Guatemala (i/ˌɡwɑːtɨˈmɑːləˌ ɡwæ–/ GWAH-tə-MAH-lə or GWAT-ə-MAH-lə; Spanish: [gwateˈmala]), officially the Republic of Guatemala (Spanish: República de Guatemala), is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, Honduras to the east and El Salvador to the southeast. With an estimated population of around 15.8 million, it is the most populous state in Central America. A representative democracy, Guatemala’s capital and largest city is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, also known as Guatemala City.
The region of modern day Guatemala was for centuries part of the Mayan civilization that extended across Mesoamerica. Most of the country was conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century, becoming part of the colony of New Spain (present-day Mexico). Guatemala attained its independence in 1821 as part of the Federal Republic of Central America, which dissolved in 1841.
From the mid to late 19th century, Guatemala endured the chronic instability and civil strife that was endemic to the region. Beginning in the early 20th century, it was ruled by a series of dictators backed by the United Fruit Company and the United States government. In 1944, one such authoritarian leader, Jorge Ubico, was overthrown by a pro-democratic military coup, initiating the ten-year Guatemalan Revolution that led to sweeping social and economic reforms. The revolution was ended by a U.S.-engineered military coup in 1954.
From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala underwent a bloody civil war fought between the U.S.-backed government and leftist rebels, which included massacres of the Mayan population perpetrated by the former in the Ixil Triangle. Since the end of the war, Guatemala has witnessed both economic growth and successful democratic elections, though it continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, crime, drug trade, and instability. In the most recent election, held in 2011, Otto Pérez Molina of the Patriotic Party won the presidency.
Guatemala’s abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems, which includes a large number of endemic species, contributes to Mesoamerica’s designation as a biodiversity hotspot. The country is also known for its rich culture, characterized by a fusion of Spanish and Indigenous influences. (*)