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I. Functioning of the National Congress
According to the Organic Law of the Legislative Body, the President of the Guatemalan Congress is the highest-ranking official of the legislative body and is, in turn, the President of the Legislative Body, Board of Directors, Internal Regime Commission, and Permanent Commission.
One of the functions of the President of the Congress is that in cases of urgency, he or she may designate specific commissions or entrust certain functions to one or more members of Congress (Diputados). The President reports these acts to the plenary sessions of the Congress within the first two subsequent sessions. The Congress includes among its 38 Committees the Health and Social Assistance Committee and the National Security Affairs Committee, both of which handle the subject matter under their jurisdictions.
II. Emergency Parliament
The Organic Law of the Legislative Body does not provide any arrangements in national legislature for a designated subgroup of members to constitute a kind of “emergency parliament” with devolved powers from the entire Congress to address crisis situations. Neither does the Organic Law appear to address how the legislature is to operate its offices when its members and staff are unable to travel or be “out and about.”
The Constitution mandates that the Law of Public Order (Ley de Órden Público) is to establish the measures and powers to be employed in extraordinary cases, such as in a state of prevention, alarm, or public calamity, among others. Under the Law on Public Order of 1965, immediately after the President of the Republic issues a decree establishing a state of prevention, alarm, or public calamity, the Congress must be informed and must ratify, modify, or disapprove of the decree. The statute does not specify what procedure the legislative body must follow to ratify, modify, or disapprove of a presidential decree declaring a state of prevention, alarm, or public calamity.
III. Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Constitution specifies the functions of the President of the Republic, among them the power to dictate the provisions that are necessary in cases of a serious emergency or public calamity, and provides that they should immediately be reported them to Congress. Under the Law of Public Order, the Guatemalan President may take a variety of measures considered necessary when he or she declares a state of public calamity.
On March 5, 2020, the President exercised the functions conferred by the Constitution and the Law on Public Order and promulgated Decree 5-2020 declaring a state of public calamity for a period of 30 days throughout the national territory as a consequence of the World Health Organization’s pronouncement of the COVID-19 epidemic as a public health emergency of international importance and in response to the Plan for the Prevention, Containment and Response to Cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Guatemala issued by the country’s Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance. The President’s Decree implements a series of measures, including but not limited to the following:
- limits the right to free movement of vehicles and people
- limits outdoor meetings
- prohibits public performances
- requires individuals and institutions to provide the aid and cooperation that are essential for better control of the situation in the affected area
- sets maximum or minimum prices for (and prevents hoarding of) goods, supplies, and services that have some kind of relationship to the prevention, treatment, containment, and response to COVID-19, and for related medical procedures
- orders the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance to carry out the medical evacuation of nationals, foreigners, residents, or persons in transit who are suspected of having, have symptoms of, or are declared to be carriers of COVID-19, and gives the Ministry the authority to isolate or quarantine patients
- orders the appropriate institutions to conduct surveillance and monitoring of border posts, ports, and airports in relation to travelers and crew members from countries with confirmed cases of COVID-19, empowering them to carry out the necessary procedures to ensure compliance with this decree
On March 13, 2020, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei announced on national television that due to the emergency caused by the expansion of COVID-19 cases, the entry of foreigners to the country from the United States and Canada is prohibited. The measure took effect at midnight on March 16. Guatemalan citizens coming from these two countries will be allowed to enter the territory as long as they submit to sanitary measures and immediately quarantine themselves in their homes.
The US and Canada joined several other countries whose citizens had already been banned from entry, which, as the president described in his message, include Korea, Japan, China, Italy, France, Spain, England, and Iran.
Prepared by Norma Gutiérrez
Foreign Law Specialist
 Id. art. 18(l).
 Id. art. 31(26) &(38).
 Constitución Política de la República de Guatemala art. 183(f).
 Decreto No. 7, Dec. 9, 1965, Ley de Órden Público, art. 15.
 Decreto Gubernativo 5-2020, DCA, Mar. 6, 2020.
 Id. art. 5.
Last Updated: 12/30/2020