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October 2005

Guatemala, 2004

Guatemala, 2004

Guatemala is located in Central America, bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between El Salvador and Mexico, and bordering the Gulf of Honduras (Caribbean Sea) between Honduras and Belize. With a population of over 14 million people comprised primarily of Mestizo (mixed Amerindian-Spanish) and European. Guatemala is the largest and most populous of the Central American countries, about the size of Tennessee. Its gross domestic product (GDP) per capita roughly one-half that of Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. The agricultural sector accounts for about one-fourth of GDP, two-thirds of exports, and half of the labor force. Coffee, sugar, and bananas are the main products.

The first colonial capital, Ciudad Vieja, was ruined by floods and an earthquake in 1542. Survivors founded Antigua, the second capital, in 1543. In the 17th century, Antigua became one of the richest capitals in the New World. Always vulnerable to volcanic eruptions, floods, and earthquakes, Antigua was destroyed by two earthquakes in 1773. The remnants of its Spanish colonial architecture have been preserved as a national monument. The third capital, Guatemala City, was founded in 1776, after Antigua was abandoned. Guatemala gained independence from Spain on September 15, 1821; it briefly became part of the Mexican Empire, and then for a period belonged to a federation called the United Provinces of Central America.

Guatemala's 1985 constitution provides for a separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The 1993 constitutional reforms included an increase in the number of Supreme Court justices from 9 to 13. The reforms reduced the terms of office for president, vice president, and congressional representatives from 5 years to 4 years. The president and vice president are directly elected through universal suffrage and limited to one term. A vice president can run for president after 4 years out of office.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. Dept. of State Background Notes, 09/2005, 08/2004