Guatemala is the most populous of the five countries in Central America. Its people are generally warm, generous, polite and humble with a strong sense of personal honor.
It is a country of breathtaking natural beauty, a fascinating culture, and stark contrasts. There are wide differences in standards of living, with a small percentage of the population controlling most of the country's wealth.
Guatemala's indigenous people - who officially make up about 40 percent of the population - suffer from extreme poverty and limited access to basic social services and education. They live predominantly in rural areas.
A popularly elected president is both chief of state and head of the government. He is assisted by a vice president and an appointed cabinet. Political power is concentrated in the executive branch Guatemala has a unicameral legislature, called the Congress of the Republic (Congreso de la Republica). Its 158 members and the president are elected by popular vote to four-year terms.
The country is divided into 22 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento). Each department is headed by a governor appointed by the central government. The Supreme Court (Corte de Constitutcionalidad) is an independent seven-member body.
Guatemala's economy has prospered over the last several years. Growth has been achieved not only through the traditional agricultural exports, such as coffee, sugar and bananas, but also the relatively new sectors of clothing, furniture, winter vegetables and fruits, and cut flowers. Tourism has been on the increase since the signing of the 1996 peace accord, ending the 36 years of civil war.
High crime, illiteracy, endemic poverty, and a lack of adequate infrastructure compared to other countries in the hemisphere hinder economic growth. Foreign investment has increased, but Guatemala's social and economic ills present obstacles to investment.