Guatemala Early History

Guatemala Early History

North America

First civilizations

As a country located in Central America according to, Guatemala is located within the geographical area known as Mesoamerica. Within its territorial limits various cultures developed. It is the cradle of the Mayan civilization that was notable for achieving complex social development.

Mayan civilization

Tikal was the largest city of the ancient Mayan culture. It has more than 4000 buildings, and is the icon of the classic Mayan period.

He excelled in various scientific disciplines such as architecture, writing, an advanced calculation of time through mathematics and astronomy, the Mayan calendar is more accurate than the Gregorian calendar that we use today.

They were hunters, farmers, practiced fishing, domesticated animals such as turkeys and ducks; they were transported in canoes to navigate the rivers and to travel to nearby islands.

They also stood out in painting, sculpture, goldsmithing and copper metallurgy, they wove cotton and agave fiber, they developed the most complete writing system in pre-Hispanic America. They were also athletes, among the sports they practiced the ball game stands out. Their development in engineering was monumental, they built great metropolises from the pre-classical period.

Upon the arrival of the Spanish to their territory, in 1524, the Maya of the classical period (around the year 800) had ceased to be a complex and organized civilization. His descendants (from Tula) were divided into a good number of manors and city-states.

Today Guatemala is known as the heart of the Mayan world, where more than four million Mayan descendants continue to speak Mayan and with their customs in their original lands, live freely, practicing agriculture, livestock and fishing, from them approximately 2 million live in Guatemala.

Spanish colonization

In 1523 the Spanish conquerors arrived from the west, coming from Mexico, under the command of Captain Pedro de Alvarado, with the intention of exploring and colonizing the territories of present-day Guatemala. They founded their first settlement on 25 of July of 1524 near Iximché, capital of the Cakchiquel, villa received name Santiago de Guatemala in honor of the Chief Apostle.

The 31 of January of 1676 by “royal charter” of King Charles II ‘s was founded University of San Carlos of Guatemala, the fourth university founded in America, where they studied many important figures in the country, including Fray Francisco Ximenez of the Rio, discoverer of the Manuscript of the Popol Vuh, he also translated it into Spanish. In the art of the seventeenth century, the master painter Pedro de Liendo and Quirio Cataño stand out.

During the Spanish domination, which lasted almost 300 years, Guatemala was a strategic region (Captaincy General of the Kingdom of Guatemala), forming part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The Captaincy General of Guatemala extended from the Chiapas region (currently belonging to Mexico) to present-day Costa Rica.

This region was as rich in minerals and metals as Mexico, Bolivia and Peru. However, the colonists mainly exploited agricultural production. Its main resources were sugar cane, cocoa, precious woods and indigo ink for textiles.


Wishing to create commercial relations with other nations, in addition to Spain, the Creole bourgeoisie of that time decided to declare their independence, both political and economic, from the “crown” on September 15, 1821, taking advantage of the political chaos that was being experienced in Spain. . As in most Ibero-American countries, the independence of Guatemala was an essentially elitist movement, which did not imply an immediate improvement in the general living conditions of the Guatemalan people; Rather, it was promoted fundamentally by the economic elite of the region in order to enrich themselves with the new commercial ties that they hoped to acquire, and not so much because of the political separation itself.

Twentieth century

From 1898 to 1920, Manuel Estrada Cabrera ruled, finally overthrown by a revolution.

By 1901 the United Fruit Company began to become the main force in Guatemala (both political and economic), during the long dictatorial presidency of Manuel Estrada Cabrera. The government was often subordinated to the interests of the company (one of the main in Central America and with the help of the United States had the power to change democratic governments for puppets in its service). While the company, it also hindered local commerce; he opposed road construction because it would compete with his railroad monopoly. The UFC controlled more than 40% of the land of the country and other Central American countries and the port facilities.

From 1931 to 1944, General Jorge Ubico held the presidency, making important concessions to the United Fruit Company. General Federico Ponce, who succeeded him in July 1944, was overthrown by a revolution, and in December of that same year Juan José Arévalo was elected, who began a process of economic and social reforms. Among his most radical measures was land reform, which was described by the US government as “a threat to the interests of the United States.” The reforms initiated by Arévalo were continued by his successor, Jacobo Árbenz, winner of the following elections.

Guatemala Early History