Guatemala Energy and Environment Facts

Natural resources, energy and environment

Guatemala has natural resources such as oil and minerals, as well as hydropower and fertile soil. The energy demand is mainly covered by firewood, fossil fuels and hydropower. The extraction of natural resources causes both environmental problems and social conflicts.

The oil resources are mainly found in El Petén in the north. Recovery increased from the end of the 1990s but has declined again in recent years. High world market prices make the oil less competitive. The country lacks refining capacity and most of what is extracted is exported as crude oil.

  • COUNTRYAAH: Major exports by Guatemala with a full list of the top products exported by the country. Includes trade value in U.S. dollars and the percentage for each product category.

There are also assets of nickel, iron, gold, silver, lead, zinc and antimony, mainly in the western and northern parts of the country. Marble, limestone and gravel are extracted to some extent. Timber is also an important natural resource (see also Agriculture and Fisheries).

Firewood is the main source of energy and accounts for just over half of total energy consumption. In rural areas, the population is often completely dependent on wood burning for both heating, cooking and small-scale industries.

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About a third of electricity today comes from hydropower. The potential for hydroelectric power is great in Guatemala, which has many rivers and high altitude differences, but hydroelectric power’s share of electricity generation has decreased from more than half in the mid-1990s. Instead, mainly coal burning has increased and fossil fuels now account for almost 40 percent of electricity. Biofuels generate about 15 percent, while other renewable sources account for smaller proportions. However, investments are made on both solar and wind power. Nuclear power does not exist.

The electricity grid has been linked to Mexico since 2008. Five years later, the Central American electricity grid Siepac, which connects six countries down to Panama in the south, was inaugurated.

The oil drilling in the north has done great damage to the rich animal and plant life there, but there are signs of serious environmental degradation throughout the country. Mineral exploitation with mining, for example, has caused damage that has triggered protests both locally and internationally. Forest felling and soil erosion are also difficult problems. The mangrove swamp on the Pacific coast is threatened by both shrimp cultivation and sugarcane cultivation. In addition, the use of fossil fuels contributes to environmental problems.

There are many conflicts – many of them violent – concerning the mining industry, hydropower and land rights. According to the constitution, indigenous peoples should be asked about projects that affect their land, but the authorities rarely respect it. When it comes to underground resources, such as minerals and oil, a special mining law applies. Under this law, the underground assets belong to the state, which can sell them to foreign companies without consulting the area’s residents. Individual organizations have long demanded that the mining law be tightened.


Energy use per person

825 kilos of oil equivalent (2014)

Electricity consumption per person

575 kWh, kWh (2014)

Carbon dioxide emissions in total

18 328 thousand tonnes (2014)

Carbon dioxide emissions per inhabitant

1.2 tonnes (2014)

The share of energy from renewable sources

63.7 percent (2015)



Severe earthquake is affecting the country

About 50 people die in an earthquake that causes severe landslides and leaves tens of thousands of residents without electricity. The quake, whose center is off the Pacific coast, is the most powerful to hit the country since 1976, when 25,000 Guatemalans were killed in an earthquake.


Protesters are shot to death by military

Six people belonging to indigenous peoples are shot dead in a demonstration against the government in the province of Totonicapán in the west. The killing shots are fired by the military called to the scene to support the police. The incident brought new life to the debate over President Pérez Molinas’s criticized decision to allow the military to help the police maintain law and order (see January 2012). Nine soldiers are arrested for the shooting, including the commander of the force.


The National Police Chief is sentenced to prison

Another conviction falls during the civil war when a former national police chief is sentenced to 70 years in prison for the abduction and torture of a student in 1981. Pedro García Arredondo is the highest ranking police officer jailed for war crimes in Guatemala. He is also charged with murder.


Ministers injured in demonstration

During a demonstration in Guatemala City against higher rates for teacher training courses, dozens of people – including the interior minister and the education minister – are injured in clashes with police.


Mass protest against development project

Over 100,000 people take part in a more than a week-long protest march organized by indigenous groups. Demonstrators demand a halt to mining and hydropower projects on land used by indigenous people. They also demand that the land reform promised in the peace agreement be implemented.


The president wants to decriminalize drugs

At a Central American summit, Pérez Molina advocated the decriminalization of drugs, as a way to combat the widespread corruption and organized crime that followed in the drug trafficking trail in the region. Other Latin American presidents have proposed to him the legalization of marijuana.

Additional massacres

Yet another former soldier is sentenced to prison for his role in the 1982 massacre at Dos Erres (see August 2011 and December 2011). The man extradited from the United States in 2010 is sentenced to 6,060 years in prison – 30 years for each of the murders, and 30 years for crimes against humanity. Shortly afterwards, five former militia members are sentenced to similarly long sentences for another massacre, of 256 people in the village of Plan de Sánchez, also in 1982. In practice, a maximum of 50 years can be spent in prison in Guatemala.


Tax reform begins

Congress adopts the first part of a comprehensive tax reform, which the powerful business community has opposed. The law package is based on a proposal that Colom tried in vain to pass through during his four years in power. This means, among other things, that the tax levy as a percentage of GDP will increase to just over 13 percent within four years. At the same time, corporate income tax is reduced from 35 to 21 percent. Pérez Molina also launches an initiative called “Hambre Cero” (zero hunger), which reminds many of the representative of Colom’s poverty reduction. According to Pérez Molina, 49 percent of Guatemala’s population suffers from malnutrition.


Ex-dictator is charged with genocide

Former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt is placed under house arrest and charged with genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with massacres committed by the military against villagers during Ríos Montt’s tenure as president from 1982 to 1983. This has happened since his prosecution expired, as he is no longer a congressman (see November 2007). The prosecutor says Ríos Montt is behind 100 massacres which, in total, claimed nearly 1,800 lives and drove 29,000 people from their homes. A few months later, Ríos Montt is also charged with ordering the massacre in the village of Dos Erres in 1982 (see August 2011).

Pérez Molina takes over as president

January 14

Otto Pérez Molina takes over as president. One of his first steps is to order the military to assist the police throughout the country in the fight against organized crime.

Guatemala Energy and Environment Facts

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