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Ash-filled basins and scenic lakes are scattered throughout this region.
The sierras provide a major barrier between the heavily occupied volcanic landscape to the south and the sparsely populated Petén to the north.
The plain extends east-west for a distance of about 150 miles (240 km) and is one of the country’s richest agricultural areas.Some hold that the original form was Quauhtemallan (indicating an Aztec rather than a Mayan origin), meaning “land of trees,” and others hold that it is derived from Guhatezmalha, meaning “mountain of vomiting water”— referring no doubt to such volcanic eruptions as the one that destroyed Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala (modern-day Antigua Guatemala), the first permanent Spanish capital of the region’s captaincy general.The country’s contemporary capital, After gaining independence from Spain in the 1820s, Guatemala had a long history of government by authoritarian rule and military regimes until it came under democratic rule in 1985.The sierra region is drained by large rivers that flow primarily north into the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Usumacinta River.The 250-mile- (400-km-) long Motagua River is the longest of a series of rivers draining eastward toward the Caribbean. Much of the Petén region is drained by the subsurface flow of water.The Petén, lying largely below 1,000 feet (300 metres) in elevation, exhibits a knobby or hilly surface characterized by subsurface drainage of water.The region is replete with scattered lakes, Lake Petén Itzá being the largest.Among these are three continuously active volcanoes: the growing summit of Santiaguito (8,202 feet [2,500 metres]) located on the southern flanks of Santa María (12,375 feet [3,772 metres]); Fuego (12,582 feet [3,835 metres]); and Pacaya (8,371 feet [2,552 metres]).The highest peak is Tajumulco (13,845 feet [4,220 metres]).Starting in 1954, Guatemala’s governments faced formidable guerrilla opposition that sparked civil war that lasted for 36 years until peace accords were signed in 1996.The struggles of Guatemala’s Indians during the war years were illuminated when A slow political and economic recovery continued into the early 21st century.