Long-lasting Maya and Spanish empires produced an ethnically, linguistically, and economically divided Guatemala. Around half of the population is mestizo (known as ladino in Guatemala), or mixed Spanish-Amerindian heritage. The other half belongs to one of 23 indigenous Maya groups, each with their own language and customs. The largest group is the Ki'che, who predominantly live around Lake Atitlán and in the western highlands, and make up around 10% of the country's population. Other Maya groups include the Cakchiquel, Tz'utujil, Mam, and Kekchi, and on the Caribbean coast live the Garífuna, descendants of former slaves and Carib Indians.
Racial tensions can be strong between these groups, especially between ladinos and the Maya in the cities, and between ladinos and Garífuna on the Caribbean coast. Subsurface religious tensions also exist between the vast-majority Catholic population and the more recent and fast-growing Evangelical Protestant movement, which draws its greatest support within indigenous communities.
The Guatemalan economy is still heavily agricultural, based on the production of sugar cane, coffee, and bananas, with tourism and manufacturing playing increasingly important roles.
Despite gradual economic growth since the 1996 peace agreement, the country's war-torn past continues to cast a long shadow on its economy and society. The gap between rich and poor is wide. Up to 75% of the population lives below the poverty line, and crime continues to be a major problem. Lawlessness pervades many parts of the country, with vigilante groups, frustrated at the lack of police presence, often taking justice into their own hands.
The war continues to affect the political landscape as well. Most notable in this respect was the candidacy of former dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt in the 2003 presidential elections. Still, Ríos Montt received only 11% of the vote, and did not qualify for the runoff elections. In the runoff of December 2003, Oscar Berger of the center-right Grand National Alliance (GANA) was elected president, and his party won a plurality of seats in Congress. In addition to the FRG, the center-left National Unity for Hope (UNE) and the National Advancement Party (PAN) also picked up seats.
On November 4, 2007, Alvaro Colom of the UNE party was elected president. However, his administration has gotten off to a rocky start, with little noticeable progress on the economic and security fronts, and several corruption scandals already plaguing close allies, including Eduardo Meyer, the president of Congress.
Today, Guatemala remains on the road to recovery. But that road, like so many in the country, is bumpy, winding, and steep.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.