Situation and cooperation

Ipala lagoon, Guatemala

Today, Guatemala is a country with democratic institutions; however, the impact of the civil war that lasted until 1996 still has an effect on society and progress in the country. A weak government and a parliament dominated by vested personal interests are common features of the political landscape in Guatemala. The party landscape is variable; so far, no governing party has ever been re-elected. Just like his predecessors, the current president is not backed by a parliamentary majority, leading to a lack of continuity in the work of the government. As a consequence, people still have little trust in democracy and the rule of law.


In 2015, a corruption scandal was brought to light that was followed by months of protest. It also implicated members of the government. The uninterrupted pressure from the protests finally forced the then president Pérez Molina and other members of the government to resign. In conformity with the provisions of the constitution, he was succeeded by Vice-president Alejandro Maldonado. In this context, presidential, parliamentary and local elections were held in September 2015. Jimmy Morales, former TV comedian and economist, won the presidential elections after having campaigned under the slogan "not corrupt, not a thief". He was sworn into office in January 2016.

One of the biggest challenges the new government is facing is the structural weakness of public institutions that continues to threaten the progress that has been achieved. The need for action is highest in the areas of social and rural development, fighting corruption, conflict management and the environment. In the most recent Corruption Perception Index compiled by the non-governmental organisation Transparency International, Guatemala ranks 123rd out of the 168 countries.

In August 2014, the then government presented a first comprehensive development strategy. The ambitious Plan K'atun 2032 was drawn up in cooperation with civil society actors and public authorities. Its primary goal is to half poverty in Guatemala by 2032. The name of the plan is derived from the K'atun unit of time used in the Mayan calendar, which is equal to approximately 20 years. The new government is supporting the plan and taking it forward.

The government is also endeavouring to implement transparency standards in managing the natural resources of the country. In March 2014, Guatemala met the standards of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) for the first time.

Human rights situation

Women at a market in Guatemala

Guatemala is a signatory to most of the international human rights treaties and conventions. In 2012, Guatemala also joined the International Criminal Court.

Both indigenous people and women in Guatemala, however, continue to be severely disadvantaged. They are frequently subjected to discrimination, for instance in terms of access to justice or education, and land and resources are distributed extremely unevenly. The indigenous population has very little say in political, economic and social decision-making processes even though Convention 169 (on the rights of indigenous people) of the International Labour Organization (ILO), which Guatemala has ratified, requires indigenous people to be consulted prior to any decisions relating to infrastructure projects.

Environment, climate change and agriculture

Coffee beans drying in the sun

Guatemala is one of the countries which may be particularly badly affected by the consequences of climate change in future. An increase in periods of drought, hurricanes and extreme rainfall is already apparent, continually resulting in dramatic crop failures and damaged infrastructure. In addition, Guatemala is constantly under threat of earthquake because it is located on the intersection of three tectonic plates. Although export-oriented agriculture in Guatemala is flourishing, there are more and more small farmers who are unable to sustain their families through crop cultivation. Since the end of 2012, a fungal disease of coffee plants has been causing additional problems (coffee leaf rust). Coffee rust causes trees to lose their leaves, especially above an altitude of 1,200 metres, thus destroying much of the harvest.

Development potential

Bus station in Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

As a producer of high-quality agricultural goods, Guatemala has great economic potential. It also has significant natural resources and good opportunities in terms of tourism, both for independent travellers and for ecotourism. The share of renewables in power generation already is as high as 65 percent; it is to be brought to 78 percent by 2026. There is huge potential in the field of hydropower; and geothermal energy could well be expanded, too. However, major investment projects in the energy and mining sector face a great deal of opposition from indigenous people due to many years of conflict over how to share out the benefits derived from these resources.

The Association Agreement signed in 2010 between the European Union and Central America is designed to dismantle trade barriers and open up markets. If Guatemala is able to implement the most important legal and security reforms, its young society – where the average age is roughly 20 – might help to reignite interest among foreign investors.

Priority areas of German cooperation with Guatemala

At government negotiations in Bonn in November 2014, Germany pledged 17.25 million euros for Technical Cooperation to its partner country Guatemala over a period of two years.

Cooperation is focused on three thematic areas, for which Germany is carrying out development activities mainly in the rural regions of Alta and Baja Verapaz, Huehuetenango and Quiché:

  • democratic governance with equity,
  • education,
  • the environment and adaptation to climate change.

In addition to bilateral development cooperation, Guatemala is benefiting from supra-regional German development cooperation projects carried out within the priority areas of environment, energy, sustainable economic development and the prevention of youth violence. This includes, for instance, programmes for the protection of tropical forests in the border region between Guatemala, Belize and Mexico ("Selva Maya") or the regional project "CONVIVIR", which is part of efforts to prevent youth violence in Central America.

The activities under German development cooperation focus on realising human rights, in particular the rights of indigenous people, women and young people.

Democratic governance with equity

Plaza Mayor, Guatemala City, Guatemala

The priority area of democratic governance with equity helps to promote local development, conflict prevention, peaceful conflict management and improvement of the tax system in Guatemala.

Projects in the field of good financial governance are aimed at raising the country's tax revenue and creating transparency in budget management. On behalf of the BMZ, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is advising the government on implementing the standards of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

In the area of local development, German development cooperation promotes public participation at municipal level and the improvement of public services both in terms of quantity and quality.

In the area of conflict prevention and peaceful conflict management, governmental and non-governmental players are being supported in implementing policy guidelines and reforms. Support is being provided for services in areas such as reconciliation and reparations, peaceful conflict transformation and public security. In a country in which many years of civil war have left their mark, Germany is thus helping to develop ways of peaceful conflict transformation.

The international community has been providing financial backing for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, CICIG) since 2007. CICIG is supporting the efforts of the Guatemalan police and judiciary to investigate criminal offences and contributing to the strengthening of government structures. It has already achieved measurable results. The rate of impunity for murder, for instance, has decreased from 95 per cent in 2009 to 70 per cent today. Germany is supporting CICIG by means of a Technical Cooperation project which includes institutional support and advisory services.


Young people in Guatemala

The aim of German development cooperation is to enable children and young people from poor, mostly indigenous families to access the basic education they need. By promoting the construction and extension of primary and secondary schools in Guatemala’s disadvantaged rural municipalities, and by providing them with better equipment, the quality of primary and in particular secondary education is being improved.

The programme "Educación para la Vida y el Trabajo" (education for life and employment, EDUVIDA) involves advisory services for the Guatemalan ministry of education on reforms of secondary education. The focus is on providing expertise and advice on skills development for teachers, development of curricula and education management.

The environment and adaptation to climate change

In 2013, Guatemala adopted a framework law on adaptation to climate change. Germany is supporting the government through its programme on rural development and adaptation to climate change. The purpose of cooperation in this area is to protect natural resources in rural areas and ensure that they are used in a way that is sustainable and climate-smart.

The implementation of a project on adaptation to climate change in the arid zone ("Corredor Seco") will begin in 2016. Even though it is a comparatively small country, Guatemala boasts immensely rich biodiversity, for instance in the cloud forests in the mountains. "Life Web I" and "Life Web II" (under preparation) are projects that are aimed at creating protected areas in order to conserve natural forests. There are also a number of regional forest protection projects being carried out in the country.


The Selva Maya biosphere reserve (in cooperation with Mexico and Belize), the Trifinio project in the region bordering El Salvador and Honduras, and the REDD regional project (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) concern the protection of forests and biodiversity. These projects are also aimed at furthering climate protection, making sustainable use of natural resources and creating alternative sources of income, in particular for indigenous people.

Coffee continues to be one of the main sources of income. That is why Germany is supporting a project that addresses coffee rust, a fungus that affects coffee plants. Information on biological pest control to fight the fungus is being made available to organic farmers in four provinces.

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