Guatemalan Facts & History

Fast Facts – Guatemala

  • Population: 14.3 million (Est. 2004)
  • Size: Slightly smaller than Tennessee
  • Capital: Guatemala City
  • Major Languages: Spanish and more than 20 indigenous languages. Kekchi is widely spoken in Alta Verapaz.
  • Major Religions: Catholicism, indigenous Mayan beliefs, evangelical Christian (significant syncretism has taken place, blending Mayan religious belief with traditional Catholic images)
  • Evangelical Christians: Estimated at 25% of the population
  • Life Expectancy: 64 years (men), 66 years (women)
  • Population Under the Age of 15: 43%
  • Main Exports: Coffee, sugar, bananas, fruits and vegetables, meat, petroleum, cardamom
  • Population: 14.3 million (Est. 2004)

A Brief History

More than half of Guatemalans are descendants of indigenous Mayan people who were defeated by Pedro de Alvarado in 1524 when Spanish colonial rule began. “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. From the mid-19th century until the mid-1980s, the country passed through a series of dictatorships, insurgencies (particularly beginning in the 1960s), coups, and stretches of military rule with only occasional periods of representative government.” Guatemala is still influenced by 36 years of civil war that lasted until 1996. A high crime rate, corruption and a highly skewed distribution of wealth are issues that continue to plague the country.

Religious freedom was established in Guatemala by law in 1873 and in 1882 a Presbyterian missionary was the first evangelical missionary to arrive. By 1950 Evangelicals still represented less than 3% of the population. The current estimate of the evangelical population is 25% of the general population. There is no question that Evangelicals are now a component of society. The harvest has been influenced by the devastating 1976 earthquake and the civil war, but the society in general still struggles with corruption, racism and violence. Many Catholics are nominal in their faith or even animist at heart.