The Maya civilization flourished throughout much of Guatemala and the surrounding region for close to 2000 years before the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century . Most of the Great Classic Maya cities of the Petén region of Guatemala's northern lowlands were abandoned by the year 1000 AD. The states of the central highlands, however, were still flourishing until the arrival of the Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado who brutally subjegated the native states in 1523 -
Native peoples of the Guatemala highlands, such as the Cachiquel , Mam , Quiché , and Tzutuhil , still make up a sizable portion of Guatemala's population.
The Era of Spanish Rule
During Spanish colonial rule, most of Central America came under the control of the Captaincy General of Guatemala.
The first colonial capital of Guatemala, now called Ciudad Vieja, was ruined by floods and an earthquake in 1542 . Survivors founded a second city of Guatemala, now known as La Antigua, in 1543 . In the 17th century , Antigua Guatemala became one of the richest capitals in the New World . Always vulnerable to volcanic eruptions, floods, and earthquakes, Antigua was destroyed by two earthquakes in 1773 , but the remnants of its Spanish colonial architecture have been preserved as a national monument. The third capital, modern Guatemala City , was founded in 1776 , after which Antigua was ordered to be abandoned.
The 19th Century
Guatemala gained independence from Spain on September 15, 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, until the federation broke up in civil war in 1838–1840 (See: History of Central America). Guatemala's Rafael Carrera was instrumental in leading the revolt against the federal government and breaking apart the Union. Carrera dominated Guatemalan politics until 1865, backed by conservatives, large land owners, and the church.
Guatemala's "Liberal Revolution" came in 1871 under the leadership of Justo Rufino Barrios, who worked to modernize the country, improve trade, and introduce new crops and manufacturing. During this era coffee became an important crop for Guatemala. Barrios had ambitions of reuniting Central America and took the country to war in an unsuccessful attempt to attain this; he died on the battle field in 1885.
The Early 20th Century
The United Fruit Company started becoming a major force in Guatemala in 1901 during the long presidency of Manuel José Estrada Cabrera . Government was often subservient to Company interests. While the company helped with building some schools, it also opposed building highways because this would compete with its railroad monopoly. The UFC controlled over 40% of the country's best land and its port facilities.
The Years of "Spring"
In 1944, Gen. Jorge Ubico's dictatorship was overthrown by the "October Revolutionaries", a group of dissident military officers, students, and liberal professionals. This started what is sometimes called The Ten Years of Spring, a period of rare free speech and political organizations, land reform, and a perception that great progress could be made in Guatemala. A civilian president, Juan José Arévalo, was elected in 1945 and held the presidency until 1951. Social reforms initiated by Arévalo were continued by his successor, Col. Jacobo Arbenz. Arbenz permitted the communist Guatemalan Labor Party to gain legal status in 1952. This greatly upset the U.S. government which, under pressure from UFC chief Dulles, brother of the U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, denounced the communist tendency of Guatemalan government and decided the Arbenz government had to be overthrown. Despite most Guatemalans' attachment to the original ideals of the 1944 uprising, some private sector leaders and the military adhered to the U.S.-