Guatemala

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Guatemala.Overview.1m2Two major mountain chains cross Guatemala from west to east and form the central region of the country, called the Western Highlands. In addition, there is a coastal region to the south of the mountains along the Pacific Ocean. There is also a lowland region to the north of the mountains called the Petén that stretches all the way to Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. The climate of the Pacific coast and Petén lowlands is hot and humid. The climate of the Western Highlands is temperate, with warm sunny days and cool evenings.

The Mayan population grew and flourished in the Western Highlands. Some migrated to the Petén lowlands, but most stayed in the Highlands because of the temperate climate and freedom from tropical diseases. When the Spanish came, they too settled in the Western Highlands. Guatemala had no gold or silver, so the Spanish established large commercial farms that produced export crops with Mayan forced labor.

Mayans comprise 55% of Guatemala's population. The majority still lives in the Western Highlands, and most are small farmers. They grow corn and beans for home consumption and coffee, vegetables, and fruit for the market. From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala was the site of a bloody civil war, in which Mayans fought for greater equality. Most of the war took place in the Western Highlands, and the region is still recovering from the setbacks to economic growth as well as education and health services caused by the war.

Guatemala is the second poorest country in Latin America and most of the poor are Mayan small farmers living in the Western Highlands. 69% of the Highland population is classified as poor and 21% as extremely poor. 59% of children between 6 and 12 years of age are stunted, and 62% are classified as malnourished. These statistics include both the rural and urban population, and the figures are much higher for the rural population.

Women.Children.OverviewMany of the small farms are headed by women whose husbands were killed in the civil war or who left for work in the cities or the United States. The figures for poverty, stunting, and malnutrition are even higher for these women and their children.