Guatemala Dictionary of History

By | June 1, 2022

Guatemala State of Central America. Inhabited mainly by Mayan populations, Guatemala was conquered by the Spaniards in 1523-25. As part of the viceroyalty of New Spain (established in 1535), the Audiencia del Guatemala exercised its jurisdiction over all of Central America. After the failed attempt at unification with independent Mexico (1822) and the dissolution (1839) of the independent Federation of the United Provinces of Central America (with Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica), the life of Guatemala was dominated for a quarter of a century by R. Carrera (president for life since 1854), who imposed an authoritarian and clerical regime. In 1871 a revolution brought the liberals to power, who started a modernization of the country. At the beginning of the 20th century. foreign investment was favored and the United fruit company of Boston became the owner of large plantations. The increase in production was accompanied by that of the population, which more than doubled between the end of the nineteenth century and 1940, with an increase in the economic and demographic weight of the Latin element compared to the Indian majority. The war saw Guatemala, under the authoritarian government of J. Ubico, sided with the Allies, but in 1944 the progressive forces returned to power.

In 1952 an agrarian reform was launched which provided for the distribution of uncultivated lands belonging to large estates to peasants, arousing bitter opposition from the United fruit company and hostility from the US government. According to indexdotcom, in 1954, irregular forces from Honduras and backed by Washington overthrew the government and brought to power C. Castillo Armas, who returned the lands to the former owners within a few months. After the coup d’état of Castillo Armas, the military regime maintained political control for over 30 years, during which an active guerrilla developed above all in the north-eastern regions and then took root in the 1970s among the Indians of the western highlands (with a budget of one million refugees and about 100,000 dead). From the end of the seventies the extension of the guerrilla, the worsening of the economic situation and the growing divisions within the dominant oligarchy of the armed forces provoked a crisis of the regime. After the coup d’état (1982) of General E. Ríos Montt, in turn deposed (1983) by general OH Mejía Victores, the establishment of a military regime was followed by a restructuring of the political system, which led to the rise of new formations against the old right. The general elections of 1985 saw the affirmation of the Guatemalan Christian Democracy, whose leader MV Cerezo Arévalo was elected president of the Republic, but the counter-insurgency campaign continued violently. Only in 1996, with the mediation of the UN, the new administration of AE Arzú Irigoyen reached the signing of a peace agreement with the URNG (Unidad revolucionaria nacional Guatemalteca).

Despite the support of the international community, the situation remained difficult. Only in 2000 A. Portillo, elected president with the Guatemalan Republican Frente (FRG), admitted for the first time the responsibility of the government in the violence committed against the Indians during the civil war, already denounced by the Nobel Peace Prize winner R. Menchú. In 2003 the presidential elections (the first with an Indian candidate among the participants) were won by the conservative O. Berger, who was succeeded in 2007 by the Social Democrat Á. Colom, leader of the Unidad nacional de la esperanza (UNE).


Many religious buildings remain from the colonial period; stucco decorations adorn the facades of churches, in which Spanish stylistic elements overlap the simplicity of local building techniques; References to the Romanesque are present in various cloisters (church of S. Cristóbal Tottonicapán), while Gothic elements mix with late Renaissance solutions, with Plateresque and Mudejar. Despite the many reconstructions, the city plans retain orthogonal grid systems focused around a central square (Antigua). In the 17th century. J. de Porres, one of the major local architects, built the first church turned into Guatemala (cathedral of Antigua, 1663-80). Baroque forms and classical details alternate, in particular with J. de Porres, D. de Porres and JM Ramirez (S. Francisco in Antigua, 1698; sanctuary of Esquipulas, 1759 etc.). The neoclassical style was introduced by the Spanish M. Ibañez and P. Garciaguirre between the end of the 18th and the 19th century, marking the development of Ciudad de Guatemala.

After the colonial revival of the 1930s, interesting creations merge and integrate painting, sculpture, mosaic and architecture (in Ciudad de Guatemala: Palacio Municipal, 1958; Seguro Social building, 1959; Banco de Guatemala, 1964; new terminal, 1969 etc.). Seismic criteria have characterized the buildings especially since the 1980s, which also saw the contribution of foreign architects (Banco Occidente, 1980, SOM). In the visual arts, after the first personalities open to European experiences (C. Mérida, A. Jensen, L. Diaz, E. Rojas, R. Cabrera) and the research aimed at the rediscovery of a national identity, at the beginning of the 21st sec. RJ Galindo has made a name for herself in the international arena with her actions of strong emotional impact.

Guatemala Dictionary of History