While Guatemala holds regular elections that are generally free, organized crime and corruption severely impact the functioning of government. Violence and criminal extortion schemes are serious problems, and victims have little recourse to justice. Journalists, activists, and public officials who confront crime, corruption, and other sensitive issues risk attack.
- During the year, Attorney General María Consuelo Porras—who was reappointed for another four-year term in May—continued to use her mandate to block high-profile corruption investigations and weaponize the justice system against independent anticorruption prosecutors. Judges and prosecutors working on corruption cases were removed, transferred, or prevented from taking their posts, and many faced threats, spurious criminal prosecutions, and were forced to leave the country.
- Judges and prosecutors engaged in efforts to bring past human rights abusers to justice also faced intimidation, harassment, and attacks during the year. In November, the judge in a high-profile case related to forced disappearances between 1983–85 was forced to resign and leave the country to avoid imprisonment on frivolous charges.
- The year saw a worsening climate of intimidation and attacks against civil society and members of the media, forcing several journalists and prominent human rights defenders to leave the country. Others were jailed on spurious charges, including prominent independent journalist José Rubén Zamora, who was arrested in July for alleged financial crimes; he remained in detention at year’s end.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution stipulates a four-year presidential term and prohibits reelection. In the August 2019 runoff, Alejandro Giammattei of the Vamos party won 58 percent of the vote, defeating former first lady Sandra Torres of the center-left National Unity for Hope party (UNE). While the results were judged as credible, Organization of American States (OAS) electoral observers noted irregularities including disturbances, ballot burning, voter intimidation, and acts of violence. Giammattei took office in January 2020.
The preelection period was marked by successful efforts to disqualify presidential candidates. In one instance, presidential candidate and former attorney general Thelma Aldana, who pursued a high-profile corruption case against former president Otto Peréz Molina, was barred and fled the country after receiving threats, allegedly issued by the targets of her investigations. In February 2022, international media outlets reported that Giammattei had received illicit funds for his presidential campaign; the president denied the accusations.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
Members of the unicameral, 160-seat Congress are elected to four-year terms. Legislators were elected in June 2019, concurrently with the first round of the presidential election and mayoral races. The UNE won 53 seats while Giammattei’s Vamos party won 16 seats. The Union of National Change (UCN) won 12, and the remaining 79 seats were split between 16 parties, none of which won more than 10 seats.
The 2019 election results were deemed credible, but observers noted irregularities, disturbances, and threats of violence. A number of local races were nullified or rescheduled by electoral authorities due to death threats against electoral officials and violent incidents. Election monitors received reports of discrimination against women officeholders and candidates.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||2.002 4.004|
In March 2020, after months of delay, Congress elected new Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) magistrates in a session featuring little transparency. Several of those elected are reportedly associated with officials accused of corruption and drug trafficking, and have been accused of falsifying their academic credentials.
Though campaigning ahead of the scheduled 2023 general elections is prohibited until January of that year, electoral authorities did not restrict campaign activities by the ruling party and other conservative parties in 2022. However, the TSE sanctioned the leader of the left-wing People’s Liberation Movement party (MLP) in August for “expressing an opinion” on national issues by retweeting the words “plurinational state.”
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
Political groups and organizations generally operate without encountering legal restrictions. However, new groups sometimes face bureaucratic delays from the TSE when attempting to register.
Elections take place within an inchoate multiparty system in which new parties are frequently created, often without sufficient resources and infrastructure to gain broad support. Poor enforcement of party finance regulations has allowed some candidates and parties access to vast resources.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
Elections at the national and local levels are competitive, and new parties routinely gain significant quotas of power. Guatemalan politics are unstable, and power rotates between parties frequently, which can discourage a traditional opposition from coalescing. At least 10 candidates were killed during the 2019 election period.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
Verbal harassment and physical violence against voters are common during elections and can deter political participation. Weak enforcement of campaign finance regulations has permitted lopsided resource advantages, as well as financing of candidates by special interests and organized criminal groups, distorting the political choices of citizens. Direct vote buying and use of public funds to influence the outcome of elections is also common. Observers reported that armed groups and criminal organizations have attempted to sway the results of local races.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
Members of ethnic and other minority groups struggle to fully exercise their political rights. There are no affirmative measures in place to promote the election of representatives of Indigenous peoples, who are underrepresented despite accounting for as much as 60 percent of the population. There are 16 Indigenous members of Congress, 4 of whom are women; approximately 25 percent of mayors elected in 2019 were Indigenous. No Indigenous persons or Afro-Guatemalans currently hold cabinet-level positions.
Women are underrepresented in politics, though small women’s rights groups have some visibility in the political sphere. Giammattei appointed three women ministers to his cabinet but two left their posts. Women hold only 31 seats in Congress, and only 11 mayorships out of 340.
The first openly gay man to enter Congress was elected in 2019; since then, he has been the target of attacks and homophobic messages, including from the president and fellow legislators. Political opportunities remain rare for LGBT+ people.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
The elected government and legislature determine government policies, but they are frequently subject to influence by outside interests. President Giammattei came to the presidency backed by a group of former military officials; such networks possess significant economic power and frequently oppose the peace process that Guatemala has been fitfully implementing since 1996.
Business groups continue to hold significant sway over all branches of government, and serve on the governing bodies of various public institutions. Organized crime groups have penetrated state institutions.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||0.000 4.004|
Corruption, which is often related to organized crime, remains a serious problem. Since the 2019 closure of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), authorities and lawmakers have obstructed the fight against corruption; prosecutions have stalled; and many high-profile cases have lost momentum or are being taken apart. Judges, prosecutors, and civil society actors committed to tackling corruption have increasingly been the targets of physical attacks, threats, malicious lawsuits, and defamation campaigns. As of October 2022, at least 25 judges and prosecutors have been forced into exile.
Since assuming office in 2018, Attorney General María Consuelo Porras has fired, transferred, or initiated frivolous cases against numerous anticorruption prosecutors and independent judges. In 2021, Porras conducted the unlawful and arbitrary removal of the head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI). In June and July 2022 alone, Porras removed 8 prosecutors and 11 administrative officials.
Recent investigations of electoral and party finance corruption have shed light on the influence of unelected and illicit groups over the government. Serious allegations link drug trafficking to political elites.
In 2021 and 2022, the US government sanctioned several former and current Guatemalan government officials, including Attorney General Porras and at least 10 judges and prosecutors, for corruption-related offenses.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because the Giammattei administration has effectively dismantled anticorruption safeguards by aggressively prosecuting judges and anticorruption officials on frivolous charges.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
Public information offices frequently fail to publish data about public expenditures as required. The Law on Access to Information is poorly enforced; nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continue to file grievances over this lack of enforcement and, together with the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office (PDH), work to encourage the government to adhere to the law’s provisions.
Contracting and budgeting processes are opaque and racked with corruption, which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the easing of procurement requirements.
In May 2022, the police suspended the publication of official data documenting homicides in the country, claiming that the information was confidential.
|Are there free and independent media?||1.001 4.004|
While the constitution protects freedom of speech, journalists self-censor when covering sensitive topics including drug trafficking, corruption, organized crime, and human rights violations. Public officials, illicit actors, the police, and individuals aligned with companies operating on Indigenous lands routinely threaten media workers.
Attacks, threats and spurious legal cases against journalists increased during 2022. According to the Guatemalan Association of Journalists, as of August 2022, there had been 350 attacks on the press during the Giammattei administration. In March, criminal proceedings were filed against journalist Juan Luis Font alleging unlawful association with former anticorruption judge Erika Aifán. Font left the country for fear of harassment. In July 2022, leading independent journalist José Rubén Zamora, the founder and president of prominent newspaper elPeriódico, was arrested on financial crimes charges, and authorities raided his home and elPeriódico’s offices. In December, a judge ruled that Zamora must stand trial; he remained in detention at year’s end. Financial problems forced the paper to cease its print publication at the beginning of December. Zamora’s arrest has been widely condemned as an attempt by the government to stifle political dissent.
The government made no progress in implementing the 2012 protection program for journalists. The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Journalists is under-resourced and has been the target of surveillance.
Rural, Indigenous, and women journalists are afforded little protection from discrimination, threats, and frivolous legal action, and reporters covering regional news suffered attacks and detentions on several occasions in 2022. Women journalists have been the target of sexual harassment on social media.
Media ownership is highly concentrated, and independent media outlets face financial constraints due to decreasing advertisement revenue. The government has failed to act on a December 2021 ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) mandating that Indigenous communities be provided equitable access to radio frequencies. The country’s cybercrime laws have failed to protect outlets and reporters from harassment by trolls for hire, while public officials abuse unrelated laws to censor media outlets.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because the government has intensified its crackdown on journalists and media organizations, including by arresting the founder and president of one of the country’s most prominent newspapers, elPeriódico.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution guarantees religious freedom, and individuals are free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
Although the government does not interfere with academic freedom, scholars have received death threats for questioning past human rights abuses or continuing injustices.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2.002 4.004|
Many Guatemalans take precautions when speaking about social and political issues outside of their homes due to a high level of insecurity in the country. Journalists and human rights defenders have reported incidents of harassment and surveillance, which, along with increased intimidation and harassment of perceived opponents of the government, has encouraged greater self-censorship among ordinary citizens.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but this right is not always protected. Police frequently threaten and at times use violence against protesters. Protests related to environmental or Indigenous rights have been met with harsh resistance from the police and armed groups.
The Giammattei administration has declared states of prevention and siege, emergency measures that enable the government to restrict constitutional guarantees, in response to protests.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees freedom of association, and a variety of NGOs operate. However, groups associated with Indigenous, environmental, and human rights face increasing violence and criminalization of their work. Several defenders have been forced to leave the country for fear of persecution, while lawyers defending human rights activists have been attacked and threatened. Between January and July 2022, 589 attacks against human rights defenders were registered by the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), a local NGO, marking an increase from previous years. Three activists were murdered during the year.
In November 2022, UDEFEGUA stated that the government has failed to fulfill the obligations of a 2014 ruling by the IACHR requiring the development of a comprehensive public policy to protect human rights defenders.
In July 2021, controversial and restrictive legislation targeting NGOs went into effect, giving such organizations until February 2022 to register or face dissolution. Implementation of the law has been slow, and according to the agency overseeing the process, only around 11 percent of NGOs complied with the deadline.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
Guatemala is home to a vigorous labor movement, but workers are frequently denied the right to organize and face mass firings and blacklisting. Trade union members are also subject to intimidation, violence, and murder, particularly in rural areas. Labor laws obstruct union membership and impede strikes.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
The judiciary is hobbled by corruption, inefficiency, incapacity, and the intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses by outside actors and influential judicial figures. Those overseeing high-profile corruption and human rights cases have been removed, transferred or prevented from taking their posts; some have been subjected to threats, faced criminal prosecution, or forced to leave the country. In February 2022, the Supreme Court stripped prominent anticorruption judge Pablo Xitumul of his judicial immunity. Xitumul was subsequently suspended from his post.
In May, María Consuelo Porras was reappointed to another four-year term as attorney general in a controversial process. Porras has repeatedly blocked high-profile corruption investigations and weaponized the justice system against prosecutors, lawyers, and judges involved in the fight against corruption. In February, former FECI anticorruption prosecutor Virginia Laparra was arrested on specious charges of “continuous abuse of authority” and placed in preventive detention; Laparra was convicted of the charges in December and given a four-year prison sentence.
Corruption has also affected the process to select new Supreme Court and appellate court judges, which has remained stalled since 2019.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Due process rights are guaranteed in the constitution, but those rights are inconsistently upheld, due in part to corruption in the judiciary and an ineffective police force in which many officers routinely violate the law and the rights of citizens. Access to justice remains difficult, especially for Indigenous people. Conviction rates are low.
Judges and prosecutors have reported an increase in threats and harassment, smear campaigns, and malicious criminal and disciplinary complaints in apparent retaliation for their work on sensitive cases related to corruption and human rights abuses.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
High levels of violence, kidnappings, and extortion at the hands of the police, drug traffickers, and street gangs continue, with related fears and violence routinely affecting the lives of ordinary people. Links between the state, politicians, the military, and illicit actors complicate a cohesive response to the country’s security challenges. In 2022, the country’s homicide rate increased for the second year in a row. The police recorded 3,043 homicides during the year, compared to 2,843 in 2021, marking a 7 percent increase. Prison facilities are grossly overcrowded and rife with gang- and drug-related violence and corruption. Prison riots are common and are frequently deadly.
Efforts to bring perpetrators of past human rights abuses to justice have been significantly hampered by intimidation campaigns against those involved in the process. In January 2022, five former paramilitary members were convicted of sexual violence offenses committed during the war, and in February, a former military commissioner was found guilty of the 1983 forced disappearances of three social leaders and sentenced to 45 years in prison. In May, nine retired military and police officers were sent to trial in connection to the Death Squad Dossier, a record of forced disappearances between 1983–85. However, the judge and others working on the case have been subjected to numerous threats and attacks; the judge resigned and left Guatemala in November.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1.001 4.004|
Equal rights are guaranteed in the constitution, but minorities continue to face unequal treatment. Indigenous communities suffer from high rates of poverty, illiteracy, and infant mortality. Indigenous women are particularly marginalized. Discrimination against the Mayan community is a major concern.
LGBT+ people face discrimination, violence, and police abuse and are unprotected by legislation. The PDH has stated that people living with HIV/AIDS also face discrimination.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, but women continue to face gender-based inequality; women are usually paid less for their labor than men, and sexual harassment in the workplace is not penalized.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
While there are no permanent restrictions on free movement, violence and the threat of violence by gangs and organized criminal groups inhibits this right in practice and has prompted the displacement of thousands of people. Movement is regularly restricted due to government-imposed states of siege and prevention. In 2022, a state of siege was imposed in two Indigenous communities due to violent land disputes.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
Protections for property rights and economic freedom rarely extend beyond those with wealth and political connections. Land protections are especially limited for Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women, despite a series of Constitutional Court rulings in 2020 that reinforced communal landholding rights in Indigenous communities. The 2020 closing of the Secretariat for Agrarian Affairs has stalled dialogues to resolve land conflicts and led to more evictions of Indigenous communities. At least four violent evictions of Indigenous communities took place during 2022.
In January, the Ministry of Energy and Mines granted the El Estor mine permission to resume operations after consultations with the community; however, those who engaged in the 2021 protests over the mine were excluded.
Business activity is hampered by criminal activity, including extortion and fraud. An inefficient state bureaucracy, rife with unclear and complicated regulations, also contributes to difficulties in establishing and operating a business.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Physical and sexual violence against women and children remains high, with perpetrators rarely facing prosecution. Femicides nearly doubled during the first five months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. According to the attorney general’s office, 469 women were victims of femicide in 2022.
The law permits abortion only when a pregnancy threatens the life of the woman. However, legal abortion care is difficult to access in practice. In March, Congress passed a bill that would have increased restrictions on legal abortion and imposed up to 10 years’ imprisonment for women who illegally obtained abortions. Days later, partly in response to widespread backlash, Giammattei said he would veto the bill, and Congress shelved it.
Teen pregnancy rates remain high; in 2017, underage marriages were outlawed, though the law is not effectively enforced.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1.001 4.004|
Indigenous peoples’ access to economic opportunities and socioeconomic mobility remains limited, with more than 70 percent of the population living in poverty. Income distribution across the entirety of the Guatemalan population is among the most unequal worldwide, with the wealthiest 10 percent of the population receiving nearly 50 percent of the total income nationally. Significant barriers to accessing education persist, particularly for girls, Indigenous children, and rural residents. Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which struck in 2020, caused widespread damage largely in majority-Indigenous areas and further deepened these challenges.
Child labor persists, especially among Indigenous children. Sexual exploitation particularly affects vulnerable groups including children, LGBT+ people, and Indigenous people. Gangs often force children and young men to join their organizations or perform work for them.
See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.See More
Global Freedom Score49 100 partly free