Last week, Taylor and I went to Guatemala for his spring break (completely unrelated to Peace Corps).


It is such a beautiful place with incredibly kind people. There is also some fascinating history and politics that impact the socio-economic standing and health of families in Guatemala.


Before the Spanish colonized Guatemala there were over 15 million Mayans scattered throughout the Mayan world. Mayan civilization began to decline due to overpopulation, the demands placed on the environment, and unsustainable deforestation led to drought. The Mayans began human sacrifices to bring the rain beginning around 800 AD after many had died from malnutrition. Many of the Mayan sites had been abandoned for over 100 years before the Spanish colonials arrived to Guatemala in 1521. The Spanish brought disease and genocide killing thousands of Mayans. Colonization forced the native population to Christianity and to leave behind previous cultural practices. Today, many of these practices have been lost, but various Mayan dialects are spoken all over Guatemala.

More here:


Temple II at Tikal.


Antigua, the colonial capital that was built after the first two capitals were destroyed in earthquakes.

Syphilis testing, “the Guatemalan experiment”, was the unethical study conducted by the US to determine in penicillin could be used as a preventative for syphilis. After WWII many US soldiers returned with STDs and this study was done from 1946-1948, at the same time a study was being done in the US on African Americans in Alabama-the Tuskegee study.

The experiments were done on vulnerable populations in Guatemala; children, prisoners, prostitutes, and psychiatric patients, over 5,000 patients were infected with syphilis.

More here:


From 1960-1996 there was a civil war in Guatemala. It began with the assassination of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz back by the CIA. President Arbenz was viewed as a communist threat as he was reallocating land away from United Fruit Company, whom owned 40 percent of the country, to Mayan farmers who had previously lived on the land. The US backed the Guatemalan military providing financing and training. The military backed Carlos Arena was elected as President and the following ten years consisted of mass genocide of guerilla groups and indigenous populations.

The civil war ended in 1996, and there is currently a democratic election taking place. There are distinctive inequities in Guatemala between the rural and urban populations. The socio-economic disparities must be addressed to decrease drug trafficking and improve the health of rural populations.

More here:


A picture taken by Taylor Westphal of a Mayan fisherman on Lake Atitlan.


This is just a brief summary of some of the history and politics that have shaped the livelihoods of families in Guatemala. Last week Obama announced that a billion dollars would be allocated to improving the economy and health systems in Central America, which should increase jobs and reduce human and drug trafficking.

More here:


Many structures have fallen during earthquakes, there was a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in 1976 killing 23,000 Guatemalans.


I put all the pictures on Facebook if you are interested:

or Taylor’s pictures:

Advice for traveling in Guatemala:

We were able to get around with minimal Spanish skills, but it helps to have some of the basics.

Always ask for a receipt.

Only bring really new $20 bills without tares, it can be hard to find an ATM and banks don’t accept bills with stains or rips.

Street dogs are snuggle friends.

Always take public boats at the lake the tourist boats are a rip off. It takes a little longer to get around, but you get to see all the lake side communities.

Eat at Deli Llama in Panajachel and Cafe Bourbon in Antigua.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s