The Republic of Guatemala is a country in Central America, in the south of the continent of North America, bordering both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, Belize to the northeast, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast.
From the 4th to the 11th century, the lowlands area of the Peten region of Guatemala was the heart of the flourishing Maya civilization.
Guatemala's unicameral parliament, the Congreso de la República (Congress of the Republic) with 113 seats, is elected every four years, concurrently with the presidential elections. The President of Guatemala acts as the head of state and head of government. In his executive tasks, he is assisted by a cabinet of ministers, which he appoints.
Except for the coastal areas, Guatemala is mostly mountainous, with a hot tropical climate - more temperate in the highlands. Most of the major cities are situated in the southern half of the country; the major cities are the capital Guatemala City, Quetzaltenango and Escuintla. The large lake Lago de Izabal is situated close to the Caribbean coast.
The agricultural sector accounts for one-fourth of GDP, two-thirds of exports, and half of the labor force. Coffee, sugar, and bananas are the main products. Manufacturing and construction account for one-fifth of GDP. After assuming office in January 1996, former President Álvaro Arzú worked to implement a program of economic liberalization and political modernization. The signing of the peace accords in December 1996, which ended 36 years of civil war, removed a major obstacle to foreign investment. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch caused relatively little damage to Guatemala compared to its neighbors.
DemographicsMore than half of Guatemalans are descendants of indigenous Maya people. Westernized Maya and mestizos (mixed European and indigenous ancestry) are known as Ladinos. African descendants also exist in Guatemala, especially along the Caribbean coast, notably the Garifuna people. Most of Guatemala's population is rural, though urbanization is accelerating. The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism, into which many indigenous Guatemalans have incorporated traditional forms of worship. Protestantism and traditional Maya religions are practiced by an estimated 40% and 1% of the population, respectively.
Though the official language is Spanish, it is not universally understood among the indigenous population; various Maya languages are still spoken, especially in rural areas.
The Peace Accords signed in December 1996 provide for the translation of some official documents and voting materials into several indigenous languages.
Main influences of the Maya and Spanish colonists can still be seen throughout Guatemala. Much of the clothing and food is still made in the traditional Maya way, and many Maya ruins can be found. Along the Caribbean cost, influences of the African culture can be seen, heard and tasted in the religious ceremonial songs, the dances and food.
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