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Guatemala Civil War 1960-1996

Guatemala suffered more than 36 years of internal conflict, which formally ended with the signing of the Peace Accords at the end of 1996. Human rights violations committed during the war by the military and paramilitary bands were severe and psychological, social and physical wounds remain deep. The Truth Commission's final report in 1999 recorded 42,000 human rights violations, 626 massacres and an estimated 200,000 killings during the civil war. The war is over, 200,000 paramilitary troops have been disbanded, nearly 3,000 guerrillas have been demobilized and resettled and are now being integrated into the political and economic life of the country.

Despite some progress, many Peace Accord commitments remain unfulfilled. There are still enormous problems of poverty -- especially in the rural areas -- and of participation, credit and economic opportunity.

Guatemala is a democratic republic with separation of powers and a centralized national administration. The 1985 Constitution provides for election by universal suffrage of a one-term president and a unicameral congress. President Alfonso Portillo of the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) took office in January 2000 following a generally free and fair December 1999 runoff election. The FRG maintains its majority (63 seats) in the 113-member Congress. Despite significant pledges, the Portillo administration and Congress took only limited steps to implement the 1996 Peace Accords concluded with the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) guerrillas in 1996.

More than half of Guatemalans are descendants of indigenous Mayan peoples. Westernized Mayans and mestizos (mixed European and indigenous ancestry) are known as Ladinos. Most of Guatemala's population is rural, though urbanization is accelerating. The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism, into which many indigenous Guatemalans have incorporated traditional forms of worship. Protestantism and traditional Mayan religions are practiced by an estimated 40% and 1% of the population, respectively.

Although indigenous Guatemalans outnumber the westernized "Ladino" community, they historically have been dominated by the Ladinos and generally excluded from the mainstream of social, economic, and political activity. The Ladino community long has regarded indigenous people with disdain. Reports of discrimination against indigenous religious practices must be viewed in the context of this widespread Ladino rejection of indigenous culture.

Protestant churches historically have been less tolerant of syncretistic practices than the Catholic Church, whose current policy is to accept any pre-Columbian or traditional practices that are not in direct conflict with Catholic dogma. Some observers maintain that a majority of the indigenous members of evangelical churches secretly practice traditional Maya rituals. Catholic and Protestant churches are distributed throughout the country, and their adherents are distributed among all major ethnic groups and political parties. However, evangelical Protestants appear to be represented in greater proportion in the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), which became the governing party when it won the presidency and a majority in Congress in the winter 1999 elections. The FRG was headed by former de facto President and retired General Efrain Rios Montt, now President of Congress and a long-time elder of the evangelical Protestant Church of the Word.



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