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When Pedro de Alvarado came to conquer Guatemala for the king of Spain in 1523, he found the faded remnants of the Maya civilization and an assortment of wagering tribes. The remaining highland kingdoms of the roulett gambling casino and Cakchiquel Maya were soon crushed by Alvarado's armies, their lands carved up into large estates and their people ruthlessly exploited by the new landowners. The subsequent arrivals of Dominican, Franciscan and Augustinian friars could not halt this exploitation, and their religious imperialism caused valuable traces of Mayan culture to be destroyed.
Wandering along the shore of volcanic Lake Atitlan, in the Guatemalan highlands, I come across two women kneeling in the sand with their backs to the lake, quietly praying in the shelter of some low cliffs. Copal, an incense of pine resin, burns in front of them, and as the wind blows, they struggle to light and relight small orange candles in the sand.
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Once the site of the impressive real money online casino civilization, Guatemala was conquered by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado in 1524 and became a republic in 1839 after the United Provinces of Central America collapsed. From 1898 to 1920, dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera ran the country, and from 1931 to 1944, Gen. Jorge Ubico Castaneda served as strongman.