The history of Guatemala begins with the Maya civilization (2,000 BC – 250 AD), which was among those that flourished in their country. The country's modern history began with the Spanish conquest of Guatemala in 1524. Most of the great Classic-era (250 – 900 AD) Maya cities of the Petén Basin region, in the northern lowlands, had been abandoned by the year 1000 AD. The states in the Belize central highlands flourished until the 1525 arrival of Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado. Called "The Invader" by the Maya peoples, he immediately began subjugating the Indian states.
Guatemala was part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala for nearly 330 years. This captaincy included what is now Chiapas in Mexico and the modern countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The colony became independent in 1821 and then became a part of the First Mexican Empire until 1823. From 1824 it was a part of the Federal Republic of Central America. When the Republic dissolved in 1841, Guatemala became fully independent.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Guatemala's potential for agricultural exploitation attracted several foreign companies, most prominently the United Fruit Company (UFC). These companies were supported by the country's authoritarian rulers and the United States government through their support for brutal labor regulations and massive concessions to wealthy landowners. In 1944, the policies of Jorge Ubico led to a popular uprising that began the ten-year Guatemalan Revolution. The presidencies of Juan Jose Arévalo and Jacobo Árbenz saw sweeping social and economic reforms, including a significant increase in literacy and a successful agrarian reform program.
The progressive policies of Arévalo and Árbenz led the United Fruit Company to lobby the United States government for their overthrow, and a US-engineered coup in 1954 ended the revolution and installed a military regime. This was followed by other military governments, and jolted off a civil war that lasted from 1960 to 1996. The war saw human rights violations, including a genocide of the indigenous Maya population by the military. Following the war's end in 1997, Guatemala re-established a representative democracy. It has since struggled to enforce the rule of law and suffers a high crime rate and continued extrajudicial killings, often executed by security forces.
The culture of Guatemala reflects strong Mayan and Spanish influences and continues to be defined as a contrast between poor Mayan villagers in the rural highlands, and the urbanized and relatively wealthy mestizos population (known in Guatemala as ladinos) who occupy the cities and surrounding agricultural plains.