Guatemala is Central America's most populace country and one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. More than half of the people are Maya (the largest indigenous population in the region), the vast majority of whom still live in small farming villages, growing corn and beans as their ancestors did. They are world-famous for their intricate handmade textiles of brilliant reds, yellows and purples. Numerous Mayan dialects are still spoken in Guatemala—with many dialects spoken by fewer than 100 people. In remote areas of the highlands, you may hear more Mayan than Spanish, even though Spanish is the country's official language. Guatemala has 23 recognized Amerindian languages, more than any other country in Central America.
Guatemala's seemingly endless political unrest can be traced to a 1954 coup that turned out a democratically elected leftist government. A series of military or military-influenced governments then ruled the country with a heavy hand, and resistance became armed and organized. In response to growing popularity of guerrillas among the landless indigenous people in the 1960s, the army unleashed a campaign of terror in which thousands of people were killed and entire villages were massacred. In late 1996, the civil war ended when a series of agreements was signed between the Guatemalan government and guerrilla insurgents. Over its 36-year history, the war claimed the lives of as many as 200,000 people.
The country's Mam Indians, centered about Todos Santos Cuchumatan, are considered by anthropologists to have the most intact social structure and lifestyle of any in the country, with a way of life that has remained essentially unchanged for centuries.
Guatemala is one of the last nations on Earth with wild jaguars in its jungles.
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