In the course of its development Guatemala has undergone considerable socioeconomic changes which produced a profound impact on the life of the Guatemalan society. In actuality, Guatemala is one of the 10 poorest countries of Latin America (Dunning, 1998). Nevertheless, the country strives for the free development of the national economy, culture and politics. However, traditionally, the total independence of Guatemala from external forces was a mere symbol, while, in actuality, Guatemala was affected by external forces and other countries which were superior and more powerful than Guatemala. In such a way, the history of social development of Guatemala is the history of the oppression and constant struggle of the local population for sovereignty of their country, which could allow them taking decisions defining their future. In other words, the Guatemalan society attempts to make independent decisions in its national politics and economy, but the long history of the external domination over Guatemala deprives the local population of a positive experience of truly independent policy.
In fact, the local population has learned what freedom actually is only in the late 20th century, when the country seemed to get rid of the impact of the USA, though the impact of international markets and American economy is still very significant. At the same time, the USA was not the only country that attempted to establish its control over Guatemala and its politics and economy. Since the beginning of European colonization of American continent at large and Guatemala in particular, the local population suffered from oppression and discrimination. The arrival of European colonizers was marked by the exploitation of local population and natural resources for the sake of the prosperity of the Spanish crown. Until the 19th century, Guatemala remained the colony of Spain, but this country did not attract much Spanish colonizers because it did not possess mineral resources Mexico and other American territories possessed, especially silver and gold. Instead, Guatemala focused on the development of its agriculture, exporting sugarcane, cocoa, dye and other agricultural products.Â In such a way, the colonization defined the specialization of the local economy.
On the other hand, colonization was devastating for the native society of Guatemala because epidemics and poor conditions of life, along with permanent oppression from the part of colonizers, almost led the local population to the total extinction. At the same time, it should be said that the pressure of Spain on Guatemala was not as significant as it was on more economically prospective countries, such as Mexico. This is probably why, when the wave of liberation movements in Latin America has started, Guatemala got its independence without serious conflicts.
However, Guatemala did not really become independent in 1821 when it declared its independence from Spain. Instead, Guatemala became a part of the Mexican Empire. In such a way, the country moved from the sphere of influence of Spain to Mexico.
In the 20th century, the situation did not change substantially. The progressing imperialism brought a new power which had started to dominate in the region and in Guatemala, in particular, – the USA. American economy consistently outpaced Guatemalan economy and the USA could use their economic, political and military pressure to advance American companies in the local market (Trigger, 2000). As a result, American companies dominated in Guatemala in the epoch of imperialism, while the local society viewed the USA as the superior power and its impact was so significant that the local population started to assimilate social and cultural traditions of the US.
In the epoch of the Cold War, the impact of the USA grew even stronger and the local population started to get Americanized, though Guatemalans felt their inferiority compared to the US which had all the power in the region.
The influence of the USA in Guatemala was so overwhelming that Americans could even give the political power in the country to governments loyal to the USA. In such a way, Guatemala was an important military base of the USA in the Caribbean region. For instance, its territory was used as the military base for attacks of anti-American, pro-Soviet regimes and forces, including Cuba.
At the same time, the Cold War marked the rise of the US as the global power and by the late 20th century the power of the USA in Guatemala reached it apogee (Gomory, 2002). However, along with considerable political, economic and military influences of the USA, which practically controlled the development of Guatemala, the dominance of the USA had some positive effects on the local society. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the development of democratic traditions, which were introduced and amply supported by the USA, such as the election of authorities.
Eventually, by the late 20th century Guatemala started to develop its own economic and social policies, which were quite liberal, but consistent economic changes led to the Debt Crisis which put the overwhelming majority of the local population in poverty (Gomory, 2002). Guatemala could not afford paying off its external debts and, therefore, its economy was in a deep crisis.
Negative effects of the Debt Crisis are still relevant. The local government attempt to introduce neo-liberal principles to overcome negative effects of the crisis. The development of Structural Adjustment Plans aims at the qualitative and structural change of the national economy, making it more flexible and diverse, on the one hand, and less dependable on foreign markets, on the other hand.