From 1524 Guatemala was part of a Spanish captaincy-general, comprising the whole of Central America. It became independent in 1821 and formed part of the Confederation of Central America from 1823 to 1839. The overthrow of the right-wing dictator Jorge Ubico in 1944 opened a decade of left-wing activity which alarmed the USA. In 1954 the leftist regime of Jacob Arbenz Guzmán was overthrown by a CIA-supported coup. A series of right-wing governments failed to produce stability while the toll on human life and the violation of human rights was such as to cause thousands of refugees to flee to Mexico. Elections to a National Constituent Assembly were held on 1 July 1984, and a new constitution was promulgated in May 1985. Amidst violence and assassinations, the presidential election was won by Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo. On 14 Jan. 1986 Cerezo’s civilian government was installed—the first for 16 years and only the second since 1954. Violence continued, however, and there were frequent reports of torture and killings by right-wing ‘death squads’. The presidential and legislative elections of Nov. 1995 saw the return of open politics for the first time in over 40 years. Meanwhile the Guatemalan Revolutionary Unit (URNG) declared a ceasefire. On 6 May and 19 Sept. 1996 the government agreed reforms to military, internal security, judicial and agrarian institutions.
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