Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Colom's Speech Less Than Anticipated

April 16, 2008

The government announced last week that president Álvaro Colom would announce 32 economic measures to stabilize or reduce prices of the “ canasta basica” or “basic basket”, including price caps on items such as beans, rice, flour, and fuel, subsidies, and employee bonuses. The announcements implied that some of the measures were quite strong and that they would be laid out specifically in a nationally televised address last Sunday. But that's not quite how it went Sunday night. Colom did speak about a package of medium and long-term strong economic measures to attenuate the economic crisis but the presentation was short on details.

The president did announce four measures that “should have an immediate impact”. He said that he's looking for an agreement “in solidarity” with private business and cooperatives in order to achieve a reduction or stabilization of prices on basic necessities. Details were not given but it is known that since last week the president has been seeking accords with the various business associations in the agricultural, commercial, industrial, and financial sectors because, according to Colom, some of the measures being planned are “a little strong”.

Also announced was a “program of solidarity” involving a state investment of Q1.47 billion in grain production, rural development, improved accessways, construction of 40,000 homes, and assistance to small and mid-size businesses. Colom indicated that measures will be adopted to maintain the price of propane at its present level at least until December of this year, and steps will be taken to save energy in all public institutions. Specific details were not forthcoming as to how prices will be maintained or reduced.

The president confirmed that Guatemala is passing through a period of difficulty for the economy, aggravated by the high price of oil, which affects transport and generation of electricity. He discussed the fact that many countries have started to produce biofuels made from food grains and this drives up the price of those food grains. Colom also pointed out that the economic problems in the United States are connected to the problems in Guatemala.

Previous governments have not put in place measures to deal with a crisis of this type”, Colom said, and added that his administration is taking this opportunity to spend the time and effort to put plans and measures in place to deal with such problems now and in the future.

So not much detail was given in the president's Sunday address although there was some new information. As more on this story unfolds, it will be reported here.


Monday, April 14, 2008

The Fair!

Yes, Rio Dulce has an annual fair, complete with thrill rides, kiddy rides, food and candy booths, large portable restaurants, game booths, and portable beer drinking establishments that show videos of Central American and Mexican rodeos (which are considerably rougher and tougher than the U.S. version). The fair takes place each year around Semana Santa (Easter). It officially opened today, Sunday, April 13th and will run until Sunday, April 20th. This year the fair unofficially got under way a week early, last Sunday, April 6th, and officially opened today.

For the locals, one of the highlights of the fair is the "Flor de la Feria" (Flower of the Fair). This is a teenage girl who is elected and reigns as "Queen of the Fair" and you will see her making her rounds at the fair wearing her crown. The selection process begins well before the fair starts and this year culminated last Sunday, April 6 with the election and parade of her and the runners-up. Unfortunately, the election caught us by surprise and we did not get photos of the event this year. However, Don Gato has taken quite a few photos of the fair itself. Just click on the photos to see larger versions.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Guatemalan Government Intervenes to Ease Rising Prices

April 11, 2008

President Álvaro Colom decided to go ahead with an economic package to help ease the effects of rising prices. The measures will include subsidies and capping certain prices. Details will be announced on national radio and television Sunday night. There are 32 specific measures in the plan with a couple of them quite drastic. Vice-President Rafael Espada said that everything is on the table, details are still being worked out, and some decisions are still to be made.

None of the officials were willing discuss exactly which products would be affected but government sources say that subsidies on diesel and propane are being discussed as well as price caps on basic products such as sugar, beans, maíz, rice, and flour. Also among the measures are special consideration for the elderly and other at-risk members of society and increased taxes on cellular phone service and utilities to encourage conservation.

A presidential spokesman said that Colom will speak on television and radio because he wants to speak directly to the people about the current economic crisis, the external causes of the problem, and that these measures are in keeping with the gravity of the crisis that is expected.


Puerto Barrios Sewers in Disrepair

April 11, 2008

Ninety-five percent of the sewers / storm drains in the city of Puerto Barrios are uncovered and sewage sometimes floods across the ground and into Rio Escondido. Local residents complain that the river has been polluted for about 30 years and instead of pure water is more like a swamp which increases the risk of disease. About 250 homes suffer flooding from the collapse of the sewage system. Residents in the area bounded by 18th through 25th Calle and 1st through 8th Avenidas dread the coming of the rainy season. Sea level geography, poor construction, failure of government leadership, and irresponsible residents clogging the sewer system with trash results in a nightmare during the rainy season. When very heavy rains come, the flooding creates a drowning hazard for children. The local health director acknowledges that there is widespread pollution and the uncovered drainage ditches result in a plague of mosquitos that can spread dengue, malaria, and other diseases, not to mention the foul odors.

The Alcalde, David Pineda is aware of the situation and said the city will invest Q300,000 to clean out the system. To rebuild the whole system of storm drains and sewers will carry a price tag of Q100 million, which the city cannot afford, but the alcalde says that the government and foreign sources have promised to help.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Stoplights in Puerto Barrios are Working Again

Stoplights were installed 12 years ago in Puerto Barrios / Santo Tomas de Castilla, but without maintenance they fell into disrepair and stopped functioning four years ago. In some cases, the neglected equipment was stolen and sold as scrap. After an investment of Q150,000 the traffic signals are repaired and operating again.

Approximately 25,000 vehicles, 5,000 motorcycles, plus cargo vans and semis enter and exit Puerto Barrios / Santo Tomas de Castilla every day and without traffic signals the result has been chaos. Now that the signals are repaired, traffic should flow in a more orderly manner and vehicles should be able to keep to their schedules. The Alcalde, David Pineda, confirmed that two more traffic signals are being considered at 23 Calle, and at the entrance of the Hospital Nacional in order to cut down on accidents at those locations. The municipality of Puerto Barrios is also studying a plan to install traffic signals but is concerned that the equipment might be stolen.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Congress Passes Law Protecting Women

April 8, 2008

After a month of debates, the Guatemalan Congress surprisingly completed the entire planned agenda for today without making any amendments to the legislation on the floor. The law against "feminicidio", which criminalizes all acts of violence against women, passed unanimously along with various changes to the criminal code. The motion to introduce Q200, Q500, and Q1000 notes was also approved on the first vote after discussion about the inclusion of certain languages and a mention of the peace accords on the new bills.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Congress to Consider New Quetzal Notes and Law Protecting Women

April 6, 2008

This Tuesday, April 8th, the Guatemalan Congress will reconvene. Much of the Congress's recent attention has been focused on a law that would criminalize all violent acts against women. Further consideration of this topic is planned for Tuesday. Also on the agenda are discussion of the designs and colors for the proposed new Q200, Q500, and Q1000 notes. A third item on the agenda is a plan to lift the IVA tax on petroleum fuels and derivatives in order to reduce the cost of gasoline and diesel by Q3 or Q4.

Inguat to Promote Tourism in Izabal

April 6, 2008

According to an article by Rosa M. Bolaños of the Prensa Libre, in two weeks, Inguat will launch a massive campaign to promote tourism in Rio Dulce and Lago Izabal. The promotion will be via the embassies and through other media in various countries in Central America, Europe, and the United States. According to Maruja Acevedo, head of the Mercadeo del Instituto, the Mercadeo will also promote tourism to this area and will organize an International Garífuna Festival to take place in November.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Viernes Santo / Good Friday in Rio Dulce

March 21st was Good Friday (Viernes Santo). It is a day of penance and fasting that is observed throughout Latin America. In Guatemala, the Catholic Church and the cofradias (brotherhoods) mount processions commemorating Christ's Passion. These processions vary from small ones bearing just a crucifix to huge processions with many displays carried by members of the various cofradias. The most elaborate such procession in the world takes place in Antigua, Guatemala. The streets are decorated with elaborate colored sand paintings and it's an unforgettable sight. Because it is a day of penance, the difficulty of the labor is part of it. The largest display in the Antigua procession is that from the Church at La Merced. It weighs 8,000 pounds and is carried through the streets on the shoulders of 80 men.

Rio Dulce is an aquatic community where we get around much more in boats and canoes than by road or on foot so the procession in Rio Dulce takes place on the river itself. Don Gato was there to shoot photos:

(click the photos to see larger sizes)

Good Friday Procession

Good Friday Procession

Good Friday Procession