Guatemala History Timeline

According to cheeroutdoor, the Republic of Guatemala is a Central American country in the southern part of the North American continent, surrounded by both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. To the north it borders Mexico, to the northeast Belize and to the southeast Honduras and El Salvador. The country is a representative democracy, its capital and largest city is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, also known as Guatemala City.

Other cities: Mixco, Villa Nueva, Petapa, San Juan Sacatepequez.

The area now known as Guatemala was for centuries part of the legendary Mayan, whose civilization was extended across Mesoamerica. This highly advanced civilization built great cities, great palaces, pyramids, observatories, and developed advanced works of art, astronomy, literature, and mathematics.

The origin of the name Guatemala is Indian, but its meaning is indefinite. The name Guatemala is thought to mean ‘land of trees’ in the language of the Maya Toltecs.


4-1100s – The lowlands of the El Petén region were the heart of a flourishing Mayan civilization. Tikal is one of the largest Mayan sites.

1523 – After the collapse of the lowland states, the weakened Mayan states continue in the central highlands until they are conquered by the Spaniards (led by Pedro de Alvarado ), who arrive and colonize the area. For the next 300 years that followed, the Spanish colonial powers exploited and tormented the remaining Mayans, in an attempt to erase their history from the world map.

1821 – Guatemala becomes independent (completely independent in 1839). The following year, the country joined the Mexican Empire.

1823 – Guatemala becomes part of the United Provinces of Central America, along with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

1844-1865 – The conservative dictator Rafael Carrera ruled Guatemala, as the country’s first president.

1873-1885 – The liberal President Justo Rufino Barrios ruled Guatemala. Barrios developed the army, introduced coffee cultivation and modernized the country.

1931 – Jorge Ubico becomes the country’s next president as the only candidate. He ruled as dictator until a coup in 1944 overthrew him.

1941 – Guatemala declares war on the Axis powers. Ubico implemented strong prohibitions on Nazi propaganda in Guatemala, which had one of Latin America’s largest German immigration population.

1945-1951 – Juan Jose Arevalo, who had led the coup against Ubico, became president. He retired at the end of his term in 1951. He introduced social-democratic reforms, redistributed land to landless peasants, established a social security system.

1951-1954 – Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman becomes president and continues Arevalo’s reforms. He was overthrown on June 27, 1954 in a coup called ” Operation PBSUCCESS ” organized by the CIA. The coup plunged the country into chaos and political unrest for almost 36 years.

1954 – Carlos Castillo Armas becomes president on July 7. Castillo Armas quickly took dictatorial powers, banning all political parties, torturing and imprisoning political opponents, and reversing the social reforms of the revolution. On July 26, 1957, Armas was assassinated by a guard at the Presidential Palace. The guard was later found dead of a suspected suicide. A number of US-based authoritarian governments ruled Guatemala until 1996.

1960-1996 – The Guatemalan Civil War is fought between the government and various left-wing rebel groups, supported primarily by ethnic Maya and Ladino peasants, who together make up the rural poor. The government was condemned for committing genocide against the Maya population in the country during the civil war, as well as for widespread human rights abuses against civilians.

1970s – Military leaders launch a program to eliminate the left wing, resulting in 50,000 (or more) deaths.

1976 – An earthquake shakes the country, leaving 1 million homeless, 27,000 dead.

1981 – Death patrols kill about 11.00 in response to anti-government guerrilla activities.

1982 – General Efrain Rios Montt comes to power after a military coup on March 23, along with several other senior generals in the Guatemalan army. This coup was quietly backed by the US CIA. A military junta was set up with Rios Montt as leader and head of state. One of the first things the junta did was declare the constitution invalid and set aside the Legislative Assembly, set up several secret courts, and conduct an aggressive campaign against political dissidents and opponents of the regime. The campaign led to kidnappings, torture and killings, which were never investigated.

On December 6, the Massacre took place in Dos Erres. 226 men, women, children were killed by commandos working as government forces as part of the government’s ” Burnt Earth Tactics ” policy. In 2001, $ 1.8 million was paid as compensation to the families of the victims.

1983 – Ríos Montt is overthrown by his defense minister, Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores, in another coup on 8 August.

1985-1991 – Marco Vinicio Cerezo is elected president under a new constitution. He was the first president of the modern democratic era.

1990 – President Cerezo invites a well-known Russian linguist and epigraphist Yuri Knorozov to Guatemala to honor him with a medal. Knorozov had been instrumental in the decipherment of Mayan hieroglyphs, and this was the first opportunity for the researcher to visit the lands and places of the earlier Mayan civilization. Knorozov died of pneumonia on March 31, 1999.

1994 – Peace talks with Guatemala Revolutionary National Unity begin.

1995 – Ceasefire declared by rebels; Guatemala criticized for widespread human rights violations by UN and US.

1996 – Alvaro Arzu is elected president, signing peace agreement with rebels ending 36 years of civil war. Following the presidency (1996-2000), Arzu has been mayor of Guatemala’s capital for three consecutive four-year terms.

During the normalization of the situation in the country in 1996, it turned out that the unrest had resulted in over one million refugees, 200,000 dead, an unknown number of orphans and widows as well as a large number of destroyed villages.

1998 – A human rights activist, Bishop Juan Gerardi, is assassinated two days after announcing the release of his report on the victims of the Guatemalan civil war on April 26 in his garage, where he was beaten to death. In 2001, three officers were convicted of his death and sentenced to long prison terms. A priest was also convicted as an accomplice.

1999 – In March, President Bill Clinton came very close to apologizing for US interference when he said that Washington ” was wrong ” in supporting Guatemalan security forces in a brutal counter-offensive campaign ” which slaughtered thousands of civilians “.

2000 – Alfonso Portillo is sworn in as president. In 2001, his government faced a continuous wave of protests that sucked all credibility out of his government. The FRG (created by Ríos Montt ) was accused of bringing corruption on an unprecedented scale to the country. His government has been tainted by allegations of theft, money laundering, money transfers to the military, the creation of bank accounts in Panama, Mexico, and the United States, like many members of his staff, totaling more than $ 1 billion.

2002 – Guatemala and Belize agree on a draft settlement in the years-long border dispute, with both countries holding a referendum on the draft.

2004 – The country suffered from crime, social injustice and human rights violations.

2005 – On October 11, at least 1,500 people are reported killed after Hurricane ” Stan ” ravaged the country. Up to 3,000 had disappeared, and especially Lake Atitlán was overwhelmed by floods and landslides as a result of the torrential rains. Many of the small Mayan villages were lost during the landslides.

2007 – Ríos Montt returns to public office as a member of Congress, gaining immunity from prosecution, including in a couple of lengthy lawsuits against him for war crimes. A number of his former ministers and advisers were also granted immunity. Ríos Montt’s immunity ended on January 14, 2012, when his term of office expired.

2008 – An average of 17-18 murders were committed per day in a country with almost 13 million residents, the majority of the killings were drug-related. In 96-98% of cases, the criminals escape punishment. The prevalence of drug gangs in society and their cynical methods create great uncertainty among the local population.

2008-2012 – Alvaro Colom becomes the next president. He expanded the social programs, providing access to health, education, and social security. This contributed to an increase in the standard of living of the poor in the country.

Former President Alfonso Portillo extradited from Mexico to be held accountable for the corruption allegations linked to the $ 15 million that disappeared without a trace.

2009 – Former military commissioner Felipe Cusanero becomes the first person to be convicted of the disappearance of six Mayan farmers in the 1980s in Guatemala’s 36-year civil war on Monday, and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. Read more here.

2010 – Guatemala’s police chief and drug lord, Baltazar Gomez, were arrested along with Nelly Bonilla and Fernando Carrillo on March 2, after a cocaine theft, just two days before US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to meet with President Colom on March 5., to discuss the drug war. Read more here.

State of emergency after the Pacaya volcano erupted on May 27. Ash rained down in many Guatemalan cities on the northwestern part of the volcano, including Guatemala City. Noti7 journalist Anibal Archila lost her life. See more photos here.

Hurricane ” Agatha “, which went ashore at the Guatemala-Mexico border on the evening of May 29, exacerbated the situation. 152 people were killed and 100 disappeared in the crowd of landslides.

A giant hole created as a result of “Agatha” opened in Guatemala City on June 1. Collapsed roads and highway bridges exacerbated rescue efforts after the drenched land. The hole claimed at least 15 lives and 300 were in mortal danger. Following this incident, the sewer systems were required to be inspected more regularly.

2012 – Ríos Montt appeared in court in Guatemala on January 26, and was formally charged with genocide and crimes against humanity.

2013 – On May 10, Rios Montt (86 years old) was sentenced by a Guatemalan court to 50 years in prison for genocide and 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity, a total of 80 years. The verdict is the country’s first official state recognition of the crimes that took place during the Civil War.

Guatemala History Timeline