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Country Reports

Guatemala Country Report

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Risk Level

Low
Moderate
Elevated
High
Very High
Severe
Extreme

Overview

Executive Summary

Centre-right VAMOS’s Alejandro Giammattei won Guatemala’s second-round presidential run-off with 58% of the vote on 11 August 2019 against social democratic UNE’s Sandra Torres, who received 42%, and will take office in January 2020. Key issues for the president-elect will be rapid employment generation through attracting foreign investment, FTZ expansion, and job-training programmes to appease US demands for Guatemala to reduce migrant flows from Central America. President Jimmy Morales is likely to remain in power until the new administration takes office in January 2020, despite three legal attempts to impeach him on irregular election financing and corruption allegations. He denies the allegations. Policy priorities to end-2019 will include crime reduction in more remote regions, military procurement upgrades, and passage of the 2020 budget.IHS Markit expects GDP growth to reach 2.92% in 2019, supported by consumer spending and exports, and 3.0% in 2020. Subdued growth levels in recent years have reflected low government investment, primarily in infrastructure. Economic growth will be supported by a continuation of healthy consumer spending as a result of strong remittance inflows and controlled consumer prices. Extractive and resource development sectors including mining and hydropower will likely spark community opposition over environmental issues and consultation concerns in Alta Vera Paz, Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, and Santa Rosa. Activists are likely to challenge projects through the temporary detention of on-site employees, sabotage of installations, and legal challenges in the courts. Projects will continue to face high court-ordered suspension risks. Guatemala’s crime environment is dominated by the MS-13 and M-18 gangs. Security indicators including homicide rates have improved in recent years, decreasing to about 23 per 100,000 in 2018 after reaching a high of 46.4 per 100,000 in 2009. Key risks for companies include extortion and employee safety. Escuintla, Guatemala, and Zacapa departments are hotspots.
Last update: November 28, 2019

Operational Outlook

Companies that operate in Guatemala are likely to face operational challenges when dealing with national and municipal governments. These range from barriers in obtaining and acting on resource development permits to corruption and bribery demands. Leading presidential candidates are unlikely to pursue corruption-related investigations in the next administration, reducing related contract alteration and fine risks. Regulatory-related procedures have improved since 2014 when processes were consolidated online, reducing start-up and registration processing times.

Last update: August 20, 2019

Terrorism

High

There are no known terrorist groups operating in Guatemala. However, criminal groups, including transnational criminal organisations and street gangs, carry out planned assassinations and use grenades to target business infrastructure to enforce extortion demands. Such actions are typically economically, rather than politically, motivated. Some former members of Guatemala’s intelligence and security establishments who are accused of terrorist acts during the country’s 36-year civil war have since formed crime and corruption rings that reach the highest levels of the government. However, these are unlikely to significantly threaten government stability through terrorist activities.

Last update: August 28, 2019

Crime

Guatemala's main violent risk drivers include well-structured gangs and transnational trafficking organisations. Drug cultivation and evolving transit routes have attracted Mexican cartels to the country, especially along the pacific coast and Guatemala's border with Mexico. Guatemala City remains the dominant hotspot for criminal violence where street gangs include the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (M-18). Cross-border co-ordination capacity with neighbouring countries, especially Mexico, are growing and gangs have instigated operational destabilisation actions over 12 months including prison riots and targeted attacks in public spaces. Sectors at greatest risk include public transit, cargo transport, and small and medium-sized enterprises. Corruption reaches the highest levels of government further facilitating criminal operations.

Last update: October 19, 2019

War Risks

The threat of war in Guatemala remains low despite several incidents on the border with Belize. Military patrols resulting in occasional shooting typically occur along the Sarstoon River delta and Chiquibul National Park. The border issue is likely to be resolved diplomatically, most likely with a referral to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which has been addressing aspects of the territorial claims since 2008. The restarting of the 36-year civil war that was resolved in 1996 is also unlikely as most of the rebel groups involved in the conflict have disbanded or joined formal political processes.

Last update: August 28, 2019

Social Stability

High

Guatemala experiences frequent social unrest with the power to disrupt transportation, frustrate commercial projects, and destabilise the government. Occasional anti-government protests have reduced in size and frequency since 2018 with hardening migrant-movement restrictions and high-level corruption investigations likely indicators of future demonstrations. Transport- and heavy cargo-related strikes disrupt port and border customs processes as well as delay supply chain deliveries at least every couple of months. Community activism in opposition of resource development projects is also strong, particularly in Guatemala's northeast, and periodically results in localised property damages.

Last update: August 17, 2019

Health Risk

Very high

Vaccines required to enter the country

Yellow fever: There is no risk of contracting yellow fever in Guatemala. However, the government requires proof of vaccination for travelers arriving from countries with a risk of yellow fever transmission. A single dose of YF vaccine is sufficient to confer sustained life-long immunity against the disease.

Vaccines recommended for all travelers

Routine vaccinations: Consult your doctor to ensure all routine vaccinations - such as for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, influenza, measles, mumps, pertussis, rubella, varicella, etc. - are up to date (include booster shots if necessary).

Vaccines recommended for most travelers

Hepatitis A: The vaccine is given in two doses, six months apart, and is nearly 100 percent effective. The WHO recommends the vaccine be integrated into national routine immunization schedules for children aged one year or older.

Typhoid fever: The typhoid fever vaccine can be administered via injection (administered in one dose) or orally (four doses). The vaccine is only 50-80 percent effective, so travelers to areas with a risk of exposure to typhoid fever, a bacterial disease, should also take hygienic precautions (e.g. drink only bottled water, avoid undercooked foods, wash hands regularly, etc.). Children can be given the shot beginning at two years of age (six for the oral vaccine).

Vaccines recommended for some travelers

Hepatitis B: The WHO recommends that all infants receive their first dose of vaccine as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours. The birth dose should be followed by two or three doses to complete the primary series. Routine booster doses are not routinely recommended for any age group.

Malaria: There is currently no malaria vaccine. However, various antimalarial prophylactics are available by prescription and can reduce risk of infection by up to 90 percent. Different medications are prescribed depending on the risk level and the strains of the virus present in the destination. Antimalarial tablets need to be taken throughout the trip to be effective and may need to be taken for as long as four weeks following the trip.

Rabies: The rabies vaccination is typically only recommended for travel to remote areas and if the traveler will be at high risk of exposure (e.g. undertaking activities that will bring them into contact with dogs, cats, bats, or other mammals). The vaccination is administered in three doses over a three-to-four week period. Post exposure prophylaxis is also available and should be administered as soon as possible following contact with an animal suspected of being infected (e.g. bites and scratches).

Last update: April 5, 2019

Natural Risks

Severe

Guatemala is highly vulnerable to natural disasters.

Powerful earthquakes regularly strike the country. In 1976, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 on the Richter scale left 26,000 dead and devastated parts of the country. More recently, an 8.2-magnitude offshore earthquake struck the region in September 2017, resulting in damages in the southwestern department of San Marcos.

Offshore earthquakes can trigger tsunamis. If in a coastal area when an earthquake strikes, immediately look to see if a tsunami alert has been issued (either by the government or the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center). If in doubt, move inland following tsunami evacuation routes if designated and/or seek higher ground.

The country is also home to a number of active volcanoes, including the Fuego, Pacaya, and Santiaguito volcanoes. Eruptions have been known to result in flight disruptions, including at Guatemala City's La Aurora International Airport (GUA).

Guatemala is vulnerable to hurricanes, tropical storms, and tropical storm remnants coming from both the Pacific and Caribbean. The Pacific hurricane season officially runs from May 15 to November 30, and the Atlantic hurricane season from June 1 to November 30. In June 2014, Tropical Storm Boris caused flooding and property damage, along with five deaths.

Torrential rains can lead to deadly flooding and landslides, particularly during the rainy season (May/June to November). Some 300 people were killed in a landslide that buried the village of El Cambray Dos (15 km [10 mi] east of the capital) in October 2015; another 12 people died in a landslide in San Pedro Soloma in June 2017. Furthermore, severe flooding in September/October 2017 left at least 26 people dead and hundreds of thousands of people affected; numerous roads and bridges were blocked by the floodwaters.

Forest fires are common during the dry season.

Last update: April 5, 2019

Transportation

Elevated

Driving conditions are dangerous due to poorly maintained roads, lack of lighting, and unsafe driving habits; fatal accidents are common. Additionally, accidents or general road rage have been known to lead to violent confrontations.

There are also significant risks on roads and highways due to the presence of criminal elements, notably in rural areas. Attacks and other criminal activities along highways in rural areas, notably in border regions (e.g. Petén department), due to the presence of arms, human, and drug traffickers. Criminals sometimes erect roadblocks to force cars to stop before their occupants are robbed or assaulted, including during the day.

Driving at night outside of cities should be avoided whenever possible and travel in groups of two or more vehicles is recommended. In cities, always drive with windows rolled up, doors locked, and valuable items stored out of sight; when in heavy traffic, leave room to maneuver between you and the car ahead.

Crime and accident rates are high on public transportation, notably municipal buses in the capital, as well as on intercity buses. Bus drivers and passengers may also be attacked by gang members in the context of extortion rackets and thus most buses should be avoided. Transmetro buses can be considered relatively safe.

Never hail a taxi off the street and only use official companies (e.g. Taxi Amarillo and Taxi Seguro), called in advance. Unlicensed taxi drivers have been known to rob or assault their passengers. 

Note that crime rates tend to be particularly high around airports.

Last update: April 5, 2019

Infrastructure

The Central American countries' electricity grids are connected by a single 1820-km (1130-mi) electricity line, making them particularly susceptible to power outages.  There were seven blackouts that have affected all of Central America between 2010 and 2017.

Last update: April 5, 2019

Practical Information

Climate

Guatemala is a subtropical highland oceanic climate, characterized by high temperatures and humidity levels. The dry season lasts from November until March (mild temperatures, low humidity) and the rainy season from June until October. Humidity during the rainy season, accompanied by high temperatures regularly reaching 38°C (100°F), particularly along the Pacific coast. Nights are generally cold in mountainous areas.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +502
Fire Dept. volontaires: 110
Fire Dept. municipaux: 123
Emergency Services: 911

Electricity

Voltage: 120 V ~ 60 Hz

Outlets:

Last update: July 16, 2019