Democracy and rights
Democracy is still fragile in Guatemala,
almost a quarter of a century after the civil war.
Elections are conducted in relatively orderly
conditions, but corruption, violence and organized crime
are widespread problems that permeate both politics and
the judiciary. The country is one of the most dangerous
in the Western hemisphere for journalists.
Elections are held regularly and power has shifted
between different parties since democracy was restored.
However, there is no transparency and rules regarding
party financing, and threats and violence against voters
in connection with elections occur. Indigenous people
and women are heavily under-represented in politics.
Offers a comprehensive list of airports in Guatemala, including international airports with city located, size and abbreviation, as well as the biggest airlines.
Respect for the rule of law and human rights is low,
and discrimination against minority groups is widespread
(see Social conditions). Unions and organizations that
work for social and civil rights or environmental
protection are often subjected to dirt-fighting
campaigns, harassment and systematic persecution (see
also Labor Market). Tens of thousands of people flee the
country from threats and attacks (see Population and
Guatemala falls far short of Transparency
International's list of corruption in the world's
countries: ranked 146 out of 180 countries surveyed. It
is the same level as Honduras and in the Western
Hemisphere only Venezuela, Haiti and Nicaragua are even
further down the list (the ranking list is here).
Like the countries, as well as the neighboring
countries of the "Northern Triangle" - El Salvador and
Honduras - Guatemala ranks worse than the rest of Latin
America in terms of political and civil rights. The
country is described as a "hybrid regime" by the
Economist Intelligence Unit.
Impunity is widespread, although active work in
recent years has produced results (see also below: Legal
settlements after the war). In December 2006, the
government decided in an agreement with the UN to set up
the International Commission against Impunity in
Guatemala (Cicig). The Commission worked with, inter
alia, the Prosecutor General and the Ministry of the
Interior to investigate corruption and organized crime,
and tried to bring the guilty to justice. The work of
Cicig and the Prosecutor's Office had major political
consequences in recent years. In 2015, a president and
his vice president were forced to retire prematurely
(see Modern History) and they are in custody for
corruption offenses. President Jimmy Morales, who won
the election later that year, initially expressed
support for Cicig, but when corruption charges were also
directed against him, he turned to the Commission.
President Morales stopped Cicig by refusing to renew the
Commission's mandate, which ended its work in September
2019 (see also Current Policy).
The culture of violence that emerged during the war
(see Modern History) lives on and has become a difficult
social problem. The violence is practiced by the police
and the military, organized crime and youth gangs (see
below). There are reports of death patrols within the
police system. The murder rate is among the highest in
the world, although slightly lower than in the other two
countries in the Northern Triangle. Youth gang called
marasoriginated in Los Angeles, but when the
United States deported young criminals to their
countries of origin in the 1990s, maras quickly formed
in Guatemala and other Central American countries
(primarily El Salvador and Honduras). Mexican drug
cartels have also gained considerable influence in
northern Guatemala and they have recruited members from
Maras. A large proportion of homicides are related to
drug trafficking in the region. But the crime also
affects civilian Guatemalans and tourists, not least
when drug gangs and youth gangs attack and rob buses.
Freedom of expression and media
The Constitution guarantees press freedom and since
2009 the right to access public information has been
protected by law. But journalists who report corruption
or organized crime live dangerously. Threats, harassment
and physical violence are common, and journalist murders
Behind the abuses are often police, politicians and
organized crime - not infrequently in contact with each
other. In a noteworthy case, a congressman was arrested
in 2018, suspected of having ordered the murder of two
journalists three years earlier (see Calendar).
Guatemala ranked 116th out of 180 countries on
Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index (for full
list see here). Only Mexico and Honduras are even worse
off by the countries in the immediate region.
President Jimmy Morales, who took office in 2016,
took an aggressive stance on the media and often
attacked critical journalists, which contributed to
increased tension and self-censorship. In the summer of
2018, Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel sued a journalist
for mental violence and discrimination after writing
critically about the government. The minister's
accusations against the journalist were based on a law
against violence against women, including femicide
(gender-based murder of women).
For the majority of the population, radio and
television are the most important sources of
information. Television is dominated by four advertising
channels owned by Mexican media mogul Ángel Remigio
González, who also owns several radio channels and is
considered to have a large political influence in the
There are no state restrictions on access to the
Judicial system and legal security
The justice system is ineffective and corrupt.
Representatives of the supreme courts often have close
ties to the political elite and the business community.
Politically motivated murders, kidnappings and death
threats occur. Judicial officials who try to fight
corruption are not often exposed to threats and murders,
as are human rights activists and trade unionists. The
courts are not politically independent, as are the
Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court.
In rural areas, the courts are too few and the
justice system does not take sufficient account of the
rights of indigenous peoples in terms of, for example,
their language. Many in the countryside also feel that
the police will not come when crime is reported and
therefore it is common for villagers to form the
Citizens' Guard and deal with the criminals themselves.
Those exposed to the mobs are often suspected of rape,
kidnapping, theft or blackmail.
Guatemala has relatively few police officers, and the
police have low status and poor education. Many police
officers have been dismissed for being involved in
corruption and serious crime. The number of military has
increased more than the number of police, and the
military has been deployed to reduce crime, which has to
some extent produced results. There are many more guards
in private security companies than there are police. The
state has no control over the security companies and
several of their employees have been accused of abuse.
The death penalty was abolished in practice in 2000,
when the last execution was carried out. In October
2017, the Constitutional Court ruled that the death
penalty in peacetime violates the Constitution and thus
the possibility of imposing the death penalty remains
only in the event of the war. However, right-wing
politicians and a large proportion of the popular
opinion believe that the death penalty is needed to
combat the high rate of violent crime.
Legal settlements after the Civil War
Attempts to prosecute militants and members of
government-backed militias who perpetrated abuse during
the civil war have often failed. Several trials have
been stopped, and punishments that have been sentenced
have often been reduced to a higher instance. Despite
this, over 30 convictions have fallen for war crimes.
However, they may be torn down: in 2019, Congress will
consider a proposal for amnesty for crimes committed
during the war.
When the first judges arrived in the fall of 2009 for
disappearances in the early 1980s, many saw it as an
important breakthrough in the fight against impunity.
First, a semi-military commander who cooperated with the
military in sentencing campaigns was sentenced to 150
years in prison. A few months later, an army commander
and three more members of paramilitary forces were
sentenced to 53 years in prison each. In the spring of
2010, reports of death patrols in the police department
came and Cicig appointed an investigation. In 2011 and
2012, life sentences came against ten former soldiers
and militia members, for two different massacres in 1982
at villagers who were suspected of cooperating with the
In May 2013, former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was
sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes
against humanity. According to the judgment, he had
ordered massacres of 1,771 Mayan people during his time
in power 1982-1983, something he denied. Ríos Montt's 17
months in power are considered to have been the most
violent period during the civil war. But because of
procedural errors, the Constitutional Court demolished
the verdict and parts of the trial had to be redone. The
trial was resumed in January 2015 but immediately
postponed. Ríos Montt's attorneys claimed he was too
frail to stand trial and the process was delayed until
the dictator passed away in April 2018, 91 years old.
In the summer of 2014, for the first time, a former
guerrilla leader was convicted of murder during the
Civil War, to 90 years in prison.