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Country Facts

Area: 42,042 sq miles (108,890 sq km)
Population: (2011): 13,824,463. Growth rate: 2.0%; birth rate: 29.1 per 1000; infant mortality rate: 29.8 per 1000; life expectancy: 69.7.
Capital and largest City (2003 est): Guatemala City, population 2,655,900 (metropolitan area), 1,128,800 (city) (2003 est).
Other large cities: Mixco, 287,600; Villa Nueva, 138,900
Ethnicity/race: Mestizo (Ladino) - mixed Amerindian-Spanish ancestry - and European 59.4%, K'iche 9.1%, Kaqchikel 8.4%, Mam 7.9%, Q'eqchi 6.3%, other Mayan 8.6%, indigenous non-Mayan 0.2%, other 0.1% (200
Language(s): Spanish 60%, Amerindian languages 40% (23 officially recognized Amerindian languages, including Quiche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, Garifuna, and Xinca). Many in the business community speak English.
Religion(s): Roman Catholic, Protestant, indigenous Mayan beliefs. There are a small number of Jewish, Muslim and other faith communities.
Currency: Quetzal made up of 100 centavos. Approximately Q13.50 = £1.00

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Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$39.88 billion (2008)
GDP per head: US$2,580 (2008)*
Annual Growth: 4.0% (2008)
Inflation: 9.4% (2008)
*GDP per head = GDP/Population

Impact of the world economic crisis: Guatemala is the biggest economy in the Central American reigon and, although currently in recession, is predicted to experience a smaller reduction in its growth due to the world economic crisis compared to its neighbours. The hardist hit sectors are mining with a 2.9% reduction in activities, the construction industry (-3.1%), and commerce (-1.3%). The economy has also experienced a reduction in the provision of water and electricity services (0.2%) in recent times and consumption is at its lowest level. Currently, Guatemala reports a deflation process and actions taken by the Central Bank to reduce the price of credit have had no clear effect on economic agents. Interest rates in local currency were recently lowered to an average of 14.5%, but remain high compared with the region. In foreign currency, active rates remain around 8.60% and passive rates in 3.93%. At the same time, credit available to the private sector is declining rapidly.

Major industries: The agricultural sector accounts for 43% of all exports. Major commodities include coffee, sugar, bananas and cardamom. Textiles account for 14% and non-traditional products such as flowers, fruits and ceramics account for 33%. A major growth sector identified by the government is tourism. Remittances from Guatemalans living in the Unites States are a major source of foreign income.
Major trading partners: USA, El Salvador, Honduras, other Central American countries and the EU.
Aid & development: Mainly from the USA, EU and Japan. Provides 25% of state expenditure, which is 13% of GDP.
Unemployment: 3.2% (2005 est.)
Agriculture: sugarcane, corn, bananas, coffee, beans, cardamom; cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens
Industries: sugar, textiles and clothing, furniture, chemicals, petroleum, metals, rubber, tourism
Natural resources: petroleum, nickel, rare woods, fish, chicle, hydropower
Transparency International corruption ranking (1=least corrupt, 179=most corrupt): 111 (joint) 2007

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1524 - Once the site of the impressive ancient Mayan civilization, Guatemala was conquered by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado
1839 - Following collapse of United Provinces of Central America, Guatemala became a republic.
1898 to 1920 - Manuel Estrada Cabrera in charge as dictator, with United Fruit Company (UFCO) exerting significant political influence.
1931 to 1944 - Dictator General Jorge Ubico Castaneda in power.
1944 to 1954 - Ubico overthrown in 1944 by the “October Revolutionaries”. Guatemala enjoyed “ten years of spring”, with 2 popularly elected and reformist presidents: Juan José Arévalo (1945–1951) and Jacobo Arbenz (1951-1954). Arbenz permitted free expression, legalized unions, allowed diverse political parties, and initiated basic socio-economic reforms.
1953 - UFCO interests in collision with land distribution reforms .
1954 - Coup led by Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, with covert US backing. A series of repressive regimes followed.
1960-96 - Civil war between military governments, right-wing vigilante groups, and leftist rebels lasting 36 years: the longest civil war in Latin American history.
1970s - An estimated 50,000 political opponents murdered by right-wing death squads. By the end of the civil war in 1996, 200,000 citizens had died. Indigenous Mayan Indians systematically targeted and subjected to particular brutality.
1977 - USA military aid withdrawn because of human rights abuses.
1982 - Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) formed by coalition of three guerrilla groups. Later to become instrumental in peace process.
1982-83 - Military junta under General Efraín Ríos Montt. 1965 constitution annulled, Congress dissolved, political parties suspended and electoral law annulled. Ríos Montt later dismissed other junta members to assume de facto title of President. 1986 - 89 - Succession of military juntas.
1987 - Start of peace talks, although no significant progress until early 1990.
1991 - Recognition of neighbouring Belize's sovereignty - but no solution to long-standing Guatemala territorial dispute.
1994-95 - Several human rights agreements signed between government and URNG.
1996 - Peace Accords signed by democratically-elected Álvaro Arzú Irigoyen and URNG, ending the civil war.
1999 - Guatemalan army found responsible for 93% of atrocities during civil war by United Nations-sponsored Truth Commission. URNG blamed for 3%. Apology by President Clinton for US support of right-wing military governments during the war.
2000 - Alfonso Portillo Cabrera, closely associated with Ríos Montt’s dictatorship, elected president. Later apologised for former government's human rights abuses and pledged to prosecute those responsible and compensate victims.
2003 - Former dictator Rios Montt allowed to stand for president but beaten in presidential contest; conservative Oscar Berger (GANA) elected following second round run-off against centre-left Álvaro Colom.
2007 - Álvaro Colom (UNE) elected president, beating centre-right Otto Pérez Molina (PP) in final run-off.
2011 - Otto Pérez Molina elected following second-round run-off against right-wing businessman Manuel Baldizon. Takes office January 2012 pledging to tackle Guatemala’s growing problems of violent and organised crime and drug trafficking.
2012 - Guatemala assumes two-year seat on UN Security Council.

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Relations with Neighbours


When Guatemala became independent in 1821, it claimed it had inherited the previous Spanish claim to the southern part of Belize. In September 1981, Belize gained its independence from the UK, but this was not recognised by Guatemala. From 1975 successive UN resolutions endorsed Belize's right to self-determination, independence and territorial integrity. Relations improved and Guatemala recognised Belize as a sovereign and independent state in September 1991, while continuing to maintain its territorial claim on Belize.

Since 2000, Belize and Guatemala have had a series of meetings under the auspices of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in an attempt to resolve the dispute through peaceful negotiation. On 8 November 2000, Belize and Guatemala signed an Agreement on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), which provided a framework for managing disagreements and preventing incidents in the Adjacency Zone (a buffer zone extending 1km east and west of the border line). Recommendations by the two OAS-sponsored facilitators, one appointed each by Belize and Guatemala, were made public in September 2002. They included adjusting the land border and establishing new maritime limits, giving Guatemala an Economic Exclusion Zone of around 2,000 square nautical miles; establishment of a tri-national ecological park covering coastal, insular and maritime areas of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras; and a substantial internationally-financed Development Trust Fund.

In September 2003, the UK joined the ‘Group of Friends’ established under the OAS to help resolve the dispute. The Belize Government publicly supported the OAS recommendations, but Guatemala stated initially that it could not. Both governments, however, continued to work towards an agreement. In 2005, Guatemala and Belize signed a Framework for Negotiation and Confidence Building Measures. in 2007, following the failure to reach agreement, the OAS Secretary General recommended the dispute should be submitted to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for independent arbitration. In December 2008 Guatemala and Belize formally signed a Special Agreement to this route, which sets out the rules of engagement for the ICJ case, binds the two countries to hold simultaneous referenda on referring the issue to the ICJ, and formulates the questions to be asked at the national referendums. Otto Pérez Molina has indicated that he favours holding the referenda in 2013.

The UK supports the ICJ route to a long-term and sustainable resolution acceptable to both countries. In December 2008, the UK granted £200,000 toward legal expenses incurred during the ICJ process. The British Embassy is working closely with the Guatemalan government to support their information campaign ahead of the referendum.

FCO Minister's comments on signing of the Special Agreement ( .

Relations with the UK

The UK continues to support Guatemala's plans to advance development by implementing the agreements under the Peace Accords, particularly those relating to human rights, indigenous peoples and the internal security situation.

In addition, the UK supports the OAS-sponsored negotiation process between Belize and Guatemala to resolve their territorial dispute.

The FCO, Department for International Development (DFID) and Ministry of Defence (MOD) have jointly funded a number of projects aimed at reducing conflict along the Belize-Guatemala border. The UK has disbursed approximately £2 million for projects since 2004/05 as well as providing financial and other support for the work of the OAS Office in the Adjacency Zone between Guatemala and Belize. The UK Government will continue to work with the OAS to complement the OAS process for border dispute resolution.

Further details of one of the main GCPP Belize/Guatemala Strategy projects can be found at (#) or (Language Exchange).

Cultural Relations with the UK

The British Embassy in Guatemala supports the British-Guatemalan Cultural Foundation in strengthening links between the two countries.

The Embassy also helps to sponsor the Guatemalan UK Alumni Association to enable Guatemalans who have studied in the UK at schools, colleges and universities to keep in touch through regular meetings and events. The Association includes ex-students who have received British Government scholarships. The FCO continues to send Guatemalan nationals to study in the UK through its Chevening Programme.

Recent Visits to Guatemala

-- November 2010 - Jeremy Browne, FCO Minister for Latin America and the Caribbean

-- April 2008 - Meg Munn, Foreign Office Minister for Latin America and the Caribbean.

-- August 2007 - HRH Princess Anne took part in International Olympic Committee meeting in Guatemala, and other meetings.

-- June 2006 - visit by group of British MPs from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

Recent Visits to the UK

-- Sept 2011 - Francisco Dall’Annese, Commissioner of CICIG, the UN-sponsored anti-corruption commission for Guatemala, calls on FCO Minister Jeremy Browne and other officials.

Oct 2007 - Gert Rosenthal, Foreign Minister

-- Oct 2007 - Eduardo Stein, Vice President

-- Jun 2006 - Sergio Morales, Human Rights Ombudsman

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The northernmost of the Central American nations, Guatemala is about the size of Scotland and Wales combined. Its neighbours are Mexico to the north and west, and Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador to the east. The country consists of 3 main regions — the cool highlands with the heaviest population, the tropical area along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, and the tropical jungle in the northern lowlands (known as the Petén). The high plateau in the centre is volcanic, and temperate in climate compared to the hot tropical lowlands. Guatemala has 37 volcanoes - 3 of which are active. Violent earthquakes have, in the past, destroyed what were small cities on average twice every century. Modern construction is supposed to follow California building codes. There are black basalt volcanic sand beaches on the Pacific Ocean and white coral sand on the Caribbean Sea beaches.

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Trade and Investment with the UK

The UK's main exports to Guatemala include cars, chemicals, alcoholic drinks and machinery. British companies with local investments include: Biwater (water), Saatchi & Saatchi, Ogilvy & Mather (advertising), Taylor Nelson & Sophes (market research), Cadbury (food), CDC (capital), Regus (business centre)

UK Trade & Investment Country Profile: Guatemala (

UK Development Assistance

The FCO and the Department for International Development (DfID) contribute to a range of projects in Guatemala through the Embassy's bilateral programme funds and, working wiht a number of Civil Society Organisations, thorugh DfID's Partnership Programme Arrangement for Latin America. This includes amongst other projects, a Plan International project to increase understanding of and participation in the democratic process amongst indigenous communities, and development of regional disaster management training. The British Government has also promoted several projects aimed to improve the situation of women in the country, by encouraging them to participate in the democratic process and national reconciliation. Also, the Embassy has been active in support of projects aiming to promote the reform of the Justice sector in Guatemala and support education amongst poor children.

Department for International Development (DFID) (

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Guatemala is a constitutional democratic republic. It has a unicameral Congress, comprising 158 seats. Members are elected every four years and are eligible for re-election. The president is elected by universal suffrage for a single term of four years. The next presidential elections will take place in 2015.

Head of State: President Otto Pérez Molina
Prime Minister/Premier: None
Vice President: Roxana Baldetti
Foreign Minister: Harold Caballeros
Major political parties: Guatemala has a multi-party electoral system with 28 registered political parties. The largest parties are
PP - Partido Patriota
FRG - Frente Republicano Guatemalteco
UNE - Unidad Nacional de Esperanza
PAN - Partido de Avanzada Nacional
GANA - Gran Alianza para una Nueva Nacion
LIDER - Libertad Democrática Renovada

Membership of international groupings/organisations: Guatemala is a member of the Organisation of American States (OAS), United Nations (UN), Central American Integration System (SICA), San José Group, Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). From January 2012 to December 2013 it has a seat on the UN Security Council.

Former General Otto Pérez Molina won the presidential election in November 2011 as the candidate of the Partido Patriota (Patriotic Party) He assumed office on 14 January 2012, pledging to tackle the country’s growing crime problem, reduce poverty and improve healthcare and child nutrition.

Pérez Molina, like his predecessor Alvaro Colom, inherited a country with some of the world’s highest rates of violent crime, poverty and child malnutrition. His campaign centred around promises to tackle organised crime, using a ‘mano dura’ (iron fist) approach. This was a popular message in a country with murder rates among the highest in the world and almost total impunity. This led to concern that the hard-line approach would lead to abuse of human rights. However, Pérez Molina has since stated his strong support for the work of attorney-general Claudia Paz y Paz and for the anti-impunity commission, CICIG.

UK Support for Human Rights

The UK has supported a number of high profile projects in recent years, including ‘Rompe el Ciclo’, a campaign to bring about generational change in attitudes to domestic violence, and start to bring it to an end. Our embassy staff, together with EU colleagues, participate in monitoring of human rights cases in line with the EU guidelines, and maintain close contact with many non-governmental organisations working in the field of human rights.

Human Rights Concerns

Guatemala's 36 years of civil war officially ended with the signing of Peace Accords in 1996. Human rights violations committed during the war by the military and paramilitary bands were severe and psychological, social and physical wounds remain deep. The Truth Commission's final report in 1999 recorded 42,000 human rights violations, 626 massacres and an estimated 200,000 killings during the civil war.

The most immediate threat to human rights and democracy in Guatemala today is violent crime, fuelled by extreme poverty, inequality, and the lack of effective law enforcement, together with the rise of criminal gangs and an increase in drugs-trafficking through Central America. Guatemala has the most unequal distribution of income in Latin America, with over half the population living in poverty and nearly a fifth in extreme poverty. One in four children are malnourished. Many perpetrators of human rights violations continue to escape justice due to a weak judicial system.

International recognition of Guatemala’s human rights problems resulted in the establishment of an office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in August 2005. Its purpose is to monitor the human rights situation in Guatemala, advise the government, and build the capacity of national stakeholders to participate in human rights advocacy


In December 2006 the UN and the Guatemalan government signed an agreement to establish the International Commission against Impunity (CIGIC), which aims to strengthen institutions and assist the government to investigate and prosecute those involved in the organised crime.

CICIG operates as an independent body under the responsibility of a Commissioner appointed by the UN Secretary-General, and is obliged to make periodic reports on the progress of their investigations. Since its creation, CICIG has helped the investigation of key cases, corruption, assassinations of judges and drug trafficking, amongst others.

The UK fully endorses the CICIG and follows closely the latest developments related to the high profile cases it is investigating. Our Embassy in Guatemala in late 2011 provided funding of £45,000 to support CICIG’s work, and in September 2011 the UK invited CICIG commissioner, Francisco Dall’Annese, to the UK for meetings, including with FCO Minister Jeremy Browne. The Guatemalan government, under Otto Perez Molina, in January 2012, shortly after taking office, has requested an extension of CICIG’s mandate for a further two years to September 2015.

Death Penalty

The death penalty is retained on the statute books but there has been a de facto moratorium on its application since 2000. In March 2008, Congress passed a law that would allow the president to pardon prisoners on death row or commute their sentences to life in prison - a decision that drew heavy criticism from human rights groups who claimed it would expedite executions. In the presidential elections of 2011, both the second-round candidates stated their support for the death penalty – a popular message for many Guatemalans, faced with the inexorable rise of violent crime. In office, however, Perez Molina, while not ruling out the possible use of the death penalty, is aiming to implement alternative security policies. In January 2012 the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice revoked the death sentence of 53 prisoners, leaving only one inmate on death row.


Press freedom is enshrined in Guatemala's constitution, and newspapers freely criticise the government. Nonetheless, many journalists face intimidation because of their reporting, often in the form of anonymous threats. Reporters who expose corruption are particularly exposed.

Private operators dominate the media. Four national TV channels share the same owner and have a virtual monopoly in TV broadcasting. They have been criticised for being pro-government. Two state TV channels are licensed but not broadcasting.

The press

Prensa Libre - daily
La Hora - private daily
El Periodo- private daily
Siglo Veintiuno - daily


Canal 3 Radio-TV Guatemala - commercial
Canal 5 TV Cultural y Educativa - cultural and educational channel
Teleonce - commercial
Televisiete - commercial
Trecevision - commercial


La Voz de Guatemala - government-owned
Radio Cultural TGN - private, religious/cultural, broadcasts in Spanish, English and indigenous languages
Radio Sonora - news and talk station
Emisoras Unidas de Guatemala - commercial
Radio Continental - commercial
Radio Nuevo Mundo - commercial
Radio Panamericana - commercial

News agency

Inforpress Centroamericana - private

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Last Updated: February 2012

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