The Mayan population grew and flourished in the Western Highlands. Some migrated to the Petén lowlands, but most stayed in the Highlands because of the temperate climate and freedom from tropical diseases. When the Spanish came, they too settled in the Western Highlands. Guatemala had no gold or silver, so the Spanish established large commercial farms that produced export crops with Mayan forced labor.
Mayans comprise 55% of Guatemala's population. The majority still lives in the Western Highlands, and most are small farmers. They grow corn and beans for home consumption and coffee, vegetables, and fruit for the market. From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala was the site of a bloody civil war, in which Mayans fought for greater equality. Most of the war took place in the Western Highlands, and the region is still recovering from the setbacks to economic growth as well as education and health services caused by the war.
Guatemala is the second poorest country in Latin America and most of the poor are Mayan small farmers living in the Western Highlands. 69% of the Highland population is classified as poor and 21% as extremely poor. 59% of children between 6 and 12 years of age are stunted, and 62% are classified as malnourished. These statistics include both the rural and urban population, and the figures are much higher for the rural population.