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Guatemalan History

The Mayans were dominant group through much of Central America from the fifth until the eighth century when their civilisation declined and a variety of other ethnic groups moved into the region. The Spanish arrived in 1524 and the country was engulfed into another of Spain’s colonial territories. The local indigenous tribes tried to put up a fight, but the Spanish were far to advanced for the local tribes.  The country eventually gained its independence in the 1821, as the Spanish were fighting wars back in Europe and couldn’t hold its colonial territories. The country saw a bit of stability, but unfortunately it’s had several corrupt military style governments, which fused a civil war in the 1950s and a US-backed invasion led by military opponents of the government. An UN-sponsored investigation concluded in 1999 that saw the army was responsible for 90 per cent of the estimated 200,000 human rights abuses and killings. This drew an unprecedented apology from US president Bill Clinton as they had been backing the government at the time.

In July 2002, the Pope visited Guatemala. This was a major event in this deeply Catholic country. John Paul canonised the country’s first saint, the 17th-century missionary Pedro de San Jose de Betancur and this brought the country together as well.

Today, Guatemala and Belize are still arguing over territorial claims and it’s something that they will always argue about as both countries share a common past. In 1993 saw the signing of a non-aggression pact by the two governments, and as a concession, Belize granted the Guatemalans access to its maritime facilities. The following year, however, the Guatemalan government reasserted its territorial claim at the UN; in 2000, it did so again, claiming half of Belize’s current territory. Despite international mediation efforts, relations between the two remained tense. Then, in September 2002, the Organisation of American States (the main pan-regional political alliance) brokered a draft settlement of the dispute which may form the basis for a permanent accord.

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