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Guatemala gained its independance from Spain in 1821. The capital and largest city is Guatemala City, which houses about half of the total population. It borders Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.
It experienced a long civil war from 1960 to 1996. The combatants were mostly the military of Guatemala, which influenced and at times controled various governments, and various insurgent groups demanding rights for the urban workers and peasantry. Investigations following the end of the War revealed that both sides were using terror tactics but the Army was responsible for 90-93 % of all recorded atrocities.
The continued support of the military side by the United States was a controversial subject for its duration. While CIA activity played a role in the events leading to the war, more prominent was the role of the Green Berets. At least a thousand of them played a role as trainers to the military and helped form various "death squads" in the 1960s and 1970s. The administration of Jimmy Carter (1977 - 1981) withdrew support of the military regime but that of Ronald Reagan (1981 - 1989) resumed it. Reagan himself became a vocal defender of the regime. His successor George Bush (1989 - 1993) followed Carter in withdrawing all overt military support for the regime, though CIA activities are considered to have continued to the end of th war. In 1999, Bill Clinton (1993 - 2001) offered a public apology for the American role in the civil war.
The war ended following agreements on human rights, the resettlement of displaced persons and the rights of the indigenous populations, mostly Mayas. While the following governments have attempted to secure further reforms, Guatemala is still plagued by a high crime rate and a public corruption problem.