Welcome to Guatemala

Article excerpt

With so many Guatemalan immigrants in the United States today, it bears taking a look at their country of origin and what they left behind.

According to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey in 2008, 986,000 Hispanics of Guatemalan origin resided in the U.S. then. Now, their numbers reach over 1 million. They compose more than 2 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population.

Hispanics in this country, Guatemalans included, often share similar stories of their countries of origin. Many speak of the cultural richness of the indigenous people, the traditions of religion and family and also the natural beauty of the countries themselves.

Still more mention a difficult history with governmental corruption and pervasive poverty.

A bit of history:

The Mayan civilization flourished throughout Guatemala and the surrounding regions long before the Spanish arrived. The Mayans were defeated by Pedro de Avarado in 1523-24.

Guatemala gained independence from Spain in 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.

From the mid-19th century until the mid-1980s, the country passed through a series of dictatorships, insurgencies, coups and stretches of military rule with only occasional periods of representative government.

Most recently, Guatemala, a nation of about 13 million, found supposed peace with the signing of the 1996 Peace Accord.

Today, "Peace" is debatable. Guatemala has one of the highest murder rates in Latin America. Drug traffickers and gang members act with impunity. They have infiltrated the country's military, police and justice system. Guatemala is considered to be part of a transit route for cocaine from Colombia to the U.S.

Guatemala's government is characterized as unusual, at best. President Alvaro Colom, a businessman who made fighting poverty the centerpiece of his 2007 campaign, leads Guatemala's left-of-center government.

In an agreement with the United Nations in 2007, a commission called "Cicig" was set up to help a judiciary riddled with corruption. …