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The history of Guatemala can be divided into three sections:

  • The Time of the Mayas
  • colonial period
  • Federation, Independence and Republic

Mesoamerica is the cradle of Mayan civilization. The Mayan settlement areas were located on the Yucatan Peninsula of present-day Mexico, in the north and central highlands of Guatemala and on the Caribbean coast of present-day Honduras. The Mayas were outstanding architects, they developed the most complete script of pre-Columbian America, not yet deciphered in all parts, mastered scientific disciplines such as mathematics and astronomy, and created the Mayan calendar, which was more accurate than the Gregorian calendar. The Mayan calendar comprises a series of cycles whose fourth age (13th Baktún) ended after 5,125 years on 21 December 2012 and a new era began. Around that 21st of December there were many myths and the idea that, according to a Mayan prophecy, the end of the world should have taken place on that day.

The rise of the Mayan culture until its downfall is calculated in three groβen periods. In the Pre-Classical period (about 3000 BC – 250 AD), they founded the first settlements as farmers in today’s Petén, founded the royal houses and developed the hieroglyphic script. With the beginning of the classical period (250 AD – 900 AD) they already built temples in their centres. The first dated stele in Guatemala stands in the Mayan city of Tikal (Guatemala/Petén) and bears the date 292 AD. In its heyday, Tikal had a population of around 100,000 inhabitants. At that time, over a million people lived temporarily on the territory of today’s Peténs. From the 9th century A.D. onwards, the post-classical period began, which is counted in the region until the appearance of the Spaniards and the beginning of the colonial period (1542).

Guatemala is often referred to as the heart of the Mayan world (Mundo Maya). Almost 50% of the population today are direct descendants of the Mayan peoples, who can be divided into 21 linguistic communities.

The Mayas were the only people in America to have a written culture before the discovery by the Spaniards. To this day, four surviving manuscripts are known, the Mayan codices, which ultimately made it possible to decipher the hieroglyphs of the Mayan script. They are all named after their current location: the Madrid Code, the Dresden Code, the Paris Code and the Mexico Maya Code.

In close cooperation with the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn and in cooperation with the “Drents Museum” in Assen, Holland, the Historical Museum of the Palatinate presented the latest scientific findings of Mayan research from October 3, 2016 to April 23, 2017 with the large cultural-historical exhibition “Maya”. Spectacular exhibits from Central American museums as well as interactive installations and reconstructions provided insights into the world of high culture. Also facts about the downfall of culture were discussed anew.

The Cancuén panel under the care of the La Ruta Maya Foundation (cultural property entry no., which was exhibited at the exhibition “MAYA: The Riddle of the King’s Cities” in the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer (Germany), was digitally documented to create 3D images.

The documentary film “The Maya Route: Guatemala”, from the series “Länder Menschen Abenteuer” (2016, SWR), starts from the world in which the Maya live today and brings us closer to the ancient secrets of this high culture.

The Media

The media landscape in Guatemala is relatively compact, as the Guatemalan newspapers and television stations are in the hands of a few families. The television stations Trecevisión, Teleonce y Televisiete belong to the Mexican media tsar Ángel Gonzales. The channel Latitud TV, owned by the Guatemalan entrepreneur Botrán, merged in 2008 with the media empire Salinas, which in turn owns the Mexican channel TV Azteca. The relatively young television channel Guatevisión belongs to the Prensa Libre y Radio Corporación Nacional S. A. group. Although these channels dominate television in Guatemala, there are cable television providers at local level in many municipalities that also offer local programming.

Print media, especially the largest daily newspapers such as Prensalibre (conservative), Siglo Veintiuno (independent) and El Periodico (independent) and the oldest daily newspaper in La Hora (conservative), primarily reach the readers of the capital and the gröβeren cities.

In the ranking of Reporters Without Borders for 2018, Guatemala ranks 116th among the 180 countries listed (North Korea comes last). CERIGUA, the “Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala”, a Guatemalan NGO working for freedom of the press, stated at the end of 2016 on the development of the threat to journalists in Guatemala: “Reporters without Borders” registered eight murders of journalists in Guatemala during the year, of which only two could be attributed to the journalistic activities of the victims due to the slowness of the judiciary.

Human and civil rights

During the internal war in Guatemala, human rights, citizens’ rights and freedom of the press were systematically violated. Following the peace agreement, democratically elected governments created bodies, such as the “Procudaría de los Derechos Humanos”, the state ombudsman for human rights, to ensure that people’s rights are better respected. In a country that cannot guarantee legal certainty and where women and the indigenous population are almost completely excluded from participation in political life, however, neither an ombudsman’s office nor state institutions against discrimination and racism, such as the Commission against Discrimination and Racism CODISRA (Comisión Presidencial contra la Discriminación y el Racismo) or the state institution for the defence of the indigenous woman DEMI (Defensoría de la Mujer Indígena), can do much. Discrimination against minorities and racism are still part of everyday life in Guatemala. Women in particular are victims of discrimination and violence. After Mexico, Guatemala is the country with the highest number of feminicides. In 2009 alone, at least 171 women were killed simply because they belonged to the female sex.

The Colóm government has not managed to resolve the major issues of national security. The high crime rate, organized crime, corruption and not least the associated impunity for criminals not only threaten citizens, they also weaken the economy and prevent sustainable development. The situation is characterised by a study carried out by Helen Mack (founder of the Myrna Mack Foundation), the Commissioner for Police Reform at the time, who has proven that the institution works without fixed planning and does not maintain a reliable database. The police deal with things that do not belong to the department and do not even know exactly how many police officers are employed by the authority.

Under Colom’s leadership, the International Commission against Impunity (CICIG) began its work, which also investigates the “Rosenberg case” and investigates the activities of the police, the penal system and customs offices with regard to their susceptibility to corruption and, above all, guarantees the prosecution of officials and politicians involved in crimes. Two recent cases show how deeply the judiciary is involved in crime. There is the former president Alfonso Portillo, who is in prison for embezzlement of state funds and who was able to successfully defend himself against a conviction, and the mentioned case of the lawyer Rosenberg, who planned his own murder. He had demonstrably been killed by paid murderers, and then, posthumously with a previously recorded video, blamed President Colóm and his wife Sandra Torres as the perpetrators.

Guatemala ranks 117th (out of 163 countries) in the International Peace Index, which allows a statement on the country’s conflict. Crime is considered particularly critical.