Saturday, February 28, 2009

Interconnection with Inde to be Complete by Year-End

The interconnection of the Guatemalan electric power grid with the Mexican electric power grid is expected to be complete by the end of 2009. It is the first step in a plan to interconnect the electric grids of Mexico, Central America, and Colombia, and is expected to bring cheaper electricity rates.

Read the whole story here at Business News Americas

"Sweetheart of the Cattleranchers" Elected in Morales

MORALES - Lucía Marianela Chinchilla Franco was elected Novia de Los Ganaderos for the period 2009-2010 and Gladis Odeth Matta Acevedo received the title of Novia del Jinete ("Sweetheart of the Cowboys").

The activity was held in advance of the fair in honor of the St. Joseph the Patriarch, which will take place from March 13 to 21.

"This title is important because it gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our capabilities and skills on stage and in the different ranching activities," said Lucía Marianela.

At the evening activities, which took place in the municipal coliseum, Gladis Odeth also won the titles of Miss Photogenic and Escénica Artística.

The vice-president of the Committee of Ranchers, Carlos Humberto Castro García, said that the evening is part of the contribution of this celebration to the citizens. The committee also sponsors rodeos and other events.

On March 19th will be a next National Rodeo, held in Morales. On the 21st, the International Rodeo, and on the 22nd, the Horse Parade.

These activities are important because they represent a business that is vital to the economy of the region.

La Municipalidad de Morales will also elect the Queen of the City and the Flor de la Feria.

Concern over Deforestation in Sololá

Indigenous organizations, development committees, community development councils, and residents reject wanton logging in the mountains of Sololá.

Marcelino Ibaté, president of the Development Committee, stated that they observe trucks loaded with logs that are transported to sawmills.

Mary Sicajau, from the Organización Campesina de Sololá said that people need to be educated about deforestation so that they plant trees.

The community leader Agustín Saloj said that the authorities should protect nature because seedlings are scarce.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Quetzal Exchange Rate Reaches 8.15

The depreciation of the quetzal against the U.S. dollar is manifesting itself in the rising exchange rate.

A poll of banks gave the following results:

Banco de América Central, Q7.91 buy, Q8.11 sell.
Internacional, Q7.93 buy, Q8.15 sell.
Agromercantil, Q7.95 buy, Q8.12 sell.
Azteca, Q7.86 buy, Q8.06 sell.
Industrial, Q7.90 but, Q8.09 sell.
G&T Continental, Q7.84 buy, Q8.03 sell.

The black market on the street was at Q7.84 buy, Q8.00 sell.

Money changer Elio Chávez said that since January the dollar has been fluctuating but he emphasized that this sort of behavior is normal at the beginning of a year.

Businesses that rely on imports are suffering because the rising rate increases the cost of imported materials.

SAT Puts Fraud and Tax Evasion at Q5.2 Billion

Customs fraud and smuggling resulted in Q5.2 billion in unpaid taxes, according to the Superintendency of Tax Administration (SAT).

Rudy Villeda said in Congress that that figure equals 26.1% of the evasion of Value Added Tax (VAT) during the same period. Mr. Villeda said that studies are in progress concerning the collection of the VAT last year and other indicators from the Banco de Guatemala to calculate the magnitude of the tax evasion.

"We hope that evasion has decreased in the past year and that revenue collection increases. That is our goal," Villeda said.

Among the cases reported last year include the entry of contraband fuel from Mexico, when the price of oil soared in Guatemala. Several cases of customs fraud were also detected in the country's ports.

Villeda announced the implementation of security arrangements at ports with more controls on imports and exports to improve detection. "These measures will help us to maintain tax revenue, which has slowed," he said.

These new controls seek to take an inventory of containers in ports.

The Ministerio Publico confirmed that during 2008 some 238 complaints of customs fraud and smuggling were made, mostly presented by the SAT.

As a result 15 people are being sought by police, said Oxon Fredy Paredes, head of Customs Anti-Smuggling.

Fungus Causing Losses in Maize Yields

Maize is the staple diet for thousands of Guatemalans. Farmers of Alta Verapaz, Quiche, and Peten have been hit since last December [2008] by a fungus called 'slick asphalt', which blackens maize crops, reported the National Basic Grains Commission (Conagrab).

The president of Conagrab, Alberto Ical, said that crop losses of up to 75 per cent due to this fungus have been reported in Chisec, Alta Verapaz, and La Chapina, Quiche, where maize production of 30 000 and 40 000 quintals [3000 and 4000 tonnes], respectively, had been estimated. Outbreaks of the disease have also been detected in Sayaxche, Peten, with estimated crop losses of 50 per cent, Ical added.

Read the rest of the story at Seed Quest

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Google / Feedburner Mess, Please Update Your RSS Readers

As you probably know, Google bought Feedburner back in 2007. Recently Google "offered" to move my Feedburner account and feeds to the new Google / Feedburner. Since eventually everyone will have to move or their RSS feeds will stop working it seemed like a good idea. I pushed the button and all appeared to go smoothly and automatic. But it didn't. It broke all of my blog feeds, and since I maintain nine different blogs, it's a significant problem. Some feeds stopped updating, some began pointing to the wrong things, feeding comments out instead of posts, and other nonsense. It's a mess that I'm still cleaning up.

The Maya Paradise blog is now fixed, I think. The feed buttons on the Maya Paradise News Blog are updated and if you are a subscriber, please re-subscribe to the new feed before Google shuts down the previous feed system entirely on March 16th.

NOTE: If you are subscribed through an Atom feed, you should not have to change anything.

Guatemala: A nation easy to get around and with an easygoing people

A travel article in the American Statesman

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

In a cool mist one early afternoon last summer, I made my way, along with my friend Nathaniel Mendelsohn, a guide and a dozen other hikers, up a lush mountain trail, scrambled across a saddleback and set out, gingerly, across the forbidding, utterly black volcano known as Picaya. It was like making your way from the land of Man into the land of Mordor.

Guatemala is like a poor man's Costa Rica. There are fewer resorts and fewer tourists. But organizing day trips like the Picaya hike, or bargaining for huipils, the embroidered, attractive ponchos sported by indigenous people, was no problem. To get from town to town, we popped into one of the many little tourist agencies to schedule transportation or we hopped on one of the many punctual little vans, Greyhound-like buses, or colorful, converted school buses known as chicken buses, for a ride along vertigo-inducing roads cut into mountainsides. (Unfortunately, with only six days, we didn't have time to reach the supposedly magnificent Mayan ruins of Tikal, in the north of Guatemala.) Lodging in a clean room with cable television and hot water cost only about $25 a night.

Read the whole article here

Dollar Rises to Highest Level Since 2004

The quetzal exchange rate reached the highest level in four and a half years, reaching Q7.98 to the U.S. dollar, according to figures from Banguat. In the financial markets, the quetzal is trading slightly above 8.

The last recorded high occurred on August 2, 2004, when the exchange rate of Central Bank reached Q8.01 to the dollar.

Business sectors such as importers, retailers, and housing said that this high figure affects them. Inputs are expensive to buy which depresses consumption.

Comparing the rate to a year ago, the quetzal was at Q7.70 per dollar, an increase of 3.6 percent.

"We are hit hard because in addition to the cost of goods we buy, we also pay more to in duties and VAT," said the president of the Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce, Jorge Briz.

He added that the increase in the exchange rate affects imports. February 12 showed a drop of -28.9 per cent over the same period last year, which means that U.S. $395.7 million less goods were imported than in 2007.

Thomas Dougherty, president of the Chamber of Industry, said that the high rate impact imports of raw materials, but also provides a benefit to exporters.

Housing is also affected. A house that a year ago cost Q770,000 now costs Q798,000 an increase of Q28,000.

Latin American Drug Gangs Use GPS to Outwit Police

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Drug smugglers are using sophisticated devices like satellite positioning systems to outwit police and move more South American cocaine by sea, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.

Traffickers who used to fill speedboats with tanks of fuel to power long, clandestine sea journeys, leaving less room for drugs, are now fitting them with Global Positioning Systems so they can meet up with refueling ships at sea.

Using GPS devices to hook up with a waiting ship loaded with fuel means a much bigger stash of drugs can be packed on the boats, said Perry Holloway, director of anti-drug operations at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia.

Read the whole story here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: U.S. Announces Arrests of 755 Members of Mexican Drug Cartel

Today, the U.S. DEA announced the culmination of a 21 month operation against the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico, resulting in 755 arrests and the seizure of $59 million in cash.

Read the UPI story here.

Robbery in Puerto Barrios Schools

Puerto Barrios, Izabal

Yesterday, unknown burglars entered the school building at the Escuela Oficial Urbana Mixta Luis Aragon at 5th Street and 4th Avenue, and looted the school store.

They jumped the two meter high perimeter wall of the establishment and forced the gate in order to steal the merchandise. They also smashed walls and wooden doors to enter the classrooms.

The director of the school, Hugo Sancé reported that thieves took more than Q2,000 in products from the store. "Worse still is that the products were consigned and are due to the supplier companies. In addition, supplies needed by students were taken," he said.

Sancé explained that the shop is owned and administered by school parents who take turns at running the store.

This is the second time that the school has been attacked. "We went to the National Civil Police (PNC) to complain and were told that it's almost certain that the robbers are local and from the neighborhood," he said. "We were told that they would see what they could do for us," said Sanco.

He said that discussions are in progress with parents that he proposed the organization of groups to make rounds at night.

Two other robberies have occurred in the Escuela Oficial Urbana para Niñas on September 15th. Dalila Canales, director of the school recounted that in less than 30 days the crooks broke in twice.

She assured that complaints were registered with the PNC but the chief of the PNC in Izabal, Luis Say, said that complaints were not registered. But he promised to monitor the school more closely.

Women gain legal weapon against abuse

As the number of women being murdered and abused has skyrocketed, Guatemala has begun prosecuting cases under a law that is unique in Central America.

BY SUMMER HARLOW

Special to The Miami Herald

Erica Jacinto Vicente finally has begun to get justice for her dead daughter.

A year ago, Maria de Jesus Velasquez Jacinto's boyfriend allegedly shot her in the chest after years of beatings. Until a new law targeting abuse and murder of women was passed last year, Edgar Benjamin Quiñonez may not have been prosecuted, according to human rights officials.

But this month, Quiñonez's prosecution on murder charges began, making it only the second to go to trial among 722 cases of women murdered last year. ''The law shows that the Guatemalan government recognizes femicide is a real problem that exists,'' said Amanda Martin, director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission in Washington, D.C.

More than 4,000 women have been murdered here since 2000, and nearly 80,000 cases of violence were documented in the past two years, giving this small Central American nation one of the world's highest rates of violence against women.

Read the rest of the story here

Consulate in Los Angeles Helping Guatemalans Return Home

The Guatemalan consulate in Los Angeles, California is developing an initiative for the voluntary repatriation of Guatemalan immigrants due to the economic crisis in the United States.

The initiative is intended to assist not only for those who are voluntarily wanting to return to Guatemala but also those facing deportation. The consulate is offering free legal services to Guatemalans in need.

Guatemala Wants to Use Colombian Anti-Drug Plan

Officials from the U.S. DEA and from Colombia shared effective strategies against drug traffickers with local authorities. After these meetings there appears to be agreement to put a law on the books that enables confiscation of property, to form an elite group of investigators, and to expedite extraditions.

Representatives of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and the Attorney General view these proposals favorably but agree that each sector should strive to make it a reality.

Perry Holloway, director of Narcotics Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia, and Omar Adolfo Figueroa, deputy director of property at the National Narcotics Directorate of Colombia, spoke this week with Guatemalan officials to explain the plan that has succeeded in reducing drug trafficking activities in Colombia.

Holloway and Figueroa explained that the implementation of an asset forfeiture law has allowed the Colombian authorities to confiscate more than 70,000 properties from drug traffickers, including 2,000 companies, over a period of seven years. Figueroa said: "We have out of these seizures the holding company's largest drugstore and the largest chain in South America with 600 establishments. Such companies will be gradually handed over to private enterprise."

In addition, 600 aircraft and 9,000 vehicles have been seized. These seizures have brought Colombia $90 million which has been invested in a housing plan.

Holloway spoke about the speed in extradition proceedings in Colombia. Arrested drug kingpins have negotiated more lenient sentences in the U.S. in exchange for information on criminal operations and structures. He added, "This technique has enabled us to have information in record time that would have taken prosecutors 10 years to obtain."

The speakers made known that Colombia's society has benefited from these strategies with a 90 percent reduction in kidnappings, 60 percent reduction in homicides, and an equal reduction in extortions.

The visit of the officials is at a time when Guatemala is under attack by Mexican drug trafficking groups who commit massacres.

"Without security there can be no development and investment. If not controlled, these groups are going to kill judges and prosecutors. In addition, drugs and money laundering can permeate any institution," said Holloway. He stated that the violence that Guatemala is facing has to do with drug trafficking and he emphasized that the geographical position of Central America between the U.S. and Mexico makes it a natural bridge chosen by drug traffickers to move 70 percent of their product.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Gun Control Arrives in Guatemala

New Law Restricts Ownership of Weapons

The heads of voting blocs in Congress and the Comisión de Gobernación agreed last Thursday on a legislative initiative to restrict the number of weapons a person can own. The original measure, which was harshly criticized by members of Congress and social sectors, opened the door to an unlimited number but new measure limits it to three.

There is still debate on the number of rounds of ammunition that may be purchased per week. The new legislation limits purchases to 500 rounds per week but various organizations are trying to get that reduced to 300 rounds per month.

The initiative calls for each person who wishes to own a firearm to obtain a license. Only one license is allowed per person and the license allows the ownership of a up to three firearms.

To obtain a license, the applicant must undergo a psychological test, although it was not defined how this will be done. The applicant must also demonstrate that he has ability to handle the weapon so he is not a danger to himself, his family, and society.

Roberto Alejos, president of Congress, said that once an agreement on the content of the initiative is reached they will convene a special meeting to approve it.

Some points of agreement in the new law are:

Only one license will be allowed per person and the license allows up to three weapons.

To obtain this license will require a psychological evaluation and demonstration of the ability to handle the gun.

The license will be valid for one year and must be renewed.

To obtain a license one must be at least 25 years of age and not be convicted of crimes such as homicide, murder, kidnapping, rape, robbery, and others.

The law prohibits the prominent carrying of weapons and "ostentatious" magazines. Only magazines originally designed for the gun are allowed.

Q72 Million Invested in Coatepeque Water Project

A piped water project in Coatepeque will benefit approximately 15 thousand families in the region. The city invested Q60 million and Q12 million from a private initiative.

Rodrigo Bonifaz, company representative Cor, S. A., which conducted the study, reported that the families decide if they will connect only to the old system or both the old and new.

Coatepeque has had disruptions of the water supply, especially in the upper parts of downtown and nearby neighborhoods. The situation gets worse in the summer.

The current water system that supplies the city was built in the 1960s during the administration of Mayor Manfredo Hemmerling Morales.

Water storage on land was the property of finca Ona, El Quetzal, San Marcos, and is transported through pipelines over the Naranjo River, to the treatment plant of La Finca Nopalera, Colomba.

Six distribution tanks will be built in the north part of the city and connected to the distribution system.

An average service of 60,000 liters per month will cost Q25 per month.

The builder of the system has a contract to receive fees for 20 years as part of the agreement reached with the municipality

Local citizens say that it's worth it to pay Q25 a month to have water that's on 24 hours a day instead of just a few hours each day.

Monday, February 23, 2009

IGSS to Build New Hospital

The IGSS (Instituto Guatemalteco de Seguridad Social) build new hospital in Quetzaltenango. Construction will begin in November.

The project will cost Q500 million and the funds will come from the surplus of Q1.5 billion reported by IGSS

Just the plans for the hospital cost US $1 million. Q350 million will go for construction and the remainder for equipment.

A similar hospital is planned for Zacapa.

Guatel Seeks Revival as an Efficient Service Provider

At 10 years of privatization, the Guatemalan Telecommunications Company (GUATEL) seeks to re-emerge and offer its services to state agencies. They are seeking funding of U.S. $5 million to be used for renovation of equipment.

Guatel's properties and goods were sold in November 2008 under the name Telecomunicaciones de Guatemala (Telgua).

Amílcar Barrera, manager of Guatel, explained that the strategy is to sell telecommunications services to the state and to get a slice of the Q400 million that the Government pays for Internet services, data transmission and telephony.

He added that Guatel would be happy with half of that business and would operate successfully because it has the technical capability.

Since August of last year, Guatel has installed 50 kilometers of fiber optics that connect the various ministries of the state. Previously there were only 21 kilometers installed.

The vision is that the 38 institutions that already use the services of Guatel join with other government and municipal entities.

Barrera indicated that the goal is to unify the 333 municipalities of the country by a series of fiber optic rings, which receive and transmit data, voice, and Internet, and which would make use of the 38 microwave towers owned by companies that are spread throughout the national territory.

Another project is that all public schools in the country have access to the Internet.

In the area of data transmission is a health project under the vice president of the Republic. The plan calls for videoconferencing for remote consultation between medical experts and colleagues from the capital.

However, one of the greatest obstacles is economic resources. Each kilometer of optical fiber costs approximately Q5,000 and an annual budget of barely Q23 million barely covers operating expenses, according to Barrera.

Lisardo Bolaños, analyst with the National Center for Economic Research (Cien), thinks that Guatel would not be a good business. "If the concern is rural telephony, it is best to make concessions to private companies and not invest in a white elephant that has never been efficient," he said.

In his view, the fact that it's a government entity does not guarantee that the service will be cheaper or more efficient. He added that "the Government should build its demand for telecommunications services into a single package that could be bid by Guatecompras and get better prices."

Campesinos Organize in Opposition to Economic Plan

Workers in the farming sector have organized to protest the government's economic recovery plan.

The campesinos argue that funds from the plan are aimed at megaprojects to build roads, bridges, and other major infrastructure, and as a result does not benefit the campesinos and only a few of the poor who find jobs on those megaprojects.

"The government plan, in the case of agriculture, will not have a real impact on rural economies," said Juracán Leocadio, of the Consejo Nacional Indígena y Campesino, at a press conference.

Instead, the farm workers say the funding for those megaprojects will end up in the pockets of the rich and foreigners who own the big construction companies, and will not benefit the campesinos at all.

The peasant leaders also complained that the president has failed to submit the Ley del Sistema de Desarrollo Rural (Act of the System of Rural Development), which was promised for January. Furthermore, they threatened to withdraw from the discussions in June if not the promises are not fulfilled.

Court Strips Mayor of Immunity

The Criminal Court of First Instance in Retalhuleu decided that there is sufficient evidence to remove the immunity Edilma Elizabeth Navarijo, mayor of Ocós in San Marcos.

Navarijo is accused by the Ministerio Publico of a cover up after she allegedly concealed information about an attack in Ocós, San Marcos, last July 5th, that killed her son and her ex-husband. Other relatives of Navarijo were also injured in the attack.

Israel Ramos Noyola, judge in Retalhuleu sent the case to the Regional Court in that department to make the final decision regarding the immunity of the mayor.

The mayor and her legal counsel are not answering calls.

Police officer Carlos Costop and police detectives Manuel Alvarado and Nicolas Camajá Bach all face criminal prosecution because they are accused of having participated in the extrajudicial execution of Navarijo's family members.

The involvement of former Chief of Detectives, Victor Soto, who was also injured on the day of the incident, has not yet been determined.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Smoke Where You Please in Guatemala? Not Anymore

Decree 74-2008 went into force on February 20th. The new law prohibits smoking in enclosed spaces, which is defined as any space that is enclosed by walls or covered by a roof. It is only legal to smoke in unenclosed and uncovered spaces.

"All the ashtrays must be removed from tables because smoking areas go down in history," according to Brenda Aquino, of the Ministerial Anti-Tobacco Commission.

Shop owners and managers are in charge of enforcing the new law.

"Do not allow smoking in your establishments," said Marta Maria Tuna, chairman of the committee.

The call is especially aimed at owners and managers of bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and public transport, where fun or conversation between people encourages smoking.

Peter Meng, of the Union of Restauranteurs, explained that they are prepared to verify that no one smokes in their businesses but felt that compliance ambiguous because there is no regulation that explains how to implement the new act.

According to Celso Cerezo, Minister of Health, the rule goes into effect on the 20th but the regulation will be published in about 20 days.

Meng said that the lack of regulation is a problem because many entrepreneurs do not know how to implement the new rules.

After the issuance of regulations, the Ministry of Health will give a grace period of 60 days during which time there will be awareness campaigns and training of 570 inspectors and their managers before imposing sanctions.

Testimony Before the Minimum Wage Commission

The Labor Ministry yesterday gave testimony before the Tripartite Commission on the Minimum Wage, to establish a formal dialogue and discuss improvements to the minimum wage for workers.

"We want the employers, labor, and government to make proposals to improve the minimum wage," said Edgar Rodriguez, Minister of Labor. The official admitted that the past year did not achieve any breakthrough on this issue, but expects that with the testimony the committee can begin work. He went on to say "Unfortunately, 2008 only served to get the house in order. But this is a big proactive step that we are making now."

Adolfo Lacs, of the Federation of Bank Employees, said that they will fight for increasing the minimum wage. "When people have a better income, they improve their living conditions and consume more goods, like vegetables, meat, foods that are produced in Guatemala. The increased consumption will generate more jobs. It is a virtuous cycle that's driven by the consumer, "analyzed Lacs.

India to Buy Sugar From Brazil, Guatemala

India, the world’s biggest consumer of sugar, may import as much as 1.2 million metric tons from suppliers in Brazil and Guatemala to overcome a shortfall in output and cool rising domestic prices.

India’s government yesterday notified rules allowing duty- free imports of raw sugar until Sept. 30 for processing and sale domestically. Buyers must export a similar quantity of white sugar within two years, according to the trade ministry.

“There’s definitely a shortfall in production and this can only be met with raw sugar imports,” Narendra Murkumbi, managing director of Sree Renuka Sugars Ltd., India’s biggest processor, said in an telephone interview in Mumbai today.


See the rest of the story here:
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601091&sid=a_mQhlwOZ4.E

Colom Criticized for not Obtaining Agreements with Cuba

Critics complain that President Alvaro Colom failed to make any formal signed agreements with Cuba during his recent visit there.

The Foreign Minister, Haroldo Rodas, argued that the absence of firm agreements during the recent official visit of President Alvaro Colom to Cuba was because the island does not normally enter into agreements.

Rodas, like Colom, explained that "Cuba does not normally enter into agreements not dealing with specific aspects of cooperation previously agreed upon." He said that in this case the signatures on cooperation agreements between two countries "often occur in other bilateral meetings."

However, the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez, during her official visit to the island, signed 11 bilateral agreements. Among them were agreements about the production of vaccines, antiretroviral drugs, and anti-cancer drugs.

Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile, also made an official visit to Cuba which resulted in the signing of two agreements in the areas of health and science, and technology and innovation.

Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba, President of Namibia, signed agreements with Cuba to support education and health.

The Guatemalan foreign minister said that in the coming weeks a binational commission will meet in Guatemala to discuss follow-up or new treaties will be signed to implement new technologies, purchase of medicines or vaccines, and cooperation in housing construction, where the Guatemalan government has expressed interest in being assisted by Cuba.

Attorney Giovanni Fratti commented that the foreign minister "tries to hide the incompetence and improvisation in external relations of this [Alvaro Colom's] government." He went on to say "the Government must prove with facts the results that he claimed to have obtained with this visit."

Last Wednesday, upon his return from Cuba, President Alvaro Colom explained: "In Cuba there is no tradition of signing agreements. Things are just done and implemented."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hike in Vehicle Import Tax Delaying Tax Reform Package

Some legislators are proposing a postponement of discussions of the "first registration tax" on vehicles, which is part of the tax reform package before the Guatemalan congress. There is great difficulty in reaching agreement on the percentage to be charged and the vigorous debates are holding up the overall tax reform process.

One of the arguments against the new "first registration tax" is that it makes no sense to charge the same tax rate on used and new cars. The strongest resistance to the tax comes from the union of used car importers, who ship severely damaged or totaled cars from the United States to Guatemala, where they are repaired and put back on the road.

The Guatemalan Treasury reported that in the first six weeks of 2009, tax revenues declined by Q100 million, so there is urgency to get the reform bill passed, with or without the "first registration tax" provision.

See details in previous story on this topic.

Democratic Freedom Party Submits Security Proposal

The Democratic Freedom Party (Bancada Libertad Democrática) is working on a congressional bill concerning national security.

Their goal is to start with a "clean slate", with the creation of a ministry and a security force which would replace the National Police (PNC). "Existing structures have been co-opted by organized crime and corruption. We need a new scheme," said Congressman Manuel Baldizón yesterday.

Pope Names Ambassador to Guatemala

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher as Apostolic Nuncio (Vatican Ambassador) to Guatemala. Archbishop Gallagher previously held that position in Burundi.

Gallagher, 55, replaces Bruno Musaró, who was appointed earlier this year as the nuncio to Peru. Gallagher was born in Liverpool (Great Britain) in 1954 and was ordained priest in 1977. He earned a degree in canon law in 1984 and entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See. He has served in Tanzania, Uruguay and the Philippines. In 2004 he was appointed nuncio in Burundi, and Archbishop of Holdelm.

On July 15, 2000 he was appointed by John Paul II to be the special envoy and permanent observer at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Colom Apologizes for Guatemala's Participation in Bay of Pigs

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom apologized to Cuba on Tuesday for his country's having allowed the CIA to train exiles in the Central American country for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

"Today I want to ask Cuba's forgiveness for having offered our country, our territory, to prepare an invasion of Cuba," Colom said during a speech at the University of Havana. "It wasn't us, but it was our territory."

He added that he wished to apologize "as president and head of state, and as commander in chief of the Guatemalan army."

About 1,500 Cuban exiles trained under CIA guidance in Guatemala before invading the island beginning April 17, 1961, in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro's communist government.

The invasion ended in less than three days, with about 100 invaders killed and more than 1,000 captured by Cuban forces.

Colom, whose government is considered center-leftist, said he was asking Cuba's forgiveness as "a sign of solidarity and that times are changing," and to "reaffirm my idea that Latin America is changing."

At the height of the Cold War, the Guatemalan military government of Miguel Ramon Ydigoras Fuentes allowed the CIA to train an exile force in the rural province of Retalhuleu. Known as the 2506 Brigade and comprising mostly Miami-area Cuban exiles, the group was determined to overthrow Castro's government.

Colom said Tuesday that "Cuba deserves its own destiny, a destiny that you all built with this revolution of 50 years."

"Defend it," he said, referring to the guerrilla uprising that brought Castro to power on Jan. 1, 1959. "Defend it like you have always done."

Colom's comments drew sustained applause from his Cuban audience.

Like some Cubans, some Guatemalans harbor a deep resentment toward the United States for past violence. The CIA helped topple the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and Washington backed a series of hardline military and civilian governments during that country's 36-year civil war, in which 200,000 Guatemalans died or disappeared before peace accords were signed in December 1996.

During a visit to Guatemala in March 1999, President Bill Clinton said any U.S. support given to military forces or intelligence units that engaged in "violent and widespread repression" was wrong. "And the United States must not repeat that mistake."

The Guatemalan president's was the latest in a series of recent visits to Havana by regional leaders, including Panama's Martin Torrijos and Rafael Correa of Ecuador.

Fidel Castro, who ceded power to his younger brother Raul about a year ago, met with two other visiting Latin American presidents, Cristina Fernandez of Argentina and Chile's Michelle Bachelet.

Funds Sent to Guatemala by Immigrants Drops

The economic crisis in the U.S. has resulted in a decline in funds sent by Guatemalan immigrants in the U.S. to their families in Guatemala. That, plus the mass deportations have begun to have a negative effect on Guatemalan villages whose welfare depends almost exclusively on this revenue. That revenue could fall by 3.5 percent this year according to preliminary estimates from the Banco de Guatemala.

In 2008, 1.3 million Guatemalans living in the United States sent over U.S. $4 billion in remittances, which were invested by their families in housing construction and the opening of businesses.

Last year 27,875 Guatemalans were deported from U.S. territory. The impact of these evictions and the economic crisis and unemployment in the U.S. is being felt in Guatemalan communities.

In some communities, remittances from the United States has dropped 75 percent causing enormous hardship. For a family accustomed to receiving $400 a month from a relative in the United States, a drop to $100 a month is disastrous. Some have barely enough for food and clothing. In some communities abandoned buildings and half-finished constructon projects are clearly in evidence. The drop in construction activity also throws construction workers out of work and causes a ripple effect, hurting businesses that supply building materials.

According to economists, if the depression in the United States is a deep one it will have a strong negative effect on remittances sent to Guatemala.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Law Against Sexual Violence, Exploitation Passed

Congress passed a law today against sexual violence, exploitation and human trafficking to change the perception that Guatemala is a paradise for such crimes. Guatemala's location makes it a hub for such trafficking and crimes. The new law provides severe penalties for those responsible for these crimes.

The law has been demanded by social organizations and recently by Barbara Fleck, with the U.S. Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Statistics of NGOs concerned with children and adolescents indicate that some 15,000 children are sexually exploited in Guatemala.

Under the new standard, the crime of rape will now have sentences of between 6 and 12 years against those who abuse children under 14 years, and if there is physical or psychological violence the penalty is increased by five to eight years.

Any person causing physical or mental injury to a minor shall be punished with imprisonment of two to five years, and two to four more years if you have sexually transmitted diseases.

Sexual exhibition shall be punished with between three and six years' imprisonment. Pandering, which the law stipulates as the promotion, facilitation, or encouragement of prostitution, carries punishment from five to 10 years in prison. The production and marketing of child pornography will bring 6 to 10 years in prison.

Trafficking, which is the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of sexual exploitation victims, will be punished by imprisonment from 8 to 18 years and a fine Q1,000 to Q500,000. Aggravated charges apply if the victim is a minor, if they are a relative, if there is use of force or weapons, if commited by a public official, or the victim is drugged.

The law also criminalizes illegal adoption with punishment of three to five years in prison and a fine of Q20,000 to Q100,000. Public officials who authorize an irregular adoption with false or altered documents will go to jail for six to ten years and pay a fine of Q50,000 to Q100,000.

The new law requires that initiatives be developed at the national level to gather information on these subjects, create hotlines for assistance against sexual violence, and take steps to deal with domestic violence, child abuse, sexual violence and exploitation, to analyze the problem and the factors that produce it, provide comprehensive care to victims and their families and in all necessary languages.

One of the important factors in human trafficking is border controls so the new law calls for strengthened border control to prevent and detect by verifying that documents are real and to positively check the nature of the relationship between minors and their companions. The law also called for creation of more juvenile courts.

The law mandates rights of the victim's privacy and family identity, facilitation of communication in native languages.

The new law also creates a new Secretariat Against Sexual Violence, Exploitation, and Human Trafficking overseen by tghe Vice-President, the Supreme Court, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Labor, Education, Health, Attorney, Social Welfare Department, Attorney General's Office and the National Institute of Forensic Sciences.

UNICEF and CICIG Join to Fight Crimes Against Children

The United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF) and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) signed today a cooperation agreement to "fight against impunity for crimes against Guatemalan children."

"Violence and impunity in Guatemala is a public health issue, and when this affects a child it becomes something intolerable by any standard, legal, ethical, or humane," said Andriana Gonzalez, Spanish representative of UNICEF in Guatemala during the signing of the agreement.

The agreement aims at mutual collaboration in the development of studies about the impact of impunity in children, support for legal reforms, and the development of proposals regarding the justice system and security.

According to UNICEF, an average of 46 children are killed every month in Guatemala. Most are victims of firearms. In January of this year, there were 58 cases of violent deaths of children and adolescents.

CICIG, which is led by the Spanish jurist Carlos Castresana is investigating the mafia and organized crime that have been embedded into the structures of the state in order to promote impunity, said last year that 98 percent of the violence occurring in Guatemala "will go unpunished."

"The impunity and with it the violence, is staining the lives of children throughout the country. The impunity surrounding a child's daily life. Impunity is generating trauma in Guatemalan children. The high rate of impunity in Guatemala sends a wrong message to children about the concepts of justice and responsibility," said Gonzalez.

Spanish judge Castresana said that "the unification of efforts of the two UN agencies is essential to achieving the objectives of the mandates of both organizations to protect the rights of children." He went on to say, "The phenomenon of violence in Guatemala is serious because the institutions responsible for fighting it are not yet prepared to give adequate responses. Violence against children is greater than all other unpunished violence because their vulnerability is greater."

6 Members of Car Theft Gang Beaten and Set Afire

The five men and one woman, who suffered severe burns, have been admitted to a hospital.

Officials said residents in San Martin Jilotepeque town hit the criminals with sticks and stones, before setting them ablaze.

The police said the six members of the car-theft gang were trying to escape the town in a stolen vehicle when the residents caught them.

The local residents have been patrolling the neighbourhood by themselves due to inadequate security.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Spanish Businessmen Seek Opportunities

A delegation of Spanish businessmen yesterday began an official visit to Guatemala to explore business opportunities in 2009. Alberto Díaz Gold, an adviser to the Foreign Trade Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Madrid, said that 18 representatives of Spanish companies are involved in this business mission, which also visited Honduras and Costa Rica.

Among the sectors of interest to the Iberian companies are engineering and consulting, industrial equipment, construction materials, books, furnishings and accessories for vehicles.

The businessmen also met with members of the Ministry of Economy, a delegation of the European Union, and the Central American Economic Integration Secretariat (SIEC).

Silvia Carolina Tamayac, general manager of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce of Guatemala, explained that in this round, two companies active in the consulting and construction materials businesses could confirm investments in the country.

The mission also held a meeting with Vice President Rafael Espada, to address trade issues.

Rotavirus On the Rise

An increase in rotavirus cases has been recorded in most hospitals and health areas of the country. In Baja Verapaz, where a girl died recently from rotavirus, the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (Conred) triggered a red alert.

Since last Wednesday, Conred and paramedics have been to hospitals in Salamá, Cubulco, and San Miguel Chicaj Rabinal to bring supplies. Supplies detergent, water, disposable diapers, bottles, and cleaning and hygiene equipment. The paramedic staff is composed of Army nurses.

In Jutiapa, Dr. Hector Juarez explained that the increased cases were recorded since January 15th in the National Hospital, but increased last week and this week.

Anita Teo is an epidemiologist who studied 50 cases of children under 5 years with diarrhea. 36 were positive for rotavirus. Of these, 10 were reported last January, and the rest in the last two weeks.

Oscar Escobar, director of the hospital, advised parents not to give home remedies for sick children, but bring them to the hospital.

In Quiché, Solomon Delgado, director of the hospital of the town, reported that the municipalities in which more cases have been reported are the departmental capital with 15, and Chichicastenango with seven.

In Quetzaltenango, the number of patients rose to 53. 21 of which were treated at the Centro Salud and the remainder in the Western Regional Hospital (HRO). Salvador Soto, director of the health center, said that of the 147 known cases of diarrhea, 21 were confirmed as rotavirus.

Oliver Martinez, epidemiologist of the Department of Health, explained that rotavirus generates epidemics during the cold season.

Guatemala Warns Hague Conference about Phony Adoptions

The Consejo Nacional de Adopciones (CNA) de Guatemala in Guatemala has asked the Hague Conference to warn all the countries of the world not to be fooled by false promises of easy adoptions of Guatemalan children promoted by the mafias engaged in these practices.

Elizabeth de Larios, president of CNA, said that "in response to that request, the Hague Conference has already notified all the countries not to be fooled by the groups who engage in these activities."

According to De Larios, the request was made after several cases in which unidentified persons promoted in several countries "offers" to handle quickly the adoption of Guatemalan children to foreign families. "They say (to foreigners wishing to adopt) that they can easily obtain Guatemalan nationality and after that, a couple of months, they may adopt a child without any problem, which is not true," said the official.

Since the middle of last year, the CNA has suspended international adoptions while putting legal procedures in order to ensure compliance with the Adoption Act, which governs these proceedings. This law, which was approved by the Guatemalan congress in December 2007, aims at modernizing the processes of adoption of children of Guatemala, which was considered by the Hague Conference on Private International Law, as the number one country in the world of adoptions, in relation to its population.

Prior to this law taking effect, the "business" of illegal adoptions in Guatemala generated more than US $200 million a year and gave up for adoption more than 5,000, 90 percent to U.S. couples, according to reports from humanitarian organizations.

Colom Condemns U.S. Embargo on Cuba

Álvaro Colom Caballeros, president of the Republic of Guatemala, condemned the economic blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba for almost 50 years, after he arrived in Havana on Sunday night in response to an invitation by President Raúl Castro.

"The blockade continues to be unjust; it is anachronistic and it needs to end. The whole of Latin America supports that," Colom said.

The Guatemalan president was received at José Martí International Airport by José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera, Political Bureau member and minister of public health. Colom expressed his satisfaction at initiating this visit, his first since occupying the presidency.

In a brief exchange with the press, Colom also said that he had brought with him the Order of the Quetzal, the highest distinction in his country, for leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro Ruz.

Granma

Monday, February 16, 2009

45 Percent of Children Aged 7-9 Years Suffer Malnutrition

The Third National Census by Sesan revealed that 209,605 children attending first grade rural schools suffer from severe or moderate malnutrition.

The Secretaría de Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutricional de la Presidencia (Sesan) reports that 45.6 percent of the 459,808 children evaluated suffer from malnutrition. 151,167 suffer moderate malnutrition and 58,438 severe.

"Girls between 8 and 9 years of age register malnutrition rates of 52 and 60 percent. Among boys of the same age range it varies between 51.4 and 57 percent.

The study showed that infants whose native language is indigenous, 181,230, had greater nutritional problems than those who speak Spanish.

To prepare the census, the country was divided into 23 geographical areas and categories of vulnerability. In Guatemala, Escuintla, and El Progreso there was a low incidence of malnutrition. In Zacapa, Izabal and Retalhuleu, moderate. And in Baja Verapaz, Jalapa, Quetzaltenango it's high. In Chimaltenango, Huehuetenango, and San Marcos it is very high.

The study was conducted nationwide August 4th to August 8th, 2008, and focused on the nutritional status of children between 7 and 9 years of age attending first grade in schools around the country.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Call Centers Create Jobs in Guatemala

The call center business in Guatemala intends to create some 9,000 jobs in addition to the 11,000 jobs created in 2008. This, despite the crisis in the global economy.

"This year we plan to reach 20 thousand seats," said Guillermo Montano, president of Clúster de Call Center, and explained that to generate these jobs will require an investment of at least $20 million this year.

Montano said that the recession in the United States offers opportunities for this sector as companies look to places like Guatemala, where it is cheaper to operate.

The cost of setting up a call center seat in the U.S. is about $ 30 per hour and in Guatemala the cost is between $12 and $14.

An advantage in Guatemala is that we are in the same time zone and the geographic proximity, which allows for easy inspections.

This sector of the service economy also provides more than just call center functions, but also management, accounting, billing, and others," said Luis Godoy, head of the Guatemalan Association of Exporters.

About 30 to 40 U.S. companies, including Coca Cola and Electric Company of Texas, are already using call center services in Guatemala. Other companies include industrial concerns, hotels, and cruise operators.

Growth in the call center business has been limited by a lack of staff who speak English. To resolve this problem, two thousand scholarships will be awarded for training in English. "The advantage is that if they complete the course, employment will come automatically because the call center commits to it," said the chairman of the cluster.

Englewood Dentist Brings Smiles to Guatemala

Dr. Ryan Roberts has never been to El Rejon, Guatemala.

Until recently, he'd never even heard of this tiny village.

He's about to find out just exactly where it is when he and four other dentists, including college friend Dr. Simon Amir, travel there on Feb. 25. This trip will mark the second time he and Amir have gone to Guatemala to provide free dental care to people there. This time, the dentists will bring along materials about diet and oral hygiene that is aimed at helping to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

"A lot of the people that we saw on our last trip had no real idea when it came to proper oral hygiene," Roberts said. "We'd like to use some of our time there this time educating them."

Roberts, an Englewood native who now lives in Rotonda West with his wife and two children, spent his last trip in the relatively large town of Santiago. There, although he did not have all the modern equipment that his office in Englewood does, he at least had a dental chair. This trip will take him to El Rejon and another tiny village in the hinterlands.

"It's going to be something of an adventure," he said, smiling. "Instead of a dentist's chair, we'll be seating patients in a kitchen chair."

Roberts and the other dentists work in cooperation with an agricultural organization that, in turn, works with Sarasota dentist Dr. Javier Gonzalez.

"It was Dr. Gonzalez who got me interested in going to Guatemala," Roberts said. "I'm glad he did because I really enjoy the work and the opportunity to do something for others. It's my way of giving back."


Read the rest of the story in The Sun.

5 Found Guilty of Forcing Women into Prostitution in L.A.

A federal court jury on Wednesday convicted five people in connection with a plot to lure impoverished young women from Guatemala to the United States with the promise of legitimate jobs, only to then force them into prostitution to repay their supposed debts for being smuggled into the country.

All five defendants are illegal immigrants themselves, four of them women from Guatemala who also worked as prostitutes.

As the verdicts were read, the five defendants sat expressionless, as they did through much of the monthlong trial before U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow. Each of the five faces a potential life sentence, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

The case presented by prosecutors relied heavily on the testimony of 10 young women who said they were forced to work as prostitutes and turn over their pay to the defendants.

Only one woman said she knew she was going to work in the sex trade before arriving in Los Angeles. The others said they were expecting to work as baby sitters, housekeepers, waitresses or in other jobs in which they hoped to earn up to $10 an hour, far more than they could in Guatemala.

Only after they arrived in the U.S., the young women testified, were they told the truth about what they would be doing.

Read the rest of the story in the LA Times

Friday, February 13, 2009

Guatemala Wants to Lure Moviemakers

With the creation of the Clúster de Cine, the Programa Nacional de Competitividad (National Competitiveness Program) seeks to make Guatemala the "Hollywood" in Central America, and to attract film productions, documentaries and audiovisuals.

According to Cecilia Santamarina, president of the Clúster de Cine, the country has talent, technology, and locations for filming feature films suitable for the global entertainment market.

The cluster brings together all those involved in the film industry and has already made contacts with production companies in the U.S. and Europe.

According to Byron Rabe, a member of the Film Commission of Guatemala, there are 33 production companies with 1,200 technicians specialized in camera, sound, lights, and fixtures. Additionally, there is another list consisting of some 300 people, including writers, producers, directors, musicians and actors.

According to the filmmaker, Guatemala can produce up to 10 films a year and other audiovisual products.

Success in this arena would create an economic boom in the areas of tourism, transport, telecommunications, hotels, restaurants and other consumption, Santamarina said.

Auto Sales Drop 41% in December/January

The sales figures for the last three months of last year and the first month of 2009 were not encouraging for the national automotive industry. The worst sales were between December and January when they fell 41 percent. Data from the Vehicle Importers Union indicated that this amounts to a total of 1,784 units less.

José Javier Casas, sales manager Cofiño Stahl, distributors of the Japanese Toyota, reported that the total market for new vehicles from 2007 to 2008 decreased from 36,980 to 28,967 units, equivalent to a 22 percent of drop..

Casas said the downward trend had already begun two years ago. He added that another reason is the lack of bank credit created by the lack of liquidity in the national financial system.

Another factor is the new First Registration Tax, which was discussed in Congress and which was adopted on the second reading last week. Brenda Monterroso, director of Union of Importers of New Vehicles, said an increase in taxes would result in a greater decline in vehicle sales, which would in turn, lower tax revenue represented by VAT, import taxes, and Income Tax, paid by the import and distribution companies.

This tax, which is part of the tax modernization package, raises the tax for a new vehicle's first registration to 26 percent of the value.

Nelson Escalante, of the Union of Used Vehicles, said when the tax goes into effect the cost of each vehicle would rise from Q10,000 to Q15,000.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tourism Up According to Inguat

Although several European countries and North America have alerted their citizens not to visit Guatemala, which they consider dangerous, last January, the records indicate a 4 percent increase in the number of tourists.

Guillermo Novielli, deputy director of the Guatemalan Institute of Tourism (Inguat) reported that last month that 177,196 foreigners entered the country, while in January of 2008 169,362 did so. These figures include visits in connection with tourism and business, among other activities.

According to Inguat, an aggressive marketing plan launched yesterday will allow Guatemala to attract 1.8 million tourists, 400,000 from the U.S., and $1 billion in foreign exchange during 2009. Sandra Monterroso, director of marketing at Inguat, said the advertising campaign includes promotion of seven areas focusing on the culture of the indigenous Mayan archeological ruins of the Peten, woodlands, and beaches of the Pacific and Caribbean.

"The world crisis can generate a great opportunity because many U.S. travelers that would go to Europe can no longer afford to do so. Then Guatemala can be your destination because it's less expensive.," said the director of Inguat, Roberto Robles.

The promotional plan will cost about $10 million and aims to attract tourists from Central America, North America, Europe.

Regarding visitor security, in the past year there were 40 incidents involving foreign visitors, which is considered a low rate.

A Different Way to Chew

Deep in the rainforests of northern Guatemala, nearly two decades ago, Deborah Schimberg '80 P'12 found something to chew on - chicle, the original ingredient for chewing gum. Today she is the president of Verve, Inc., a Providence-based business that manufactures Glee Gum, an all-natural chewing gum.

While researching sustainable development in Guatemala in 1992, Schimberg discovered that chicleros, the people who harvest chicle from Sapodilla trees in the rainforest, depend on it for their livelihoods. After her trip, which was funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Schimberg used a few blocks of chicle from Guatemala to make experimental batches of gum in her kitchen. She and her three children loved the hands-on project so much that she decided to manufacture and sell a "Make Your Own Chewing Gum Kit."

Eventually, Schimberg's company began to offer kits allowing people to make their own chocolate or gummies.

Read the rest of the story: The Brown Daily Herald

Potato Crop Destroyed by Cold Weather

Some 75 families in the community Los mecates, lost their potato crop as a result of the cold weather that has affected the region.

Roberto Hernandez, president of the Community Committee, reported that the frost wiped out the potato crop. "We are sad because that's our living. Now our future is uncertain." He added that what's most troubling is that most farmers work with micro credit for the purchase of fertilizers. Now that they've lost their crop, they do not know how to pay their debts.

According to the community, it lost 185 cuerdas, which produce 5,550 bushels of potatoes. At a price per quintal of Q200, that pencils out to Q1,110,000.

Francisco Aguilar told that preparing the ground for sowing the seed takes three to five days. After that, you must wait four to five months for the potato harvest, during which time organic fertilizer is applied twice.

The deputy mayor of Chiantla, Julián Andrés Lucas explained that the problem is that on some days during the cold wave, the ground was covered with sheets of ice. Lucas added that this situation is serious for the farmers living in extreme poverty, because the harvest pays debts and obtains funds to meet the basic needs of families.

A year ago, the same problem occurred and there are still consequences today from last year's crop damage.

Of the 900 people living in the community of Mecate, most have been engaged in agriculture for years.

Cisco Goes Where No WiMax Has Gone Before

You might think that the global market for high technology ends somewhere around Austria, New Zealand, and Singapore. Well, think again. What we may see as the developing world is hungry for high tech, too. There are tons of untapped markets to sink your teeth into.

Take Cisco Systems' (Nasdaq: CSCO) latest customer announcement, for example. A new mobile WiMax service, brand-named AERO, was built around Cisco hardware from the ground up. A million residents and plenty of local businesses can now connect to the Internet anywhere within a vast, sparsely populated area. This wide-reach, high-speed technology is still unavailable across most of the United States, despite the best efforts of Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), and a gaggle of cable service providers to push their Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR) access.

Those Cisco servers and base stations are not going to Kentucky. They sit in Karaganda, in central Kazakhstan. Go ahead and look that up on a map. I'll wait right here. Yeah, that's the far reaches of Borat's supposed motherland. You got it.

Karaganda is so remote that the Russians use the name as a punch line in jokes. Yet this isolated city and the steppes around it probably got WiMax goodness before your cozy hometown. "In 2009, we plan to expand AERO further across several regions of Kazakhstan and add video to our offering," says Stepan Vadyunin, service provider AsiaBell's CEO.

Read the rest of the story: Motley Fool

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Guatemala Hosts U.S. Grains Council Meeting

The current global economic situation is causing a great deal of uncertainty in U.S. agriculture, from ethanol to exports.

U.S. Grains Council international directors and consultants presented to more than 200 attendees at the Council’s 6th International Marketing Conference and 49th Annual Membership Meeting in Guatemala City, Guatemala about the state of the economy in their respective countries as well as the potential for U.S. grains in those markets.

The purchasing power of consumers is weakening, thus pushing the consumption of meat, milk and eggs down in many countries such as Mexico, Japan, Korea and China.

However, less developed countries like Morocco, Iraq and Turkey are seeing a more stable economic situation, which may create expanded opportunities for U.S. farmers.

“We see very stable demand for U.S. grains in 2009,” said Kurt Shultz, USGC director in the Mediterranean and Africa.

“Tourism is the key, currently. If Europeans stop spending tourism dollars in North Africa, we may start seeing the impact of the global economic crisis.

"As of yet, the impact has been minimal and the economy is very stable.

"This is good news for U.S. producers.”

--Grainnet

50,000 Without Water in Esquintla

Community Development Councils (Cocodes) and citizens seek the support of Government through a request to Sandra Torres de Colom, because 15 neighborhoods in the City of Escuintla have been without water and the city is unable to provide a solution.

The people of those neighborhoods have suffered without water for more than six months. The number of people affected exceeds 50,000 in the neighborhoods of Prados de San Jorge, Portales, San Felipe, El Recreo, South Palera, Monterrey, Santa Marta, Madrid, El Maestro, Sebastopol, Prados del Rio , Cascade 1 & 2, The Effort, New Spring Settlement Center and Escuintla. In some neighborhoods the service has been irregular and some have gone for days without water.

One resident of El Recreo said that for three years he bought water by the barrel at a cost of up to Q480 a month.

Some residents have taken to attempting to drill wells but this is a dangerous solution because it can cause subsidence of the land and cause damage to buildings unless the well is located sufficiently far away.

Abuse of Authority

The community leader José Adán Santos pointed out that in 2008 the Mayor of Escuintla, Julio Melgar, ordered employees of the municipality to disconnect a pipe that was feeding another neighborhood and route the water to his residence in the colony Soesna, leaving residents in the center of the city without water.

Cold and Ice in the West

Yesterday morning, municipalities of Quetzaltenango were covered in ice. Temperatures ranged between five and seven degrees C below zero, according to the National Institute of Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology (INSIVUMEH).

This weather also affects Los Altos, Ostuncalco San Juan, Concepción Chiquirichapa, and Cajolá Olintepeque where INSIVUMEH has a weather station.

Angel Rhodes announced that the cold wave will persist for two weeks. He explained that the temperature rises as the day progresses due to exposure to the sun, but fall after about 3:00 P.M. Rhodes said that these wide temperature swings are characteristic of this season.

So far in 2009, the temperature has dropped below zero 18 times in Quetzaltenango. The most dramatic was the last weekend when the temperature in Xela dropped five degrees below zero centigrade. In Palestine and Concepción de Los Altos Chiquirichapa the temperature dropped even more. Other departments also affected include the municipalities of western area, Huehuetenango, north of San Marcos, Solola, Chimaltenango and Totonicapán.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Salamander Losses in Mexico, Guatemala Cause Worry

Many salamander species in Mexico and Guatemala have suffered dramatic population declines since the 1970s, driven to the brink probably by a warming climate and other factors, U.S. scientists said on Monday.

The salamanders' fate provides the latest evidence of striking losses among the world's amphibians, a phenomenon some experts see as a harbinger of doom for many types of animals.

Biologist David Wake of the University of California Berkeley and colleagues tracked about two dozen species of salamanders at several sites in Guatemala and southern Mexico.

They put a special emphasis on the San Marcos region of Guatemala, boasting one of the most thoroughly studied and diverse salamander populations in the tropics.

Compared to levels measured in the 1970s, the population of half of the species in the two countries declined markedly. Four species were apparently completely gone and a fifth virtually wiped out, Wake said.

The cause is probably a complex combination of factors including climate change -- with warming temperatures forcing salamanders to higher and less hospitable elevations -- as well as habitat destruction and a fungal disease, Wake said.

"We have documented what has long been feared -- that tropical salamanders are being hit hard by something and are disappearing," Wake, whose findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said in a telephone interview.

See rest of the story here: Reuters

Challenging Conditions for TECO Unit in Guatemala

Florida-based Teco Energy's (NYSE: TE) Guatemalan operations will face challenging conditions this year, according to company CFO Gordon Gillette.

Results in 2009 from Guatemala will be hurt by last month's steam engine-induced forced outage at the 120MW San José coal-fired plant and the full-year effect of a reduction in the value-added distribution (VAD) rate, Gillette said in a webcast.

Teco's assets in Guatemala also include the 78MW gas-fired Alborada plant and a 24% stake in distributor Eegsa. The San José plant is due to come back online around mid-March.

Last month, the company announced it had delivered a notice of intent to Guatemala's government announcing plans to file an arbitration claim over the new VAD rate that came into effect on August 1.

In the fourth quarter of 2008, Teco Guatemala posted a net loss of US$0.2mn versus a net profit of US$11.4mn in 4Q07. The new VAD rate reduced earnings by roughly US$3mn in the quarter, Gillette said.

Also impacting Teco Guatemala's bottom line last quarter were additional taxes from the repatriation of cash and investments and lower earnings from San José due to lower spot energy sales.

--BNA

Dangerous Mexican Drug Traffickers in Guatemalan Jails

The large number of Mexican drug traffickers in the central detention center in Zone 18 has authorities on alert for an armed rescue or escape.

The detainees are violent and include Daniel Perez Rojas, alias "El Cachetes", head of the group of assassins known as the Zetas, who entered Guatemala intending to conquer territory for the drug traffickers who run the Gulf Cartel.

The threat of a violent rescue is real. The PNC have uncovered plans to break seven of the prisoners out of jail but the plan has not been realized. Three safety measures have been installed, including an army tank.

Perez is the main concern of the authorities since Eddy Morales, director of the Penitentiary System, said yesterday at a press conference that he had heard constant rumors about a possible break.

The tension is so high that the Interior Minister, Salvador Gándara, joked that "every night we pray that El Cachetes does not escape." Perez (El Cachetes) is imprisoned with 19 others linked to the Gulf Cartel.

There are three rings of security at the jail with about 150 officers, including policemen, soldiers and prison guards.

The most recent capture of men associated with Mexican drug traffickers was made last Saturday, when five alleged members of the Zetas, three Mexicans and two Guatemalans, were arrested in Alta Verapaz and taken by helicopter to the capital the next day. Another of the defendants in the same jail is Victor Morales Gonzalez, one of four Mexicans caught at the end of 2008, accused of having participated in the massacre of 17 people in Agua Zarco, Huehuetenango.

Also in the same prison is Cárdenas Roberto Rodriguez, considered by the Mexican authorities as head of the Zetas in Veracruz. Rodriguez was arrested along with four Mexicans and a Guatemalan when they escaped after a shootout occurred between drug traffickers in Zacapa, in March 2008, which left 11 dead.

Regarding the problem of drug trafficking, President Alvaro Colom said that between 50 and 60 members of that group, mostly undocumented, are in Guatemala. He added that the drug traffickers have threatened judges, prosecutors and other members of the justice system.

"El Cachetes" is a very important man for the Zetas and with the concentration of several members of that group in the jail there a lot of risk.

Portillo Embezzlement Could Exceed Q120 Million

Investigators continue to uncover more and more financial shenanigans by ex-President Alfonso Portillo.

In 2001, Portillo approved several transfers of funds to Defense from the ministries of Education, Health, and Administration, estimated at Q906 million even though the country was at peace.

So far, approximately Q120 million has been verified as transfered to accounts of Jose Armando Llort Quiteño, former president of the National Mortgage Bank (CHN) . The Ministerio Publico requested a release from bank secrecy on two accounts which was approved by a judge. Twenty more accounts are under investigation as well as the individuals and businesses that may have benefited from public funds.

The former president remains free on bond. The Fifth Court of First Criminal Instance imposed a bail of one Q1 million after Portillo was extradited from Mexico, where he lived for over four years in order to avoid investigations.

Witnesses state that of the funds sent to Defense, checks were given to the workers who who cashed them and then delivered the cash to senior military leaders, to Portillo, and then Defense Minister Eduardo Arevalo Lacs. Five witnesses, one of whom was killed in March 2005, described how Q34 million came into the hands of Llort. Llort has betrayed Portillo and turned state's evidence, giving testimony in the United States against the former leader and the group of military leaders who architected the embezzlement from the state budget.

Another witness, Salomón Molina Girón, CHN's former deputy, said that on the nights of March 5, 6, and 9 of 2001 the military moved cash from the army's accounts to the vaults of the bank (CHN). According to the witness, the shipments were made at night in an armored truck and allegedly guarded by soldiers under the command of the military and Napoleon Rojas Jacobo Sal.

US to Give $16 Million in Drug Aid to Guatemala

GUATEMALA CITY -- The U.S. has pledged $16 million in drug aid to Guatemala.

Guatemalan Interior Secretary Salvador Gandara says the money will fund training for police officers and investigators and help to improve air and sea surveillance.

U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Stephen McFarland says that from 200 to 300 tons of cocaine pass through Guatemala on the way to the U.S. each year.

The funds are part of the Merida Initiative, a $1.3 billion anti-drug aid package approved by the U.S. Congress in June. The aid will go to Central America, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

Gandara and McFarland signed the agreement pledging the money on Thursday.

AP

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hope for $95 Million in Business

The third Industrial Exhibition "Induexpo" will be held in Guatemala from April 22nd to April 25th and expects to close deals worth about US $95 million, organizers reported today.

The meeting, which will be held at the Industrial Park south of the capital, will have 381 exhibitors from Guatemala, 26 from Taiwan and 20 from Colombia, which will offer a range of different products and services, said Annie Briz coordinator of the exhibition. She said that trade missions from Mexico, Ecuador and Puerto Rico are also expected to participate.

Induexpo is conducted every two years in Guatemala. The Induexpo held in 2007 brought business worth $93 million.

The fair is expected to draw about 5,000 attendees, 11 per cent more than in 2007.

Opening the Door to Power Transmission

Now that the Technical Standard for the Expansion of the Electric Transmission System (NTT) in Guatemala is in force, it opens the doors to bids for the construction of 393,400 kilometers of electrical grid.

The National Commission of Electricity (CNEE) is responsible for developing the bid and the Ministry of Energy and Mines is responsible for coordinating this first phase, within three months after the NTT goes into force. Carlos Colom, president of the commission, said that the process will proceed and meetings will convene throughout the remainder of February and March.

The projects include construction of a five-ring network to link up the transmission system and create alternate routes to transport electricity in the event of failures or accidents that cause the suspension of electric service. An estimated investment of U.S. $504 million will go to the companies that win competitive bids.

In addition, the paper published two-days ago in the Official Gazette, set out the rules, procedures, and mechanisms that persons wishing to perform works must comply with when tendering bids. It also sets out the rules for defining the priorities of projects and updating the system every two years. The proposals must also define expansion scenarios, projections of demand, technology, investment and other costs. In addition they should include features aimed at helping to reduce the total cost of the electrical transport system and identify projects that encourage the development of power generation projects, especially renewable resources.

Approval of the environmental impact studies will be the responsibility of the companies contracted to perform the work. The CNEE will support them in defining and obtaining rights of way.

The payment for the work will be done in two periods. The depreciation will be based on an annual fee and the during operation the carrier will receive a toll set by the commission.

According to the CNEE, the goals is to lower the costs of electric service and mitigate severe failures that cause disruptions in the system.

Q4,000,000,000 in Poppies and Marijuana Destroyed

President Alvaro Colom reported that Guatemalan security forces raided and destroyed 864 hectares of poppy and marijuana plantations valued at Q4.819 billion (US $608 million).

Operations took place in San Marcos, beginning last Monday and ending on Friday. The seizure is the largest poppy and marijuana seizure in history, 60 percent more than all seizures in 2008 combined.

The action involved agents from the Servicio de Análisis e Información Antinarcótica (SAIA), the Policía Nacional Civil (PNC), the U.S. DEA and the Guatemalan Army.

Poppy plantations were located in inhospitable communities of Tajumulco, Ixchiguán Sibinal. The plantations could belong to the Mexican cartel in Sinaloa, Mexico.

"The drug cartels operate internationally so it doesn't matter who the plantations belong to," said Colom. He went on to say, "From now on will develop a program to assist the communities that were associated with those crops, to assist them in changing to productive projects." He also said that the Rural Development Program has Q10 million earmarked for such projects and work with the mayors of the municipalities involved will begin next week.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Citizen Patrols

In Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, at least 300 residents organized to provide safety patrols and operational support to the National Civil Police (PNC) and the army to counter kidnapping, extortion and other types of crime.

In all there are 31 groups or boards operating together, making up the Municipal Security Council (Comus). Óscar Osorio Contreras, president of that organization, said that representatives of each community are kept in constant communication by telephone to ascertain the situation in different neighborhoods. If criminal activities are detected in any sector, managers of Comus request assistance from the PNC and the Army.

The groups have the use of a car that was donated to the municipality to support the groups.

Óscar Osorio said that since they have organized the levels of violence have decreased, residents also show confidence in the authorities, and complaints are made directly to the leaders of each community.

Leonel Garcia Velazquez, chief of Escuintla, said that safety meetings are organized throughout the department and the police are working with them at the request of the people or elected leaders. By the end of 2009 there might be as many as 50 boards.

Before safety meetings started to be held, residents did not report crime because the police were suspected to be accomplices of the criminals or that the police themselves were at fault. One resident, Raymundo Peralta, said that one of his relatives was beaten and robbed of their belongings by the police. Óscar Osorio said that, recently, members of the PNC of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa were involved in anomalous events but the local police have made changes.

The chairman of the Municipal Security Committee, explained that the municipality of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa is committed to supporting the Comus, to control crime, and to ferret out organized gangs of criminals in that region.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

High Demand for Avocados is an Opportunity

From 2005 to 2008, Guatemalan avocado production rose from 20 thousand to 35 thousand tons. The growing global demand for the fruit opens the way for the development of a thriving agricultural industry.

Melgar Nestor Blanco, technical advisor to Profruta, commented that as a backyard crop this fruit has taken off. It's estimated that future production will increase at a rate of 10 thousand tons per year, which by 2013 corresponds to 90 thousand tons of production.

The area under cultivation with avocados in Guatemala has increased from 2,500 hectares in 2005 to 5,000 hectares in 2008. By 2013 it's expected to be 10,000 hectares. Engineers expect that from 2009 to 2012, both production and area under cultivation will increase threefold.

At present, avocado production provides employment to about 8,000 to 10,000 people.

Alex Montenegro, Profruta Marketing Coordinator, explained that one of the first steps to boosting the avocado industry is to integrate all the links in the supply chain.

U.S. avocado production is about 250,000 metric tons but this falls short of demand by about 80,000 tons which must be imported. There is also potential for sales in the EU where people have a tendency to eat more healthy foods like avocados. At present, Guatemala also exports avocados to El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica.

It's an important market. $40 million in advertising for avocados is spent annually in the United States, Mexico and Chile. The high demand for avocados represents an opportunity for the country since conditions of climate and soil in Guatemala are ideal for the production of avocados.

Focus on Child Labor

The National Coffee Association (Anacafé) conducted an analysis of local perceptions about child labor, which is to provide the basis of a national policy to eradicate child labor.

According to Anacafé, the goal of this research is to establish a benchmark of knowledge, information, causes and effects of child labor in the country's coffee sector, which will also provide guidance for strategies of awareness, training and outreach, and to strengthen efforts to reduce and prevent it.

Jesus De la Peña Rípodas, subregional coordinator of the International Program to Eradicate Child Labor (IPEC) of the International Labor Organization (ILO), said: "It is of utmost importance to have information that indicates the perception of child labor in this [the coffee] sector." He added that it will serve as a basis for strategies for the prevention and eradication of child labor, specifically in the various sectors of the coffee trade."

According to the Ministry of Labor, there are an estimated one million child laborers nationwide. More information www.funcafe.org.

Cold Wave Hits Guatemala

The National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction declared a yellow alert due to the cold temperatures and high winds that have sent people scurrying for heavier clothes, coats, hats, and scarves. The Relief Corps is mobilized to assist people suffering from hypothermia. Temperatures in Guatemala City, the Highlands, Huehue, Xela, and Alta Verapaz have been in the range of 0 to 9 degrees C with winds of 40 to 50 kmh.

The Department of Social Development has requested that if citizens discover people suffering from hypothermia, particularly the homeless, that they bring them to Relief Corps shelters.

High winds have disrupted electric service in several towns including Esquintla, Puerto San Jose and Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, aggravating the problems of cold weather.

The winds are expected to diminish during the weekend.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Robbers Nabbed in Rio Dulce

Citizens of Rio Dulce arrested five men accused of having robbed passengers of a Litegua bus and turned them over to the PNC.

The head of the PNC in Izabal reported that those captured bought tickets to Guatemala City at the Litegua bus station in Puerto Barrios. They passed the metal detector and boarded the bus without any problems. However, an accomplice passed them a bag containing firearms through a window.

The robbery took place while the bus was traveling between kilometer 260 and 243 of the Ruta Atlántico and 40 passengers were robbed of their valuables. The thieves got off the bus at La Ruidosa and fled north in a white pickup truck to Rio Dulce where they planned to catch a Maya de Oro bus to the Petén.

A passenger of the bus alerted friends in Rio Dulce where citizens nabbed the thieves and confiscated 9mm pistols and 23 rounds of ammunition. The assailants were identified as Marcos Antonio González Cardona, 25; Alfredo Antonio García Sánchez, 24; Carlos Enrique Gómez Marroquín, 24; César David Perpuac Chanchavac, 21; and Pablo Isaac Palacios, 21. A seventh accomplice fled in the vehicle with the stolen property.

According to the PNC, the detainees are members of a group that operates between El Progresso and Izabal. They are suspected of having committed 10 robberies along this route in 2009. They are accustomed to easy getaways because they can easily disappear in large groups of people but this time it turned out differently because of citizen action.

A Mitsubishi sport pickup was found abandoned at kilometer 276 kilometer on the route to Petén. The PNC database does not show the vehicle registration so it's presumed stolen in another country.

Drunk Driver Kills Three Guatemalan Children in Miami

A judge in Miami decided to jail Gabriel Delrisco for causing a fatal accident while driving under the influence of alcohol and taking the lives of three children of Guatemalan parents.

Last Sunday, Delrisco crashed into a vehicle driven by Héctor Serrano and the severity of the impact was so great it took the lives of all three children, Héctor, 10; Esmeralda, 8; and Amber, 4. At the time, Delrisco's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was three times the legal limit.

Based on this fatal accident plus 26 previous driving violations against Delrisco, Judge Rosa Rodriguez ordered Delrisco jailed. He faces 15 years in prison for each death.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

High Winds in Guatemala

High winds throughout Guatemala caused damage to roofs and the power grid, and swept away trees, signs and poles. According to the Institute of Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology (INSIVUMEH), this phenomenon is due to a high pressure system that was reinforced by another that occurred on the Yucatan Peninsula. These weather conditions will remain until Friday afternoon and the wind will return to normal on Saturday.

The gusts reached 100 kmh in Santa Catarina and Ixtahuacán Nahualá in Sololá. Low temperatures and strong winds put all public services on alert status to assist the population affected.

In Escuintla, power lines were downed and some fences located on the highway were weakened.

The National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (Conred) alerted the Departmental Directorate of Education to consider suspending classes. In Jutiapa, the Departmental Directorate suspended activities in 25 schools because the strong winds pose a risk to minors. This phenomenon has also affected maize crops

In Sacatepéquez, neighbors reported that electrical service had been out since the morning.

The temperature in Huehuetenango reached four degrees C below zero, although in the high mountains of Concepción Huista or Todos Santos Cuchumatánes it was even lower.

In the village of Chuscusito in Salamá, Baja Verapaz, the roof of the local school was damaged. In Quetzaltenango, Retalhuleu, Zacapa, Izabal, Escuintla, Santa Rosa several houses were damaged.

At least 10 traffic accidents were caused by trees, poles, and billboards that collapsed.

Congress Approves $950 Million Debt

After several frustrated attempts, and with support from other banks, the government won and approved five loans totaling US $950 million (Q7.5 billion). It is poised to do the same with three more loans totalling Q462 million.

The UNE (La Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza) succeeded in promoting the adoption of these loans and declared it a national priority with 114 votes. President Álvaro Colom also urged adoption of these measures.

These funds are necessary for the country and for the budget. Some of the loans will go towards funding this year's budget. The loans will be granted by the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD).

Several deputies of the Partido Patriota (PP) had expressed their rejection of those claims. "The people no longer resist more debt, just because there were political negotiations and arrangements," claimed Anabella De Leon, PP.

Since the start of the plenary sessions this year, the UNE has sought the approval of these loans.

These loans will increase the country's foreign debt by about 22 percent. Until last December the debt stood at US $4.367 billion (Q34 billion)

Thievery in El Estor

Looting of homes and shops, and assaults on pedestrians by suspected gang members remains a problem for the residents of El Estor. They demand more of a presence by the PNC. They feel the PNC's absence facilitates criminal activities in that region.

One resident said, "The crime does not stop. At night we keep vigil because the criminals take advantage and loot our homes. Five days ago they cut the mesh of the door to my house and stole a bike. It may not mean anything to someone who earns a good salary but we live by agriculture and in many cases we sacrifice our children's food to buy seed."

The criminals attack people as they leave banks and they rob housewives coming home from the market and take all their property.

A citizen of the Los Cerritos neighborhood complained that whenever they ask for help from the police, the agents do not address our calls. "Here, young people use drugs in public, thus endangering the children, because they fight among themselves threaten to rape the girls."

The districts most affected are San Francisco, Barrio Nuevo, Los Cerritos and El Centro. "10 days ago they ransacked a house and stole valuable medical equipment. Police were notified, but they arrived three hours later. Obviously, no on was arrested." said another citizen.

Women, especially young people, do not go to church for fear of thugs sexually abusing them. "Recently I left the church at 2130 hours, eight youths blocked my way and at gunpoint demanded my wallet."

Banks Earn 2.1 Billion

Despite the current crisis, domestic banking earned profits of Q2.188 billion or 16.3 percent of equity, according to data from the Superintendency of Banks (SIB).

For every Q100 each national bank has in capital, last year it earned an average Q16.30, according to a December 2008 report published by the SIB.

The most profitable banks were América Central (BAC) which earned Q30.85, followed by Desarrollo Rural (Banrural), which earned Q28.02

The only bank that closed the year in the red was the Bank of Antigua, with losses of Q22 million. Its general manager, Hector Morales, attributed this to the reorganization of the portfolio after the acquisition of this bank by the Canadian bank, Scotiabank

The banks in the system reported activity of Q130.777 billion and capital of Q13.428 billion.

57 percent of the assets of the banking system were dedicated to lending as of December 2008. The president of the Bank of Guatemala explained that from January to September of 2008 there was little liquidity because the government spent very little and did not inject money into the economy until the last three months of the year. But now the banks have the necessary liquidity to make loans.

In 2008, past-due loans of banks represented 2.3 per cent of the total portfolio, while in 2007 the figure was 3 per cent, and in 2006, 5.4 percent.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Subject of Belize Still Intense

Luis Fernando Pérez, the former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Legislature, said that when the government sent the request for a referendum on the topic of Belize, that chamber must issue its opinion, but the discussion could be intense.

He commented that due to the complexity of the situation, members should consider this carefully with focus and maturity. He said: "Until it arrives on the floor in Congress cannot address how to go about having the discussion, but what is certain is that the discussion will be intense."

Meanwhile, the judges of the Tribunal Supremo Electoral have not made a projection of the cost of the referendum on the issue, and when the president shall make the request.

Body of Fisherman Found in Bahia Amatique

The body of fisherman Luis Alberto Gonzalez Garcia, 28, was found today floating in the Bahia Amatique by the Guatemalan Red Cross, Port Santo Tomás de Castilla, Izabal. Gonzalez died after the sinking of a boat carrying him and two others who survived.

Gonzalez was lost last Saturday. The survivors said that a huge wave hit their crude fishing boat in front of Green Bay. The wave swamped the boat and the heavy weight of the outboard motor caused the boat to nose straight up and sink by the stern. The accident is being blamed on bad weather.

One of the survivors said that after swimming for four hours, they arrived at the beach of Santo Tomas de Castilla and Navy personnel helped them.

Banking Law Reform

According to the head of the SIB, Edgar Barquin, the new amendments are still being fine tuned but they are intended to give more powers to the supervisory authority of the financial system, the Monetary Board. The reforms also seek to strengthen the management of risks and the requirement of a risk rating for banks.

The reforms provide a legal framework based on technical accounting and operating standards of the Basel Committee and regulations for the management of credit.

Enron Halts Demand Against Banguat

Bankrupt U.S. company Enron Corporation withdrew its lawsuit against 120 entities, including Banco de Guatemala (Banguat) from which it was demanding US $14.98 million.

In 2001, over a 23 day period, Banguat bought and sold shares of Enron one month before the firm went bust. Enron therefore inferred that Banguat must have had inside knowledge of Enron's impending collapse.

The withdrawal terminates litigation initiated five years ago in 2003. A judge in the bankruptcy court of New York accepted desist orders terminating the actions against the 120 entities.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

First Domestic Violence Trial Begins

The first trial for domestic violence under the new Ley Contra el Femicidio (Law Against Femicide), passed by Congress in April 2008, began today when a court heard testimony from the victim and a witness. In her statement, Vilma Angelica Marroquin de La Cruz, 34, told the court that the assault was by her husband, Simon Calixto Cun, against whom the prosecutor seeks 12 years imprisonment.

Simon was arrested on June 2, 2008 when, in full public view, he slapped and kicked his wife.

According to police records, domestic violence killed 722 women last year, 384 of them in the metropolitan area. Meanwhile, according to the PNC, the number of women killed so far in 2009 has been 29.

After hearing the victim and the witness, the officer who arrested the assailant, the court announced that it will set a date for the next hearing and likely hear the testimony of the accused.

Ramirez Remains Return to Rio Dulce

The Guatemalan Foreign Ministry announced today that the bodies of Ana Elizabeth Ramirez Carías and her three daughters will be repatriated to the country to be buried in Rio Dulce, Izabal.

On January 27, Lupo's family was found dead with bullet wounds to the head at his home in a suburb of Los Angeles, California. It is believed that the father, Ervin Lupo, overwhelmed by debts, killed his wife and children and then committed suicide.

See these stories:
http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-01/29/content_10731878.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/29/us/29family.html?_r=1

The Foreign Ministry said that the Guatemalan Consulate in Los Angeles agreed to repatriate the remains of Ramirez and her daughters Brittney, Jasmine and Jassely, while her sons, Benjamin and Christian, and Lupo, will be cremated in Los Angeles. The costs will be borne by the Government, through the consulate.

"They were an incredibly happy family, very united. They laughed, smiled constantly? Why did this happen?" lamented Lupo Yolanda, sister of Ervin. "...my brother was a very compassionate father, loving, that he loved his family. They had no hope. I can imagine how things began to pile up, constantly without any hope".