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Guatemala

Guatemala - US Consular Information Sheet
October 13, 2006
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Guatemala has a developing economy, characterized by wide income disparities.
Hotels and other tourist facilities in the principal tourist sites most freq
ented by visitors from the United States are generally good to excellent.
A peace accord, signed in 1996, ended a 36-year armed conflict.
Violent crime, however, is a serious concern due to endemic poverty, an abundance of weapons, a legacy of societal violence, and dysfunctional law enforcement and judicial systems.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Guatemala for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid U.S. passport is required for all U.S. citizens, regardless of age, to enter Guatemala and to depart Guatemala for return to the U.S.
Even if dual nationals are permitted to enter Guatemala on a second nationality passport, U.S. citizens returning to the United States from Guatemala are not allowed to board their flights without a valid U.S. passport.
Guatemalan authorities do not accept Certificates of Naturalization, birth certificates, driver's licenses, and photocopies as alternative travel documents.
While in Guatemala, U.S. citizens should carry their passports, or a photocopy of their passports, with them at all times.

An exit tax must be paid when departing Guatemala by air.
The exit tax (currently $30) is generally included in an airline ticket price, but may be charged separately.
There is an additional airport security fee (20 Quetzales, approximately $2.50) that all travelers must pay at the airport.

Minors under 18 traveling with a valid U.S. passport need no special permission from their parents to enter or leave Guatemala.
U.S. citizens do not need a visa for a stay of 90 days or less (that period can be extended for an additional 180 days upon application to Guatemalan immigration).

A U.S. citizen whose passport is lost or stolen in Guatemala must obtain a new passport at the U.S. Embassy as soon as possible and present it, together with a police report of the loss or theft, to the Dirección de Migración (Guatemalan immigration agency), Sub-director de Control Migratorio (Sub-director for Migratory Control), to obtain permission to depart Guatemala.
The agency is located in Guatemala City at 6 Avenida 3-11, Zone 4, Guatemala City.
Office hours are weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; telephone 2411-2411.
No fee is charged by Guatemalan immigration for this service.

In June 2006, Guatemala entered a "Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement" with El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
Under the terms of the agreement, citizens of the four countries may travel freely across land borders from one of the countries to any of the others without completing entry and exit formalities at Immigration checkpoints.
U.S. citizens and other eligible foreign nationals, who legally enter any of the four countries, may similarly travel among the four without obtaining additional visas or tourist entry permits for the other three countries.
Immigration officials at the first port of entry determine the length of stay, up to a maximum period of 90 days.
Foreign tourists who wish to remain in the four country region beyond the period initially granted for their visit are required to request a one-time extension of stay from local Immigration authorities in the country where the traveler is physically present, or travel outside the CA-4 countries and reapply for admission to the region.
Foreigners "expelled" from any of the four countries are excluded from the entire "CA-4" region.
In isolated cases, the lack of clarity in the implementing details of the CA-4 Border Control Agreement has caused temporary inconvenience to some travelers and has resulted in others being fined more than one hundred dollars or detained in custody for 72 hours or longer.

See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Guatemala and other countries.

For further information regarding entry, exit and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Guatemalan Embassy at 2220 R Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008; telephone (202) 745-4952, extension 102; fax (202) 745-1908; e-mail at info@guatemala-embassy.org; Internet web site - http://www.guatemala-embassy.org or contact the nearest Guatemalan consulate (Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, or San Francisco).

See Entry and Exit Requirements for more information pertaining to dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction.
Please refer to our Customs Information to learn more about customs regulations.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Violent criminal activity has been a problem in all parts of Guatemala for years, including murder, rape, and armed assaults against foreigners.
The police force is inexperienced and under-funded, and the judicial system is weak, overworked, and inefficient.
Well-armed criminals know that there is little chance they will be caught and punished.
Traditionally, Guatemala experiences increases in crime before and during the Christmas and Easter holiday seasons.
Large demonstrations occur throughout Guatemala, often with little or no notice, and they can cause serious traffic disruptions.
Although most demonstrations are peaceful, they can turn violent, and travelers should avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place.
The use of roadblocks and/or blocking of public facilities, including the international airport, has increased and demonstrators may prevent tourists caught behind the blockades from leaving.

Due to uncontrolled drug and alien smuggling, the Guatemalan border with Mexico is a relatively high-risk area, in particular in the northern most Peten Department.
The most dangerous area in that region is on the northwestern border of the Peten, in the area including the Sierra de Lacandon and Laguna del Tigre National Parks.
Extra precautions are required when travel by U.S. Government personnel to the region is required.

In October 2005 Hurricane Stan caused widespread flooding and landslides on Guatemala's Pacific coast and in many parts of the Highlands, affecting a number of tourist destinations frequented by foreign travelers.
All major highways and tourist destinations reopened by the end of the month, and most secondary routes are also fully open.
Temporary repairs are still in place; some have already been washed out and others will likely fail during the current rainy season (May through October).
The following recommendations will help residents and visitors alike to increase their safety:

Avoid gatherings of agitated people.
Guatemalan citizen frustration with crime and a lack of appropriate judicial remedies has led to violent incidents of vigilantism, including lynching, especially in more isolated, rural areas.
Attempting to intervene may put you at risk of attacks from mobs.

Avoid close contact with children, including taking photographs, especially in rural areas.
Such contact can be viewed with deep alarm and may provoke panic and violence.
Rumors of foreigners stealing children surface periodically and can provoke a violent response towards strangers.
Foreign tourists have been attacked by mobs and some years ago one was killed while photographing children.

Keep informed of possible demonstrations by following the local news and consulting hotel personnel and tour guides.
Avoid areas where demonstrations are occurring.

Strong currents, riptides, and undertow along Guatemala's Pacific Coast beaches pose a serious threat to even the strongest swimmers.
Signs warning of treacherous surf are rare and confined mostly to private beaches owned by hotels.
Lifeguards are rarely present on beaches.

Tourists planning to climb Pacaya and Agua volcanoes during Guatemala's rainy season (May through October) should plan their climb for the morning hours, when it is less likely that thunderstorms will occur.
Climbers should monitor the weather situation and return to the base of the volcano as quickly as safely possible if thunderstorms gather.
In 2003, a Canadian tourist was killed by lightning while climbing Pacaya.
INGUAT, the Guatemalan Tourist Institute, has organized an active community-based tourism program in San Vicente Pacaya to minimize the risk of armed robbery on Pacaya.
Climbing in groups is still highly advisable for any volcano climb to reduce the risk of assault.

Security escorts for tourist groups and security information are available from the Tourist Assistance Office of INGUAT (the Guatemalan Tourist Institute) at 7a Avenida 1-17, Zona 4 Centro Cívico, Ciudad de Guatemala.
INGUAT's 24 hour/seven days per week direct telephone numbers for tourist assistance and emergencies are (502) 2421-2810 and (502) 5578-9836 and the fax is (502) 2421-2891.
INGUAT may be reached by its toll free number within the United States at 1-888- 464-8281.
You may also simply dial 1500 in Guatemala to reach INGUAT Tourist Assistance.
The e-mail address is asistur@inguat.gob.gt.
Travelers may also wish to visit INGUAT's website, http://visitguatemala.com.
Tourist groups are advised to request security escorts from INGUAT, Attention: Coordinator of the National Tourist Assistance Program.
There have been no incidents of armed robbery of groups escorted through the Tourist Protection Program.
The request should be submitted by mail, fax or e-mail 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 might not be able to accommodate all requests.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
The number of violent crimes reported by U.S. citizens and other foreigners has remained high in recent years.
Incidents include, but are not limited to, assault, theft, armed robbery, carjacking, rape, kidnapping, and murder.
Criminals often operate in groups of four or more and are confrontational and violent.
Gangs are a growing concern in Guatemala City and rural Guatemala.
Gang members are often well armed with sophisticated weaponry and they sometimes use massive amounts of force.
Emboldened armed robbers have attacked vehicles on main roads in broad daylight.
Travel on rural roads always increases the risk of a criminal roadblock or ambush.
Widespread narcotics and alien smuggling activities can make remote areas especially dangerous.
Though there is no evidence that Americans are particularly targeted, criminals look for every opportunity to attack, so all travelers should remain constantly vigilant.

Most tourists and visitors travel throughout Guatemala without mishap.
However, violent criminal activity on the highways continues, and tourists, among others, have been targeted.
Many of the robbery attempts have occurred in daylight hours on main highways.
Carjacking incidents and highway robberies are often violent.
Four Americans were killed in highway robbery attempts in 2002 and three killed and one wounded in 2003.
In 2004 one American tourist was murdered, and women and children were raped in highway assaults.
Several highway assaults of American citizens also took place in 2005, but without serious injury to the victims.
In some cases, assailants have been wearing full or partial police uniforms and have used vehicles that resemble police vehicles, indicating that some elements of the police might be involved.
Armed robberies have occurred within minutes of the tourist's vehicle being stopped by the police.
U.S. Embassy personnel continue to observe heightened security precautions in Guatemala City and on the roads outside the capital city.
U.S. tourists are urged to be especially aware of safety and security concerns when traveling on the roads in Guatemala.
Rather than traveling alone, use a reputable tour organization.
Stay in groups; travel in a caravan consisting of two or more vehicles; and, stay on the main roads.
Ensure that someone not traveling with you is aware of your itinerary.
Resist the temptation to stay in hotels that do not have adequate security.
Travel after dark anywhere in Guatemala is extremely dangerous.
It is preferable to stay in the main tourist destinations.
Do not explore back roads or isolated paths near tourist sites.
Pay close attention to your surroundings, especially when walking or when driving in Guatemala City.
Refrain from displaying expensive-looking jewelry, large amounts of money, or other valuable items.
Finally, if confronted by criminals, be aware that resistance may provoke a more violent response.

Additional information:
In recent months there has been an increasing number of carjacking incidents and armed robberies near the airport, most frequently between 6:00 and 10:00 am (see list of Recent Crime Incidents Involving Foreigners on the Embassy website for more specifics).
In the most common scenario tourists or business travelers who land at the airport around 7:00 am are held up by armed men as their vehicle departs the airport.
Private vehicles, taxis and shuttle buses have been attacked.
Typically, the assailants steal money, passports, and luggage, and in some but not all cases, the assailants steal the vehicle as well.
Victims who did not resist the attackers were not physically injured.
The Embassy advises its own employees to seek alternative routes for exiting the airport.

Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are active in all major cities and tourist sites, especially the central market and other parts of Zone 1 in Guatemala City and the city of Antigua.
In a common scenario, an accomplice distracts the victim, while an assailant slashes or simply steals a bag or backpack while the victim's attention is diverted.

As in other countries, criminals also use a number of scams to steal money and possessions from tourists in Guatemala.
In one popular scam, robbers place a nail in a parked vehicle's tire.
The vehicle is then followed by the robbers who pose as "good Samaritans" when the tire becomes flat and the victims pull to the side of the road.
While "help" is being rendered, the contents of the car are stolen, often without the knowledge of the victims.
However, in some cases, the robbers have threatened the tourists with weapons.
Parking areas in and around the Guatemala City International Airport are particularly prone to this crime.
In another scam, victims are approached in a hotel, restaurant or other public place by an individual claiming there is some sort of problem with his or the would-be victim's automobile in the parking lot.
On the way to investigate the "problem," usually in a remote or concealed area near the parking lot, the robber pulls a gun on the victim demanding cash, credit cards and other valuables.
A third popular scam involves various attempts to acquire a victim's ATM card and PIN number.
Some sophisticated criminals have even placed boxes outside ATM kiosks that record PIN numbers when unsuspecting victims believe they must enter their PIN number to gain entry to the ATM foyer.
After recording PIN numbers, robbers then steal the owner's ATM card to complete their crime.
There are dozens of techniques scammers can use to rob victims of money and possessions.
While most people mean no harm, always be cautious when strangers approach you for any reason or make unusual requests.

Parents adopting children in Guatemala have also been victimized in public places and at their hotels by police (or individuals dressed as police) who have threatened to arrest foster mothers and turn adoptive children over to orphanages, but released them in exchange for significant payments, often approaching $1000.
Such threats have no basis in Guatemalan law, and should be immediately reported to the Embassy.

For security reasons, the Embassy does not allow U.S. government employees to stay in hotels in Zone 1 in Guatemala City and urges private travelers to avoid staying in this area.

Avoid low-priced intra- and inter-city buses (recycled U.S. school buses); they are often attacked by armed robbers and are poorly maintained and dangerously driven.
The use of modern inter-city buses somewhat improves security and safety.
There have been, however, several attacks on travelers on first-class buses on highway CA-2 near the border areas with both Mexico and El Salvador and on highways CA-1 and CA-9 near the El Salvador border and in the highlands between Quetzaltenango and Solola.
Be cautious with personal items such as backpacks and fanny packs while riding buses, because tourists' possessions are a favorite target of thieves.

Do not hail taxis on the street in Guatemala City.
Use radio-dispatched taxis or taxis from major hotels instead.
The main road to Lake Atitlan via the Inter-American Highway (CA-1) and Solola is safer than the alternatives, though attacks in recent years have made traveling in a caravan highly recommended, even on the Inter-American Highway.
Robbery and assault have been frequently reported on secondary roads near the lake with the highest number of incidents occurring on the RN-11 (Las Trampas road) parallel to the east side of the lake.
Robbers have used mountain roads advantageously to stop buses, vans and cars in a variety of ways.

Armed attacks have occurred on roads from Guatemala City to the Peten.
Visitors to the Mayan ruins at Tikal are urged to fly to nearby Flores and then travel by bus or tour van to the site.

Violent attacks have occurred in the Mayan ruins in the Peten, including in the Cerro Cahui Conservation Park, Yaxha, the road to and inside Tikal Park, and in the Tikal ruins.
Tourist police (POLITUR) patrols inside the park have significantly reduced the violent crime incidents inside the park, but travelers should nevertheless remain in groups and on the principal trails leading to the Central Plaza and the Temple IV complex, and avoid remote areas of the park.

POLITUR (a joint police/Guatemalan Tourism Institute initiative) is present in all major tourist destinations.
They should be contacted in case of any criminal incident in such areas, even if minor.

Foreign residents of Guatemala have special concerns.
Twenty American citizen residents and five American citizen tourists have been murdered since December 1999, and suspects have been convicted in only two cases.
There have been "express" kidnappings in recent years, primarily in Guatemala City, in which a relatively small ransom that can be quickly gathered is demanded.
U.S. citizens have been kidnapped in recent years.
At least one incident of a random kidnapping, in which the victim was grabbed off the street in an affluent neighborhood of the city, occurred in December 2003 and resulted in a physical and sexual assault.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: A full range of medical care is available in Guatemala City, but medical care outside the city is limited.
Guatemala's public hospitals frequently experience serious shortages of basic medicines and equipment.
Care in private hospitals is generally adequate for most common illnesses and injuries, and many of the medical specialists working in them are U.S. trained and certified.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Guatemala is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Driving in Guatemala requires one's full attention, and safe drivers must take extraordinary efforts to drive defensively to avoid dangerous situations.

Traffic rules are only casually observed.
Many drivers do not use their turn signals to alert other drivers.
Instead, a common custom is for a driver or passenger to stick a hand out the window and wave it to indicate that they will be taking an unspecified action.
Speed limits, lane markings and stop signs are frequently ignored.
Passing blindly on winding and/or steep mountain roads, poorly designed surfaces, and unmarked hazards, including frequent landslides and precarious temporary highway repairs, present additional risks to motorists.

Common public transportation is by local recycled school busses, which serve every town in the country.
Criminal activity and frequent fatal accidents, however, make the low-priced inter-city buses particularly dangerous.
Modern inter-city buses offer some security from highway violence, but armed attacks are increasing, showing that all buses are vulnerable.
(See additional information in the CRIME section.)

Although city streets are lit, secondary and rural roads have little to no illumination.
Driving outside of urban areas at night is dangerous and not recommended.
The Inter-American Highway (CA-1) and the road from Guatemala City to the Caribbean coast (CA-9) are especially dangerous due to heavy traffic, including large trucks and trailers.
There are no roadside assistance clubs, however a roadside assistance force (PROVIAL) patrols most of the major highways in the country.
PROVIAL can be contacted by calling 2422-7878.
Their vehicles are equipped with basic tools and first aid supplies, and their services are free.
Police patrol the major roadways and may assist travelers, but the patrols are sporadic and may be suspended due to budget restraints.
For roadside assistance, travelers may call the police by dialing 120 or the fire department by dialing 122 or 123.
Cellular telephone service covers most areas frequented by tourists.

Valid U.S. driver's licenses are accepted for the first 30 days of a visit, and international driving permits are accepted in Guatemala for extended stays.
Guatemala's road safety authorities are the Department of Transit and the Joint Operations Center of the National Police.
Drivers use the right-hand side of the road in Guatemala, and speed limits are posted (in kilometers) depending on the condition of the road.
Speed limits are different in rural and urban areas, but are rarely enforced.
Drivers often drive at the absolute maximum speed possible for the particular vehicle at the time.
These drivers share the road with slow vehicles, some barely able to manage 20 miles per hour, creating a hazardous mix of velocities.
Turning right on red is not permitted unless otherwise posted, and drivers must yield when entering a traffic circle.
Seat belts must be worn in Guatemala, but there are no laws regarding the use of child safety seats.
It is against the law for drivers to operate cellular phones while driving.

People found driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs are arrested and may serve jail time.
In an accident resulting in injury or death, every driver involved is taken into custody and the vehicle(s) impounded until a judge determines responsibility in a re-enactment of the accident.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of Guatemala's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.inguat.gob.gt or via e-mail at asistur@inguat.gob.gt or info@inguat.gob.gt.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Guatemala's Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Guatemala's air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
A major renovation of the international terminal at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City is currently under way.
Until completion in late 2006 or early 2007, there is a temporary reconfiguration of arrival and departure vehicle traffic and major construction works inside the terminal.

Guatemalan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Guatemala of items such as antiquities and other cultural property.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Guatemala in Washington or one of Guatemala's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.

Please see our Customs Information.

Non-Guatemalan citizens who wish to marry in Guatemala are required to provide proof of identity and civil status (indicating whether they are single or divorced).
Prior notice of the marriage must be given in the Diario de Centro America (Guatemala's Official Record) and any large circulation daily newspaper for fifteen days.
The marriage must take place within six months of the publication of the notice.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS:
Guatemala is a geologically active country.
Visitors should be aware of the possibility of earthquakes at any time and the need for contingency plans.
There are also four active volcanoes.
Volcanic activity, such as that of Fuego Volcano near Antigua in January 2003, and again in January 2006, has on occasion forced evacuations of nearby villages; the January-February 2000 activity of Pacaya Volcano near Guatemala City also briefly closed Guatemala City's international airport.
Both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Guatemala are also vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms from June through November.
Mudslides and flooding during the May to November rainy season often kill dozens of people and close roads.
In October 2005 Hurricane Stan caused widespread flooding and landslides on Guatemala's Pacific coast and in many parts of the Highlands.
Over 1000 Guatemalans died, and many highways across the affected regions were closed for days.
All highways have now reopened.
Temporary repairs are still in place; some have already been washed out and others will likely fail during the current rainy season.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offences.
Persons violating Guatemalan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Guatemala are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Guatemala are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Guatemala.
Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The latest security information is available from the Embassy, including its website, http://guatemala.usembassy.gov
The Consular Section is open for citizen services, including registration, from 7:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon and 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursdays and 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Fridays, excluding U.S. and Guatemalan holidays.
The second and last Friday of each month are reserved for administrative matters; therefore, routine citizen services are not provided.
Emergency services are available at all times.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Guatemala City at Avenida La Reforma 7-01, Zone 10; telephone (502) 2-326-4000 during Embassy business hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.), or (502) 2-331-2354 for emergencies during non-business hours; fax (502) 2-332-4353; Internet web site - http://guatemala.usembassy.gov.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 13, 2006 to update the Entry and Exit requirements section.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 9 Mar 2019 23:07:09 +0100

Guatemala City, March 9, 2019 (AFP) - The parents of a British tourist who has been missing in Guatemala for the past five days launched an emotional appeal for her return Saturday as authorities continued their investigation.   Catherine Shaw, 23, was last seen Monday at a hotel in San Juan La Laguna near the country's fabled Lake Atitlan, about 75 kilometres (45 miles) west of the capital Guatemala City.   The area is famous for its lakes beneath towering volcanoes. Lake Atitlan is one of Guatemala's main tourist attractions.

Her parents put up a video appeal on the Twitter account of the Lucie Blackman Trust, a British charity that provides support to the families who have relatives missing, murdered or in a crisis abroad.   "Hello Catherine, we've been out of touch for five days and we, your family and your friends, need to know you're happy and that you're well. So please get in touch, get in touch with us, and we really you home," said her mother, who did not provide her name on the video.   "We need you, please come home, sweetheart," added her father.

Shaw was described as being five feet seven inches tall (170 centimetres) and of slim build, with blonde hair, blue eyes and piercings in her nose, lip and ears.   She had been traveling in Guatemala for two weeks having previously been in Mexico and California, leaving home in England in September 2018, according to the charity.   Eduardo Smith, the British embassy spokesman, told Prensa Libre that embassy staff were working with Guatemalan police on the case.
Date: Tue, 20 Nov 2018 02:54:29 +0100

Guatemala City, Nov 20, 2018 (AFP) - Guatemalan authorities declared a red alert and evacuated around 4,000 people Monday after the Fuego volcano erupted for the fifth time this year, sending bursts of ash and lava down the mountain before its activity decreased and then stopped.   Memories are still painfully fresh of the volcano's eruption in June, which swept away villages and left nearly 200 people dead and 235 missing.   The Institute of Volcanology's director Pablo Oliva said the volcano's activity level had dropped significantly by late Monday.

A spokesman for Guatemala's disaster management agency CONRED had earlier said it decided to evacuate the municipality of Escuintla and two other districts. Some 4,000 people were taken to temporary shelters as a precaution.   The spokesman, David de Leon, said the eruption became increasingly violent after it began Sunday morning, leading to fears for the safety of the thousands of people who live on the slopes of the 3,763 meter-high (12,246 feet) mountain.

A column of ash rose about 1,000 meters above the crater and areas west of the volcano -- 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Guatemala City -- were under a barrage of gas ash and fiery rocks, CONRED said.   As the volcano's activity fell back to normal parameters, evacuees were asked for the sake of cautiousness to return home on Tuesday by bus.

A previous eruption on October 12-13 was characterized by increasingly loud booms and lava flow. On that occasion, 62 people were evacuated from their homes as a precaution and a highway around the mountain was closed.   Many of those evacuated on Monday said they had feared a repeat of the deadly June eruption.   "We were scared and that's why we evacuated," said Miriam Garcia, from the village of El Rodeo which was largely spared the deadly eruption.

Oscar Juarez from El Rodeo said: "You have to get out as soon as possible because when that (volcanic material) comes close, you no longer have time to leave, even if you run, because it comes very fast."   Activity inside Guatemala's two other volcanoes, Pacaya and Santiaguito, has increased in recent months but they have not entered the eruptive phase.
Date: Mon, 19 Nov 2018 11:28:44 +0100

Guatemala City, Nov 19, 2018 (AFP) - Guatemalan authorities on Monday declared a red alert after the Fuego volcano erupted again, forcing about 200 residents to flee.   A fiery glow rose from the crater of Fuego which is erupting for the fifth time this year, one month after the last one and following a June 3 rain of rocks, ash and toxic gases that left almost 200 people dead and 235 missing.   A spokesman for Guatemala's disaster management agency CONRED, David de Leon, said 214 residents who live on the slopes of Fuego, mostly in the southern municipality of Escuintla, were moved to safe zones and more will follow.

He said about 2,000 people in total have been asked to leave the area of the 3,763-meter (12,246-foot) volcano, 35 kilometres (22 miles) from Guatemala City.   Since the eruption began Sunday morning, lava rises 500 meters above Fuego's crater, while the ash column exceeds one kilometre above the volcanic cone and is causing a rain of particles, the Institute of Volcanology said.   The previous eruption lasted from October 12-13 with loud booms and lava flow. It caused the evacuation of 62 people and closed a highway.
Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2018 18:54:16 +0200

Guatemala City, Oct 12, 2018 (AFP) - Guatemala's deadly Fuego volcano erupted anew early Friday, unleashing a 600-meter flow of lava and sending clouds of ash spiralling into the sky.   Increased volcanic activity over the last 24 hours could release tons of fiery volcanic material and force evacuations of mountain villages, warned Guatemala's disaster management agency CONRED.

A powerful June 3 eruption of the Fuego volcano -- located 35 kilometres (22 miles) southwest of the capital -- rained rocks, ash and toxic gases on several villages and left 190 people dead and 235 missing.   CONRED had yet to issue evacuation orders for mountain communities early Friday, but spokesman David de Leon said: "Considering how the volcano is behaving some communities could make decisions to evacuate to safe areas."

Authorities shut down a nearby highway as a precaution and vulcanologists warned the civil aviation agency of an ash cloud to the west and southwest of the volcano.   Scientists monitoring the 3,763-meter (12,346-foot) volcano reported increased activity from late Thursday. However, activity intensified on Friday with loud booms and lava flows, the Institute of Vulcanology said.   Some 2,900 displaced victims of the earlier disaster remain in temporary shelters as government promises to build a 1,000 permanent homes on a state farm have been held up by irregularities.
Date: Tue 6 Feb 2018
Source: Cooperativa.cl [in Spanish, machine trans., edited]

The Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare of Guatemala reported [Tue 6 Feb 2018], that the number of people intoxicated by an outbreak of salmonellosis detected in a bakery in the country's capital has risen to 115. A source from the portfolio confirmed that, although initially reported of 54 affected, the number has risen to 115 and added that no further details of this case can be given as it is under investigation.

Health Minister Carlos Soto had previously indicated that the 1st 54 people infected after eating at this establishment, located in zone one of the capital, had already received medical discharge. In addition to _Salmonella_, the authorities detected in the establishment the bacterium _E. coli_ and during the investigations they verified that the workers did not have sanitary cards.

The bakery had until last [Fri 2 Feb 2018], to present the proof of release in this case, but asked for an extension at which time theHealth portfolio will make the decision to close or sanction the establishment.
====================
[The source of the salmonellosis outbreak linked to the bakery is not clear.

A map of (Guatemala): <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/13>. - ProMED Mod.LL]
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 11:08:10 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Parents lined up from sunrise holding sleeping infants as the Philippines launched a campaign on Monday to vaccinate millions of children against polio, which has re-emerged nearly two decades after the nation's last cases.   Years of falling vaccination rates, made worse by the botched rollout of a dengue vaccine, culminated in an outbreak of the preventable disease in September.   "This is for the welfare of my child," Ruth Miranda told AFP after the vaccine was squirted into her child's mouth at the Manila slum they call home.

Miranda's child is among scores who are unprotected in the capital of about 13 million people, where vaccination rates of young children plunged from 77 percent in 2016 to a mere 24 percent in June.   The atmosphere at the event in Manila was festive -- with ice cream vendors and music -- but the stakes for the campaign are high.

Polio, which can cause paralysis and can be fatal in rare cases, has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines.   Two cases were detected in September, the first polio infections in the Philippines since 2001, adding to the woes of a country already hit by deadly measles and dengue epidemic.   The risk of the disease spreading within the Philippines is high, according to World Health Organization, due to low immunisation coverage partly blamed to a dengue vaccine scandal.

The Philippines was the first nation to use Dengvaxia in a mass programme in 2016, but a botched rollout led to claims that children had died after being vaccinated.   A dramatic drop in vaccine confidence followed, with trust plunging from 93 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2018, according to a study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.   The Philippines polio outbreak has been traced back to the weakened form of the virus used in vaccines, which is excreted by people for a time after they receive it.   According to the WHO, that form can mutate and spread in the surrounding community when immunisation rates get too low.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 10:25:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shingo ITO, Sara HUSSEIN

Tokyo, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of rescue workers in Japan battled on Monday to find survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed at least 43 people, as fresh rain threatened to hamper efforts.   Typhoon Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, unleashing high winds and torrential rain across 36 of the country's 47 prefectures, and triggering landslides and catastrophic flooding.   "Even now, many people are still unaccounted for in the disaster-hit area," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency disaster meeting on Monday.   "Units are trying their best to search for and rescue them, working day and night," Abe said.

But even as rescuers, including troops, combed through debris, the country's weather agency forecast rain in central and eastern Japan that it warned could cause further flooding and new landslides.   "I would like to ask people to stay fully vigilant and continue watching for landslides and river flooding," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.   In Nagano, one of the worst-hit regions, rain was already falling and was expect to intensify.   "We are concerned about the impact of the latest rain on rescue and recovery efforts," local official Hiroki Yamaguchi told AFP.   "We will continue operations while watching out for secondary disasters due to the current rain."

- 43 dead, 16 missing: NHK -
By late Monday afternoon, national broadcaster NHK said the toll had risen to 43 dead, with 16 others missing and over 200 people injured. The government gave lower figures but was continuing to update its information.   The dead included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least seven crew from a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night, a coast guard spokesman said.   Four others, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, were rescued when the boat sank and the coast guard was still searching for a last crew member.   While Hagibis, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Tokyo area in decades, packed wind gusts of up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, it was the heavy rains that caused most damage.

A total of 142 rivers flooded, mainly in eastern and northern Japan, with river banks collapsing in two dozen places, local media said.   In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.   As water slowly receded Monday, television footage showed patients being transferred by ambulance from a Nagano hospital where some 200 people had been cut off by flooding.   Elsewhere, rescuers used helicopters to winch survivors from roofs and balconies, or steered boats through muddy waters to reach those trapped.

- Japan dedicates rugby win to victims -
By Monday afternoon, some 75,900 households remained without power, with 120,000 experiencing water outages.   The disaster left tens of thousands of people in shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.   "Everything from my house was washed away before my eyes, I wasn't sure if it was a dream or real," a woman in Nagano told NHK.   "I feel lucky I'm still alive."   The storm brought travel chaos over the holiday weekend, grounding flights and halting commuter and bullet train services.

By Monday, most subway trains had resumed service, along with many bullet train lines, and flights had also restarted.   The storm also brought havoc to the sporting world, forcing the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and the cancellation of three Rugby World Cup matches.   But a crucial decider pitting Japan against Scotland went ahead, with the hosts dedicating their stunning 28-21 win to the victims of the disaster.   "To everyone that's suffering from the typhoon, this game was for you guys," said Japan captain Michael Leitch.
Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2019 23:31:57 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 13, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors will use a second Ebola vaccine from November in three eastern provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight the deadly virus, medical officials said Sunday.   "It's time to use the new Ad26-ZEBOV-GP vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson's Belgian subsidiary," said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who leads the national anti-Ebola operation in the DRC.    It will arrive in the eastern city of Goma, in North Kivu province, on October 18 and be used from the beginning of next month, he added.   DRC's latest Ebola epidemic, which began in August 2018, has killed 2,144 people, making it the second deadliest outbreak of the virus, after the West Africa pandemic of 2014-2016.

Muyembe said the communes of Majingo and Kahembe had been selected to receive the vaccine as they were considered the epicentres of the epidemic.   "We will extend this vaccination to our small traders who often go to Rwanda to protect our neighbours," he added.   "If it works well, we will expand vaccination in South Kivu and Ituri."   DR Congo's eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu sit on the borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.   The Belgian laboratory will send a batch of 200,000 doses to neighbouring Rwanda and 500,000 doses in the DRC, Muyembe said.   More than 237,000 people living in active Ebola transmission zones have received a vaccination produced by the pharma company Merck Sharpe and Dohme since August 8, 2018. 

The J&J vaccine had been rejected by DRC's former health minister Oly Ilunga, who cited the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.   But Ilunga's resignation in July appears to have paved the way for approval of the second vaccine. He currently faces charges that he embezzled funds intended for the fight against Ebola.   In his letter of resignation Ilunga said "actors who have demonstrated a lack of ethics" want to introduce a second vaccine, but did not elaborate.    Muyembe, who took over the Ebola fight in the DRC in July, said "The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has the most science-based data."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 20:02:59 +0200 (METDST)
By Robbie COREY-BOULET

Addis Ababa, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - A palace that once housed Ethiopia's emperors and also served as a torture site under the communist Derg regime is to open to the public in a controversial government tourism project.    The palace compound in Addis Ababa, which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has rebranded "Unity Park", was formally launched Thursday and will be open from Friday.    Abiy's office said on Twitter Thursday that the project "symbolises our ability to come together".

But critics have dismissed it as vanity project for Abiy that could prove divisive.   Backed by the United Arab Emirates, the project cost more than $160 million (145 million euros), Ethiopian officials told reporters at a briefing earlier this week.    Built in the late 1800s by Emperor Menelik II, who founded Addis Ababa, the palace was the residence of Ethiopia's rulers for more than a century.   Abiy himself does not live there, and it has seen little activity in recent years.    Abiy's advisers say he has taken a keen interest in transforming the palace into a tourist attraction since coming to power in April 2018 -- visiting the site every day in recent weeks to monitor progress.

The government's "Home-Grown Economic Reform" agenda, unveiled last month, describes tourism as a primary engine of potential job creation.    On Thursday, government officials and the diplomatic corps toured the expansive site before attending a banquet that was expected to draw five regional heads of state and other dignitaries.    The restored rooms feature items like Menelik's sword and a life-size wax replica of former Emperor Haile Selassie, who lived at the palace and was then etained there after the Derg overthrew him in 1974.

The site also includes a sculpture garden with installations representing Ethiopia's nine regions, and a zoo is expected to open by the end of the year.    Aklilu Fikresilassie, an Ethiopian employee of the United Nations who attended the launch Thursday, said he was "really fascinated" to set foot inside a place that had been closed to the public his entire life.    "For us it's like a government house, so now when you enter that palace it tells you that we are getting somehow closer to our leaders," he said.

But not everyone is convinced the palace will succeed in bringing Ethiopians together.   In a country grappling with ethnic divisions, some worry that the palace could alienate ethnic Oromos who contend that their ancestors were forced off their land when Addis Ababa was built.    Journalist and former political prisoner Eskinder Nega said the renovations were undertaken "without consultation from the public", which he called "a huge mistake."    "This is all about heritage, about preserving heritage. The people should have had a say in it," he said.    "Like everything else this was decided from the top and implemented only by the decision of the prime minister."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 13:13:57 +0200 (METDST)

Hanoi, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Selfie-snapping tourists railed against the closure of Hanoi's 'train street' on Thursday after police blocked off the Instragram-famous tracks for safety reasons.   The narrow railway corridor in central Hanoi has become a hotspot among visitors seeking the perfect holiday snap on the tracks -- often dodging trains that rumble through daily.    But Hanoi authorities said this week they would block people from the tracks to avoid accidents, and police on Thursday erected barricades to keep out disappointed visitors.    "I'm very frustrated because today I can't go in and take a picture," Malaysian tourist Mustaza bin Mustapha told AFP, vowing to come back later.

Dozens of other tourists were turned away, though some managed to get onto still-open sections of the railway, moving out of the way as an afternoon train chugged past.    Built by former colonial rulers, the railway once shipped goods and people across France's former Indochina colony and remains in use today by communist Vietnam's state-run railway company.    The stretch of the tracks was once known as a rough part of town, occupied by drug users and squatters until their recent discovery by camera-wielding holidaymakers who have splashed images of the area across social media.

Cafe owners complained that business would be hurt thanks to the new regulations, and that tourists always moved out of the way for oncoming trains.   "There has never been any regretful accidents here," said Le Tuan Anh, who runs a cafe from his home along the tracks.   "Compared to traffic density elsewhere in the city, this is much safer," he said, referring to Hanoi's chaotic, motorbike-clogged streets.   New signs were installed in the area Thursday, warning passersby not to take photos or videos in the "dangerous area", much to the chagrin of British tourist Harriet Hayes.   "People come from all over the world to Hanoi just to see the train go past," she told AFP.   "It's such a shame that we come and have been told that we have to leave."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 06:51:42 +0200 (METDST)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Large numbers of tourists are rushing to scale Uluru -- also known as Ayers Rock -- ahead of a looming ban on climbing a site sacred to indigenous Australians.   Photographs of hundreds of people clambering up the giant red monolith have provoked a social media backlash, with critics lashing as "ignorant" those going against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, the Anangu.   "A mass of morally and ethically bankrupt people," indigenous woman Laura McBride tweeted alongside an image showing a queue of people snaking up the side of Uluru.    "One even hiking a toddler up, teaching the next generation how to be ignorant."   "Imagine rushing to climb Uluru before it closes just so you could brag about disrespecting the oldest living culture in the world," tweeted National Indigenous Television journalist Madeline Hayman-Reber, who called the scenes "embarrassing".

Officials say the ban, which comes into effect on October 26, is intended to show respect for cultural practices, protect the site from further environmental damage and to ensure visitors' safety.    More than 395,000 people visited the Uluru-Kata National Park in the 12 months to June 2019, according to Parks Australia, about 20 percent more than the previous year. Around 13 percent of those who visited during that period made the climb, park authorities said.    More recent figures are not available but Tourism Central Australia CEO Stephen Schwer said there had been a "significant jump" in the number of people visiting in recent weeks, with the period leading up to the ban coinciding in part with school holidays.   "Its been very busy, particularly down in the national park precinct itself," he told AFP.   "We've had quite an issue with accommodation availability, because there's a lot of people want to climb Uluru before it closes. It's been a busier than normal holiday period."   Japanese visitors and Australians on driving holidays were most likely to want to scale Uluru, Schwer said, though he urged them not to do so.

Australian tourist Belinda Moore, 33, drove to Uluru from her home in central Queensland state to ascend the rock, an experience she said she "absolutely loved".   "It's always been something to tick off the bucket list and when we heard it was closing, we knew it was now or never," she told AFP.   Moore said she did not think her climb was disrespectful to traditional owners as she was not Aboriginal.    "It may be for their own people, because it's their sacred site," she said.   "I'm pretty sad that they're closing it, but it's still amazing just to see it. I would still recommend it."   The climb will be permanently closed as of October 26, the anniversary of ownership being handed back to the Anangu people.

Uluru has great spiritual and cultural significance to indigenous Australians, with their connection to the site dating back tens of thousands of years.   Though visitor numbers were expected to decline once the ban was in place, Schwer said local tourism operators were "not particularly concerned" as it would return the area to normality.   "People need to remember that in central Australia we're a very interconnected community," he said. "The people who are requesting the climb closure are our friends and colleagues.   "We're just looking forward to being able to have the climb consigned to the annals of history."
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2019 22:01:17 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 9, 2019 (AFP) - Six people were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after torrential rains hit the capital Kinshasa, flooding several neighbourhoods. a local official said.    The bodies were found between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.    Five people were killed in the capital's Selembao municipality where around 30 houses collapsed, local mayor Augustin Mankesi told Top Congo radio station.   One woman died in the Pelende district after she was electrocuted, he added.    "Our community is stricken," Mankesi added, calling on the Congolese authorities for help.   Fatal floods and rains are frequent in Kinshasa. In January last year 48 people were killed in landslides, floods and after houses collapsed, according to authorities.    Residents told AFP the road from the sea port district of Matadi to the Kinshasa turnoff has been closed due to erosion caused by the rain.    The passage is Kinshasa's main supply route for imported goods and also serves as an exit point for exports.
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2019 04:13:25 +0200 (METDST)
By Margioni BERMÚDEZ

Caracas, Oct 8, 2019 (AFP) - The small waiting room at the home of self-styled healer "Brother Guayanes" in Caracas' rundown Petare district fills up quickly with patients -- business has never been better.   With Venezuela's chronic medicine shortages and hyperinflation, more and more people are turning to alternative medicine to treat common ailments in the crisis-wracked South American country.   "We go to the hospital and there's nothing there. They don't have medicines, or they're too expensive, what are we to do?" said Rosa Saez, 77, who has come to get treatment for a painful arm.   Carlos Rosales -- he uses the more ceremonious "Brother Guayanes" for his business -- is finishing up a "spiritual intervention" on a patient in what passes for his surgery.   The patient lies, eyes closed, on a cot as, in a series of swishes and clicks, the healer waves five pairs of scissors one after another over his prone body.    The healer says he performs 200 such interventions a week in a dim, candle-lit room that features two camp beds and an array of plaster statues that Rosales says represent "spiritual entities".   A regular visitor to the spiritual center, Saez says she has faith in Rosales' methods: "He healed my kidneys."

- Natural healing -
All across Venezuela, but particularly in poor areas like Petare, patients cannot hope to afford the price of medicines that due to the economic crisis, have become exceedingly rare.  Venezuela's pharmacists' federation say pharmacies and hospitals have on average only about 20 percent of the medicine stock needed.   Rosales' clinic is muggy with the smell of tobacco. A crucifix suspended from a chain around his neck, he practices a seeming mixture of smoke-blowing shamanism, plant-based medicine and mainstream religion.    Posters hung near the entrance remind clients to arrive with a candle and tobacco and "Don't forget that payment is in cash".   Much like a general practitioner, Rosales spends time consulting with his patients, examining them with a stethoscope, before offering a diagnosis. Often he prescribes potions based on plants and fruit, such as pineapple and a type of local squash known as chayote.   "We know medicines are necessary," he says. "I'm not against medicine, but my medicine is botany."

- Plants replace drugs -
At her stall in a downtown Caracas market, 72-year-old Lilia Reyes says she has seen her trade in medicinal plants flourish.   "I can't keep up with the demand," she said at her stall, bathed in the aroma of camomile, one of the 150 plants she sells.   Careless consumption of some herbs can be deadly, warns Grismery Morillo. A doctor at a Caracas public hospital, she says she has seen many cases of acute liver failure in people who have eaten certain roots.   According to Venezuela's opposition parties, some 300,000 chronically ill people are in danger of dying from the shortages of medicines.

But despite the risks, people like Carmen Teresa say they have no alternative.    In the kitchen of her restaurant which closed down three years ago as the economic crisis took hold, the 58-year-old Colombian prepares an infusion of fig leaves to treat "diabetic neuropathy".   The painkillers needed for the condition are "too expensive" and prices are going up due to hyperinflation, so she is cutting back on the pills and supplementing her treatment with herbal infusions.   She needs at least four tablets a day to keep her diabetes at bay. Her mother, bedridden since breaking a leg a year ago, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and needs five pills a day for hypertension.   "I'm still taking my pills, but I reduced the dose," says Teresa, who is also replacing cholesterol pills with lemon juice.
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2019 12:04:37 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, Oct 6, 2019 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia announced Sunday it would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together as the ultraconservative kingdom begins offering up tourist visas for the first time.   The tourism authority said in a statement published on Twitter that Saudi women travelling alone would also be able to check into a hotel by presenting valid ID.

In the past, couples wanting to stay in a hotel had to prove they were married.    "This is no longer required for tourists," the statement said.   Saudi Arabia announced on September 27 it was opening its doors to holidaymakers with the goal of diversifying its oil-dependent economy.   The kingdom had previously only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers, and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.   Citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia and several European nations.   On September 28, Saudi authorities warned that tourists who violated "public decency", including with immodest clothing and public displays of affection, would be subject to fines.
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2019 03:30:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Giovanna FLEITAS

Petorca, Chile, Oct 5, 2019 (AFP) - For Erick Hurtado, the worst thing about the drought that has devastated his family farm in Chile is the dead animals.   "Going out and seeing the animals dead on the ground is so horrible," Hurtado says as he gazes across the dusty paddocks of his farm in Petorca, near the coastal city of Valparaiso.

Farmers are counting the cost of one of the driest austral winters in six decades, which has destroyed crops and left tens of thousands of farm animals dead in the fields of central Chile.   Hurtado's farm, owned by his grandfather, has lost half its 60 head of cattle.   So far, 106,000 animals have died due to lack of water and fodder, mostly goats, cattle and sheep, according to the agriculture ministry.   President Sebastian Pinera, who last month announced a $5 billion plan to improve water distribution, this week set up a crisis group of government agencies to tackle the water crisis, which he said had become "more extensive and more intense."

In Colina, north of the capital Santiago, the drought has been hard on small farmers. Scrawny cattle pick at sprigs of strawy grass on pastures that have turned to dust. Cows, goats and horses roam hungry on hills have turned to a dry muddy brown.   "The drought has been disastrous for us," said Sandra Aguilar. Her family owned about a hundred head of cattle. Today, only half survive thanks to a trickle of water provided by a neighbor who still has some reserves.   "The situation is complicated," said Javier Maldonado, governor of the province of Chacabuco, where several agricultural areas have been hit particularly hard by the drought.    "We have to be realistic, climate change is here to stay," he said.

- Water shortages -
Dominga Mondaca points out the deep fissures that run through the garden behind her house in the village of La Ligua near Valparaiso. The garden used to be full of strawberries and citrus trees; now it's cracked earth.    "We have had many years with little water. But the last year, it didn't rain at all," said the 73-year-old, one of more than 600,000 people the government is supplying by tanker trucks as part of emergency measures.   She says she has had to give up raising chickens, in order to keep what little water she and her husband receive for their own consumption, washing and cleaning. Whatever is left, she uses to sprinkle on herbs in a small kitchen garden.   The agriculture ministry says 37,000 family farms need assistance in the central Chile.

- Thirsty avocados? -
In Petorca, some rivers have run dry, and the landscape has been left parched, but lush avocado and citrus plantations are nevertheless thriving.   Locals in Petorca say the real, long-term problem is the mismanagement of water resources.    "There is an excess of monoculture plantations that consume all the water," said Diego Soto of the Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA) told AFP.   Avocados need a lot of water to grow, said Soto.   "An avocado tree needs 600 liters of water per week, whereas humans consume 50 liters a day, or 350 liters a week," he said.   Producers refute these figures and say the real problem is a lack of infrastructure to store water, both above and below ground.    "The avocado is not a crop that needs more water," insisted Francisco Contardo, chairman of the local producers' committee.   Avocados are a key export for Chile, mostly to the US and China, but drought has reduced exports by 25 percent.

- Less snow -
For many though, the changes being wrought by climate change are overwhelmingly obvious. Snow in the highlands of central Chile was relatively scarce this year.    Scientists predict an average decrease of between five and 10 percent snowfall every 10 years in almost the entire Andes mountains, one of the country's main sources of water.   "The central zone of Chile is highly dependent on the summer melt season, its snow and glaciers, which means that if the snow cover is reduced, there is also a reduction in the availability of water resources," said Paul Cordero, climate change expert at the University of Santiago.   Weak snowfall forced the country's main ski resorts to use artificial snow machines much earlier and more often this season than in previous years.    "Chile has been living as if it were a country with an abundance of water," said Pinera.   "Climate change and global warming have changed this situation probably forever."