This Central American country was once inhabited by the Maya civilization and is still heavily influenced by their culture as half of the population are of Maya descent. Although Spanish is the official language, 22 dialects of the Maya language are spoken and recognized in the country. The most widely spoken are Ki'che', Kaqchikel, Kekchi, and Mam. The architectural remains of the Maya civilization are evident throughout the country, for example Uaxactun’s Temple of Masks, the first documented Mayan Observatory, and the Ball Game field in Zaculeu. The Maya civilisation is famous for developing the written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well its mathematical and astronomical systems.
Guatemala is currently one of the poorest countries in Central America, its economy is based primarily on agriculture and there are pervasive social problems including social inequality, street gangs and drug smuggling. Guatemala’s President, Otto Perez Molina was elected in November 2011, becoming the first former military leader to rule the country after the end of the regimes of the 1970s and '80s. He participated in the peace talks which ended the 36 year civil war which had devastated Guatemala. The civil war began because of the agrarian reforms which were favourable to multinational companies such as the United Fruit Company. This prompted a military action and a peasant revolt, and eventually led to widespread guerrilla warfare throughout the countryside. The army was responsible for several massacres in the countryside during this period. The civil war lasted from 1960 to 1996 and over 200,000 people were killed in all.
Rigoberta Menchú, is one of the most popular activists in Guatemala, she received the Nobel Prize for her fight for social justice and indigenous rights. Her autobiography I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala offers an insight into Guatemala’s history and politics. Another Nobel Laureate, Miguel Ángel Asturias has been cited as a forebear of the Latin American Boom. His 1946 work Mister President provides an insightful view of the nation’s tumultuous past whilst Men of Maize evaluates the clashes of culture under colonial rule and is usually considered to be Asturias's masterpiece; it explores the contrast of traditional Indian customs and a progressive, modern society.
El Norte is a drama featuring Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and David Villalpando. In their first film roles they play two indigenous youths who flee Guatemala in the early 1980s due to ethnic and political persecution. They head north and travel through Mexico to the United States, arriving in Los Angeles, California.