Guatemala's 36-year civil war ended in 1996 and the country now enjoys political stability. But the years of conflict, coupled with long-standing oppression of indigenous peoples, has left Guatemalans with a crippling legacy of poverty and insecurity. The deep divide between rich and poor is a characteristic of the region, but Guatemalan society is almost certainly the most inequitable. Rates of illiteracy, infant mortality and chronic malnutrition are the highest in the region and particularly widespread in the countryside and among indigenous communities.
Despite the impact of falling world coffee prices, limited land availability and the extensive damage caused by mudslides after Hurricane Stan in October 2005, exports to neighbouring countries and the US are booming; these include sugar, bananas, coffee and non-traditional agricultural products, including winter vegetables and cut flowers. But Guatemala has one of the most skewed land distribution systems in the world with around two per cent of the population owning more than 70 per cent of all productive farmland.