A Survey of Guatemala's Population
For most of the recent history of Latin America, the indigenous components of national identities have been practically ignored (Stavenhagen 2002), a description that is particularly fitting in the case of Guatemala. The systematic oppression and socio-economic exclusion of indigenous groups in the country can be traced back to colonial times (Cayzac 2001) and it was not until the signing of the peace declarations in 1996 that the government of Guatemala officially recognized the country’s indigenous diversity. It was at this moment that the country adopted the motto by which we continue to officially define ourselves today: “un Estado multiétnico, pluricultural y multilingüe.” The phrase was created to convey a sense of respect for diversity—whether or not this goal has been achieved remains to be seen—more importantly however, it was a recognition that Guatemala is not, and has never been, a homogenous nation. The significance of this act of acknowledgement cannot be understood without some considerations: namely that since the time of our independence in 1821, the country has mostly ignored its mixed heritage and has openly discriminated against its indigenous members (Bastos and Brett 2010; Cayzac 2001; Hale 2006). As unbelievable as it seems, there have been debates in the past aimed at questioning if indigenous people even “exist” as such, or if they are merely a product of colonialism and class oppression (Cayzac 2001; Similox 2005). Arguments which both ignore or deny the multicultural nature of the country can be easily refuted with an overview of Guatemalan history and demographics. Unfortunately, a shortage of time and space makes it impossible to cover both of these topics in their deserved depth and length nevertheless, a short account is in order.
The last governmental census in Guatemala identifies around 4.4 million people of Mayan descent out of a total population of 14 million, and other sources place the number higher, at around forty percent of the total population. Despite the somewhat unreliability of census numbers due to the self identification variable—which may vary depending on factors such as how the question is framed etc.—these percentages do convey a sense of just how sizable this minority group is. It is also exceedingly important to note that, although we talk collectively about the Mayas as a single indigenous group, this obscures the degree of linguistic, social and cultural diversity possessed by the different ethnic groups within Guatemala. Nor should we consider that their own group ethnic consciousness and culture “ are homogenous and static” (Castles and Miller 2009). To name one example of the rich ethnic heritage of the country, there are twenty-three recognized languages other than spanish, twenty-one of them are Mayan. There is still constant debate between policy-makers “as to whether the Maya people are to be considered as only one nationality or many” (Stavenhagen 2002: 40). The ramifications of such debates are essential to policy formulation or re-formulation, as it can come to influence ethnic parity quotas in congress, the make up of public educational programs, and so forth.
 The Peace Accords ended the violent armed conflict in Guatemala. It was both an acknowledgment of the wrongs committed by the Guatemalan government as well as an attempt at redressing them. Both the armed conflict and the resulting accords will be analyzed in more depth later in the paper.
 A multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multilingual state. From the Report of the Commission for Historical Elucidation, quoted in Cayzac 2001:19.
 Discrimination of the indigenous people have included the confiscation of communal farming grounds by the large estate owners (Cayzac 2001), the systematic exclusion of indigenous individuals from the formal economy, especially from any position of importance or leadership , and from important governmental offices, even local ones (Hale 2006; Similox 2005). Although there are many more instances both personal and institutionalized of such acts of prejudice, not all are as easily recorded, quantified or exemplified as the ones mentioned before, and which will be expanded on subsequently in this paper.
 The emphasis here is on the word recognized, as the number of Mayan languages varies depending on the criteria used to calculate this number, with some scholars suggesting figures as high as twenty-seven (Smilox 2005).