The Guatemala of today evidences much of its early history. The Mayan inhabitants of the Preclassic Period (2000 BC-AD 250) and the Classic Period (AD 250-900) and the Post Classic Period (900-1524) were overcome by the Spanish Conquest of the early 16th Century. Pedro de Alvarado conquered Guatemala in 1524, established a base camp a few miles from present day La Antigua, in Iximche. After his death and a disastrous flood, the Spanish Capital of the New World was moved to the site of the present day La Antigua.
The Spaniards were harsh rulers, considering the Maya as slaves, However the Dominican, Franciscan and Augustinian priests who came to the New World at about the same time, viewed them as candidates for conversion to Christianity thereby saving many lives. In Guatemala the Mayan religion became entwined with the Catholic religion in ways that are still very evident today. Sadly, what also remains is the Spanish distain for the Indigenous in Guatemala.
In 1821 Mexico and Central America became independent from Spain and the successions of governments that followed in Guatemala continued the exploitation of the Maya to one degree or another. Following the 1954 overthrow of Arbenz, and his populist regime, the abuse of those outside the government and its elite supporters escalated and morphed into the 30 Year War, which ended in 1986. The death toll is believed to be between 15,000 and 20,000, mostly Indigenous and the refugees numbered in the 100,000s. Ten years later, in 1996, a peace treaty was signed which set down laws for equality and human rights. Nonetheless, it takes a long time to change customs and beliefs, and today the Indigenous continue to be disadvantaged by those customs as well as their lack of education and the remote villages in which many live.
It is within this history that we, the present day NGOs, find our work. There is much to be done. The Indigenous and others accept our assistance eagerly, but always with reservation, an eye to the past.