Republic in Central America on the southern border of Mexico. The center of the Maya-Quiche Indian civilization, Guatemala was conquered by the Spanish in the early 16th century. The center of the Audiencia of Guatemala, which included all of Central America and the Mexican state of Chiapas, Guatemala remained under Spanish rule until 1821 when it declared its independence. During 1822-23, it was part of Mexico, and during 1823-39, it formed part of the Republic of the United States of Central America. Since 1839, Guatemala has been completely independent. Guatemala's economy is land-based, with ownership concentrated in the hands of a relatively small Spanish-descended oligarchy. Most menial labor is done by Indian laborers. Since independence, Guatemala has been ruled by an almost unbroken succession of military dictatorships. During 1961-96, the country was torn by a bloody civil war, in which more than 100,000 people died and a million more became refugees. In recent years, civilian governments and military regimes have alternated.