Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

Guatemala

Profile

Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 
16,600,000
Capital: 
Guatemala City
GDP/capita: 
$3,903
Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Overview: 

Organized crime and corruption severely impact the free functioning of government in Guatemala, which remains one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America. Indigenous peoples, women, and children continue to feel the brunt of this violence, with little recourse to justice. Journalists, activists, and public officials who confront crime, corruption, and other sensitive issues risk attack.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • In early September, President Jimmy Morales fired two high-ranking officers from the presidential security service after they came under investigation for unlawful surveillance of journalists, human right advocates, politicians, and business owners.
  • The attorney general pursued high-level corruption cases, but faced severe intimidation for her efforts, including death threats.
  • In February, in the Sepur Zarco trial, two officers were convicted of holding indigenous women in sexual slavery during the civil war. 
  • In April, the mandate of UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) was extended to 2019. 
Executive Summary: 

Guatemala’s attorney general and the UN-backed CICIG continued to investigate and prosecute high-level cases of corruption and criminal behavior in 2016, with some investigations targeting members of Morales’s administration and of his family. In September, Morales fired two high-ranking officers from the presidential security service after it emerged that they were being investigated for the unlawful surveillance of journalists, human right advocates, politicians, and business owners. Herbert Armando Melgar Padilla, a close advisor to the president, was also implicated. Around the time the spying allegations became public, Melgar Padilla had filled the seat of a congressman who suddenly stepped down, a development that allowed him to obtain parliamentary immunity.

The country’s homicide rate continued to drop in 2016, for the seventh straight year. However, Guatemala is still plagued by violence, much of which is related to criminal groups, and in 2016 officials reported 4,550 homicides. Human rights defenders, members of the media, as well as labor, land, and indigenous rights activists face threats when their work is perceived to interfere with such groups’ operations, or when it threatens to expose corruption.

Only a small number of perpetrators of human rights atrocities from the 1960–96 civil war have been prosecuted. In January 2016, 18 high-ranking officers were arrested in connection with massacres and disappearances in the 1980s. In February, there was a verdict in the Sepur Zarco trial against two officers. They were convicted for holding indigenous women in sexual slavery during the civil war. 

Aggregate Score: 
54
Freedom Rating: 
4.0
Political Rights: 
4
Civil Liberties: 
4

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