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General Facts about Guatemala:

Guatemala Fact book with more infomation (click here)

Official Name:
Republic of Guatemala.

Guatemala Flag
Guatemalan flag:

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

Form of Government: republic with one legislative house.

History: 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.

Head of State: president. (Oscar Berge)

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 Oscar Jose Rafael BERGER Perdomo (since 14 January 2004); Vice President Eduardo STEIN Barillas (since 14 January 2004); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government
head of government: President Oscar Jose Rafael BERGER Perdomo (since 14 January 2004); Vice President Eduardo STEIN Barillas (since 14 January 2004); 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: 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); Constitutional Court or Corte de Constitutcionalidad (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)

Political parties and leaders: Authentic Integral Development or DIA [Eduardo SUGER]; Democratic Union or UD [Rodolfo PAIZ Andrade]; Grand National Alliance or GANA [Oscar BERGER Perdomo]; Green Party or LOV [Rodolfo ROSALES Garcis-Salaz]; Guatemalan Christian Democracy or DCG [Vinicio CEREZO Arevalo]; Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity or URNG [Alba ESTELA Maldonado, secretary general]; Guatemalan Republican Front or FRG [Efrain RIOS Montt]; Movement for Guatemalan Unity or MGU [Jacobo ARBENZ Villanueva]; Movement for Principals and Values or MPV [Francisco BIANCHI]; National Advancement Party or PAN [Leonel LOPEZ Rodas, secretary general]; National Unity for Hope or UNE [Alvarado COLOM Caballeros]; New Nation Alliance or ANN, formed by an alliance of DIA, URNG, and several splinter groups most of whom subsequently defected [led by three co-equal partners - Nineth Varenca MONTENEGRO Cottom, Rodolfo BAUER Paiz, and Jorge Antonio BALSELLS TUT]; Patriot Party or PP [retired General Otto PEREZ Molina]; Progressive Liberator Party or PLP [Acisclo VALLADARES Molina]; Reform Movement or MR [Alfredo SKINNER-KLEE, secretary general]; Unionista Party [leader NA]

International organization participation:

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

Diplomatic representation from the US: chief of mission:  (vacant)
embassy:  7-01 Avenida Reforma, Zone 10, Guatemala City
mailing address:  APO AA 34024
telephone:  [502] 331-1541/55

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.

Population: 14,280,596 (July 2004 est.)

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).

Population Density: 99.2 people per square km (256.9 people per square mile).

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

Departments and Populations (at mid-1995):

Guatemala is divided up into 22 departments.

Alta Verapaz 670,815
Baja Verapaz

205, 481

Chimaltenango 385,856


El Petén 310,008
El Progreso 117,943
El Quiché


Escuintla 610,322


Huehuetenango 816,376






Quezaltenango 623,571


Sacatepéquez 202,243
San Marcos 790,118
Santa Rosa 291,611


Suchitepéquez 403,618




10, 621,226

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.

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 2000:

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).

Visa and Entry Requirements:

  Passport Required? Visa Required? Return Ticket Required?
British Yes No No
Australian Yes No No
Canadian Yes No No
USA Yes No No
OtherEU Yes No/1 No
Japanese Yes No/1 No

Restricted entry: Entry and transit is refused to deportees of other countries who are not nationals of Guatemala. Nationals of some countries require special authorisation from the Department of Immigration in Guatemala before they are granted a visa; nationals of these countries will need to make their application in Guatemala, through a person, company or institution that will be responsible for that person's stay in Guatemala. Authorisation from Guatemala will take two to five weeks and applicants are also required to attend an interview at the Consulate. For an up-to-date list of nationalities, enquire at the nearest Consulate (or Consular section at Embassy).

PASSPORTS: Passport valid for at least six months required by all.

VISAS: Required by all except the following:
(a) nationals of countries referred to in the chart above and nationals of their overseas territories;
(b) nationals of Andorra, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Honduras, Hong Kong (SAR), Iceland, Israel, Korea (Rep), Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of), Madagascar, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Qatar, Romania, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, San Marino, São Tomé e Príncipe, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan (China), Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City and Venezuela;
(c) transit passengers continuing their journey to a third country by the same or first connecting aircraft within eight hours, provided holding tickets with confirmed onward reservations and not leaving the transit area.

Note : 1. Nationals of Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay may extend their visit to three months by written agreement.


In English: Revue, Guatemala Post.

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


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.


Central Highlands & Pacific Coastal Lowlands: Have a dry season form May to October and a rainy season the rest of the year.

Central Highlands: Warm days and cool nights; at higher altitudes, the temperature can fall to zero degrees Celsius in December and January; average annual temperature of 20 degrees C (68 degrees F).

Pacific, Atlantic Coastal Regions and Petén lowlands: tropical, hot and humid; average annual temperature of 28.3 degrees C (83 degrees F); heavy rainfall all through the year.

El Oriente: hot and dry.

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

Economy and Economic Indicators (1996):

Overview: Guatemala is the largest and most populous of the Central American countries with a GDP per capita roughly one-half that of Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. The agricultural sector accounts for about one-fourth of GDP, two-thirds of exports, and half of the labor force. Coffee, sugar, and bananas are the main products. The 1996 signing of peace accords, which ended 36 years of civil war, removed a major obstacle to foreign investment, but widespread political violence and corruption scandals continue to dampen investor confidence. The distribution of income remains highly unequal, with perhaps 75% of the population below the poverty line. Ongoing challenges include increasing government revenues, negotiating further assistance from international donors, upgrading both government and private financial operations, curtailing drug trafficking, and narrowing the trade deficit.

Gross domestic product (million queztales at 1990 prices) 43,569
GDP per heat (quetzales at 1990 prices) 3, 986.9
Annual growth of real GDP (%) 3.0
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:, Sercom S.A. (website: and Telefonica Centroamerica Guatemala (website: Some hotels also supply them. Coverage is increasing in Guatemala; consult network operator for details.

Telephone system: general assessment: fairly modern network centered in the city of Guatemala
domestic: NA
international: country code - 502; connected to Central American Microwave System; satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean)

Telephone Companies: Telgua, Bell South, Telofonica and Comcel.

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.

 © 2002- 2005
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