The Pacific Ocean

Guatemala is located in Central America and shares a border with Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean lies to the southwest, Belize is on the northeast; Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast. Guatemala is a country with much history and mystery even the origin and meaning of the name Guatemala is unclear. Some believe that Guatemala means "land of the trees" in the Maya-Toltec language. An alternative consideration is that the Nahuatl idiom "Quauhtitlan", which translates to "between the trees", can explain its meaning. While Pedro de Alvarado was on his mission to conquest territory, the Tlaxcaltecan soldiers who guided him gave this land that name, possibly translating in their language the word "Quiche" which means "many trees".

As the hordes of Spanish ships arrived in which was considered the New World, the Spaniards launched numerous expeditions to what is now Guatemala; which began in the year 1519. Not long after contact with the Spaniards, an epidemic caused devastation among the native populations. The leader of the Mexico expedition Hernan Cortes approved a permit to Pedro de Alvarado to conquer what is now Guatemala. In order to do so Alvarado needed help, so he allied himself with the natives. His allies where the Kaqchikel nation, he chose them because they where rivals with the Quiche nation. With the Kaqchikel nation on his side, Alvarado was able to defeat the Quiche nation, but with traditional Spanish ambition and greed, Alvarado turned against the Kaqchikel. Ultimately, the entire region was under Spanish control.

September 15, 1821 was the date that Guatemala officially proclaimed its independence from Spain. At the same instance, Guatemala integrated its self into the Mexican Empire. Only two years later the empire disbanded and Guatemala separated itself from Mexico. With the separation the Central American Federation was formed. The federation did not last much time; the federation broke out into civil war from 1838-1840. Rafael Carrera was vital in forming the rebellion against the government that separated the Union. Carrera dominated Guatemalan politics until 1865. The countries conservatives, large landowners, and the church all supported him.

In 1871, Guatemala started the liberal revolution Justo Rufino Barrios was its leader. He fought to modernize, improve trade, bring in new technology for manufacturing, and introduced new crops to his country. This was the start of the coffee boom in the Americas; coffee became a vital crop for Guatemala. Barrios aspiration to reunite Central America and therefore triggered the country to go to war. In a disastrous undertaking to attain his goal Barrios lost his life on the battlefield in 1885 against the El Salvadorian forces. From 1898 to 1920 Manuel Estrada Cabrera became dictator of Guatemala, whose admission to the presidency was assisted by the United Fruit Company. United Fruit was an American company that invested huge portions of money into purchasing land in Guatemala, and used its populous for cheap labor. Not surprisingly, it was during Cabrera's presidency that United Fruit became the foremost organization in Guatemala with the most influential power over the government's policies.

From 1931 to 1944, General Jorge Ubico Castaneda served as strongman. In response to a surge of protests and a universal strike, Ubico unwillingly had to resign his office. Subsequently General Juan Federico Ponce Vaides replaced Ubico for the head of the government, but a coup led by Major Francisco Javier Arana and Captain Jacobo Arbenz Guzman forced Vaides out of office. Approximately one hundred people were killed in the coup. The country was led by a military junta made up of Arana, Arbenz, and Jorge Toriello Garrido. The Junta Held Guatemala's first free election, which was won with a majority of 85 percent by the prominent writer and teacher Juan Jose Arevalo Bermejo, who had lived in exile in Argentina for 14 years under Ubico's regime. Arevalo had been the first democratically voted president of Guatemala to finish the term for which he was elected. Liberal-democratic coalitions led by Juan Jose Arevalo and Jacobo Arbenz which lasted from 1945-1954. These coalitions instituted social and political reforms that strengthened the peasantry and urban workers. Nevertheless, in order for this to work, they had to be at the expense of the military and the big landowners like United Fruit. Arbenz's "Christian Socialist" policies, inspired by the U.S. New Deal, were criticized by landowners and the upper class as "communist." The landowners and the upper classes began to oppose the new government. With covert U.S. backing, Carlos Armas led a coup in 1954, forcing Arbenz into exile in Mexico.

A succession of repressive regimes followed, and Guatemala was pushed into a thirty-six year civil war. The two groups fighting each other were the military governments and leftist guerrillas. The military government formed highly trained soldiers backed by the U.S. These soldiers formed what is known today as "death squads" which murdered an estimated fifty thousand leftists and political opponents during the 1970s. For this reason, the U.S. was forced to cut its military aide to the Guatemalan military government. After thirty-six years of civil war in December 1996, a peace agreement was signed. The civil war was the cause of about two hundred thousand deaths and was the longest civil war in the history of Latin America.

Guatemala and the United States usually have been close friends and have had good relations over the years, although at times their relations can be tense by human civil rights, and military issues. The U.S. primary policy objectives in Guatemala have not changed. These policy objectives include:

  • "Supporting the institutionalization of democracy and implementation of the peace accords;
  • Encouraging respect for human rights and the rule of law, and the efficient functioning of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG);
  • Supporting broad-based economic growth and sustainable development and maintaining mutually beneficial trade and commercial relations, including ensuring that benefits of CAFTA-DR reach all sectors of the Guatemalan populace;
  • Cooperating to combat money laundering, corruption, narcotics trafficking, alien-smuggling, and other transnational crime, including through programs funded under the Merida Initiative; and
  • Supporting Central American integration through support for resolution of border/territorial disputes."[1]

Guatemala still has a rampant problem dealing with criminal activity and is often violent in order for them to instill fear to get what they want. Most of this crimes include rape, murder, armed assaults etc... the in past few years violent crimes in Guatemala against foreigners have been increasing, but so have the number of foreigners visiting Guatemala increased.

The United States is still giving Guatemala aide, it is provided by U.S. Agency for International Development's or "USAID". USAID has three different areas in which they focus on the standard set by the Millennium Challenge Account, these three areas include investing in people, economic freedom, and ruling justly and are as followed.

"Healthier, better educated people, through:

  • Increased and improved quality of social sector (health and education) investments; and
  • Increased use of quality maternal-child and reproductive health services, particularly in rural areas.

Open, diversified and expanding economies, through:

  • Laws, policies, and regulations that promote trade and investment;
  • More competitive, market-oriented private enterprises; and
  • Broader access to financial markets and services.

More responsive, transparent governance, through:

  • Strengthened justice; and
  • Greater transparency and accountability of governments."[2]

In December 1996, Guatemala was well matched for swift economic growth over the next several years. However, unfortunately in 1998 a huge financial crisis interfered with Guatemala's economic improvement. When Guatemala's leading export coffee was drastically affected when its prices fell there was a wide spread impact on the rural communities and left many people with out any type of income to support them selves. With the incorporation with the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and economic programs which President Colom of Guatemala implicated, it led to foreign investment to increase.

"Guatemala's economy is dominated by the private sector, which generates about 90% of GDP. Agriculture contributes 13.3% of GDP and accounts for 24% of exports. Most manufacturing is light assembly and food processing, geared to the domestic, U.S., and Central American markets. Over the past several years, tourism and exports of textiles, apparel, and nontraditional agricultural products such as winter vegetables, fruit, and cut flowers have boomed, while more traditional exports such as sugar, bananas, and coffee continue to represent a large share of the export market."[3]

Furthermore, here is a list of more positive things about CAFTA:

  • "Increase in trade between the United States and Central America means an increase in production, which means more jobs in each nation. The Department of Agriculture estimates that the increase in agricultural trade alone will expand the economies of all nations by an estimated $1.5 billion per year.
  • CAFTA promises an increase in economic stability for the nations of Central America by tying their economic success to that of the stable American economy.
  • Economic propserity and stability fosters rule of law, civil society, and the institutions of democratic government. As President Bush told Congress, "Open trade and investment bring healthy, growing economies, and can serve the cause of democratic reform. [With CAFTA] our purpose is to strengthen the economic ties we already have with these nations . . . to reinforce their progress toward economic, political, and social reform."[4]

The politicians and huge corporations say that joining CAFTA is a great way to help Guatemala's economy. However, many Guatemalan citizens oppose that decision. One oppositionist view on CAFTA is that it threatens the small farmers in Guatemala; nearly 40 percent of Guatemalans still live off the land. In addition, these small farmers rely on selling their crops to local markets. Most of these farmers even now have to walk several miles before reaching the nearest market in which they are able sell their crops for a certain price. CAFTA threatens the small farmer by reducing the prices on crops and eventually putting them out of business.

"Questions remain about CAFTA's impact in a country of such stark contrasts. Roughly, two-thirds of Guatemalans still live in poverty, and it has the second highest rate of illiteracy in the region after Haiti. Much opposition comes because CAFTA opens Guatemala to subsidized U.S. grains that will compete against the crops of small farmers who receive no subsidies. "We live in a subsistence economy in Guatemala," said Lucrecia Ardon, one of the leaders of Mesa Global, which opposes CAFTA. "There are no measures to lessen the pain of imports that are going to destroy the economies of campesino families."[5]

Before CAFTA was actually approved there was a poll which was conducted in Guatemala, the question was "do you think CAFTA will help or hurt the country?" 65 percent of those who took the poll said that they think CAFTA will hurt and not benefit the country what so ever. Days before the decision to ratify CAFTA the Indigenous, Peasant, Union and Popular Movement (MICSP) got together and formed a peaceful protest movement through out the country. The protest forced the vote to be delayed. The protests included cultural events, and the delivery of more than twenty five thousand signatures rejecting the trade agreement to the Guatemalan Congress. The Guatemalan government called out the army and police and employed tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets to disperse the large mobilizations. Nevertheless, it eventually passed.

The MICSP have led a series of discussions to alternatives to CAFTA that in turn becomes a factor to improve social justice and assisting development. Above all, it takes into thought the most susceptible members of the population, not just the elite. The MICSP leaders say that nation wide protests will continue in order to confront the legitimately of the agreement. Thus, Guatemala's citizens continue to be defiant. Their defiance has started ever since their independence from Spain in 1821. Furthermore, it is also because of the violent criminal activity and the long years of political corruption that contribute to Guatemala's current situation.

  1. Bureau of Public Affairs: Electronic Information and Publications Office "U.S.-GUATEMALAN RELATIONS"
  2. Bureau of Public Affairs: Electronic Information and Publications Office "U.S.-GUATEMALAN RELATIONS"
  3. Bureau of Public Affairs: Electronic Information and Publications Office "Economy"
  4. Americas Program Commentary "Guatemala: Two Months of CAFTA"
  5. "CAFTA threatens small farmers", Miami Herald.

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