The Maya civilization flourished in the lowlands of the Petén and the Yucatán during the first millennium. Famous for their ceremonial centers and hieroglyphic system, the Mayan civilization collapsed mysteriously and suddenly. At the time of the Spanish Conquest in the sixteenth century, the Classic Maya had passed their peak, and Maya had settled in the municipio of Aguacatan in the western Guatemalan highlands. The Awakateko were subjugated by a rising elite class of Ladinos, which exerted political, economic, and cultural domination over the Indians and treated them as a lower class in a social structure similar to a caste system.
This system was perpetuated into the first half of the twentieth century. The Ladinos formed a local government headed by an intendente, who had dictatorial power over the Indians. Traditional Aguacatan began to dissolve in 1944, when a general strike forced the dictator Jorge Ubico to resign, and an effort to reinstate the military dictatorship failed. Political parties were formed, and a new constitution was drafted. Repressive national labor laws and the intendente system, according to which local government officials carried out the direct orders of Ubico, were scrapped. Between 1954 and 1964, the civil-religious hierarchy system collapsed. A shift of power from the elders to a younger group allowed the younger Awakateko to assert leadership, gain independence from the Ladinos, and develop pride in their communities. After the 1968 election of a Ladino alcalde, the Eastern Indians took control of the local Christian Democratic party. Gonzolo Raymundo, named as the Indian party's candidate, took office in 1970 as head of the local Aguacatan government and swept out the Ladinos. Tensions mounted in Aguacatan as the federal government suspended the constitution and took power away from the Indians and gave it to Ladino officials. In 1971 the Guatemalan military sent troops to Aguacatan because of an Indian uprising protesting Ladino intervention. Arrests and imprisonment of the Indians continued for a week. Ladinos continued to occupy government positions until the 1974 election, when a higher voter turnout resulted in a victory for the Indian Christian Democratic party. A Peasant League united the four ethnic groups, addressed issues, and gained political force within the Community. In 1974 a Western Awakateko candidate from the National Liberation party eventually became the alcalde of Aguacatan after a fraudulent negation of election results at the national level.