Las Verapaces Feature

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The German Connection

The economic prosperity of Las Verapaces traces back to the wave of German immigrants who settled here in the 1870s. Invited by President Justo Rufino Barrios to inhabit and work the land, they turned the region into a center for coffee and cardamom production.

Subsequent generations of Germans never saw much need to assimilate, and kept their language, German citizenship, and ties to their homeland. That never bothered anyone until the 1930s, when a few swastika flags began fluttering over Cobán. When Guatemala declared war on Hitler in 1941, the Germans were given a choice: renounce their German citizenship or be expelled. Many chose to leave. Others stayed, became Guatemalan citizens, and continued working in the industries they had established. You can see evidence of their presence in the German surnames up here—you're as likely to meet a Schmidt as you are to encounter a Rodríguez—but there's no need to dust off your high-school German. They all speak Spanish these days.

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