/div>Country, Central America
. Area: 42,130 sq mi (109,117 sq km). Population: (2009 est.) 14,027,000. Capital: Guatemala City
. Mestizos make up more than three-fifths of the population; most of the rest are Indian, predominantly Maya
. Language: Spanish (official). Religion: Christianity (predominantly Roman Catholic; also Protestant). Currency: quetzal, dollar. Guatemala has extensive lowlands in the Petén portion of the Yucatán Peninsula
and along the littoral of the Caribbean Sea in the north. Mountains occupy much of the country and cut across its midsection. The northern tropical rainforests of the Petén produce fine woods and rubber. Guatemala has a developing market economy based largely on agriculture; coffee is one of its leading exports, along with sugar and bananas. It is a republic with one legislative body; its head of state and government is the president. From simple farming villages dating from 2500 BCE, the Maya of Guatemala and the Yucatán developed a sophisticated civilization. Its heart was the northern Petén, where the oldest Mayan stelae and the ceremonial centre of Tikal
are found. Mayan civilization declined after 900 CE, and the Spanish began subjugating the descendants of the Maya in 1523. Independence from Spain was declared by the Central American colonies in Guatemala City in 1821, and Guatemala was incorporated into the Mexican Empire until its collapse in 1823. In 1839 Guatemala became independent under the first of a series of dictators who held power almost continuously for the next century. In 1945 a liberal-democratic coalition came to power and instituted sweeping reforms. Attempts to expropriate land belonging to U.S. business interests (see United Fruit Co.
) prompted the U.S. government in 1954 to sponsor an invasion by exiled Guatemalans. In the following years Guatemala's social revolution came to an end, and most of the reforms were reversed. Chronic political instability and violence henceforth marked Guatemalan politics; most of some 200,000 deaths that resulted from subsequent political violence were blamed on government forces. Thousands more died in 1976 when a powerful earthquake devastated the country. In 1991 Guatemala abandoned its long-standing claims of sovereignty over Belize, and the two countries established diplomatic relations. It continued to experience violence as guerrillas sought to seize power. A peace treaty was signed in 1996, but labour discontent, widespread crime and poverty, and violations of human rights continued into the 21st century.