There is new seismic activity in La Antigua Guatemala’s grapevine. For a while now, I’ve been hearing rumors about new closing times imposed by the Municipalidad, Antigua Guatemala’s City Hall for certain kind of businesses. Like everything in life, there are at least two sides to the story, but before I present you with details of the new city ordinances, a little background information is needed.
There are a lot of bars and some discotheques in La Antigua Guatemala which operate with Restaurant licenses. As a matter of fact, there’s only one Discotheque/Bar license that I know of, which is held by La Casbah on Calle del Arco. If you’ve visited Antigua Guatemala you would be wondering how is that possible since there are plenty of bars all over town?
Well, the disorder or mess has been caused by the very nature of the fast business life cycle in La Antigua Guatemala; in other words, how fast businesses open and fail and are bought again in La Antigua Guatemala. Foreign residents are also part of the mess equation since they fall in love with Antigua Guatemala and one sure way for them to stay and make a decent living in Guatemala is to become business owners; this also apply to Guatemalans. Furthermore, the lax regulation by previous City Hall administrations have caused the current mess. The combination of these factors and others created the unregulated bars, discotheques and restaurants environment present today.
Let’s explore one “over-simplified” scenario to get the general idea of the causes of the mess. A residential space is put on the rental market and soon enough the property is rented by a foreign resident looking for a steady income and a way to stay in Antigua Guatemala. She invests in the place and turns it into a high-end French bistro; she hires Guatemalan workers, then she gets a new or previously owned Restaurant license and opens the doors into the highly competitive restaurant market in La Antigua Guatemala. For one reason or another, she runs into economic trouble after six months and she’s forced to sell or close; with luck she finds another ex-pat who’s willing to take over her rental agreement, furniture, facturas (legal invoices), business license and Restaurant license for a small investment. This new business owner knows nothing about French sandwiches and doesn’t even care; he decides to turn this failed French bistro into the new hot bar for backpackers and salsa dancing students. After a month and a new paint job, he opens its door as a Bar-discotheque. Because of his cheap Guatemalan labor, cheap drinks and cheap DJ and a constant influx of backpackers and salsa dancers he manages to make a living. No one from the local government comes knocking at his door to let him know that his Restaurant license does not allow him to operate his business as a bar and/or discotheque. Repeat this over-simplified scenario with a few variations over five or ten years and you end up with lots of bars and discotheques all over town.
Fast forward to the present and all of sudden there is a new Municipal administration that wants to create a new city ordinances and close some of those troublesome noisy bars and bring some peace and quite nights to the still living in town Antigüeño residents. You have to remember that most Antigüeños are extremely conservative and church-going people with profound religious rituals and traditions. A quick review of all the extended licenses show that there’s actually only “one” license for a bar or discotheque, so they passed new closing time ordinances for cafeterias y comedores (cafes and diners), restaurants, cevicherías (ceviche vendors), abarroterías, depósitos, pulperías and the venerable tiendas (basically convenience stores), cantinas, bares and discotheques.
New opening and closing hours:
6 to 22 hours for Cafeterias y comedores
6 to 22 hours for Restaurants
6 to 18 hours for Cevicherías
6 to 21 hours for Abarroterías, depósitos, pulperías and tiendas
12 to 22 hours for Cantinas
12 to 24 hours for Bares
12 to 24 hours for Discotheques
Of course, if I inherited or bought a business with the wrong license and now I am being forced to close the doors so early I would be very mad. These new city ordinances put many businesses at risk in the already week economy. So a group of business owners took these new municipal ordinances to court and believe it or not, this lawsuit ended all the way up to Guatemala’s Corte de Constitucionalidad (Constitutional Court, Guatemala’s highest court) which resolved in favor of the Municipalidad of La Antigua Guatemala this past July 15. See El Metropolitano newspaper clips below. In short, the Corte de Constitucionalidad found the new ordinances to be within the legal jurisdiction of the Municipal government.
There are many questions I would like to get answered. How difficult will it be for the current bars and discotheques to obtain the proper licenses? Will the Municipalidad be willing to compromise and allow restaurants, bars and discotheques to close a little later as to not hurt current businesses? As a tourist or traveler, how do you feel about the closing hours, will they affect your travel plans?
What’s your opinion now that you have a general overview of the situation? What other questions would like to ask?
Acknowledgments: I thank Antonio Palomo for providing the official Municipal position. Several business owners for providing me with their opinion and position. El Metropolitano newspaper for providing the photo opportunity and specific details of the lawsuit and the final court’s decision. Renata Avila, my epistolary Guatemalan lawyer friend, for explaining the differences between Corte Suprema de Justicia and Corte de Constitucionalidad and other background details which I will use in future posts.
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