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Guatemala Country Report

Country Risk Level

High

Overview

Executive Summary

Centre-right Vamos’s Alejandro Giammattei took office on 14 January 2020 on an infrastructure and FDI-attraction platform. His agenda has been disrupted by the onset of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)-virus pandemic that led the president to implement extensive restrictions between March and August 2020. Since then, restrictions have been reduced for public transit and business operations, while border crossings and some airport activity were permitted from mid-September. Giammattei was diagnosed with COVID-19 on 18 September and is required to conduct government business from quarantine. The president’s illness is likely to exacerbate existing disputes in the opposition-led Congress over Guatemala’s COVID-19-virus recovery strategy. Vamos holds only 17 of 160 seats, meaning that Giammattei is reliant on personally negotiated agreements with smaller parties. Initial COVID-19-virus-related relief measures, including small and medium-sized enterprises’ business supplements and a family bonus fund for 2 million low-income households, were passed with little opposition up until the end of June. Since then, the government’s inability to implement mechanisms efficiently has undermined Giammattei’s support; at least one party has declared that it is withdrawing support for the government’s upcoming 2021 general budget vote, increasing the probability of fiscal issues in 2021. IHS Markit forecasts that Guatemala’s economy will decline by 2.76% of GDP in 2020, driven by reductions in consumer spending. Higher-than-projected remittance-inflow recovery from August is likely to facilitate a 4.01% rebound in 2021. However, Guatemala’s economic performance remains largely dependent on the pace of recovery in the United States.The likely development of extractive and resource development sectors as part of the post-pandemic recovery strategy is likely to serve as a catalyst for community protests, including violence over environmental issues and consultation concerns in Alta Verapaz, Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, and Santa Rosa. The risk of suspensions ordered by the high court is likely to continue for such projects.

Operational Outlook

Resource development and extraction sectors face among the highest operational risks in Guatemala from operational suspension orders during lengthy court challenges by community groups. To reduce project disruptions, President Giammattei’s administration promised regulatory changes addressing ILO Convention 169 on community consultation requirements, but the matter was suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic and is unlikely to be resumed before 2021. Economic stimulus plans for the next year include easing public-private partnership regulations. Corruption risks are greatest during contracting of major construction projects and operation concessions for ports and airports. Labour strikes involving thousands of cargo transporters are increasingly likely in 2021.

Terrorism

There are no known terrorist groups operating in Guatemala; however, legislative changes under debate in Congress seek to classify street gangs as terrorist organisations. Criminal groups pose significant threats to state security, particularly police personnel. Gangs carry out assassinations and use firearms 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, accused of perpetrating acts of terrorism during the country’s 36-year civil war, since have formed crime rings that reach the highest levels of the government but are unlikely to threaten government stability.

Crime

Guatemala's main violent crime 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 18 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.

War Risks

Guatemala is unlikely to face an armed conflict in 2021. A border dispute with Belize means that both countries maintain military patrols along their shared border. On rare occasions (less than once a year), this can result in cross-border fire along the Sarstoon River delta and in Chiquibul National Park. The border issue is likely to be resolved diplomatically through the International Court of Justice. A 36-year civil war that was resolved in 1996 is also unlikely to restart as most of the rebel groups involved in the conflict have disbanded or joined formal political processes.

Social Stability

High

Spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) virus and associated job losses increases the probability of strikes and protests into 2021. 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.

Health Risk

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).

Natural Risks

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.

Transportation

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.

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:

Risk Level
Critical High Medium Low Minimal