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Democracy and Governance

Development Challenge

Democracy and governance is a relatively new sector for Guatemala. Since its new constitution was passed in 1985, the country has been led by democratically elected presidents and is making notable progress in consolidating democratic processes. Civil society is re-emerging and institutions are strengthening.

Still, development efforts are challenged and sometimes undermined by nearly complete impunity, corruption, lack of citizen security, increased organized crime, and weak rule of law. The context for these challenges includes a young population—almost half is less than 18 years of age; 51 percent of the population lives below the poverty line; and women and the indigenous suffer historical exclusion from political and socio-economic participation.

The Peace Accords were signed in December 1996 and put an end to the 36-year armed conflict that claimed more lives than the Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, and El Salvador conflicts combined. Justice for human rights abuses during the conflict has not yet been achieved despite efforts by civil society and government.

However, the Government of Guatemala and civil society have achieved important breakthroughs, including the creation of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala; the enactment of an organized crime law and a freedom of information law; the establishment of a forensic institute; and effective 24-hour trial courts in strategic urban locations. Local government is emerging as a focal point of citizen involvement, though greater citizen participation is essential to deepen democracy. 

Criminal activity, particularly narco-trafficking, gangs, and other organized crime, has risen significantly in the last few years and represents one of the most serious threats to stability since the armed conflict. Organized crime groups are successfully penetrating state agencies and taking over certain geographic regions. The homicide rate is one of the highest in the world at 47 per 100,000 inhabitants (2006). Laws are not enforced or implemented and Guatemalan Government institutions are weak.

Women and the indigenous are under-represented (women fall below the Latin America and Caribbean average of 17 percent representation in the national legislature). Over 1.2 million Guatemalans reside outside the country--with 97 percent living in the United States. Deportations from the United States have increased dramatically in the last few years, and the Guatemalan Government does not yet have a coherent public policy to provide services for its repatriated citizens. 

USAID Response

The Agency’s long-term goal is to support more transparent, responsive governance by achieving greater state and social capacity to prevent and combat violence and serious crime. Partnering with multiple entities, USAID supports the Government of Guatemala and civil society efforts to strengthen and expand democratic processes and to improve governance. 

USAID works in the main areas of rule of law and human rights, transparency and anti-corruption reforms, decentralization and local government, and governance of the security sector. Specific assistance is channeled through competitively selected implementing partners that work on specific areas such as: increased prosecutions, improved courts, reduced corruption, and expanded political inclusion. There is also a focus on helping municipal governments become more effective and responsive to citizens’ needs, improve security, and increase civic participation.

Projects also help to create alternatives to violence and crime for at-risk youth, and support reparations and prosecution of human rights violations that occurred during the 36-year armed conflict. Additionally, USAID supports the reintegration of Guatemalan citizens, especially women and minors, who return from the United States and Mexico, and supports the Government of Guatemala in its fight against trafficking in persons.  

Results and Accomplishments

Examples of USAID’s collaboration with the Government of Guatemala, civil society organizations, and private-sector entities include:

  • Fostered more free, fair, and accessible national elections in 2007, resulting in a historical increase of over 15 percent in rural area voter participation.
  • Created five 24-hour courts in metropolitan Guatemala City and one in Antigua.
  • Established a high-impact court and public prosecutor offices for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala.
  • Established the use of justice reform tools, including oral trials and the Criminal Procedures Code.
  • Moved watershed cases of human rights abuse forward, including prosecution of army officials for crimes committed during armed conflict.
  • Strengthened the Guatemalan Youth Alliance Association and its job placement program.
  • Provided start-up support for 19 youth outreach centers.
  • Established the Coalition for a Dignified Life for Youth and the Youth Movement Against Violence.
  • Supported the reform of the nomination process for the Supreme Court and appeals courts.
  • Contributed to the passage and implementation of the Freedom of Information Law (22 units set up for implementation).
  • Provided technical assistance to improve local governance and promote decentralization.
  • Facilitated the collaboration of school authorities, students, parents, and national civil police to prevent students from being recruited or threatened by gang members—in 2008, approximately 700 schools and 35,000 students benefitted.

Principal Current Implementing Partners



Implementing Partner

Against Violence and Impunity

DPK Consulting

Crime Prevention

RTI International

Decentralization and Local Governance

Associates in Rural Development, Inc. (ARD)

Justice, Harmony and Well-Being (PAJUST)

United Nations Development Program (UNDP)

Repatriate Support and Trafficking in Persons

International Organization for Migration(IOM) & Freedom House

Transparency and Integrity

Associates in Rural Development, Inc. (ARD)

Supreme Electoral Tribunal Strengthening

International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)

Repatriates Project

International Organization for Migration (IOM)


Last updated: July 03, 2014

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