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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 took office on 14 January 2020. Key issues for the president include rapid employment generation through attracting foreign investment and free-trade zone (FTZ) expansion to appease US demands for reduced migrant flows from Central America. Giammattei announced border closures, transit restrictions for individuals, and stringent business sanitation requirements on 17 March to limit the transmission of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) virus with forced business suspensions and fines for vehicles found in contravention of the presidential order. These measures have been extended to at least mid-July.Giammattei faces an opposition-led congress that is likely to slow the passage of his policy agenda where he will be required to negotiate a majority of votes from among deputies representing smaller parties. The exception has been his COVID-19-virus-related relief measures that have passed with little opposition to July 2020. Emergency rescue measures have included payments of GTQ1,000 (USD127) for three months to 2 million low-income households, a salary supplement of GTQ75 per day for formal workers with suspended contracts, and a GTQ250-million fund to finance loans for small and medium-sized businesses administered by the National Mortgage Credit (Crédito Hipotecario Nacional: CHN). Of the approved government lending, only about USD129 million has been disbursed to date due to limited government capacity to organise disbursements. Amid the global economic slowdown, IHS Markit forecasts GDP growth to contract by 1.54% in 2020 as consumer spending falls amid potential reduced remittance inflows before recovering to 3.0% of GDP in 2021. However, Guatemala’s significant dependence on US economic health means that the recovery is largely dependent on a US turn around. Extractive and resource development sectors including mining and hydropower are likely to spark community opposition over environmental issues and consultation concerns in Alta Vera Paz, Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, and Santa Rosa. Projects will continue to face high-court-ordered suspension risks.
Last update: July 4, 2020

Operational Outlook

Labour strikes are increasingly likely over 2020 as job cuts because of the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)-virus-related downturn are implemented. Sectors most likely to face increased strike risks include cargo transportation, manufacturing, and textiles. Companies that operate in Guatemala regularly 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.

Last update: March 28, 2020

Terrorism

High

There are no known terrorist groups operating in Guatemala. However, in January 2020, the government said that it would seek to classify street gangs as terrorist organisations. 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.

Last update: March 27, 2020

Crime

Guatemala's main violent risk drivers include well-structured gangs and transnational trafficking organisations. Narcotics 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 with neighbouring countries, especially Mexico, is growing and criminal groups 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 SMEs. Corruption reaches the highest levels of government, further facilitating criminal penetration of state institutions.

Last update: March 28, 2020

War Risks

Threats of war in Guatemala remains low in 2020 despite several shooting incidents on the border with Belize. Military patrols from both countries occasionally engage in cross border fire along the Sarstoon River delta and Chiquibul National Park. The border issue is likely to be resolved diplomatically, 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: March 28, 2020

Social Stability

High

The uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) virus and associated job losses increase the probability of strikes and protests in 2020. Occasional anti-government and anti-corruption protests have reduced in size and frequency since 2018, but public perception of government mishandling during the economic pandemic fallout in 2020 and high-level corruption investigations are 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 damage.

Last update: March 27, 2020

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