of Central America collapsed. From 1898 to 1920, dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera ran the country, and from 1931 to 1944, Gen. Jorge Ubico Castaneda served as strongman.

After Ubico's overthrow in 1944, liberal-democratic coalitions led by Juan José Arévalo (1945–1951) and Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán (1951–1954) instituted social and political reforms that strengthened the peasantry and urban workers at the expense of the military and big landowners like the U.S.-owned United Fruit Company. With covert U.S. backing, Col. Carlos Castillo Armas led a coup in 1954, and Arbenz took refuge in Mexico.

A series of repressive regimes followed, and the country was plunged into a 36-year civil war between military governments and leftist rebels. Death squads murdered an estimated 50,000 leftists and political opponents during the 1970s. The U.S. ended military aid in 1978.

After several other military governments, civilian Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo took office in 1986. He was followed by Jorge Serrano Elías in 1991. In 1993, Serrano moved to dissolve Congress and the Supreme Court and suspend constitutional rights, but the military deposed Serrano and allowed the inauguration of de Leon Carpio, the former attorney general for human rights. A peace agreement was signed in Dec. 1996, ending the longest civil war in Latin American history, which had left some 200,000 dead. In June 1997, the new president Álvaro Arzú Irigoyen and the guerrilla movement leader Ricardo Ramirez received the UNESCO Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize.

In 1999, a Guatemalan truth commission blamed the army for 93% of the atrocities and the rebels (the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit) for 3%. The former guerrillas apologized for their crimes, and President Clinton apologized for U.S. support of the right-wing military governments. The army has not acknowledged its guilt. Alfonso Portillo Cabrera became president in Jan. 2000. In Aug. 2000, Portillo apologized for the former government's human rights abuses and pledged to prosecute those responsible and compensate victims.

To stimulate the economy, Guatemala, along with El Salvador and Honduras, signed a free trade agreement with Mexico in June 2000. In Aug. 2001, plans for tax increases prompted widespread, and often violent, protests.

In July 2003, the country's highest court ruled that former coup leader and military dictator Efrain Rios Montt, responsible for a massacre of tens of thousands of civilians during the civil war, was eligible to run for president in November. The ruling conflicts with the constitution, which bans anyone who seized power in a coup from running for the presidency. But in November, Rios Montt was soundly defeated by two candidates, conservative Oscar Berger and center-leftist Alvaro Colom. In the run-off election in December, Berger is elected president.


Form of Government: republic with one legislative house.

Head of State: President Álvaro Colom Caballeros (since 14 January 2008): Vice President Rafael Espada

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 former President SERRANO; reinstated 5 June 1993 following ouster of president; amended November 1993 Read the Guatemalan Constitution (Spanish)

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

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal (active duty members of the armed forces may not vote)

Executive branch: chief of state: President Álvaro Colom Caballeros (since 14 January 2008); Vice President Rafael Espada (since 14 January 2008); 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 7 November 1999; runoff held 26 December 1999 (next to be held NA November 2003) election results:  Oscar BERGER Perdomo elected president; percent of vote - Oscar BERGER Perdomo (GANA) 54.1%, Alvaro COLOM (UNE) 45.9% Legislative branch: unicameral Congress of the Republic or Congreso de la Republica (113 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms) elections: president elected by popular vote for a four-year term; election last held 9 November 2003; runoff held 28 December 2003 (next to be held NA November 2007) note:  for the 7 November 1999 election, the number of congressional seats was increased from 80 to 113.

Judicial branch: Constitutional Court or Corte de Constitutcionalidad is Guatemala's highest court (five judges are elected for concurrent five-year terms by Congress, each serving one year as president of the Constitutional Court; one is elected by Congress, one elected by the Supreme Court of Justice, one appointed by the President, one elected by Superior Counsel of Universidad San Carlos de Guatemala, and one by Colegio de Abogados); Supreme Court of Justice or Corte Suprema de Justicia (thirteen members serve concurrent five-year terms and elect a president of the Court each year from among their number; the president of the Supreme Court of Justice also supervises trial judges around the country, who are named to five-year terms)

Political parties and leaders: Center of Social Action or CASA [Eduardo SUGER]; Democracy Front or FRENTE [Alfonso CABRERA]; Democratic Union or UD [Manuel CONDE Orellana]; Encounter for Guatemala or EG [Nineth MONTENGRO]; Grand National Alliance or GANA [Alfredo VILLA]; Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity or URNG [Hector NUILA]; Guatemalan Republican Front or FRG [Efrain RIOS Montt]; National Advancement Party or PAN [Ruben Dario MORALES]; National Unity for Hope or UNE [Alvaro COLOM Caballeros]; Patriot Party or PP [Ret. Gen. Otto PEREZ Molina]; Unionista Party or PU [Fritz GARCIA]; Unity of National Change or UCN [Sidney SHAW]


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

Diplomatic representation from the US: chief of mission: Ambassador James M. DERHAM
embassy: 7-01 Avenida Reforma, Zone 10, Guatemala City
mailing address: APO AA 34024
telephone: [502] 2326-4000
FAX: [502] 2326-4654


Population: 13,400,000 (Mid-2007 est.) Source 2007 World Population Data Sheet

Age structure:

0-14 years: 42.6% (male 3,118,396; female 2,970,729) 15-64 years: 54% (male 3,898,939; female 3,817,435) 65 years and over: 3.3% (male 221,154; female 253,943) (2004 est.)

Population growth rate: 2.61% (2004 est.)

Birth Rate: 34.58 births/1,000 population (2004 est.)

Urban to Rural Population: 38.7% urban; 61.3% rural (1995).

Density (population/sq. mile): 301 Source: ibid

Population 2025 (projected): 19,816,000 Source: ibid

People: Ladinos (mixed Hispanic and aboriginal origin); aboriginal (Maya); Carib (African origin).

Departments and Populations (at mid-1995):

  • Alta Verapaz 670,815
  • Baja Verapaz 205, 481
  • Chimaltenango 385,856
  • Chiquimula 274,091
  • El Petén 310,008
  • El Progreso 117,943
  • El Quiché 652,022
  • Escuintla 610,322
  • Guatemala 2,246,170
  • Huehuetenango 816,376
  • Izabal 370,538
  • Jalapa 211,830
  • Jutiapa 387,177
  • Quezaltenango 623,571
  • Retalhuleu 268,996
  • Sacatepéquez 202,243
  • San Marcos 790,118
  • Santa Rosa 291,611
  • Sololá 274,356
  • Suchitepéquez 403,618
  • Totonicapán 333,634
  • Zacapa 174,450
  • Total: 10, 621,226
Guatemala is divided up into 22 departments.

Principal Towns and Populations (at mid-1995):

Guatemala City 1,167,495
Quetzaltenango 103,631
Escuintla 63,532
Mazatenango 43,316
Retalhuleu 40,062
Puerto Barrios 39,379
Chiquimula 33,028


Officially Recognized Languages: Achi', Akateko, Awakateko, Chalchiteko, Ch'orti', Chuj, Itzá, Ixil, Popti', Kaqchikel, K'iche', Mam, Mopan, Poqoman, Poqomchi, Q'anjob'al, Q'eqchi', Sakapulteko, Sipakapense, Spanish, Tekiteko, Tz'utujil, Uspanteko, Garifuna and Xinka. More information

Capital: Guatemala City (official population estimate at mid-1996: 1,167,495).

Currency: Quetzal (Q); 1Q=100 centavos.

Religion: predominantly catholic, 1/3 of which are Catholic/traditional syncretist; other Christian; traditional Maya.

Time Zone: GMT -6 hours; -5 in summer.

Weights and Measures: metric system.

Electricity: 110 and 220 V.

Public Holidays for 2005:

January 1 (New Years Day), January 6 (Epiphany), 21-24 April (Easter), May 1 (Labor Day), June 30 (Anniversary of the Revolution), August 15 (Assumption, Guatemala City only), September 15 (Independence Day), October 12 (Columbus Day), October 20 (Revolution Day), November 1 (All Saints Day), December 24-25 (Christmas), December 31 (New Years Eve).


In English: Revue, Guatemala Post.

In Spanish: El Periódico, Siglo Veintiuno, Prensa Libre, Diario de Centroamérica, La Hora, Impacto, Imparcial, La Nación, La Tarde.


Area: 108,889 square km (42,042 square miles).

Location: Middle America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Honduras and Belize and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between El Salvador and Mexico

Geographic coordinates: 15 30 N, 90 15 W

Highest Point: Tajamulco Volcano, 4,220 meters/ 13,845 ft. above sea level.

Borders: Bordered on the east by Belize and the Gulf of Honduras, on the west and north by Mexico, on the southeast by Honduras and El Salvador, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean.

Climate: Guatemala has a tropical climate. Temperatures vary greatly from area to area because of differences in altitude. The plains and lowlands have an average yearly temperature of about 80 °F (27 °C), with little seasonal change. Mountain valleys 4,000 to 6,000 feet (1,200 to 1,800 meters) high are usually comfortably mild. They have a yearly average temperature of 60 °F to 70 °F (16 °C to 21 °C). The higher valleys sometimes have frost, and average 40 °F (4 °C).

The Pacific Lowland and western Highlands receive from 30 to 60 inches (76 to 150 centimeters) of rain a year, and the eastern Highlands get 20 to 30 inches (51 to 76 centimeters). The rainy season in Guatemala generally lasts from May to November, and daily showers fall during most of this period. Most of the Northern Plain receives from 80 to 150 inches (200 to 381 centimeters) of rain annually. There, rain falls throughout most of the year. The edge of a hurricane sometimes hits Guatemala, causing some damage to the country's banana and coffee crops.

The Northern Plain: is the most thinly populated and least developed part of Guatemala. Tropical rain forests of hardwood trees cover most of the plain, and there are some grasslands. Some chicle, a natural latex that was once widely used in making chewing gum, is taken from the trees. Many ancient Maya ruins, of which Tikal is perhaps the most famous, are in the forests. The country's largest lake, 228-square-mile (591-square-kilometer) Lake Izabal, lies near the Caribbean Sea.

The Highlands: are a chain of mountains extending across Guatemala in an east-west direction. They are highest in the west. There, Volcan Tajumulco-the highest mountain in Central America-rises 13,845 feet (4,220 meters) above sea level. The region has many volcanoes, some of which are active. Earthquakes sometimes occur in the Highlands. Guatemala's longest river, the 250-mile (402-kilometer) Motagua, rises in the Highlands and flows to the Caribbean Sea.

Most Guatemalans live in the Highlands, and most of the coffee- and corn-growing farmland is there. A majority of Mayan people live in crowded communities in the western Highlands. Most people in the eastern Highlands are Ladinos. Guatemala City lies 4,850 feet (1,478 meters) above sea level in the middle of the region.

The Pacific Lowland: consists largely of farmlands. Many forest-lined streams that rise in the Highlands flow through the lowland to the Pacific Ocean. The lowland has been thinly populated, but its farmlands have been developed since the late 1940's. The Pacific Lowland has sugar cane and cotton plantations, cattle ranches, and farms.

Annual Rainfall:

North: 1525-2540 mm (60-100 inches).

Southern Highlands: about 1320 mm (52 inches).

Pacific Lowland and Western Highland: 760-1500 mm (30-60 inches).

Eastern Highland: 510-760 mm (20-30 inches).

Land & Vegetation

Highlands: varies from tropical in lower valleys to temperate semi-deciduous forests, and at the highest elevations, mountain grasses.

Central Highlands: 1,100-2,400m (3,500-8,000 ft.) above sea level with mountain ranges diminishing in elevation from east to west.

Western Highlands: between the volcanic mountain chain of the Sierra Madre to the South and the Cuchamatantes chain of the Sierra Madre to the north; pine forests, lakes, streams, deep valleys, cool mountain air, volcanoes (3 active- Pacaya, Santiaguito, fuego); prone to earthquakes and eruptions; two major fault lines.

Southern Highlands: narrow coastal plain, rivers.

El Oriente (eastward to the Caribbean Sea): deep valley lowlands separated by eastern mountain ranges, deserts.

Cobán Region: elevated plain east of the Cuchamatanes of the Central Highlands; lakes, rainforest, nature reserves, lagoons.

Atlantic Lowlands: Caribbean coastal plain towards the Gulf of Honduras; Montagua valley, swampy flatlands with Guatemala’s largest lake (Lago Izabal), which drains into the Caribbean through the Rio Dulce, short coastline with a port; beaches.

Petén: Northern third of Guatemala that extends into the Yucatan Peninsula; limestone plateau with numerous sinkholes; ranges from grazing land to tropical rainforest of hardwood trees.

Pacific Lowlands: southern side of the highlands beneath the mountain chain; largely farmland, forest-lined streams, grassy, beaches.

Volcanoes: 19 Mountain Ranges: Cuchumatanes range stretches east from Chixoy or Negro River, where it divides into two groups, the Cuchmatanes and Verapaz mountains; Sierra Madre mountains stretch from east to west and divide the Pacific slope from the midlands. Minor ranges include the Chamá, Santa Cruz, Chuacús, Las Minas, Montañas del Mico.

Widest Points: East/West: 430 km (270 miles); North/South: 450 km (280 miles)

Principal Rivers: Motagua, Usumcinta, Dulce, Polochic, Sarstún.

Principal Lakes: Izabal (800 square km/38 square miles), Petén Itzá (98 square km/ 38 square miles), Atitlán (126 square km/ 49 miles), Amatitlán (16 square km/6 square miles).

Geographic coordinates: 15 30 N, 90 15 W

Coastline: 400 km

Maritime claims: continental shelf:  200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation exclusive economic zone:  200 NM territorial sea:  12 NM

Environment - international agreements: party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

Economy and Resources

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-fourth 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. On 1 July 2006, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) entered into force between the US and Guatemala and has since spurred increased investment in the export sector. The distribution of income remains highly unequal with about 56% of the population below the poverty line. Other ongoing challenges include increasing government revenues, negotiating further assistance from international donors, upgrading both government and private financial operations, 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.

- Gross domestic product (million queztales at 1990 prices) 43,569
- GDP purchasing power parity - $56.5 billion (2003 est.)
- Annual growth of real GDP 2.1% (2003 est.)
- Annual growth of real GDP per head (%) 0.1
- Government budget (million queztales at current prices)
- Revenue 8,605.1
- Expenditure 8,378.5
- Consumer price index (annual average; base: 1990=100) 218.7
- Rate of inflation (annual average, %) 11.1
- Foreign exchange reserves (US$ million at Dec 31) 855.1
- Imports c.i.f. (US $ million) 3146.1
- Exports f.o.b. (US $ million) 2030.8
- Balance of payments -451.5
- Gross National product (purchasing power parity of GNP per head, USA=100, 1995): 12.4
- Economically active population (official estimate, 1995): 1.4 %
- Total public debt (external, outstanding , 1996): US $2,766,000,000
- Tourism (1995): receipts US$ 277,000,000; expenditures US $174,000,000

Production (metric tones except as noted): Agriculture, forestry, fishing (1996): sugarcane, 14,380,000, corn (maize) 1,135,896, bananas 676,692, coffee, 207,000, tomatoes, 129,168, oil palm fruit 126,000, livestock (number of live animals) 2,291,440 cattle, 950,408 pigs, 21,000,000 chickens; roundwood (1995) 14,123,400 cu m; fish catch (1995) 11,927. Mining and quarrying (1994); gypsum (1993) 60,000; iron ore 3,498; antimony ore 494. Manufacturing (value added in Q’000,000; 1995): food and beverage products 273; clothing and textiles 111; machinery and metal products 51. Construction (value of building authorized in Q’000,000; 1991): residential 170.2; nonresidential 127.5. Energy production (consumption: electricity (kw/h; 1994) 3,161,000,000; crude petroleum (barrel; 1994) 2,632,000; petroleum products (metric tons; 1994) 750 (1,805,000).

Life Expectancy: 65 (females, 68; males 63)

HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 1.38% (1999 est.)

HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: 73,000 (1999 est.)

HIV/AIDS - deaths: 3,600 (1999 est.)

School Enrollment Ratio >(7-8 years, 1995): 57%

Literacy rate: 71% (2003 est.)

Traditional Exports: coffee, bananas, sugar,

Economic Activity Rate (Adults, GDP $US, 1998): Male 83, female, 24

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2002 est.): $53.2 billion; per capita $3,900. Real growth rate: 2.2%. Inflation: 8.1%. Unemployment: 7.5% (1999 est.). Arable land: 13%. Agriculture: sugarcane, corn, bananas, coffee, beans, cardamom; cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens. Labor force: 4.2 million (1999 est.); agriculture 50%, industry 15%, services 35% (1999 est.). Industries: sugar, textiles and clothing, furniture, chemicals, petroleum, metals, rubber, tourism. Natural resources: petroleum, nickel, rare woods, fish, chicle, hydropower. Exports: $2.7 billion (f.o.b., 2002 est.): coffee, sugar, bananas, fruits and vegetables, cardamom, meat, apparel, petroleum, electricity. Imports: $5.6 billion (f.o.b., 2002 est.): fuels, machinery and transport equipment, construction materials, grain, fertilizers, electricity.

Population with Access to Safe Water (1995): urban: 97%, rural: 48%

Population with Adequate Access to Proper Sanitation (1995): urban: 91%, rural: 50%

Infant Mortality Rate: 46 births out of 1000


Telephones - main lines in use: 846,000 (2002)

Telephones - Mobile telephone: GSM 860/1900 is available. Handsets can be hired from Ruracel and other companies. Operators include Comcel (website: www.comcel.com.gt), Sercom S.A. (website: www.pcsdigital.com.gt) and Telefonica Centroamerica Guatemala (website: www.telefonica.com.gt). Some hotels also supply them. Coverage is increasing in Guatemala; consult network operator for details.

Telephone system :fairly modern network centered in the city of Guatemala
domestic: state-owned telecommunications company privatized in the late 1990s opening the way for competition; fixed-line teledensity 11 per 100 persons; mobile-cellular teledensity approaching 60 per 100 persons
international: country code - 502; landing point for both the Americas Region Caribbean Ring System (ARCOS-1) and the SAM-1 fiber optic submarine cable system that together provide connectivity to South and Central America, parts of the Caribbean, and the US; connected to Central American Microwave System; satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean)

Telephone Companies: Telgua (claro), Tigo, Telofonica (Movistar).

International:  connected to Central American Microwave System; satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean)

Radio broadcast stations: AM 130, FM 487, shortwave 15 (2000)

Radios: 835,000 (1997)

Television broadcast stations: 26 (plus 27 repeaters) (1997)

Televisions: 1.323 million (1997)

Internet country code: .gt

Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 5 (2000)

Internet users: 400,000 (2002)

International disputes: Guatemalan squatters continue to settle in Belize border region; OAS brokered Differendum in 2002 creating small adjustment to land boundary, large Guatemalan maritime corridor in Caribbean, joint ecological park for disputed Sapodilla Cays, and substantial U.S.-UK financial package, but agreement was not brought to popular referendum leaving Guatemalan claim to southern half of Belize intact.

Source: CIA World Factbook, wikipedia


Detailed information about Guatemala