is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office
at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City. OSAC encourages travelers to use
this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Guatemala.
For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s country-specific page
for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some
of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC
current U.S. Department of State Travel
Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Guatemala at
Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime. Reconsider
travel to Guatemala, Escuintla, Chiquimula, Quetzaltenango, Izabal, and Peten
departments due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding
the Consular Travel Advisory System.
Overall Crime and
U.S. Department of State has assessed Guatemala City as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime
directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. There is a critical
threat in all other departments of the country as well. Crime in Guatemala stems
from many sources, and its impact is magnified by various issues such as corruption,
an inadequate justice system, and the prevalence of both gang and narco
activity across the country. The most common crimes against expatriates include
petty theft and armed robbery. Many robberies occur during daylight hours while
victims are walking or driving in well-known, well-traveled areas, including
markets, public parks, and popular restaurant districts. Even the most upscale
residential and commercial areas of Guatemala City (Zones 4, 10, 14, 15, and 16)
experience violent crimes in broad daylight. These trends are not isolated to
one specific part of the country. No area in Guatemala is immune to crime,
including the most popular tourist destinations such as Antigua and Tikal. The U.S.
Embassy Regional Security Office (RSO) continues to advise all U.S. citizens to
be very vigilant of their surroundings and report any crime incidents promptly
to the police.
and armed robbery are the most common crimes committed against U.S. citizens
(infrequently, RSO receives reports of extortion attempts as well). Members of
the expatriate community can fall victim to these crimes due to a perceived
display of affluence, or by not following sound personal security practices.
However, one emerging element of the criminal threat in 2019 is violence
stemming from gang rivalries and extortion occurring in areas where members of
the expat community congregate (e.g. malls). Further, acts of extreme violence
employing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have occurred against public
transportation and business in an attempt to extort targeted individuals. According
to official statistics released by the National Board of Tourist Assistance
(PROATUR), there were 176 recorded instances of crimes against tourists in
Guatemala in 2019, with approximately 2.6 million registered tourists having
visited the country during the year. Below are some examples that illustrate
the gravity of the crime threat:
- On January 21, 2019, at approximately 1045hrs, an IED exploded in
the doorway of a public bus traveling through Zone 7 in Guatemala City, located
3.5 miles from the Embassy. Reports indicate the bus driver was the victim of
gang-related extortion operations. As retaliation for non-payment, a confirmed
associate of the gang Barrio 18, set off an IED approximately the size of a
grenade inside the bus. In addition to the perpetrator, five victims went to
local hospitals for treatment of injuries.
- On January 27, 2019, Guatemala National Police rendered safe an IED
in Guatemala City eight miles north of the U.S. Embassy. Police said the gang
Barrio 18 intended to attack taxi drivers to pressure them into paying
extortion fees to the gang. Police arrested one Barrio 18 gang member in
connection with the attempt.
- On February 26, 2019, at approximately 1230hrs, three third-party
contractors working for a U.S. government agency and based in El Salvador
reported they were shot at while driving near Rio Dulce.
May 1, 2019, an attempted robbery occurred within a block of the U.S. Ambassador’s
residence. Armed security discharged their weapons in response, resulting in
injuries to the robbery suspects.
June 9, 2019, at approximately 0130hrs, a 20-year-old local man was shot and
killed, and a 15-year-old local boy was seriously wounded in front of a Shell
gas station. Authorities arrested two members of Mara Salvatrucha in connection
with the shooting. The shooting was the result of targeted gang rivalry and
occurred about a kilometer from the construction site of the new U.S. embassy
June 23, 2019 at around 1358 hrs., a U.S. citizen was passing through 32 Av. Calzada
Roosevelt in Zone 11 to go shopping at Walmart with a friend. While en route, she
was the victim of a robbery which resulted in a gunshot wound to her leg after she
refused to comply with the robber's demands.
- On August 25, 2019 at 1210hrs, the spouse of a U.S. Embassy third
party contractor was the victim of an attempted robbery while returning to her
September 20, 2019, at approximately 0430hrs, a triple homicide occurred at a
nightclub approximately 575 meters south of the U.S. Embassy.
- On September 21, 2019, at approximately 0200hrs local time, a U.S.
embassy employee was robbed. The incident occurred 700 meters southeast of the
Trends and Analysis
common trend in the commission of armed robberies is the use of motorcycles by
assailants. Typically, two men on a motorcycle accost the driver of a car or
pedestrian and demand valuables and cell phones. Often, a second pair of armed
individuals accompany the assailants, functioning as lookouts. If the
assailants encounter any resistance, they escalate the situation through
extreme violence (e.g. stabbings, shootings). The use of motorcycles allows the
assailants to flee quickly; police rarely apprehend them. Additionally,
pickpockets and purse-snatchers are active in all cities and tourist sites. Petty
criminals frequently target high-traffic tourist areas for petty crime.
Markets, national parks, crowded venues, and shopping areas are all major areas
of operation for criminals. Review OSAC’s report, All
That You Should Leave Behind.
Guatemala historically has had one of the highest violent crime rates in
Central America, the trend has been positive over the past several years.
Guatemala’s homicide rate peaked at 45 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in 2009,
but by the end of 2018 had dropped to about 22. In 2018,
the police reported 3,881 homicides; a figure slightly higher than the 3,578
homicides reported for 2019. The number of reported missing persons also
evinced a slight downward trend, with a total of 2,351 reported cases compared
to 2,500 the year prior. RSO uses official police crime statistics for this
report. However, the police do not count homicides if the victim left the crime
scene alive but subsequently died from injuries elsewhere. INACIF (Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Forenses de Guatemala),
the government agency responsible for tracking all deaths in country, shows
homicide rates 8-16% higher than police homicide rates.
the slight downward trend, Guatemala remains among the most dangerous countries
in the world. Endemic poverty, an abundance of weapons, a legacy of societal conflict,
and the presence of organized criminal gangs Barrio 18 (18th Street) and Mara
Salvatrucha (MS13) all contribute to violent crime. Guatemala’s alarmingly high
murder rate appears driven by narco-trafficking activity, gang-related
violence, a heavily armed population, and a police/judicial system unable to
hold criminals accountable.
two primary gangs in Guatemala terrorize businesses and private citizens through
targeted extortion attempts. Extortion is incredibly common and effects all
sectors of society, with public bus and taxi drivers being the easiest and most
common victims. However, local small businesses, the U.S. private sector, and
local national employees of the U.S. Embassy were all frequent targets in 2019.
The gangs also target schoolchildren, street vendors, and local residents. Although
in recent years the number of reported extortions has increased, most incidents
go unreported and there is uncertainty about the true magnitude of the problem.
Further complicating the widespread issue of extortion is the presence of
persons who imitate gang members in order to threaten and receive extortion
payments despite not belonging to gangs. Gang members
usually punish non-compliant victims with violent assault or murder, and victimize
their family members as punishment. A total of 89 extortion-related homicides
were reported in 2019.
While extortion activity is often
associated with the transport sector and the receipt of extortion payments from
bus drivers, extortion threats are also reported in other commercial sections
such as restaurant and store owners. Further, the number and type and extortion
victims has increased through the use of social media in recent years. Gangs
members and imitators will use various types of social media to threaten their targets
and receive extortion payments. PNC reported 14,714 cases of extortion in 2019.
The following is a breakdown of victim types and number of cases:
company running outside metropolitan area - 268
provider - 95
company running in metropolitan areas - 84
truck - 38
victim - 21
school - 9
Office - 3
- Musical group - 2
invasions by armed groups continue to occur in upscale neighborhoods. There
were 511 reported residential robberies in 2018 compared to 628 in 2017, an 18%
reduction. Statistics from 2019 point to a further downward trend with a total
of 422 cases reported to the PNC. Thieves gain access by enticing a resident to
open the door for a delivery or rushing in when family or staff open the door.
Another commonly held belief is that household staff could be complicit in home
invasions. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.
According to official government
crime statistics, sexual assault numbers slightly decreased from 527 in 2018 to
460 in 2019. Most reported victims were female (435; 167 adults and 268
under-age). The Embassy believes, however, that the actual numbers of sexual
assaults, including against foreigners, are far greater; cultural stigmas and
sporadic police presence in rural areas cause significant underreporting.
According to Guatemalan government
statistics, from January 1 to November 30, 2019, the Public Ministry received 320
reports of suspected human trafficking. The majority (150) occurred in
Guatemala City. These reported numbers for 2019 represent an increase from the
year prior, when only 116 cases were reported in the capital.
Other Areas of
particularly serious concern in less-developed regions of the country is
vigilantism, including stoning, lynching, and immolation. Police in remote
areas are often understaffed and poorly equipped, and will not typically interfere
in deterring vigilantism out of fear for their own safety. The lack of police
presence in rural communities, as well as the enduring influence of the
traditional indigenous justice system, can result in villages taking justice
into their own hands, resulting in brutal attacks and deaths. Local populations
often block roads leading into and out of their towns after an incident in an
attempt to catch the perpetrators and subject them to vigilante justice.
March 2019, Mixco residents caught two males attempting to escape on a
motorcycle after shooting a taxi driver. The event was described as
extortion-related violence. After residents caught the two suspects, they
assaulted them and then set them on fire.
communities have also increasingly taken over their local municipalities
through road blockades or in some cases, holding elected local officials
hostage until demands are met. In January 2019, more than 200 police officers
became isolated in the town of El Naranjo, located in an extremely remote area
of Peten only accessible by ferry. Local residents seized control of the only
ferry after police arrested four local residents. Another group of residents
blocked the only road leading to the town, preventing police and military from
responding to the incident. The locals also threatened to burn down the police
station. The residents freed the officers only after the police released the
OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity
Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling
with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite
Phones: Critical or Contraband?
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Overall Road Safety Assessment: Fair
Urban road conditions/maintenance:
Rural road conditions/maintenance:
Fair to poor
Availability of roadside/ambulance
assistance: Fair to poor
the period January-November 2019, the Observatorio
de Transito de Guatemala reported 6,510 motor-vehicle accidents, 1,585 deaths,
and 8,194 injuries.
will encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the U.S.,
and vary widely across the country, with more development within urban areas.
The transportation infrastructure diminishes rapidly the further motorists
travel from the capital. Many city streets have lighting, although poor, but
secondary and rural roads have little to no illumination. Among the risk to
motorists are local drivers passing blindly on winding roads, poorly designed
surfaces, unmarked hazards, landslides, and precarious temporary highway
congestion in urban areas and the highways leading out of the capital is
extremely heavy, and severely impacts travel time between destinations. Traffic
is often at a standstill for hours at a time; such congestion exacerbates the
threat to motorists from armed criminals on motorcycles. Use vehicles with all
windows tinted. Criminals often look for drivers using cell phones at night and
easily identify their targets due to the illumination of smartphones or
OSAC’s reports, Road
Safety Abroad, Driving
Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive
Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving
and road safety abroad.
armed robbers sometimes attack vehicles on main roads in broad daylight. Travel
on rural roads increases the risk of encountering a criminal roadblock or
ambush. Driving outside of urban areas at night is dangerous and not
recommended. Avoid intercity travel after dark, as it is extremely dangerous. Caravan
with at least two cars when traveling outside of Guatemala City. The
Inter-American Highway (CA-1) and the road from Guatemala City to the Caribbean
coast (CA-9) are especially dangerous due to heavy traffic, including large
trucks and trailers, and poorly maintained vehicles that often lack properly
functioning lights. The main road to Lake Atitlán via the Inter-American
Highway (CA-1) and Sololá is safer than the alternative secondary roads near
the recent past, armed attacks occurred on roads between Guatemala City and
Petén, as well as between Tikal and the Belize border. Plan and research routes
prior to departing for your destination. Although many GPS applications work in
Guatemala, they may not reflect road conditions accurately. Roads and routes
identified on a GPS may be nothing more than a poorly built dirt road accessible
only by 4x4 vehicles. GPS applications trying to minimize travel times can also
route drivers through gang-controlled neighborhoods.
must also be aware of the high frequency of demonstrations/protests in
Guatemala. A number of highly organized groups are capable of drawing thousands
of people to support their cause. One of the most common demonstration tactics
is the blocking of major routes throughout the country. The most successful groups
have blocked up to 30 major routes at once – bringing the country’s road
network to a standstill. A good resource for updated information regarding
traffic concerns throughout Guatemala is PROVIAL, a roadside assistance
force that routinely tweets significant issues related to accidents, traffic
conditions and road blockades.
in Guatemala must remain on the defensive, as the local population only
casually observes traffic rules. Drivers frequently ignore speed limits, lane
markings, and stop signs. Many drivers do not use their turn signals. Instead,
a common custom is for an occupant to stick a hand out the window and wave to
indicate a turn or lane change. Drivers often drive at the maximum speed their
vehicle can handle. The quality of vehicles on the road ranges from high-end
luxury to barely functioning vehicles that would not pass U.S. safety
inspections. A lack of proper sidewalks and crosswalks force pedestrians to walk
on the roadway or attempt to cross roads even in heavy traffic.
are the most popular form of transportation in Guatemala; motorcycle operators
do not take safety precautions in many cases, weaving in and out of traffic
with seemingly little regard for their own safety. It is common to see entire
families, including small children, traveling on one motorcycle without any
safety equipment. Many people also use motorcycles to transport large cargo.
Many motorcyclists do not have functioning lights and can be difficult to see at
and trucks often stall or park in the middle of the road. Drivers often place tree
branches in the road before a stalled vehicle to warn approaching traffic of a
hazard. It is against the law to turn right on red unless otherwise posted, and
drivers must yield when entering a traffic circle. Motorists must wear seat
belts. It is against the law for drivers to operate cellular phones while
driving, although this is not enforced.
motorists commonly drive under the influence of alcohol. Law enforcement will
arrest people found driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs and offenders may
serve jail time, but it does not deter the amount of drunk driving taking place
in Guatemala. This risk further increases in small towns and rural areas away
from population centers.
traffic incidents can escalate quickly to violence. Many motorists carry
machetes and other weapons, including firearms in their vehicles. Police may
detain drivers involved in accidents resulting in injury, holding them in
protective custody pending investigation. Such cases require the assistance of
private local attorneys.
are no roadside assistance clubs in Guatemala. However, PROVIAL patrols most major
highways; contact them by calling 1520 from a local phone. Their vehicles are
equipped with basic tools and first aid supplies, and their services are free. Police
patrol major roadways sporadically and may assist travelers. For roadside
assistance, call the police at 110 or 120 or the fire department at 122 or 123.
Cellular telephone service covers most areas tourists frequent. Some reports of
highway robberies include accusations that police, or assailants dressed as
police, have been involved.
Public Transportation Conditions
Safety of public transportation:
most common mode of public transportation in Guatemala is the network of
informal bus lines. These bus routes are serviced by brightly colored, poorly
maintained, recycled U.S.-style school buses. Driver qualification levels vary,
creating an untenable safety situation. Additionally, these bus lines are prime
targets for extortions and robberies. Criminals habitually assault and murder
bus drivers because of non-compliance with extortion demands. The official U.S.
government community in Guatemala is NOT allowed to use public buses as a means
are also unsafe. Unlicensed taxis and taxi companies serve metropolitan areas. The U.S. government prohibits its personnel
present in Guatemala from hailing taxis on the street. Taxi drivers can be
targeted for or complicit in criminal activity. Taxi Amarillo Express is a
radio-dispatch taxi service accessible at 1766 on a mobile phone. Reach Taxi
Seguro at 2312-4243; it may not always be available, especially late at night.
operates in Guatemala City, Antigua, and some other urban areas. RSO considers
Uber a reliable source of transportation, and U.S. government personnel may use
the service. It is important to note, however, that local taxi operators do not
support Uber and have engaged in physical confrontations with Uber drivers. In
2019, one Uber driver was shot while in his vehicle in the vicinity of Oakland
Mall; the motives for the crime are unknown, but the incident further
highlights the local crime risk. RSO recommends waiting in a secure location
for an available Uber; expect the driver to request that a passenger ride in
the front seat to mask the appearance of being a car service.
Aurora International Airport (GUA) offers direct flights to/from the United
States. On occasion, the airport temporarily shuts down due to severe weather
and/or volcanic activity. However, flights on major commercial airlines face
few issues other than delays and re-routing.
Aurora is in Zone 13, which the latest Travel Advisory assesses at Level 3, indicating
that travelers should reconsider travel to the area. Remain cautious when
leaving the airport, as assailants may steal money, passports, or luggage. In
some cases, taxi drivers rob travelers of their possessions. RSO recommends
that travelers make transportation arrangements to and from the airport ahead of
time using pre-screened, vetted transportation services, including Uber. A
pre-screened, vetted taxi service is available at the airport. Travelers can
hire a vetted driver at the kiosk under the “SAFE” sign. In the past,
assailants have worn full/partial police uniforms and have used vehicles that
resemble police vehicles, indicating that some elements of the police might be
privately owned aircraft present a number of safety concerns. Since 2015, the
Civilian Aviation Authority investigated over 35 small aircraft accidents. Accidents
involve both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. Maintenance for these
aircraft in Guatemala does not meet International Standardization Organization
(ISO) requirements. Operators of small aircraft could be poorly trained and
inexperienced. U.S. government personnel in Guatemala may not use
Guatemalan-owned rotary winged aircraft as a means of travel.
OSAC’s report, Security
In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
U.S. Department of State has assessed POST as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official
U.S. government interests. There are no known transnational or domestic terrorist
organizations present in Guatemala.
Religious, and Ethnic Violence
U.S. Department of State has assessed POST as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or
affecting official U.S. government interests. Large demonstrations occur, sometimes
with little/no notice, and can cause serious traffic disruptions. Although most
demonstrations are peaceful, they can turn violent. The use of roadblocks and/or
blocking of public facilities, including the international airport, may delay
or prevent tourists from reaching their destination. Pro- and anti-government demonstrations
continued throughout 2019 but were peaceful. A notable example was the massive January
2019 protest against the removal of the International Commission against
Impunity in Guatemala (referred to as CICIG). A demonstration also occurred in
front of the U.S. Embassy in advance of a visit by U.S. House of Representatives
Speaker Nancy Pelosi. RSO expects demonstrations to continue after the new
government of President Giammattei officially begins. Avoid any demonstration you
encounter. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving
is a geologically and climatologically active and dynamic country prone to
seismic activity, volcanic eruptions, severe and unpredictable weather, and
unstable terrain. General information about natural disaster preparedness is
available locally from the National Disaster Reduction Coordination Office (CONRED) and from the U.S. Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA).
lies on a major fault line known as the Motagua/Chixoy-Polochic fault complex (the
convergence of the Caribbean and North American plates). In
2019, Guatemala’s National Institute of Seismology and Volcanology registered 3,411
seismic events, 85 of which were seismic movements measuring 3.5 or higher. Guatemala
has experienced a number of historically significant earthquakes above 7.0.
has three active volcanoes: Pacaya, Santiaguito, and Fuego. Fuego Volcano,
located about 25 miles southwest of Guatemala City, last erupted in June 2018.
The eruption was Fuego’s largest since 1974, and included a partial collapse of
the crater. As a result, volcanic material reached areas considered safe under
existing eruption scenarios. CONRED reportsthat eruptions of Fuego Volcano and
subsequent pyroclastic flows and lahars have caused at least 188 deaths, left
240 people missing, temporarily displaced nearly 13,000 people, and impacted
more than 1.7 million more. Since the eruption, the U.S. Government has supplemented
Guatemala’s effort to assist displaced persons and is helping develop a lahar
observation early warning notification system in order to mitigate the threats
of deadly lahar mudslides that often follow volcanic eruptions.
organized an active community-based tourism program in San Vicente Pacaya to
minimize the risk of armed robbery or mishap on Pacaya. Climbing volcanoes in
groups and with a guide is still highly advisable to reduce the risk of assault
and to mitigate the dangers of volcanic and weather conditions. Visiting
Guatemala’s picturesque volcanoes can be dangerous for even experienced
climbers. As recently as 2017, six experienced expatriate climbers, accompanied
by qualified guides, died due to exposure on the summit of the Acatenango volcano.
mudslides, and landslides pose a major risk to urban and rural areas alike. Mudslides
can easily overcome the poor road infrastructure. Drivers must exercise extreme
caution and patience during these periods. Landslides and flooding have
destroyed entire communities.
OSAC’s report, Central America Natural Disaster Emergency Planning: OSAC
Guidance and Resources; and read FEMA’s
Earthquake page, Drop Cover Hold On, the Red Cross Earthquake
Preparedness, and Terremotos, a California-specific site
containing useful guidance in Spanish for earthquake preparedness.
to the Directorate of Migration, the United States deported 54,160 Guatemalans back
to their home country in 2019, an increase of 2,784 from the year prior. Throughout
2019, the Guatemalan and U.S. governments worked closely on immigration issues
including the Safe Third Country Agreement. This bilateral work between both
nations has at times been the source of protests in the capital.
has a number of infrastructure concerns. Basic services, road infrastructure,
emergency services, and medical services barely meet the needs of the
still-growing population. The government has an extremely limited capacity to
respond to chemical/industrial accidents, and small incidents typically go
unreported. The government is also very limited in its technical ability to
monitor watershed runoff or air pollution from industrial processes, the most
controversial being mining.
U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement provides for
improved standards for the protection and enforcement of a broad range of
Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) consistent with U.S. standards of protection
and enforcement, as well as emerging international standards. Enforcement of
IPR laws, however, has been inconsistent. Authorities have pursued a number of
raids, cases, and prosecutions; however, resource constraints and lack of
coordinated government action impede efficient enforcement efforts. Piracy of copyright-protected
works and infringement of other forms of intellectual property such as
trademarks, including those of some major U.S. food and pharmaceutical brands
remains problematic. However, economic espionage does not appear to be a major
has one of the world’s highest rates of income inequality. More than half the
population lives in poverty, and the poverty rate has increased since 2006. The
creation of new jobs is not keeping pace with the country’s young population,
half of which is under the age of 25. Guatemala consistently ranks low in terms
of ease of doing business due to a history of corruption, weak enforcement of
laws, and poor infrastructure.
Personal Identity Concerns
should be especially careful when traveling alone. Review the State
Department’s webpage on security for female
law does not extend specific antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI+ individuals.
Efforts to pass laws against discrimination, including a Gender Identity Law,
encountered severe opposition among legislators. According to LGBTI+ activists,
gay and transgender individuals often experience police abuse. The local NGO
National Network for Sexual Diversity and HIV and the Lambda Association
reported that from April 20 through November 11, 2018 19 LGBTI+ persons were
killed, including several transgender individuals the NGOs believed to have
been targeted specifically due to their sexual orientation. In May 2019, a
parade in Guatemala City celebrated the International Day against Homophobia.
While the event transpired without any major violent incidents, many who
participated highlighted that 17 homicides against members of the LGBTI+
community had already occurred in 2019, signaling an increasing trend from 2018.
Disaggregated police data that captures crimes targeting persons who identify
as gay or transgender is currently not available. Thus, it is difficult to
determine the true severity of this issue. Review the State Department’s
webpage on security for LGBTI+
for major hotels, some government buildings and major museums that have access
ramps for people with disabilities, most buildings remain inaccessible. Mayan
ruins such as Tikal do not provide access for disabled people. Review the State
Department’s webpage on security for travelers
bulk of narcotics-related crimes occur near the Mexican border region. Guatemalan
criminal organizations usurp the territories of the more emboldened Mexican cartels.
Narco-traffickers are heavily armed and operate with relative impunity. Limited
Guatemalan resources make it difficult to combat narcotics trafficking
there is widespread trafficking in Guatemala, most activity does not affect the
general populace. There have been instances of homicides near clandestine
airfields and areas in Petén near the Mexican border, particularly along CA-13
between La Libertad and El Ceibo. Narco-traffickers tend to avoid confrontation
without provocation. The Guatemalan government reported the seizure of
nearly eleven tons of cocaine in 2019.
watershed event of 2019 was the murder of three Guatemalan military members on
September 3 in Izabal department by a group considered to be linked to drug trafficking.
In the wake of the murders, President Jimmy Morales declared a state of siege
in several departments and municipalities throughout the country. Just a few
weeks after declaring the state of siege, the Interior Minister reported that
cocaine was being produced in the country, and that Guatemala is no longer just
a transit point for drug shipments.
particular concern to businesses and landowners in remote regions of Guatemala
is the threat of narco-traffickers forcibly seizing land to facilitate the
landing and offloading of aircraft transporting large amounts of cocaine. Heavily
armed narco-traffickers invade properties, restrain all residents and/or
employees, and clear an area to land aircraft. Narco-traffickers then release the
families and employees and depart the area after offloading all drugs onto
are not as prevalent in Guatemala now as in the past. Given the complexity of
kidnapping and police attention to this type of crime, kidnapping is not as viable
a criminal enterprise as extortion. The kidnappings that do occur involve drug
traffickers. In these instances, narco-traffickers will use brutal force to
extort, kidnap, and kill victims. Some kidnapping groups kill their victims
regardless of a paid ransom. In 2018, the police recorded 28 legitimate
kidnappings while 17 were reported for 2019. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping:
the past year, the national police continued to be debilitated by mass firings of
senior officers. The uncertainty caused by the recurring dismissals hurt morale
and thrust lower level, less experienced officers into senior positions ahead
of schedule. Amid this weakening of the institution from within, there have
been spikes in violent crime in Guatemala’s red zones even as the nationwide
murder totals have decreased.
police lack sufficient personnel and training to accomplish their mission. They
suffer from a lack of supplies (e.g. vehicles, fuel, and ammunition) with little
improvement from year to year. Police investigations often fail to result in an
arrest, much less a conviction. Apart from impunity, a principal reason that
the government is unable to respond to the needs of crime victims, or to
prevent crime in the first place, is that the police force significantly lacks training
and funding. The average officer should have at least a high school degree (but
often has much less), has as little as six months of police training before
being sent out on the streets, and receives only $535 per month as salary.
Moreover, the annual police budget is inadequate to support its personnel,
vehicles, training, and other infrastructure needs. Although some units have adequate
equipment and training, they do not have the capacity to handle multiple
taskings or cases at the same time.
of crime should contact the following phone numbers for assistance: Police (911
equivalent): 110 or
120; Fire Department: 122 or 123. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims
groups should request security escorts. Security escorts for tourist groups and
security information are available from the Tourist Assistance Office (PROATUR)
of the Guatemalan Tourism Institute (INGUAT) at 7a Avenida 1-17, Zona 4, Centro
Cívico, Guatemala City. PROATUR division is available 24/7 for tourist
assistance and emergencies: Reach them at +502-2421-2810 or 1500, or by email.
wide range of medical care is available in Guatemala City, but medical care
outside the city is limited. Public hospitals frequently experience serious
shortages of basic medicines and equipment. Care in private hospitals is
generally adequate for most common illnesses and injuries, and many of the
medical specialists are U.S. trained and certified. Doctors and hospitals often
expect immediate cash payment for health services, although most private
hospitals accept major U.S. credit cards. Refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance
are some aerial medical evacuation (medevac) services in Guatemala. However,
these services are extremely expensive and frequently require payment before rendering
service. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical
evacuation to the United States can be costly. The U.S. Department of State
strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling
internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
Virus is present in Guatemala. The CDC offers additional information on
vaccines and health guidance for Guatemala.
Review OSAC’s reports, The
Healthy Way, Traveling
with Medication, I’m
Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken:
The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire
OSAC Country Council
Country Council in Guatemala City is active, meeting bi-monthly. Additionally, the Guatemala Country Council
hosts a Northern Triangle-focused OSAC conference every spring. Interested
private-sector security representatives should contact OSAC’s Latin America Team,
or the Country Council’s Public-Sector
Co-Chair or Private-Sector
Co-Chair with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Contact
Avenida Reforma 7-01, Zona 10, Ciudad de Guatemala
hours: 0800-1700 Monday-Thursday; 0800-1200 Fridays
+502-2326-4000; Emergency after-hours: +502-2331-2354
American Citizen Services e-mail:
you travel, consider the following resources: