The to ancestral lands were largely disregarded while huge

The
Guatemalan genocide stemmed from the Spanish conquest of Guatemala and repression
of its indigenous people, the Maya, in 1524. The Spanish enslaved the Maya to
work the fertile land, and refusal of labor meant death. After encountering the
horrific treatment of Maya and other natives of the Indies, Dominican friar
Bartolomé de Las Casas appealed to Carlos V of Spain to end the violence. Las
Casas had been in the Caribbean and Latin America since 1502, and had witnessed
firsthand the near complete genocide of the indigenous populations of Cuba and Hispaniola.
The king agreed with Las Casas and enacted the New Laws of 1542, which attempted
to cease the system of forced labor. The mass murder of Mayan lives stopped; however,
slavery continued. Las Casas as well as other friars went on to convert the
Maya to Christianity. It approached Mayan communities with pacifism and showed relative
respect to traditional beliefs. Education was provided in the Mayan language as
well. Unsurprisingly, Christianity quickly became extremely powerful in
Guatemala.

By the time murmurs of independence started,
Guatemalan society was already firmly established. Peninsulares, European-born
Spaniards, sat at the top of the social hierarchy. Next were the criollos, who
were Spaniards born in Latin America. Below them were the mestizos, people of
Spanish and Mayan descent, as well as the mulattoes, people of Spanish and
African descent; both groups were also referred to as Ladinos, mixed people. At
the bottom were the Maya and African slaves. While the peninsulares had a far
greater influence than all the other social classes, each social class used its
power on the classes below it. Consequently, the Maya and African slaves received
the harshest exploitation. The criollos were also upset at their social status,
since they felt as though they should be equals with the peninsulares. Therefore,
Guatemalan criollos revolted against Spanish rule after a Napoleonic attack in
1808, which had rendered Spain weak. In 1821, Guatemala successfully achieved
independence from Spain, yet Ladinos, Maya, and Africans were still severely
oppressed. The Guatemalan government invariably tended to the Latin population
even though Mayans and Ladinos comprised the majority of the country’s
population. Despite the seemingly ideal democratic institutions and
constitutions, Guatemalan politics continued to be dominated by corrupt, brutal
leaders for the benefit of the commercial, military, landowning and
bureaucratic ruling classes.

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The criollos prospered after Guatemala’s separation
from Spain, but the lives of the Maya worsened. Spain’s safeguards, which had
given the Maya moderate protection, were deserted, and Mayan claims to
ancestral lands were largely disregarded while huge tobacco, sugar-cane and
henequen, agave rope fiber, plantations were set up. Debt peonage to rich
landowners enslaved the Maya, yet the Maya were still legally considered free.