Guatemala is a Central American country bordered by Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.  The country has an estimated population of 13,276,517 people, nearly half of which are indigenous Mayans.  A country of remarkable beauty and strong indigenous culture, Guatemala is mountainous and boasts Mayan ruins, lakes, volcanoes, and various exotic birds and flowers.

Although much beauty exists within Guatemala, the country has seen a long and bloody history that continues to impede its present and future progress.  Following independence from Spain in 1821, Guatemala has since been ruled mostly by dictators and commercial interests.  Late in the 20th century, resistance grew and the country was destroyed over the course of a 36-year-long civil war that ended in 1996 with the signing of the Peace Accords.  The war, backed by the United States, sought to eliminate the leftist insurgency through the military’s “scorched earth campaign” which ordered more than 626 massacres of Mayan villages across the country between 1978 and 1984.  More than 200,000 were killed or disappeared at the hands of the military and paramilitary forces.

Though the Peace Accords were signed in 1996, violence has now reached levels higher than those of the country’s civil war and impunity continues to reign.  The country suffers from organized crime, gang and drug-related violence, as well as increased violence against women.  It is estimated that 60% of Guatemala’s territory is controlled by drug traffickers who have taken advantage of its geographic location along a major corridor for drug smuggling between South America and the United States.  Violence against women in Guatemala has increased exponentially over the last several years, with a 339% increase between 2000 and 2008.  Women are often found tortured, mutilated, raped, and dismembered, yet more strikingly 98% of those cases remain unsolved.

Social inequality is another major issue within Guatemala,with widespread poverty, especially among indigenous communities.  Guatemala has some of the highest rates of illiteracy, infant mortality, and malnutrition within the region, disproportionately within indigenous communities.  The country continues to be ravaged by mining and other extractive industries seeking to exploit the country’s natural resources for profit.  As the companies seek to expand their projects and profits, violent evictions of indigenous communities from their ancestral lands become more widespread, with little political will to protect the communities.  Recent trends indicate the beginning of a return to violent rule by military and commercial interests.