The Independence of Guatemala – Where Modernity Seems Absent

  • Guatemala's Independence was celebrated on the 15th of September.
  • Despite its rich history, Guatemala has been in dire need of development, and thanks to organizations like Developing Our World, the country is seeing progress in various departments.
  • Developing Our World has been working actively in Guatemala and have initiated a series of strategic programs in order to combat poverty and offer holistic community development.

The Republic of Guatemala is situated in Central America, and is home to many Mayan sites, volcanoes, and rainforests. It’s a place of mystery and intrigue, and is also relatively underdeveloped. The country relies heavily on foreign assistance and on private charities in order to prevent poverty at a large scale. There are numerous organizations that are working in Guatemala to improve the life of the locals, such as Developing Our World.

However, before we talk about the current state of the country, it’s important to go into the past. Only recently, the country celebrated its independence, which falls on the 15th of September. This is a full on event in the country, with people flying flags and their flagship torch travels throughout the country as a sign of independence of the Central American peoples.

To know the history and origin of Guatemala you must first know how it is and its geographical situation. Guatemala is a small nation that borders Mexico to the north and west, with El Salvador to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the south, with Honduras and the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Belize to the northeast.

Guatemala is the largest economy in Central America, with a GDP (PPP) per capita of US$5,200. However, Guatemala faces many social problems and is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. The income distribution is highly unequal with more than half of the population below the national poverty line and just over 400,000 (3.2%) unemployed. The CIA World Fact Book considers 54.0% of the population of Guatemala to be living in poverty in 2009.

What is the origin of Guatemala?

Centre of the Mayan world, it gathers the essences of its complex and ancient civilizations and mixes them with the Hispanic heritage to offer the visitor a unique combination of nature and culture, whose perfect combination nowhere in America feels with such intensity.

It is like a summary stopped at some point in historical time. Despite the existence of large-scale contemporary buildings, such as the Miguel Angel Asturias cultural complex, in the capital, “modernity” seems absent from the soul of the Guatemalan people.

The cities and towns conserve the colonial structure that also recover the settlements of new wedge, perhaps by the functionality of its plants in checkerboard.

The peasants carry out their commercial transactions in the same places as their Mayan ancestors, where identical products are sold, and certain villages are still governed by the 260-day Mayan lunar calendar.

Continent: America
Area: 108,889 km²
Capital: Guatemala City
Population: 17,383,458 inhabitants
Currency: quetzal
Official language: Spanish

History of the colonization of Guatemala

Most of present-day Guatemala was inhabited by the Maya, who developed an important civilization, based on the cultivation of corn. At the time of the Spanish conquest, the Mayan people were going through a period of decline.

Who discovered Guatemala?

Guatemala was conquered in 1523-1524 by Pedro de Alvarado, one of the captains of Hernan Cortés. The conquest was bloody, and Alvarado distributed land and Indians among his troops, which created a landowning aristocracy.

Incorporated as a general captaincy, its jurisdiction covered Central America, except Panama, and extended to Chiapas. The Spanish colonial rule did not eliminate the existing institutions, but integrated them into its bosom.

The Church monopolized culture, economic promotion and in particular, the civil power, mainly because of the absenteeism of the encomenderos, enriched with the income of their parcels and the massive export to Europe, since the 17th century, of indigo and cocoa.

Peacefully and on the initiative of the Cabinda, the independence of Guatemala was proclaimed on September 15, 1821. But the social structures of the Spanish colonial era remained unsustainable; the last governor sent by Spain, Sabina Giana, was in charge of the Government.

In 1822 the annexation of Guatemala to the Mexican empire of Augustin de turbid was approved. A year later a National Constituent Assembly rejected the union with Mexico and proclaimed the Federation of the United Provinces of Central America, formed by Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador (see history of the Republic of El Salvador), Nicaragua and Costa Rica. This federation was dissolved in 1839. As of that date, the former province of Guatemala became an independent State.

The dictator Rafael Carrera

Rafael Carrera established a strong dictatorship between 1844 and 1865. He fought several times against neighbouring countries and returned to the Church the privileges he lost during the non-federal period.

His main successor was Refine Barrios, who ruled as a reformist dictator from 1873 to 1885. He tried to restore the Central American union to face the imperialist threat of the United States, confiscated the assets of the Church and began the construction of the railway network.

At the end of the century Manuel Estrada Cabrera instituted a dictatorship, which remained until 1920. During his tenure, the penetration of US capital into Guatemala began; United Fruit Company obtained large tracts of land from the Government of Estrada, destined for the cultivation of tropical products; Likewise, the railroads and other important economic sectors became dependent on US companies.

A period of eleven years followed in which the coup d’états and dictatorial regimes followed one another and in which the Guatemalan dependence on the United States was accentuated. A new dictatorship that of General Ubico, dominated Guatemala from 1931 to 1944.

Reformist period in Guatemala

After the reform of Guatemala in December 1944, after half a century of unconstitutional regimes and governments controlled by the landowner oligarchy, President Juan José Arévalo was elected, who carried out some reforms that did not substantially modify the socioeconomic structures of the country.

He was succeeded in 1951 by Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, who in 1944 had contributed to the restoration of constitutional normality, and which initiated a comprehensive agrarian reform in 1954, including the expropriation of 16,500 hectares of the United Fruit consortium.

Military dictatorships of Guatemala (1954-1966)

On June 15, 1954, there was an armed invasion of exiles along the border of Honduras, financed by the US CIA under the command of Colonel Castillo Armas, which was invested as the new president.

Some of Guatemala’s main exports are fruits, vegetables, flowers, handicrafts, cloths and others. In the face of a rising demand for biofuels, the country is growing and exporting an increasing amount of raw materials for biofuel production, especially sugar cane and palm oil.

Colonel Castillo Armas

His dictatorial government was characterized by a climate of constant repression and the adoption of measures favorable to the Church, large landowners and American economic interests.

All political parties and union groups were outlawed. Castillo Armas was assassinated in 1957, and in 1958 General Ydígoras Fuentes, representative of traditional conservatism, held the presidency. Guatemala broke its relations with Great Britain after denouncing the 1859 treaty that ceded to it the territory of Belize (1963).

Shortly before the December 1963 elections, and fearing that the left parties would succeed, the army gave a coup d’etat, which brought General Peralta to power. The constitution was repealed and the opposition severely repressed.

National Elements

The national tree of the country is La Ceiba, named after the La Ceiba de Palin Escuintla, which is over 400 years old. The Marimba is the national instrument and the Monja Blanca is its national flower. Tecun Uman is regarded by many as one of the greatest heroes that the nation has ever seen.

The Flag

If you want to know the origin of the Guatemalan flag, the first thing you should know is its meaning. In the central coat of arms appears Quetzal, a species of bird protected from the tropical forests of Guatemala, presides with long feathers in its tail the Guatemalan national flag. It’s also the national bird of the country.

This beautiful bird, a great lover of freedom, prefers to die to live captive. It is the emblem of this country of Central America, the most populous in the region.

The currency of this country also bears the name of this bird. As the guns and sabers present in the national pavilion demonstrate, the Guatemalan people are willing to defend their freedom by any means. The olive crown is a symbol of victory.

The date of September 15, 1821, inscribed on the parchment, under the legs of the bird, indicates the separation of Guatemala with Spain, two years before the United Provinces of Central America were founded (an entity that would also include El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica).

Guatemala needs development

Now that we know the history of this country and its national elements, it’s important to focus on organizations that are working diligently to improve the conditions of the country. One of these is Developing Our World. The country is in dire need of holistic community development, and creating a sense of unity amongst the people is very important.

They are actively involved in training teachers, nurses, and improving the public health system in the country. Not only that, but they are also focused on training rural leaders throughout Guatemala. Despite its rich history, Guatemala has been in dire need of development, and thanks to organizations like Developing Our World, the country is seeing progress in various departments.

Developing Our World has been working actively in Guatemala and have initiated a series of strategic programs in order to combat poverty and offer holistic community development. They are actively engaged in projects which focus on supplying clean water, supporting rural schools, sponsoring a child, giving out small loans, nurturing spiritual care and life, establishing agricultural and farming programs, and a lot more.

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Miguel Torneire

Is the founder and the Executive Director of Developing Our World, an organization that seeks to put holistic community development into action. He loves Jesus! And, he is a husband, a father, a Pastor, a Missionary, an Author, a flamenguista (a supporter of Clube de Regatas do Flamengo soccer team), and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner.


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