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Guatemala - US Relations

Relations between the United States and Guatemala traditionally have been close, although at times strained by human rights and civil/military issues. The United States is home to more than one million Guatemalans -- most of whom are there illegally -- who this year will send back to Guatemala over $4 billion in remittances (equal to 12% of GDP). In 2007, DHS deported more than 20,000 illegal Guatemalan immigrants, and US immigration reform is a topic of major interest.

U.S. policy objectives in Guatemala include:

  • Supporting the institutionalization of democracy and implementation of the peace accords;
  • Encouraging respect for human rights and the rule of law, and the efficient functioning of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG);
  • Supporting broad-based economic growth and sustainable development and maintaining mutually beneficial trade and commercial relations, including ensuring that benefits of CAFTA-DR reach all sectors of the Guatemalan populace;
  • Cooperating to combat money laundering, corruption, narcotics trafficking, alien-smuggling, and other transnational crime, including through programs funded under the Central American Regional Security Initiative; and
  • Supporting Central American integration through support for resolution of border/territorial disputes.

The United States, as a member of "the Friends of Guatemala," along with Colombia, Mexico, Spain, Norway, and Venezuela, played an important role in the UN-moderated peace accords, providing public and behind-the-scenes support. The U.S. strongly supports the six substantive and three procedural accords, which, along with the signing of the December 29, 1996 final accord, form the blueprint for profound political, economic, and social change. To that end, the U.S. Government has committed over $500 million to support peace implementation since 1997.

Violent criminal activity continues to be a problem in Guatemala, including murder, rape, and armed assaults against persons of all nationalities. In recent years the number of violent crimes reported by U.S. citizens has steadily increased, though the number of Americans traveling to Guatemala has also increased.

Most U.S. assistance to Guatemala is provided through the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) offices for Guatemala. USAID/Guatemala's current program builds on the gains of the peace process that followed the signing of the peace accords in December 1996, as well as on the achievements of its 1997-2004 peace program. The current program works to advance U.S. foreign policy objectives by focusing on Guatemala's potential as Central America's largest economy and trading partner of the United States, but also recognizes the country's lagging social indicators and high rate of poverty. The three areas of focus for USAID/Guatemala's program are modeled after the Millennium Challenge Account areas--ruling justly, economic freedom, and investing in people.

Guatemala and the United States were signatories to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (the Rio Treaty) in 1947, and for the next three decades a close military relationship existed between the two countries. American military personnel were assigned as advisers to the Guatemalan forces, which were armed with American weapons and used American military equipment almost exclusively. Guatemalan officers and NCOs regularly attended service schools in the United States and Panama under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program funded by the United States. In the mid-1960s, as the insurgency became more intense, the government reacted by building up its antiguerrilla forces and asking for additional United States aid and advisers. A controversy arose when the opposition claimed that United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets) were present in Guatemala not only as advisers but also as combat soldiers participating in the fighting against the insurgents.

Some American reporters on the scene substantiated the claim that Green Berets were in the country, but official sources stated that the number was very small and that they were forbidden to enter combat zones with their advisees. The presence of the Green Berets, whatever their number and role, provided the insurgents with powerful anti-United States propaganda, but the propaganda coup did not save the insurgents from defeat at the hands of government forces at that time.

From 1950 through 1977 almost 3,400 students attended courses at service schools in the United States and Panama. During the 1950s and 1960s about 115 Guatemalan students received such training annually, but during the 1970s that number had increased to about 140. From 1978 through 1982 no Guatemalan officers or NCOs were trained under IMET, but some training was resumed on a small scale in late 1982.

Direct American assistance and advice to the Guatemalan forces ended during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, which criticized the dismal civil rights record of successive military governments. The indignant Laugerud regime then rejected further aid. A small amount of American supplies and equipment continued to arrive in Guatemala during the period of the embargo because of contracts that had not been fulfilled before the ban and also because some items, such as jeeps, trucks, and helicopters, were classified as civilian rather than military equipment. The Guatemalans converted them immediately to military use, and their military helicopter fleet grew from nine in 1980 to 29 in 1983, although no military helicopters or gunships had been acquired.

At the end of 1982, after a Latin American trip by President Ronald Reagan, the official United States attitude began to change despite continued opposition in the United States Congress to renewing United States military aid to Guatemala. This opposition was based on alleged violations of human rights. Reagan, however, had conferred with Rios Montt, among other Central American leaders, and decided to authorize the sale of US$6.4 million in helicopter spare parts and other nonlethal military equipment. The decision was criticized by the British government because of its position as guarantor of territorial integrity to Belize, the former British colony; Guatemala claims a large portion of Belize. The Guatemalan government, however, declared that it lacked the foreign exchange required to purchase the military equipment.

Guatemala and Honduras have replaced Mexico as the top countries, a remarkable shift from only a few years ago. Migrant families from Central America cannot be easily deported, unlike single young men crossing from Mexico. While overall arrests at the border are still well below the highs of the early 2000s, U.S. officials this week released data showing March has been another month of increased arrivals at the southern U.S. border, especially by families with young children, largely from the Northern Triangle countries (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador).

Most people in Guatemalan farming towns like San Martin Jilotepeque have a relative or two living in the United States. Migrant remittances accounted for 11% of Guatemalan GDP in 2017, according to the IMF, a total of $8.2 billion. The United States is Guatemala's main trading partner, with bilateral trade of some $4.7 billion through May this year, Central Bank data showed.

President Donald Trump said 22 October 2018 the US "will now begin cutting off or substantially reducing" the amount of foreign aid given to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, saying they were "not able to do the job" of stopping migrants from leaving their countries and "coming illegally" to the US. US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen held high-level meetings with Mexican, Honduran, Guatemalan and Salvadoran officials, finalizing what DHS called a regional compact to "stem the flood of irregular migration and develop a regional approach to addressing the ongoing humanitarian and security emergency at our Southern Border." The agreement signed 28 March 2019 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, covers four broad areas: human trafficking and smuggling; transnational criminal organizations and gangs; information and intelligence sharing; and border security.

The same day, Trump tweeted "Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have taken our money for years, and do Nothing. The Dems dont care, such BAD laws. May close the Southern Border!"

Trump said 23 July 2019 he is considering a "ban," tariffs and remittance fees after Guatemala decided not to ink a safe third country agreement that would have required the poor Central American country to take in more asylum seekers. "Guatemala ... has decided to break the deal they had with us on signing a necessary Safe Third Agreement. We were ready to go," Trump tweeted. "Now we are looking at the 'BAN,' Tariffs, Remittance Fees, or all of the above. Guatemala has not been good," Trump wrote.

Guatemala has been transited by people seeking to migrate to the United States via Central America. The candidates in the 2019 presidential election avoided committing to a migration deal that President Jimmy Morales barred by Guatemalan law from seeking a second term had negotiated with the Trump administration. In a poll by Prodatos for the Prensa Libre newspaper, 82% of respondents opposed the deal. Under the terms of the deal, signed 26 July 2019, migrants fleeing persecution in El Salvador and Honduras would be forced to request asylum in Guatemala, a gateway to Mexico and the United States. In all but rare exceptions, those migrants who chose to continue north to the United States without first exploring their chances in Guatemala, would be returned to Guatemala by U.S. authorities.

Amnesty International, however, condemned the agreement, saying "any attempts to force families and individuals fleeing their home countries to seek safety in Guatemala are outrageous." In a statement, the group said, "The United States government knows well that conditions there are dangerous," adding that "there is no doubt that Guatemala should not be considered a safe place of refuge."

President-elect Alejandro Giammattei said 13 August 2019 that Guatemala will not be able to hold up its side of an immigration agreement with the United States by serving as a "safe third country" for asylum seekers. Giammattei told The Associated Press his country cannot tend to its own people, let alone those from other countries. The agreement signed with the United States in July by Guatemala's current administration would require asylum seekers from other countries transiting Guatemala to seek asylum here rather than in the U.S. "In order to be a safe country, one has to be certified as such by an international body, and I do not think Guatemala fulfills the requirements to be a third safe country. That definition doesn't fit us," said Giammattei, the conservative who won the presidential runoff election. "If we do not have the capacity for our own people, just imagine other people," Giammattei said. Guatemalans make up one of the largest groups emigrating from Central America because of poverty, unemployment and crime. Critics say it is hard to see how the country could offer a safe haven to migrants from other nations.

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Page last modified: 19-08-2019 16:19:22 ZULU