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The Americas

Central American Colonial Settlements


Kingdom of Guatemala (Spanish Empire)
AD 1527 - 1609

The province of Guatemala was formed when Spanish conquistadors ventured southwards from New Spain to capture fresh territory from the native inhabitants. Pedro de Alvarado was the second-in-command to Hernan Cortes during the invasion of Mexico and the destruction of Aztec civilisation.

Once Cortes had set himself up as the governor in Mexico City, Alvarado led his own expedition further south to capture territory for the Spanish Colonies which would later form Chiapas, Costa Rica (gained from the New Kingdom of Granada), El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

1523 - 1528

Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado is sent out by Hernan Cortes at Tenochtitlan to conquer the highlands of Guatemala for the growing Spanish Colonies. He first targets the Quiche people and then his early allies, the Cakchiquel.

An initial attempt in June 1524 to conquer what later becomes El Salvador is rebuffed by the native Pipil and their Mayan neighbours. Two further expeditions in 1525 and 1528 bring the Pipil under control, but Alvarado, wounded in the first campaign, leads from Guatemala.

1527 - 1541

Pedro de Alvarado

Second-in-command to Cortes and first governor of Guatemala.

1532 - 1534

Alvarado is named governor of Honduras and its single Spanish colony at Trujillo, but he ignores the royal command. Two years later he heads to the Andes, hoping to gain the rumoured riches of Peru, but he is beaten to it by the men of Francisco Pizarro.


Alvarado is confirmed as governor of Honduras. However, this is contested, and in 1540 he is replaced.

The Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala
The Mayan ruins of Tikal lie in Guatemala

1540 - 1543

Antonio de Mendoza, first viceroy of New Spain within the Spanish Colonies, vigorously encourages the exploration of all of Spain's new territories in the Americas. Guatemala is firmly established to the immediate south of New Spain, formed of Chiapas, Costa Rica (gained later), El Salvador (1528), Guatemala (1523), Honduras (1532), and Nicaragua (1524). While formally subject to New Spain, the region is administered separately as a matter of practicality.


Beatriz de la Cueva

Wife. Governor of Guatemala for two months.


After a career of cruelty and brutality towards the native population, Pedro de Alvarado dies after being crushed by a horse. His post of governor is filled by his wife, until she is killed in the same year by a mudflow disaster which destroys the second capital city of Guatemala (the first having been abandoned in 1540 due to its vulnerability to attack). The following year the city of Antigua Guatemala is founded as the new capital.

1542 - 1548

Alonso Maldonado

President of the first Audiencia of Guatemala.


The governorship of Guatemala is defined by the establishment of a Royal Audiencia, superseding the authority of Panama over the region from New Granada.

1548 - 1553

Alonso Lopez Cerrato

1554 - 1558

Antonio Rodriguez de Quesada

1558 - 1559

Pedro Ramirez de Quinonez

Interim governor.

1559 - 1563

Juan Nunez de Landecho

1563 - 1568

'Licenciado' Briseno

1568 - 1572

Antonio Gonzalez


This is the alternate date for the creation of the captaincy general of Guatemala, although the second date of 1609 is used here.

1572 - 1577

Pedro de Villalobos

1577 - 1587

Diego Garcia de Valverde

1587 - 1592

Pedro Mallen de Rueda

1593 - 1596

Francisco de Sande

Former governor of the Philippines (1575-1580).

1596 - 1598

Alvaro Gomez de Abounza

1598 - 1608

Alonso Criado de Castilla


The position of governor is raised to that of captain general in Guatemala (although some sources state that this happens in 1570).

Captaincy General of Guatemala
AD 1609 - 1821

In 1609, the regional governor (who was also president of the Audiencia) was promoted when Guatemala became a captaincy general, still under the authority of New Spain. The move proved to be necessary due to the increased threat of piracy from the Caribbean, and the hope was that granting it administrative and military autonomy would effectively counter that threat.

1609 - 1627

Antonio Peraza de Ayala y Rojas

1627 - 1634

Diego de Acuna

Became governor of Hispaniola (1634-1646).

1634 - 1642

Alvaro Quinonez Osorio

1642 - 1649

Diego de Avendano

1649 - 1654

Antonio de Lara Mogroviejo

1654 - 1657

Fernando Altamirano


Jeronimo Garces Carrillo de Mendoza

Appointed, but died before he could take office.

1657 - 1658

Following the unexpected death of Jeronimo Garces Carrillo de Mendoza, the Audiencia governs Guatemala while a replacement captain general is brought in.

1658 - 1666

Martin Carlos de Mencos

1666 - 1671

Sebastian Alvarez Alfonso Rosica

1671 - 1672

Juan de Santa Maria Saenz Mannosca

1672 - 1678

Fernando Francisco de Escobedo

1678 - 1681

Lope de Sierra Osorio

1681 - 1683

Juan Miguel de Agurto y Alava

Interim governor.

1683 - 1686

Enrique Enriquez de Guzman

1686 - 1691

Jacinto de Barrios Leal

1691 - 1694

Francisco Lope de Ursino y Orbaneja

1694 - 1695

Jacinto de Barrios Leal

Second term of office.

1695 - 1696

The Audiencia governs Guatemala until the new captain general can arrive.

1696 - 1700

Gabriel Sanchez de Berrospe

1700 - 1702

Juan Jeronimo Heduardo

1702 - 1703

Alonso de Ceballos Villagutierre

1704 - 1706

Jose Osorio Espinosa de los Monteros

1706 - 1712

Toribio Jose Cosio y Campa

1712 - 1716

Francisco Rodriguez de Rivas

1716 - 1724

Pedro Antonio Echevers y Subiza

1724 - 1729

Pedro de Rivera y Villalon

1729 - 1742

Tomas Rivera y Santa Cruz

1742 - 1751

Jose de Araujo y Rio

1751 - 1753

Jose Vasquez Prego Mondaos

1753 - 1754

Juan de Velarde y Cienfuegos

1754 - 1760

Antonio de Arcos y Moreno

1760 - 1761

Juan de Velarde y Cienfuegos

Second term of office.

1761 - 1765

Alonso Fernandez de Heredia

Arrived in the Americas in 1747 as governor of Honduras.

1765 - 1771

Pedro Salazar Herrera

1771 - 1773

Juan Gonzalez Bustillo

1773 - 1779

Martin de Mayorga

Became viceroy of New Spain (1779-1783).


After a series of earthquakes destroys it, the city of Antigua Guatemala is ordered to be abandoned. A new capital is founded and named Guatemala City.

1779 - 1783

Matías de Gálvez

Became viceroy of New Spain (1783-1784).

1783 - 1789

Jose de Estacherria

1789 - 1794

Bernardo Troncoso Martinez del Rincon

Former captain-general of Cuba (1785).

1794 - 1802

Jose Tomas y Valle

Former governor of Panama.

1802 - 1811

Antonio Gonzalez Mallines

1810 - 1814

In 1810 various wars of independence break out across the Spanish Americas, including New Spain and Guatemala, while Peru serves as a centre for the royalist opposition to these revolts.

Two years later the Cadiz Cortes divide Guatemala into two provinces; one called Guatemala which encompasses Chiapas, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; and the other which is called Nicaragua & Costa Rica. This division lasts only until 1814, but is briefly resurrected in 1820-1821.

1811 - 1817

Jose Bustamante y Guerra

1817 - 1821

Carlos de Urrutia y Montoya

Acting captain general. Protested Gainza's appointment.


Gabino Gainza

Became first president of Central America. Died c.1829.

1821 - 1823

New Spain achieves independence from Spain, bringing to an end three hundred years of governance of the Spanish Colonies. On 3 October 1821, the captaincy general of Guatemala (Chiapas, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua) is annexed to the Mexican empire. However, just two years later the southern Central American states form their own federal republic.

Gabino Gainza
Former governor of Chile in 1814, Gabino Gainza became first president of the Central American Federal Republic

Federal Republic of Central America
AD 1823 - 1841

The first de facto president of an independent Guatemala was its final captain general, Gabino Gainza, who had overseen the transition to independence. Guatemala was formed of Chiapas, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, but technically it still remained a dependency of the viceroyalty of New Spain. This had also been ended, on 28 September 1821, when rebels finally achieved independence from Spain, and the newly independent country was renamed Mexico. Then, on 3 October 1821, Guatemala was forcibly annexed to it.

Together they survived as a brief empire until 1823, when the dictatorial emperor was forced to abdicate and a republic was formed. The central American states separated peacefully from Mexico and formed their own federal republic. Unfortunately, internal tensions slowly tore the republic apart. Gainza, promised a position after Guatemala was annexed to Mexico, died penniless in Mexico City.


The federal republic, also known as the United Central Provinces of America, is formed based on the US model, and consists of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

Map of Central America in the 1830s
The Federal Republic of Central America was formed of Chiapas, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. This lasted from 1823-1841, by which time Mexico had grabbed much of Chiapas and the republic itself dissolved into the separate nation states known today - although Nicaragua did not control the independent Mosquito Coast until the end of the century, and British troops occupied eastern Belize (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Fearing dominance by Guatemala City, the federal republic's capital is moved to San Salvador (capital of modern El Salvador).

1838 - 1840

On 2 February, Los Altos, 'the highlands', becomes the federal republic's sixth state, consisting of the western highlands of modern Guatemala and Chiapas. This is despite opposition from Guatemala City, which loses a chunk of its territory as a result. With conservative elements in conflict with more liberal elements, the federal republic dissolves into civil war. On 31 May the republic's congress meets to declare that the provinces are free to form their own independent republics, although this is just official recognition that the break-up has already begun.

With Guatemala leading the anti-federalist revolt, Nicaragua leaves the federation on 5 November 1838, and then Costa Rica and Honduras follow suit. Los Altos also proclaims its independence. By this time, the federal republic has ceased to exist.

1840 - 1841

On 2 April 1840 most of the government officials of Los Altos are captured and shot by Guatemala's Rafael Carrera. Much of Los Altos is annexed by him, despite three attempts to restore independence (1844, 1848, and 1849), while Mexico annexes eastern Chiapas.

El Salvador proclaims an independent government in February 1841, officially bringing the federal republic to an end. Records for this confusing, transitional period are poor, so the exact date is not known.

Modern Guatemala
AD 1841 - Present Day

Located in Central America, Guatemala borders Mexico to the north, Belize to the east, and El Salvador and Honduras to the south. The capital is Guatemala City, which was only founded in 1776 after three previous capitals had been abandoned or destroyed.

The country was a chief player in the break-up of the Federal Republic of Central America under the leadership of Rafael Carrera. One of the main powers in the former republic had been the liberal General Francisco Morazan, republic president (1830-1834 and 1835-1839), and head of state in Honduras (1827-1830), Guatemala (1829), El Salvador (1839-1840), and Costa Rica (1842). Carrera had a personal grudge with Morazan, after the deaths of members of his family, and did everything he could to sabotage the general's plans. After the final collapse of the federal republic in 1841, Morazan's attempt at re-unification in 1842 from Costa Rica led to his own people deposing and executing him. Various attempts were made in the nineteenth century to re-establish the federal republic, but the support for complete independence was too strong so they came to nothing.

1838 - 1865

Rafael Carrera

Instrumental in breaking up Central America.


The attempt by General Francisco Morazan to establish the Confederation of Central America from Costa Rica leads to his death, but the confederation itself lingers on for two years, albeit without Guatemala. Morazon himself is deposed and executed.


Carrera's rivalry with the president of El Salvador leads to open war. Guatemala suffers a defeat at Coatepeque and agrees to a truce. However, with Honduras siding with El Salvador, and Costa Rica and Nicaragua siding with Guatemala, the war soon ends with Carrera occupying the Salvadorian capital.


A diplomatic approach fails between El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in regard to forming a fresh union of Central American states. President Rafael Zaldívar of El Salvador is against the idea despite his predecessors being well disposed towards it. Now the president, Justo Rufino Barrios, attempts to reunite the states of the former federal republic by force of arms, but is killed in battle against El Salvador.

1894 - 1895

General Rafael Antonio Gutiérrez overthrows General Carlos Ezeta, dictator of El Salvador, in a coup on 9 June 1894. He is assisted by Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and fellow countryman and close friend General Tomás Regalado. The coup becomes known as the Revolution of the 44. Rafael is a supporter of a central American union, and he moves El Salvador towards such an achievement (Guatemala is not involved in the eventual, short-lived union).


In April, Guatemala declares for the allies in the First World War against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire, but takes no active role in the conflict.


The only candidate in the elections, Ubico wins and becomes increasingly dictatorial during his presidency, refusing to leave the post. In his later years, his regime becomes stagnant, leading to a general strike which forces his retirement.

1931 - 1944

Jorge Ubico

Dictator. Deposed.

1941 - 1945

Guatemala joins the Second World War as an ally of the USA and Great Britain on 9 December 1941, against Japan, Germany and Italy. In 1944, for planning to violate the constitution of El Salvador by declaring a third term of office without holding elections, President Hernandez is forced to deal harshly with the Palm Sunday Coup. Soon afterwards, in May, he is deposed anyway during the 'Strike of Fallen Arms'. Students lead the passive movement against him which paralyses the country by encouraging everyone to remain at home. It soon escalates into a general strike. The movement spreads to neighbouring Guatemala, where another military dictator, Jorge Ubico, is removed from office. Ubico is still able to install General Juan Federico Ponce as his successor.


Juan Federico Ponce Vaides

Dictator. Overthrown.

1944 - 1945

Ponce is deposed during a coup and the country is temporarily governed by a military junta. Guatemala's first free elections are held the same year to find a new president. Juan Jose Arevalo takes office in 1945.


The elected president of Guatemala is overthrown in a coup which is backed by the USA. An army colonel is installed in his place. With the Cold War between the USA and Soviet Russia at its height, the US government supports Guatemala with arms and funds.

Guatemala Cathedral
Guatemala Cathedral looks out over the modern city

1954 - 1957

Carlos Castillo Armas

Unelected president. Assassinated by personal guard.

1960 - 1963

A year after the start of the long-running Guatemalan Civil War, in 1961 the US-backed force for the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba is trained and launched from Guatemala. Two years later the Guatemalan air force attacks its own military bases, and the defence minister, Enrique Peralta Azurdia, seizes power.

1963 - 1966

Alfredo Enrique Peralta Azurdia

Seized power in a coup. Allowed elections in 1966.


A major earthquake on 4 February causes 25,000 deaths in the country, destroying major cities.


The government is overthrown by General Efrain Rios Montt after a decade of human rights abuses and the massacre of a native protest group in the Spanish embassy in 1980, which had been set on fire by the police. Unfortunately, Rios Montt continues the policy of torture, disappearances and terror tactics against any opposition, using death squads to carry out his orders.

1982 - 1983

Efrain Rios Montt

President of the military junta. Overthrown.

1983 - 1986

Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores

Interim president. Called for free elections.


The Guatemalan Civil War is finally brought to an end with backing by the United Nations and peace negotiations between the government and the guerrilla groups. The guerrillas are granted land to farm and a much more stable country emerges from this period of turmoil, with free and fair elections being held regularly.


Twenty-five people are killed and hundreds injured in the most violent eruption in decades in Guatemala. The Fuego volcano, about forty kilometres (twenty-five miles) to the south-west of the capital, Guatemala City, spewes rocks, black smoke, and ash into the sky, and a flow of lava hits the village of El Rodeo, killing people inside their houses. The main airport in the capital is temporarily closed while the military assist in clearing the runway. President Jimmy Morales declares three days of national mourning.

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