The Mayan civilization (2,000 BC – 250 AD) was among those that flourished in the region, with little contact with cultures outside Mesoamerica. The modern history of Guatemala began with the arrival of European settlers in 1511.
Most of the great Classic-era (250–900 AD) Maya cities of the Petén Basin region, in the northern lowlands of Guatemala, had been abandoned by the year 1000 AD. The states in the Guatemalan central highlands flourished until the arrival in 1525 of Pedro de Alvarado, the Spanish Conquistador. Called "the invader" by the Mayan peoples, he began subjugating the Indian states with his forces.
Guatemala was part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, for nearly 300 years; this Captaincy, or Capitanía, included the territories of Chiapas, Campeche, Tabasco in modern Mexico, and the modern countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The Capitania became independent in 1821, and became a part of the First Mexican Empire until 1823. From 1824 it was a part of the Federal Republic of Central America, until the Republic dissolved in 1841, when Guatemala became fully independent. In the late 19th century, Guatemala experienced a series of authoritarian governments and significant political instability.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Guatemala's potential for agricultural exploitation attracted several foreign companies to it, the most prominent being the United Fruit Company (UFC). These companies were supported by the country's authoritarian rulers and the United States government through their support for brutal labor regulations and massive concessions to wealthy landowners. In 1944, the policies of Jorge Ubico led to a popular uprising which began the ten-year Guatemalan Revolution. The presidencies of Juan José Arévalo and Jacobo Árbenz saw sweeping social and economic reforms, including a significant increase in literacy and a successful agrarian reform program.
The progressive policies of Arévalo and Árbenz led to the United Fruit Company lobbying the United States government for their overthrow, and a US-engineered coup in 1954 ended the revolution and installed a military regime in its place. This was soon followed by other military governments, and sparked off a civil war between the government and leftist guerrillas that lasted from 1960 to 1996. The war saw human rights violations, including a genocide of the indigenous Mayan population by the United States-backed military. Following the end of the war in 1996, Guatemala re-established a representative democracy. It has since struggled to enforce the rule of law and suffers a high crime rate, as well as continued extrajudicial killings, often executed by security forces.
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