For general information about the country profiles click here.

guatemala-political-mapPopulation: 15,082,831

HDI ranking: 133/187

HDI score: 0.581

Recent decentralization efforts in Guatemala began in 2002. They have yielded a better balance of power and stronger, independent local governments. However, a low budget and small transfer of such from the central government hampers municipal development and successful implementation of policies (UCLG, 2008).  

Local governance at a glance

  • The country is divided into 22 departments and 332 municipalities. Each department is governed by a Departmental Council for Development, elected by a majority vote. A governor, chosen by the president, oversees the councils. Municipalities are governed by an elected municipal council and a mayor, who is directly elected by the people (UCLG, 2008).
  • At the national level, government officials from the Secretary of the Presidency address issues relating to decentralization on a monthly basis. The Ministry of the Interior oversees the authority of local governments (World Bank, 2005; UCLG, 2008).
  • Guatemala has no legislated subnational gender quotas (Quota Project, 2014).

Civil society actors include

  • The Association of Investigation and Social Studies (ASIES) supports activities that promote public participation. The association is a national forum for citizens to reflect and discuss political, social and economic concepts (ASIES, 2012).
  • Citizen Action is a branch of Transparency International that seeks to combat corruption in Guatemala and promote democracy and citizen participation (Citizen Action, 2012).

Capacity building institutions

Fiscal Control

  • Municipalities’ budgets are composed of both own limited revenues collected through taxes, and transfers from the central government. The 1985 Constitution states that 10% of general revenue from the central government  must be transferred to municipalities (World Bank, 2013).

Key Initiatives for participatory local governance

  • In 1985, Guatemala changed its constitution to include more democratic initiatives and begin to transition toward a decentralized state (IDB, 2001).
  • Guatemala’s return to democracy in 1994 started the decentralization process, defining “decentralization as an administrative and economic reform that should be based on citizen participation” (Ruano, 2012). Key laws and reforms regarding decentralization resulted from the Peace Accords of 1996 (Ruano, 2012).
  • In 2002, a Law of Decentralization, a revision of the Municipal Code, and a new social development council system were passed. This set of laws transferred powers and responsibilities to municipalities and other executive branches (Ruano, 2012).
  • The Guatemala Decentralization Forum, started in 2005, provides an organized agenda for government authorities to come together, discuss the challenges facing decentralization and meet different experts (World Bank, 2005).
  • The Guatemala Municipal Radio Training Program is a World Bank initiative aimed at improving Guatemala’s decentralization policy. The courses educate citizens, particularly community leaders, government officials and people interested in participating in the local government, about the law, how to formulate public requests and make municipal investments (World Bank, 2007).

Challenges for participatory local governance

  • One serious challenge that exists is mistrust within political parties. The level of power each party holds relies more on their monetary resources than their political views or citizen following (UCLG, 2008).
  • Municipalities face financial challenges: congress determines taxes, they are dependent on transfers from the central government, and their budget tends to be small (UCLG, 2008; World Bank, 2013).
  • Corruption remains a serious problem. In the Corruption Perception Index 2013, Transparency International (TI) ranked Guatemala 123rd out of 177 countries (TI, 2013).
  • An increase in organized crime puts the stability of different regions and the state as such at risk (USAID, 2014).

Recent posts on this website about this country:


List of sources:

American Development Bank (IDB), 2012: “Open Government and Targeted Transparency: Trends and Challenges for Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Association of Investigation and Social Studies (ASIES), 2012:

Citizen Action, 2012:

Guatemalan Association of Indigenous Mayors and Authorities (AGAAI), 2010:

Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), 2001: “Summary of Findings – Decentralization and Effective Citizen Participation: Six Cautionary Tales”

National Association of Municipalities of Guatemala (ANAM), n.d.:

Quota Project, 2014: “Guatemala.”

Ruano, A., 2012: “The role of social participation in municipal-level health systems: the case of Palencia, Guatemala.”

Transparency International (TI), 2013: “Corruption by country/territory. Guatemala.”

United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), 2008: “Republic of Guatemala country profile.”

USAID, 2014: “Guatemala. Democracy and Governance.”

World Bank, 2005: “The Guatemala Decentralization Forum.”

World Bank, 2007: “Guatemala Municipal Radio Training Program.”

World Bank, 2013: “Towards Better Expenditure Quality. Guatemala Public Expenditure Review.”