Saturday, January 31, 2009

Organized Crime Threatens the Press

CERIGUA in it's latest report announced that intimidation from drug trafficking and organized crime threaten journalists.

Participants at the Regional Meeting of Latin American Organization on Freedom of Expression expressed concern at the deterioration in the state of the law in Guatemala, where three journalists were killed, 13 were assaulted and 10 others received death threats in 2008.

The news agency, CERIGUA, also referred to cases of attacks on journalists by police. However, these records do not reflect the truth since most victims prefer to remain silent and are not reporting such incidents. This atmosphere of fear contributes to impunity in Guatemala, says the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. Participants at the meeting confirmed the allegations through the testimony of several journalists. They described the difficulty of living under these conditions of widespread fear of covering violent events. Participants also complained about the lack of commitment by local authorities to protect journalists and the media. According to information gathered, the most problematic areas are Zacapa, Izabal, Huehuetenango, Alta Verapaz and San Marcos.

The organizations also met with the deputy governor, Arnold Villagran, who confirmed that the lack of security and the violence in Guatemala are the result of the growing scourge of drug trafficking and the war between the cartels, coupled with a difficult economic situation.

In addition, the member organizations asked the government to establish an agenda for working towards a civil society that provides the some protective tools for journalists and media, to accelerate the investigation of crimes against journalists, and human rights training for police and officials.

Guatemala Pavillion in First Place at Madrid Fair

The Guatemala Pavillion at the International Tourism Fair (FITUR) in Madrid, Spain, was awarded as the most attractive among the 170 participating nations. This is the 29th time the tourism fair has been put on and is presided over by the Prince and Princess of Asturias. The Spanish royal family is a big supporter of the tourism fair.

The theme for the Guatemala Pavillion this year is "Guatemala, heart of the Mayan world," and describes an assortment of attractions, such as the square of the Grand Jaguar of Tikal National Park, crafts and customs.

Street Vendors Fight Police

Some 600 street vendors in Coatepeque clashed again on Thursday with members of the PNC (National Police) who tried to evict them from the street. The incident occurred at 7:30 AM when about 25 officers began to remove the vendors. The vendors verbally assaulted police and then began fighting. A police officer fired his 12 gauge shotgun to persuade those who resisted.

The Red Cross and the Fire Department stationed personnel to handle injuries but fortunately no one was injured.

Mario Mendez, representative of the traders, claimed that police agents are armed and shooting at people. An agent of the National Civil Police (PNC), identified only by his surname Tunay Cross, collected spent shells and ordered retailers to return them because they are evidence of abuse by the police. In addition, an officer of PNC, Areli Estrada, said that he was unaware of any eviction process. The MP (Ministerio Publico) collected evidence at the scene and refused to indicate what the official report might say.

Students of local schools left campuses for fear that the situation will worsen.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Discussion in Guatemala About Reducing Ecological Footprint

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) held a meeting in Guatemala City called Transformación de Mercados y Reducción de Huella Ecológica (Transformation of Markets and Reduction of Ecological Footprint) with agricultural and industrial companies of Guatemala. The purpose of the meeting was to spend two days sharing experiences on the topic of cleaner production.

On the first day of the meeting, Minister of Environment, Luis Ferraté, special guest, shared that Guatemala is going through problems because pollution is a latent risk in the resources. He expressed regret that Lake Atitlan, Guatemala's tourism icon, is contaminated by the communities and businesses located in the basin. Virginia Reyes of the WWF in Guatemala, said the meeting will ensure that businesses can learn new ways of production to avoid the overuse of natural resources and processing of industrial wastes such that they are not a burden on the planet.

Environmental groups have adopted a methodology called ecological footprint, which accounts for the impact of each human based on their customs and lifestyle. WWF maintains that humanity is consuming more resources than have the ability to renew themselves, which creates and will create serious problems for the population.

New Import Tax on Used Vehicles

The union of importers of used vehicles (Gremial de Importadores de Vehículos Usados) warned that buying a car would become more expensive if Congress approves a new "primera matricula" tax. The tax is included in the tax modernization package sent to Congress by the executive branch. In a document sent to various legislative caucuses, the union warned that approval of this initiative, which is facing its second reading in the legislature, affects not only the importers of vehicles but also consumers by raising costs. The union advises Congress to consider the proposal carefully and to reject it.

The secretary of the union says that vehicles are no longer a luxury but a necessity, since many people drive to work

The secretary cited an example of a collision damaged 2006 Honda with damage to the engine. Importation of this vehicle costs Q22,497.73, including freight and insurance. For this vehicle the import duty and VAT (Value Added Tax) paid was Q7,739.22. With the new charges and reforms in the proposed tax package, that same car would cost Q23,656.62 not including the VAT.

The basis for the tax will no longer be the invoice price but a price obtained from a table by the Superintendency of Tax Administration (SAT). The fee for the first registration of a vehicle would be 26 percent of the value of the vehicle, as determined by SAT, not the invoice. The executive branch proposes 30 per cent.

The proposed tax package for 2011 would double the road tax on vehicles, among other reforms. With this revenue, the government intends to finance part of the state budget this year so the government is urging its approval.

Children of Casa Alianza will be Safe

The closure of Casa Alianza was a blow to 99 children who were under their protection. 13 have been returned to their families but 86 others are still awaiting an uncertain fate.

Claudia Rivera, director of Casa Alianza, reported that they are seeking to place at least 50 of the 86 youths who are still in their care. Rivera said he does not know what will happen to the children but said that they are seeking an agreement with another organization, such as Remar, to take care of them. They cannot be sent home because that's where they were abused.

Some children prefer to go with family members who are not their parents, and others, especially children who are already mothers, seek to be independent, having learned a trade. In addition, there are about 4,000 children who were beneficiaries of the street and prevention projects, which could be served by a Spanish organization, according to Rivera. Before transfers can take place a court order must be obtained because the children are under protection by court order but as of yet no organization has stepped up to take responsibility.

Abraham Baca, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office (PGN), said it can not intervene because they are involved only when an adoption process takes place.

Guillermo Melgar, a spokesman for the Supreme Court said that the children were placed in Casa Alianza by court order and now it is up to the National Council for Adoptions (CNA) to send each case to a family court. Rudy Zepeda, a spokesman for the CNA, refrained from making comments.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Spain to Send $45 Million in Aid

In 2009 Spain will send about U.S. $45 million in aid to Guatemala to fight poverty and increase security. Spanish Secretary of State for Iberoamerica, Trinidad Jimenez, announced the aid package on Wednesday. He said that while the international economic crisis is affecting Spain, this not affect in any way affect Spain's commitment to developmental cooperation. In fact, it will increase.

Jimenez said that since 2005, Spanish cooperative aid to Guatemala has totaled $146 million for programs to reduce poverty, strengthen democracy, institutions, and to prevent crime. Jimenez also announced Q82 million or about 8 million Euros for various aid programs to Central America, spread over four years, aimed at treatment and rehabilitation of young people. Moreover, resources can be put in place for increased tourist security, reduction of violence against women, to harmonize the legal systems of Central America, and towards the control of small arms and light weapons. The cooperative effort will also serve to "strengthen policies to protect children at risk or in conflict with the law."

The agreement seeks to strengthen the Observatorio Centroamericano de Violencia (OCAVI) and create a Unidad de Seguridad Democrática del Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (SICA), consisting of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

Parents Struggle to Afford School Materials

So far this January, pawnshop business in Guatemala City has increased between 20 and 30 percent. January is one of the biggest times of the year for pawn shops because this is when people need money to enroll their children in school, purchase supplies, books, uniforms, and medicines.

Pawn shops make loans on collateral unacceptable to banks and will take jewelry, household appliances, even cars. Interest rates vary from 3.5 to 4.5 percent per month. Pawn shops are not regulated by the Superintendencia de Bancos but they are regulated under the Código de Comercio y Registro Mercantil.

Spain Confirms Police Assistance

Secretary of State for Iberomérica of Spain, Trinidad Jimenez, this morning confirmed Spain's support to public security forces, mainly in regard to staff training on the prevention and prosecution of crime.

Jimenez confirmed the cooperation between Spain and Guatemala, one of the most sensitive issues for the Guatemalan people, this morning during a meeting with Interior Minister, Salvador Gándara, conducted at the residence of the embassy, located in Zone 14. Gandara said the professional staff will allow the police more effective in crime prevention and actions in the street, and also increased investigative skills. He said that the support is not in the form of financial aid but in training.

According to Gandara, the Spanish secretary shares the same concerns as other consuls stations in Guatemala, in terms of insecurity, mainly with respect to foreigners.

In this regard, he said that sharing information with the Guatemalan Institute of Tourism (Inguat) to involve them in plans to attract tourists and tha the police can provide adequate security. During his tenure in Guatemala, Jimenez has secured the support of Spain for social programs, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and now for the security forces. In 2008, Spain awarded about U.S. $5.6 million for security.

See previous story on this topic:

Junta Monetaria Drops Prime Rate .25 Percent

The Monetary Board (JM) today announced that it lowered the seven day prime interest rate by 0.25 percentage points. This move puts the anti-inflationary control at 7 percent.

According to the chairperson of the Junta Monetaria, Banguat, and Maria Antonieta del Cid de Bonilla, this is in response to the recent reduction in prices, mainly fuel and food. These prices continue to decline and further downward movements in the interest rate are possible in the future.

This is the first time that the prime rate has been lowered since it was first introduced in 2005. Last year, the prime rate was increased twice, in March and July, up to 7.25 percent. The prime interest rate is the main tool used by the Banguat to control price levels and that motivates banks to invest in securities issued by Banguat rather than loans.

At the end of last year the inflation rate was 9.4 percent. It is expected that due to the global economic slowdown the rate of inflation will slow further in coming months.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Colom Says Electric Rates Should Drop

President Alvaro Colom announced that the cost of electricity would drop, starting in February. The president described this as "a responsible act of his administration." Moreover, he emphasized that the reduction in cost corresponds to the process of transformation of the electrical grid.

Carlos Meany, Minister of Energy and Mines, said that "the price of electricity for the next quarter will decrease more than 15 percent." According to Meany, the reduction in the cost of electricity is because there has been a downward trend in the price of fuel, including bunker oil, which is used in Guatemala for generation of electricity.

The majority of the decrease will be seen by users in the departments of Guatemala, Escuintla and Sacatepéquez, while the rest of the population will have a lesser reduction.

For the three month period from November 2008 to January 2009 the residential electric rate per kilowatt hour varies from Q1.25 to Q1.29 and the commercial rate from Q1.54 to Q1.85.

Colom also announced that on March 16th the first tests will be conducted on an intertie with Mexico, which will provide an additional 200 megawatts to the national electric grid and will contribute to the rate reduction.

300 Kilos of Cocaine Seized

Costa Rican security forces seized a shipment of 300 kilos of cocaine, valued at U.S. $3 million, which was hidden in the false bottom of a container headed for Guatemala. They also arrested the driver, a Guatemalan.

Initial investigations show that the action would be a serious blow to drug trafficking organizations in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Colombia who move drugs in cargo transport units which are also loaded with products such as crackers, soap, and food, in order to mislead authorities.

The seizure took place in the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose and in the towns of Alajuela and Uruca, where the organization has wineries.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Price of Diesel Drops

Since December 19th the price of a gallon of diesel fell Q1.23, according to surveys by the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM).

The price of diesel at the end of December was Q19.83 and yesterday Q18.03. One gas station was found selling diesel for Q17.75

In July of last year was the first time in history that diesel fuel in Guatemala cost more than gasoline. Diesel reached Q36.99.

VP of Collapsed Bank Fails to Appear

Ingo Henrich Haberland, accused of involvement in the bankruptcy of Banco del Café (Bancafé) did not appear at his hearing scheduled for today. The defendant had been summoned by the Juzgado Noveno de Instancia Penal to testify about the case.

Haberland served as vice president of the bank and is now a fugitive from justice. In November 2007, the Ministerio de Gobernación put up a reward of Q100,000 for information about those involved in the Bancafé collapse. On October 19, 2006, the Monetary Board suspended operations of Bancafé for mismanagement. Bancafe was the fourth largest bank in Guatemala with over one million accounts and Q6.7 billion in deposits.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Two CONAP Guards Kidnapped

Yesterday, after a gun battle, security forces liberated two CONAP guards in the Petén. The incident took place in Laguna del Tigre National Park. Two of the perpetrators were killed and 46 more arrested.

CONAP is a government agency responsible for guarding Guatemala's natural resources, particularly tropical hardwoods. Guatemala's tropical hardwood forests are under constant attack from poachers who harvest the wood illegally and transport it out of the country, usually through Mexico. Northern Guatemala's long border with Mexico is mostly wilderness and difficult to guard. the poachers operate in large organized groups and are heavily armed. CONAP is responsible for protecting these resources and checking that shipments of wood leaving the Peten are legally harvested.

Rolando Gonzalez Garcia, 56, and Anibal Adrian Magallón Kilcán, 42, employees of CONAP forcibly taken from the checkpoint at Guayacán last Thursday. "
I was talking with my companion when a hundred men entered the camp. We were captured and taken to San Andres Santa Amelia. I thought we were going to kill us," said Magallón after being released. CONAP said that it's a heavily armed group, well organized, with new vehicles and firearms. The kidnappers demanded that they be given land in the park, property titles, and included in the strategic plans of the forest reservation.

Rudel Alvarez, governor of the Petén, said that after the guards were taken, six hours passed with no dialogue with the kidnappers. The poachers shot into the air while the security forces carried out raids on nearby communities. The Staff Attorney of Human Rights came to ask them to release the hostages, but the kidnappers refused.

After several unsuccessful attempts at negotiation, the special forces of the National Civil Police (PNC) and soldiers carried out a rescue operation. Residents of the village of El Naranjo, La Libertad, saw 500 policemen and 200 soldiers go to Santa Amelia, about 220 kilometers from Flores.

Security forces conducted several raids to locate the hostages. The official report from the PNC says that the kidnapped guards were located at the farm Rosita-Rio Escondido. The report shows that the police killed an unidentified man who shot at the police with a shotgun. The report also states that no military or police were serioualy injured but local farmers say that 10 police and three soldiers were injured and taken by helicopter to a hospital.

Police reported that 46 people were arrested including several women and firearms were seized.

President Alvaro Colom announced that an airplane and a helicopter of the Guatemalan Air Force were attacked last Sunday with a rifle. "That's why he had to intervene to achieve the rescue of the two members of CONAP," he said. He added that the government has a plan for capturing the rest of the perpetrators.

Bank of Guatemala Extends Liquidity

The JM, Junta Monetaria (Monetary Board) last Wednesday approved an extension or widening of the window of liquidity (money supply) in U.S. dollars to the national banking system until next May 31 to a maximum of US $290 million. The previous measure expires on January 31, 2009.

By the end of last year, the Bank of Guatemala (Banguat) had offered US $258 million but allocated only US $ 93.7 million. The option of widening the window to provide liquidity in U.S. dollars resulted from the decision of the correspondent banks to cut or reduce credit lines to local banks. The need for money led to the Bankers Association of Guatemala to apply the measure.

Luis Lara, representative of the banking sector before the Monetary Board and CEO of Banco Industrial believes that such a provision is positive but felt that constant vigilance is needed until the international banking situation is normalized. At present, the reduction in credit lines from international banks could be around U.S. $300 million. Another analyst said that it's good to have this as a preventative measure. Right now one must maintain the stability of the banking system, as it has not been touched by the international crisis. The measure gives banks the option to negotiate extensions of credit lines. According to data from the central bank, as of December 31st the banks in the system had received Q3,944,000,000 of liquidity in domestic currency.

Fuentes: Guatemala Not In Deep Economic Crisis

At a recent economic conference held in Paris, Guatemala's Finance Minister, Juan Alberto Fuentes, said that Guatemala is facing difficulties because of the economic slowdown of its export partners but is not experiencing a profound crisis.

The Bank of Guatemala projects economic growth for 2009 of 3 percent, against 4 percent in 2008 and 5.5 percent in 2007. There are more positives than negatives said Fuentes at
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) event in Paris. "...prudent macroeconomic policy and our financial system that is not integrated into the global system have helped maintain stability," he added.

Guatemala's inflation rate peaked at 9.4 percent in 2008, its highest rate in 12 years, largely due to increases in the prices of fuel and other raw materials, although in recent months the rate fell.

The three key indicators of economic activity in Guatemala, tourism, exports, and remittances received from Guatemalans working abroad, all showed slowdowns.
Almost 40 percent of Guatemala's exports, such as textiles, coffee, bananas, and non-traditional agricultural products such as plants, flowers and fruits, go to the United States, and that is a concern.

SAIA Agents Search for Drugs in Puerto Barrios

The Servicio de Análisis e Información Antinarcótica (SAIA) of the Policía Nacional Civil searched several houses Puerto Barrios area looking for drugs, but the results were meager. Some 75 policemen raided the home of Joel Aldana Vega, alleged ringleader of a cocaine distribution network selling to the local population.

Anibal Alvarado, deputy head of SAIA, said they also raided four buildings in the colonia La Repegua, aldea Santo Tomás de Castilla. In one apartment they found 75 grams of cocaine, valued at Q3,750. In addition they found empty bags, sealing devices, and drug packaging materials. They also found a magazine for an M-16 rifle.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fuel Expenditures Rose while Imports Dropped

In the month of November 2008, the amount paid by Guatemala for fuels was 28.9 percent higher than the same period in 2007 even though the amount of fuel imported was lower.

According to the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, Ministry of Energy and Mines, as of November 30th, expenditures for petroleum amounted to U.S. $2.574 billion, $574 million more than in the same period from 2007. At the same time, Guatemala imported 24.17 million barrels, 2.85 million barrels less than in the same period of 2007 when it bought 27.02 million barrels.

Augusto César Corado, director of the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, said the reason for the cost increase was that the oil was unfortunately purchased during the time of peak prices.

According to Carmen Urizar, an expert in the field and former Minister of Energy, this year presents major challenges for the government because the cost for imported oil in 2008 nearly tripled over the amount budgeted. He added that this trend should prompt the government to step up the search for alternative sources of energy such as biofuels.

Expenditures for imported oil has risen in recent years by about 63 percent since November 2004, when the amount was U.S. $947 million. In November 2008, the expenditure was U.S. $ 2.574 billion.

According to recent projections by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), by the close of 2008 the American oil bill increase by 42.8 percent, year over year. The commission's analysis showed the expenditure will beU.S. $12.25 billion. The figure was U.S. $8.642 billion in the previous year.

Thomas Dougherty, president of the Chamber of Industry of Guatemala, believes that more thought should be given to the use of alternative fuels.

The state must respond in an emergency manner because of the economic debacle that occurred during the highly volatile period in the oil markets. Analysts and government officials hope that the worldwide economic slowdown keeps oil prices lower due to decreased demand.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Price of Propane Drops

Guatemalan housewives and consumers should get some relief on the price of propane due to the drop in international fuel prices. According to a press release from the Ministry of Energy and Mines a 25 pound cylinder of gas has dropped from Q99 to Q90. A 35 pound cylinder has dropped to Q126, and a 100 pounder has dropped from Q396 to Q360.

There are about 10,000 distributors of propane in Guatemala and they adjusted their prices this week. Guatemalans consume about 11 million gallons of propane (LPG) per month.

Although the trend in propane gas prices is downward it's impossible to know what might happen in the future but local stockpiles of propane should ensure that prices remain low until at least March.

Eco-Rio Fund Raiser a Big Success

Yesterday a benefit auction for Eco-Rio was held at Mario's Marina. A long list of valuable products and services were donated by local businesses and individuals. The items were auctioned to the highest bidder. A large number of people showed up and a great time was had by all.

Eco-Rio is an organization that has been around for a long time in Rio Dulce. Eco-Rio tends to keep a low profile and operates behind the scenes to keep the Rio Dulce the wonderful place that it is. Have you ever wondered why the Rio Dulce has not been overrun by industries and pollution, wood-chipping mills, dusty mining operations? It's not because such industries don't want to be here, they do. But Eco-Rio has worked hard for many years to prevent this from happening, to prevent the destruction of the unique environment and scenery in Rio Dulce. The air is clean, the landscape is natural, the river is clean and full of healthy fish, thanks to Eco-Rio. Security on the river is also a concern of Eco-Rio and they have been central to establishing 24 hour police patrols both on land and on the water.

The auction was sponsored and coordinated by Mario's Marina and promoted by the Rio Dulce Chisme-Vindicator. Plans to hold another event next year are already being discussed.

More in the Chisme-Vindicator

Friday, January 23, 2009

Crisis Causes Slowdown in Construction

The slowdown in construction resulting from the worldwide economic crisis is anticipated to last from months to years. The firm that builds the Pradera malls says that four commercial centers that were to open this quarter will be delayed by at least six months. Projects are delayed in Villa Nueva, Santa Catarina Pinula, Los Olivos, Zone 18, and San Marcos.

Housing construction has experienced a 25 percent drop in demand. The drops range from 10 to 30 percent depending on the project and location. Cementos Progreso, which plans to begin new operations in San Juan Sacatepéquez, will delay that project until next year. The Cámara Guatemalteca de la Construcción says it is necessary to be creative in this environment and that the situation could improve over what has been predicted for 2009.

Despite the current situation, some investors in the construction sector are optimistic and will continue. The Spectrum Group which built Miraflores and recently the Oakland Mall plans to complete projects that involve construction of more than 4,700 homes.

As a result of the crisis, the construction sector in Guatemala los more than 100,000 jobs in 2008 according to the Cámara Guatemalteca de la Construcción. The sector shrank by 3.6 percent in 2008 and in 2009 a further decrease or 4.7 percent is anticipated.

Portillo Used School Lunch Program to Embezzle State Funds

The saga of how looted state funds ended up in the hands of ex-president Alfonso Portillo's ex-wife and daughter continues. The fraud involved two companies, one of which was responsible for school lunch programs, but the funds were diverted.

After a bidding process between several companies, four remained and the state allocated Q45 million for the project. One of the companies was Operaciones y Descuentos Diversos, S.A. (Odissa) with whom the Minister of Education signed a contract for school lunches. After signing the contract, the Ministry of Finance ordered the treasury to credit Odissa Q27 million which was deposited in Banco Reformador. In five months, Odissa and Corporación Electrónica de Guatemala, S.A. (Coegsa), moved funds to other accounts. On May 9, 2002, U.S. $516,000 and $462,000 were transferred to the accounts of Portillo's ex-wife, María Eugenia Padua González, and his daughter, Otilia Portillo.

Investigators found that those funds were in addition to the two checks donated to Guatemala by Taiwan which were deposited to the accounts of Portillo's relatives in Luxembourg and Paris. Authorities in those two countries have frozen those funds, amounting to Q28 million.

Last Wednesday the former president acknowledged that there were transfers but did not clarify the source of funds. He only said that they were private accounts.

Oddisa was the company responsible for importing, exporting, buying, selling, processing, manufacturing, packing, packing and canning all kinds of food and in 2002, when the public funds were received, the firm purchased several money orders and deposited Q27 million the account of Coegsa.

Both companies were headed by Roberto Federico Villeda Aldana, who was contacted last Friday to inform him of the findings. The following Monday, he offered to answer two days later but did not.

Coegsa, upon receiving the funds, split the money into four transfers, three of them for Oddisa, and one of the Portillo family. The first transfer was made from Coegsa to Oddisa on January 10, 2002, for $300,000 by
Transcom Bank, Offshore of Grupo Financiero Reformador, based in Barbados. The second similar transfer was made April 3, 2002 for $400,000. The third transfer was made on May 9, 2002 through Coegsa through the same offshore institution for U.S. $516,000 and $462,000 to accounts of Portillo's ex-wife and daughter at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, Paris. One day later Coegsa repaid Oddisa via a transfer of U.S. $400,000. Investigators say that these sorts of money movements are typical of money laundering.

SAT began an audit process of the two companies but found no documentation to audit. In 2007, SAT therefore filed a criminal action against the two companies in the Juzgado Tercero de Primera Instancia Penal. Neither company exists anymore. Both were de-registered in 2007.

Coincidentally, when these transfers of money were made burglaries were reported in school warehouses used to store school lunch product. Other warehouses were burned making it impossible to retrieve records.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cold Wave Drives Temperatures Below Zero

The passage of cold fronts brought cold temperatures to Guatemala. Here in Rio Dulce temperatures dropped into the 50's Fahrenheit (15C). In Quetzaltenango (Xela) the Instituto Nacional de Sismología, Vulcanología, Meteorología e Hidrología recorded temperatures of 2 to 4 degrees below zero Celsius which brought thick fog and a coating of white frost on the ground and on roofs. It's expected that the residents of the Altiplano are in for about two weeks of cold weather. Temperatures may drop as low as -7 C. Fog affected Quetzaltenango, La Esperanza, Salcajá, and Olintepeque. White frost covered the fields in Concepción Chiquirichapa. Hospitals in the region have registered an increase in patients with bronchial and respiratory problems.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

HMS Queen Victoria Docks in Puerto Quetzal

The HMS Queen Victoria, carrying 1,785 passengers docked in Puerto Quetzal today. The Queen Victoria is one of the largest and most luxurious ships in the world. It's not unusual for cruise ships to visit Puerto Quetzal at this time of year. The cruise ship season ends in May. After departing Guatemala the Queen Victoria will head for Puerto San Lucas, México and will finally Los Angeles, in the United States.

The Queen Victoria displaces 90,000 tons, is 294 meters in length, and is 15 stories tall. It has a swimming pool, a main dining room / restaurant, 24 secondary restaurants, and a small shopping mall.

Inguat to Increase Promotion of Tourism

The Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo, Inguat, plans to spend Q19.7 million more in 2009 than was spent in 2008. This is an increase of 28.6 percent and will total Q88.5 million. By way of comparison, Costa Rica and Panama each spend about US $20 million and Mexico spends about US $170 million on promotion of tourism.

The Inguat budget for this year shows the money will be spent as follows: 45 percent for promotion of tourism, 12 percent for development of tourism related products, and 43 percent for operating costs. But Inguat has a goal of reducing operating costs to 30 percent of budget and spending 70 percent on promotion.

The primary countries that will be targeted for promotion are the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America, with lesser focus on South America and Europe.

Wind Power in Santa María de Jesús

The town of Santa María de Jesús in Sacatepéquez (near Antigua) is proposing to install wind generators that take advantage of the strong winds that occur on the slopes of Volcán de Agua. The idea is to use the power to reduce or eliminate the cost of pumping water for the town. Right now the town pays about Q300,000 a month for electricity to pump water.

The current plan involves the installation of 10 wind generators that would generate enough power to more than satisfy the water requirements of Santa María de Jesús and the extra water could be sold to surrounding aldeas. The plan also includes construction of an ecological park.

The first phase of the project is receiving assistance from the Japanese and the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica.

Four Suspected Robbers Beaten in El Estor

Four suspected robbers were detained and beaten by citizens in the town town of Chichipate, El Estor, Izabal after being accused of assaulting several passengers of a microbus. The citizens accused the suspects of robbing money and cellular phones from the passengers. Apparently one of the victims called his family who aroused the citizenry, who then chased the thugs and captured them. They were then taken to Chichipate where they were beaten and detained. The PNC negotiated with the citizens and the suspects were turned over to police.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Los Mossos Will Train the PNC

Who are Los Mossos? Los Mossos d’Escuadra originated in Cataluña in 1719 and are one of the oldest true police forces in the world. They were formed as an armed force of civilians whose job was to protect property, transportation of goods, and marketplaces. Back in 1719 it was a revolutionary idea to use civilians for this type of work instead of military forces.

The Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (Cicig) reached an agreement with the authorities in Cataluña, España to bring a group of Policía de la Generalitat, Mossos d’Esquadra to Guatemala to train the PNC in security methods and criminal investigation techniques. Details of the agreement were not available from the Vice-Minister of Public Security or the Spanish Embassy, nor has the agreement been ratified. But Spanish press sources indicate that the agreement will be ratified and that training will also address human rights issues, protocols, and police ethics.

The PNC (Policía Nacional Civil de Guatemala) was formed after the signing of the Peace Agreement in December of 1996 and this is not the first time that the PNC has received training from Spanish police. In February of 1997, the Guatemalan government decided to model the new police force after the Guardia Civil Española. Through their Agency of International Cooperation, Spain provided police personnel to train the PNC but analysts agree that the results were not what was hoped for. It is hoped that this new training effort produces better results.

Analysts Want Increase in Public Spending to Confront Crisis

Analysts say that the economic crisis will worsen in 2009 and Guatemala will be afflicted by less employment, consumption, and investment. In light of this, they recommend an increase in public spending but through methods that maintain transparency. Investments in infrastructure, social assistance, and funds aimed at increasing employment should be the areas of focus. The analysts recommend that due to the nature of the crisis these expenditures should be made in spite of the fact that it will increase debt.

One expert's opinion is that this is the ideal time to undertake large projects such as hydroelectric and highways because inflation should not be a problem. In fact, inflation is expected to shrink later this year so it's a good time for government spending. He recommends running a deficit of 2.5 percent for two years. This takes into consideration that tax revenues decreased in 2008 as GNP dropped by 11 percent and that there is a need to increase liquidity in the money supply. The government needs to spend right but in a transparent manner and in a way that prevents the funds from being diverted into the wrong hands. Now is a bad time to increase taxes because it will further slow an already slowed economy. This is the big mistake made in the United States in the 1930s where politicians concerned about a balanced budget increased taxes and crashed the economy.

Last year, Banco de Guatemala intervened 31 times to control the Quetzal / Dollar exchange rate. This year, the bank plans to allow the exchange rate to move more freely and the experts say this is good. The economies of First World countries are in serious crisis but that crisis does not have to affect Guatemala so much. Guatemala has assets and capabilities such that the future need not look as bleak as it does for the First World countries.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Politicians Demand that Portillo be Brought to Justice

Bank accounts belonging to ex-president Alfonso Portillo's daughter and ex-wife were frozen. Authorities in Paris and Luxembourg confirmed that the accounts have been frozen until Portillo's legal situation in Guatemala has been cleared up. The Prensa Libre brought to light the fact that banks in Luxemburg and Paris froze the accounts of María Eugenia Padua, first wife of ex-president Portillo, and Otilia Portillo Pauda, his daughter. It is believed that the 2 million Euros in those accounts were donations from Taiwan to Guatemala intended to fund public libraries and for school snack programs while Portillo was head of state.

Portillo was extradited and is now free on a Q1 million bond. He stands accused of diverting Q120 million of defense funds by means of his signature. The European banks decided to act even though there is no direct proof as of yet that the funds in those two accounts were ill-gotten. One politician is quoted as saying that the actions of the European banks demonstrates that justice at the international level functions more efficiently than within Guatemala. He urged the authorities to step up the investigations in order to link those two accounts with the diverted funds. He added that the fact that Portillo is free on bond demonstrates that criminals still operate with impunity and with no worries in Guatemala.

However Nineth Montenegro of Encuentro por Guatemala said that this revelation might prove to be a reversal for Portillo, who returned to Guatemala practically as a victorious hero without any apparent concern about the serious accusations levels at him for his actions while in office. The existence of these personal accounts in the names of Portillo's relatives might prove to be the key fact that gives creedence to the accusations that have been made for many years. The most important thing, however, is that since those funds were intended to aid children by means of public libraries, all efforts should be made to repatriate those funds as quickly possible so that they can be used for their original purpose.

Doctors End Strike

Primary care doctors at the two largest hospitals in Guatemala restored service today after a work stoppage over labor contracts. The two hospitals affected were the Roosevelt Hospital and San Juan de Dios Hospital where more than 300 health care workers came to work but refused to work for the past two days. Negotiations took place between worker leaders and the Ministry of Health, and mediated by personnel from the justice system. Agreement was reached to give labor contracts to the 360 workers who have been working without one and to begin payment of salaries under the new contract in February. The work stoppage was canceled immediately once the agreement was reached and services returned to normal.

The labor dispute began when the Ministry of Health introduced a new system of labor contracts designed to facilitate the specialization of resident doctors but admitted that the new system turned out to be in violation of laws regulating workers rights such as social security, workers liability, and others.

Hundreds Sleep Outdoors to Enroll Kids in School

Hundreds of persons gathered outside the Instituto Nacional de Educación Básica de Amatitlán (Ineba) and spent the night in the street in order to obtain a number enabling them to enroll their child in school. Some came equipped with tents, ponchos, food, and hot coffee. Some spent 48 hours waiting outside the school in the cold rainy weather. Enrollment day arrived, the process began at 7 AM and by 11 AM all had been processed.

It is not uncommon for this to happen. Enrollment occurs a week before classes begin and the lines are always longer at that time. Since the Ministry of Education has increased the capacity for free public schooling, more people want their kids to get an education and the lines have become much worse than usual.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Staff Strike at Two Hospitals in the Capital

Medical staff at the San Juan de Dios Hospital and the Roosevelt Hospitals refused to attend to outpatients in protest because 308 of the staff do not have a labor contract. Outpatients had been allowed to come in and be evaluated by a nurse specialists but they were not treated.

The seventh floor of the San Juan de Dio Hospital was filled with idle personnel, chatting with one another or reading. Resident doctors who normally handle outpatients were in a permanent meeting, a form of strike. Paramedics were called upon to set up new appointments for the outpatients. Meanwhile staff leaders along with a court assessor were analyzing a proposal made by the Ministry of Health. This proposal confirmed that 213 doctors have contracts and proposed to give contracts to the other 308 professional medical personnel within three months. A counterproposal was presented demanding contracts for all 521 residents and that they be paid no later than the 15th of February. After a 2-1/2 hour meeting the parties had still not reached an accord.

Another meeting of staff leaders was to occur today to decide whether to accent the Ministry's proposal or to continue the strike.

Impassable Bridges / Alta Verapaz

The Boca Nueva and Cahaboncito bridges in the Polochic area have been in poor shape for years and local citizens fear a disaster. The Boca Nueva bridge was built 125 years ago in the days of heavy ox-drawn wagons. Today 800 vehicles cross the bridge every day including heavy truck traffic. Truck drivers a fearful because the bridge is unstable and shaky. The wooden driving surface is worn out. If the Boca Nueva bridge collapses then Panzós would be isolated from from Cobán, similar to what happened three years ago when Panzós was isolated from El Estor due to a bridge collapse.

Local authorities and citizens have been raising the alarm for years with Covial, the division of the Ministry of Communications that is responsible for road and bridge maintenance. But despite the fact that these bridges are on national routes, not community roads, and are vital to transport in the region, nothing has been done. Local citizens have attempted some repairs by welding the supports and replacing the wooden surface as best they can but this is not nearly enough. The bridges need to be replaced. Truck drivers, local authorities and citizens are hoping that repair or replacement takes place this coming dry season and before a disastrous bridge collapse occurs.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Casa Alianza Closes Its Doors due to Economic Crisis

La Asociación Casa Alianza Guatemala ceased operations yesterday and the 99 juveniles and adolescents in their care will be turned over to the courts who will relocate them. Their financial problems began about three months ago. The international economic crisis affected Convent House and Casa Matriz de Casa Alianza which cost US $100,000 a month to operate. Attorneys and police arrived yesterday at 5:00 PM to inform the staff. Staff was told to appear several hours later an a hotel where they would be given their severence checks.

Updates to Maya Paradise

Over the past few weeks many changes have been made to the Maya Paradise web site. The layouts of many pages have been improved, dead links removed, the Site Map has been redesigned, the Rio Dulce / Livingston Tide Tables have been updated to cover 2009 thru 2018. Lots more changes are in progress so stay tuned.

Maya Paradise

Pardon the Interruption

In mid-2008 I built this blog to test out the principle of publishing the sort of articles you see here because I knew I would be returning to Guatemala where I used to live. Now I am here, the move is complete, and I will be resuming the posting of articles on this blog. Sorry about the interruption.