Now that we’ve entered Guatemala, we feel more we are in the real Central America, or also known as Latin America. Not that Belize doesn’t have a strong Spanish language and culture influence, but the English legacy, the slow pace, apparent order of things and the lack of population gives Belize a laid back feel that is not what we imagine in a typical Latin American country, probably more Caribbean.
Guatemala is 4 times bigger than Belize but has 50 times more people reaching the 15.5 million mark for 2013 estimates, which is by far the biggest in Central America. It’s not overcrowded in terms of density but it’s a huge jump from Belize, people in the street, traffic, hectic markets, just the lovely confusion a traveller wants.
Guatemala’s main attraction is the famous Tikal park where it’s possible to visit the biggest Mayan city-state known as of today. After this self-centered attraction, Guatemala has been exploring the potential of its natural resources, with forests, lagoons and volcanos. Yes, volcanos, apparently there is a 1500km volcanic arc in all Central America and Guatemala has the biggest ones. There are plenty active volcanos in the region and even in Guatemala, 4 years ago, one of the more active, Volcano Pacaya, erupted and destroyed a village.
Almost half of Guatemala is Mayan, something we had no idea, we knew Mayans still existed and in Belize we even visited some villages but there are more than 6 million Mayan descents in Guatemala. As with any culture in the Human history, the descendants try to keep traditions of their ancestors, Mayans are no exception. The only problem is that the other half of the country is Mestizo, which means half Spanish (or European) and half Amerindian (indigenous from American continent), divided between cultures.
A country literally split in two major ethnic groups is prone to internal fights, so it’s with no surprise that Guatemala experienced recently one of the longest civil wars ever (in comparison, the biggest is the still ongoing 60 years long in Burma) between 1960 and ending up in 1996, with some concessions from both sides. As with most of the wars on this region, the US supported one of the sides trying to prevent left-wing governments that tend to become dictatorial even though having a social equality agenda. The war is finished but the disputes continue, as the indigenous population still claims many rights they believe they should have, with a divided country is almost utopia to imagine this will ever end.
Latin America is the region in the world with most social inequality (more than Africa because everyone is poor over there) and Guatemala (together with Honduras) are the winners in terms of inequality in Central and South American. Traveling to Guatemala one must be prepared to see glamorous people securely separated from the enormous amount of poor people, so sad.
As with most of Latin American countries, Guatemala has great challenges ahead: better wealth distribution, independent governs, unite the country respecting all cultural heritages, eliminate the drug cartels and with that reduce the violence and social stresses. Any of these tasks are sky-high but they are the only way. It’s probably not the most recommended country to live, unless you are part of the high-class families that direct and indirectly still rule, but it is a country full of potential with the highest population growth rate in the region and, just like China, it can overcome its flaws with manpower. I would buy Guatemalan stocks and keep them for many years, definitively a long-term investment.