Guatemala City: Guatemala, Central America`s most populated country, has been wracked by 36 years of civil war, organized crime and poverty.
The country is going through a political crisis unprecedented in its recent history, which culminated in the resignation and jailing of president Otto Perez to face prosecution for corruption.
Thousands of Guatemalans have descended into the streets to protest as the country heads into elections Sunday.Once part of the Mayan empire, Guatemala was ruled by Spain from 1524 until its independence in 1821.
Its recent history was marked by a series of coups and civil wars.
In 1996, a peace accord ended 36 years of fighting between government troops, left-wing rebels and right-wing vigilante groups that left an estimated 200,000 people dead or "disappeared." Many of the victims were indigenous people. Some 1.5 million people were displaced or exiled.Guatemala languishes in 115th place out of 175 on watchdog Transparency International`s corruption ranking in 2014.
Since April 2015, the country has been rocked by fraud and corruption scandals which felled numerous top officials.
Vice president Roxana Baldetti stepped down in mid-May and was remanded in custody in August pending trial on charges of defrauding the customs service of millions of dollars.
After defying mounting calls to resign, Perez finally followed suit Wednesday after Congress stripped him of his presidential immunity and a judge issued a warrant for his arrest.
Newly sworn-in President Alejandro Maldonado will hold office until an elected successor is inaugurated on January 14.
The country of 15.8 million people, of whom 40 percent are Indians and 3.3 million live in the capital Guatemala City, is also plagued by violence. It has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with an average of 16 murders a day. Around half of them are linked to turf wars between drug gangs.The president, who is both head of state and of government, is elected every four years and can serve only one term. Perez had been in power since January 2012.Guatemala is the most developed economy in Central America, a very impoverished region.
Growth has hovered around 3.5 percent in past years, backed by exports of coffee, sugar, silver and bananas.
According to the World Bank, the country has "a strong potential for economic development thanks to trade, tourism and regional integration."
But Guatemala is among the Latin American countries where inequalities are strongest, with some 53.7 percent of the population living below the poverty line of $1.50 a day and 15 percent unable to read and write, according to the education ministry.
In 2013, Guatemala came in 133rd out of 187 countries on the UN`s Human Development Index, which looks at inequality, education and a wide range of other indicators -- the worst result in Central America.
Its income per capita stood at $3,440 in 2014, according to the World Bank.Guatemala is bordered by Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador, as well as the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. It has a land surface of 108,889 square kilometers (42,042 square miles).
Spanish is the official language, along with 21 native, mainly Maya, tongues.