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Flag of Guatemala

Last reviewed: 2 July 2008

Country information


1524 - Once the site of the impressive ancient Mayan civilization, Guatemala was conquered by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado
1839 - Became a republic after the United Provinces of Central America collapsed.
1898 to 1920 - Dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera ran the country. The United Fruit Company (UFCO), which is exempt from taxes, begins to exert significant influence within the country.
1931 to 1944 - General Jorge Ubico Castaneda served as strongman.
1944 to 1954 - Ubico is overthrown in 1944 by the “October Revolutionaries” and Guatemala subsequently enjoys what is known as the “ten years of spring” with 2 popularly elected and reformist presidents. The first being Juan José Arévalo (1945–1951). The second president during this era, President Jacobo Arbenz (1951-1954), permits free expression, legalizes unions, allows diverse political parties, and initiates basic socio-economic reforms.
1953 - Land distribution reforms collide with interests of UFCO.
1954 - With covert US backing, Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas successfully led a coup and Arbenz took refuge in Mexico. A series of repressive regimes followed.
1960-96 - The country was plunged into a civil war between military governments, right-wing vigilante groups, and leftist rebels that would last 36 years, the longest civil war in Latin American history.
1963 - President Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes overthrown in a coup & succeeded by his Minister of Defence.
1970s - Death squads murdered an estimated 50,000 leftists and political opponents during the 1970s.
1977 - The US cuts off military aid to the country because of its egregious human rights abuses. The right-wing death squads singled out the indigenous Mayan Indians for special brutality. By the end of the war, 200,000 citizens were dead.
1982 - Three leading guerrilla groups combine to form the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG).
1982-83 - General Efran Rios Montt accepted the invitation of young officers to lead a 3-member military junta. They annulled the 1965 constitution, dissolved Congress, suspended political parties and annulled the electoral law. Montt later dismissed his junta colleagues and assumed the de facto title of President.
1986 - A succession of military juntas dominated during the civil war, until a new constitution was passed and civilian Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo was elected and took office.
1988-89 - Arevalo survives 2 coup attempts by dissatisfied military personnel ans serves his elected term.
1991 - Jorge Serrano Elías followed Arevalo. Serrano took the step of recognising neighbouring Belize's sovereignty. The long-standing territorial dispute remains unresolved. A peace agreement was finally signed in December 1996 by the President.
1993 - Serrano moved to illegally dissolve Congress and the supreme court and suspend constitutional rights, but the military deposed Serrano, forcing him to leave the country. Congress elected Ramiro de Leon Carpio, the former attorney general for human rights, to serve the remainder of Serrano's term.
1994 - De Leon calls a referendum to replace Congress, shorten Presidential terms from 5 to 4 years and amended the Constitution to bar the Central Bank from lending to the government.
1994-95 - Several Human Rights agreements were signed between the government and URNG.
1996 - President Álvaro Arzú Irigoyen (PAN) takes office following Presidential & Congressional elections. The government and URNG sign Peace Accords ending the 36-year civil war.
1999 - The United Nations sponsored Truth Commission found that the Guatemalan army had committed 93% of the atrocities during the civil war. The URNG were blamed for 3% of the total war crimes and subsequently apologised. President Clinton apologised for US support of the right-wing military governments during the civil war.
2000 - Alfonso Portillo Cabrera, closely associated with the former dictatorship of Efrain Rios Montt (1982–1983) won elections and became President. In August 2000, Portillo apologised for the former government's human rights abuses and pledged to prosecute those responsible and compensate victims.
2003 - The country's highest court ruled that former coup leader and military dictator Rios Montt, responsible for the massacre of tens of thousands of civilians during the civil war, was eligible to run for President in November. Two candidates, conservative Oscar Berger (GANA) and centre-leftist Alvaro Colom (UNE) soundly defeated Montt. In December, Berger won the free and fair runoff election by an 8% margin & was elected President.
2004 - Berger takes office, but despite his convincing personal victory, his GANA coalition failed to secure a majority in Congress, resulting in major political challenges to agree budgetary & legislature proposals.
2007 - Fourteen candidates, including 2002 Nobel Peace Prizewinner Rigoberta Menchú, competed in the first round of presidential elections in September. Otto Pérez Molina (PP), a former general, and businessman Álvaro Colom (UNE) contested the second round on 4 November. Following a vitriolic campaign, Colom defeated Molina 52% to 47%.

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Useful Links


Guatemala, Guatemala City, British Embassy


British Embassy
Edificio Torre Internacional, Nivel 11
16 Calle 0-55, Zona 10
Guatemala City


(502) 2380 7300


(502) 2380-7339

Email: (General enquiries)
Email: (Consular enquiries)

Office hours:


Mon-Thurs: 1400-1830 / 1930-2300
Fri: 1400-1800

Local Time:
Mon-Thurs: 0800-1230 / 1330-1700
Fri: 0800-1200

Consular Section

Mon-Tues: 1400-1800 and 1930-2230
Wed-Thurs: 1400-1800
Fri: 1400-1700

Local Time:
Mon-Tues: 0800-1200 and 1330-1630
Wed-Thurs: 0800-1200
Fri: 0800-1100


Guatemala, Guatemala City, British Embassy

Guatemala, Guatemala City, British Embassy