Guatemala Public Announcement
Issued by US Department of State
May 04, 2005
This Public Announcement is being issued to remind U.S. citizens of the continuing serious security situation in Guatemala. This Public Announcement expires on November 3, 2005.
U.S. citizens are urged to be especially aware of safety and security concerns when traveling in Guatemala. Although the majority of travelers visit Guatemala without mishap, violent criminal activity on the highways in Guatemala continues, and the number of armed robberies on city streets and in private homes is increasing. Crimes against foreigners have included murder, rape, and armed robbery. Criminals in Guatemala are extremely opportunistic; all travelers should remain vigilant and take appropriate measures to limit risk and losses. Assailants often respond violently if they perceive resistance from their victims.
Robberies in homes occur when criminals impersonate delivery personnel or repairmen, or forcibly accompany guests or family members through an open gate to gain entry to a home. Urban bandits operate freely on city streets, including major hotel and restaurant districts, and use a variety of weapons to steal briefcases, laptop computers, purses, and backpacks.
Although fewer highway robberies have been reported recently, violent criminal activity on the highways in Guatemala continues and tourists, among others, have been targeted. Buses of all categories, tour vans and private vehicles have been stopped, with drivers and passengers robbed, sometimes violently. Armed robbers have intercepted vehicles on main roads in broad daylight. Highway bandits have committed rape in the commission of robberies.
The most common highway robberies involve pickup trucks pulling up next to the victims' moving vehicle with occupants brandishing weapons, or impromptu blockades on isolated roads forcing vehicles to stop. Travel on secondary roads increases the risk of encountering a criminal roadblock; robbers have used mountain roads advantageously to stop buses, vans and cars in a variety of ways. The roads around Lake Atitlán that connect the neighboring towns have little security and visitors have been stopped and robbed.
Gangs are a growing concern, both in Guatemala City and in rural Guatemala. Gang members are often well-armed and prone to unprovoked violence. Gangs are believed to be responsible for a substantial increase in violent robberies on inter- and intra-city buses; U.S. Mission personnel are not permitted to travel on these buses. Mission personnel continue to observe heightened security precautions in Guatemala City and on the roads outside the capital city.
There is little evidence of effective investigation of these crimes or arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators. The police suffer from corruption, inexperience and lack of funds, and the judicial system is weak, overworked, and inefficient. Criminals, at times armed with an impressive array of weapons, know there is little chance they will be caught and punished. In some cases, assailants have been wearing full or partial police uniforms and have used vehicles that resemble police vehicles, indicating some elements of the police might be involved.
Large demonstrations occur throughout Guatemala, often with little or no notice. Most demonstrations are peaceful. However, even if the police are present, crowd control can be haphazard or spotty. Because demonstrations can become violent without warning, travelers should avoid large crowds and public gatherings that lack sufficient security. Blocking of highways and seizure of public facilities, occasionally including the international airport, is a common tactic, and demonstrators may keep tourists caught behind blockades from leaving.
U.S. citizens who are victims of crime are urged to contact the Consular Section of the Embassy for advice and assistance. U.S. citizens should update their registration and contact information at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/registration/registration_1186.html or at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City. The Embassy is located at Ave. la Reforma 7-01, Zona 10. The Consular Section telephone number is (502) 2326-4405, the fax for the office of American Citizen Services is (502) 2332-4353, the Embassy website is http://usembassy.state.gov/guatemala/, and the e-mail address is: [email protected] The Embassy telephone number for after-hours emergency assistance is (502) 2331-2354.
More information about tourist security is available from the Tourist Protection Office of INGUAT (the Guatemalan Tourist Board) at 7a Avenida 1-17, Zona 4 Centro Cívico, Ciudad de Guatemala or on the INGUAT webpage: www.visitguatemala.com. The direct telephone line for tourist assistance is (502) 2-421-2810 or 2421-2800, extensions 1300, 1301, 1305 or 1306. The general INGUAT office telephone number is (502) 2-421-2879, and the fax is (502) 2-421-2891. The e-mail address is [email protected] For emergencies, INGUAT may be reached 24 hours, seven days a week at (502) 2421-2810 or (502) 5578-9836. The INGUAT office may also be reached toll free from within Guatemala at 1-(801) 464-8281, or toll free from the United States at 1-(888) 464-8281.
Tourist groups may request security assistance from INGUAT, Attention: Coordinator of the National Tourist Assistance Program. The request should be submitted by fax, e-mail, or special messenger service and should arrive at INGUAT at least three business days in advance of the proposed travel, giving the itinerary, names of travelers, and model and color of vehicle in which they will be traveling. Travelers should be aware that INGUAT has very limited personnel and resources.
Updated information on travel and security for Guatemala may be obtained from the Department of State by calling 1-888-407-4747 within the U.S., or from overseas, 1-202-501-4444. U.S. citizens should consult the Consular Information Sheet for Guatemala, the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, and the travel publication A Safe Trip Abroad, all of which are available on the State Department's Internet site at http://travel.state.gov.