Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Four Gunmen Arrested in Puerto Barrios

Police arrested four men after they shot and killed a taxi driver, 26 year old Walter González Agustín, and Oscar Flores. The incident took place at km 297 on the road to the Free Trade Zone / Zolic.

The victims were headed from Santo Tomas de Castilla to Puerto Barrios they were attacked. The taxi driver was found collapsed over the steering wheel. Flores was taken to the Hospital Nacional de la Amistad Japón Guatemala where he died.

The alleged killers were identified as 25 year old Deglyn Estuardo Pinto Eguizabal, 28 year old Edgar Rigoberto Martínez Vidal, 27 year old Eduardo Carlos Salazar Días, and 30 year old Juan Carlos Vicente Peña.

In the suspects' vehicle police found and seized five 9mm pistols, 21 high capacity 32 round magazines, and 210 rounds of .40 caliber and 9mm ammunition.

According to the PNC, the suspected thugs attacked Flores. When he attempted to escape in his vehicle, the gunmen sprayed the taxi because he did not yield right of way to the gunmen and because he might alert the police. The gunmen then engaged in a chase of Flores that continued for 3km with both vehicles exchanging gunfire.

All were licensed to carry firearms.

Closing the 10-year "gap" in infrastructure

On February 23, investment promotion agency Invest in Guatemala published a report addressing the country's 10-year "gap" in infrastructure development.

In addition to describing the country's infrastructure as "expensive and insufficient," the report says investment in the sector, in terms of GDP, is far less than the regional average.

BNamericas spoke with Invest in Guatemala executive director Mario Marroquín about the reasons for this gap and how the country plans to solve the problem.

Read a transcript of the interview here.

Guatemala opens National Police archive to civil war victims' families

Marylena Bustamante traveled 24 hours on a bus from Mexico City for a new chance at finding information about her brother, who disappeared 27 years ago during Guatemala's civil war.

Guatemalan human rights authorities recently opened a vast archive of police records that could contain information about Bustamante's brother, Emil, and thousands of other victims of state repression during the country's 36-year civil war.

"Like every family member of a detained/disappeared person, you have no idea how much I long to find the truth," said Bustamante, who arrived at the archive building holding a large portrait of Emil, whom she described as a "university intellectual."

Human rights officials discovered the archive by accident in July 2005 while investigating a complaint by neighbors about improperly stored explosives. Soon after, hundreds of workers set about cleaning up the rat-infested, mildewed building and restoring and organizing the estimated 80 million documents contained within.

The archive is considered the complete record of the National Police, with documents dating from 1881 until 1997. At the latter date, the police corps was replaced by the current National Civil Police.

Less than 10 percent of the documents have been digitized thus far, but victims' family members, investigators and academics can now file requests for information that may be contained in those documents, which primarily correspond to the most violent years of the war, 1975-85.

Read the rest of the story in the Miami Herald.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Guatemala finds Mexico drug smuggler training camp

Guatemalan security forces have discovered a camp run by Mexico's most violent drug gang where traffickers trained dozens of gunmen, police said yesterday.

Security forces were tipped off about suspicious activity at a ranch in Quiche, in the central highlands, by residents who said men in ski masks were asking villagers to join their ranks, police chief Marlene Blanco said at a news conference.

Two commanders of the Zetas, the armed wing of Mexico's Gulf cartel, and 37 recruits fled the camp before the police and army arrived, leaving behind 500 grenades, six rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, Blanco said.

The spiralling violence of Mexico's drug war, where rival cartels have resorted to savage tactics in their struggle for territory, killed more than 6,200 people last year and has stoked increasing concern from both ordinary Mexicans and the country's neighbours.

"They wanted to recruit young men. They offered training in the use of certain weapons and said they had jobs," Blanco said.

Guatemalan authorities, helped by personnel from the US Drug Enforcement Administration, also found an illegal airstrip, an obstacle course and equipment for practising shooting at moving targets.

"We are facing a war against drug trafficking and you can see what kind of weapons they have waiting for us," Blanco said.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers in a bid to crack down on the violence.

Police believe a series of attacks on buses in Guatemala City in the past week were orchestrated by the Zetas to distract attention from the border where they had been shipping illegal arms and drugs into and out of the country. — Reuters

Original story here.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Fair is in Town. Have Fun but Beware.

We look forward to this event all year in Rio Dulce. Every year, a big fair / carnival / rides comes to Rio Dulce around Semana Santa. There are also local events, the election and parade of the Flor de la Feria, who is a young woman elected to be the Flower of the Fair, plus her ladies in waiting. At the fair are various kiddie rides and usually a big ferris wheel that is scarier than it looks because it runs very fast--so fast that you are weightless as you go over the top(!) and feel 2 G's at the bottom. There are food vendors, portable dining rooms, portable bars that attract local cowboys where you'll see videos of Central American rodeos, skill games, and all the things you'd expect to find at a carnival.

At the fair you will also find pickpockets. Throughout history, carnies and Gypsies the world over, including in the U.S., have practiced the art of pickpocketing. The fair is lots of fun so don't let this stop you. Just leave valuables at home and put your cash where it's not easily pickpocketed. This advice extends to the street. During the time the fair is in town one needs to be extra careful anywhere in Fronteras too, not just at the fair itself.

See you at the Rio Dulce Fair!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Disturbance in San Felipe over Lack of Water

RIO DULCE (March 27, 2009) A group of irate citizens from the aldea San Felipe de Lara gathered in the mid-afternoon today at the entrance to the aldea and blocked the road with tree limbs and cars, protesting the ongoing lack of potable water.

Water has been rationed in San Felipe for many months, coming on for only a few hours in the wee hours of the morning. Over the past few weeks the problem has become more and more acute. Sometimes the water does not come at all and when it does the pressure is so low that it only reaches homes at the lowest elevations. For the past few days, water has only come on for about 30 minutes each day at around 6 PM.

The mayor met with the protesters and explained that the situation has no immediate solution. The reservoir that feeds Fronteras and San Felipe is essentially empty. He went on to say that the problem will continue until June when a new water system, specifically for San Felipe, is supposed to come on-line. He added that the new water system is being built at a cost of Q7.2 million and that it should provide plenty of water for the residents of San Felipe de Lara.

Former Guatemalan Dictator's Son Arrested for Embezzlement

Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt's son has been arrested for allegedly embezzling 15 million dollars, Cuban news agency Prensa Latina reported.

Enrique Rios Sosa embezzled the money during the government of President Alfonso Portillo (2000-2004) when he was the army finance chief.

The money was stolen from the army budget and deposited in private accounts in state-run Credito Hipotecario Nacional bank (National Mortgage Credit Bank).

Other high-ranking officials, some of them retired, were also under investigation for the crime. Rios Montt, who is at present Congress deputy and founder of the Guatemalan Republican Front party, confirmed the arrest of his son.

Abducted Boys' Possibly Still in Rio Dulce

The FBI has learned that two Westchester brothers who abducted their sons and vanished nine months ago have been in Guatemala and at some point in the Rio Dulce area of Guatemala.

The news has provided the boys' mothers, Zanni Meguerian and Christine Jeanbart, with hope they might one day again see their children.

"It's really reassuring to know that the FBI is closely following up on this," said Meguerian, who hasn't seen her two sons since July. "Hopefully they will continue until my kids are back."

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said agents "believe they spent time in Guatemala and may still be in Central or South America.

The FBI would release no other details. However, family members said that at some point George and John Silah and the children were in the Rio Dulce area, a popular travel destination about a five- to six- hour journey from Guatemala City.

No one knows if they are still there, but federal warrants have been issued for the arrest of the men.

See photos below.

Alexander Silah

Zaven Silah

George Silah (Father of Alexander and Zaven)

Greg Silah

John Silah (Father of Greg)

More of the story here.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children links:


Centro Nacional para Menores Desaparecidos y Explotados (USA)

1-800-843-5678(USA) o 001-703-522-9320

011-703-522-9320 (outside United States), or hotline@ncmec.org, or Los Angeles Police Department (California) 1-877-275-5273, or your local FBI

IMF Agrees To $950 Million Precautionary Loan For Guatemala

Mr. Gabriel Lopetegui, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) mission chief for Guatemala, made the following statement on March 26, 2009 in Guatemala City:

“During the past two weeks, an IMF staff mission visited Guatemala for discussions on possible IMF financial support for the government's economic program for 2009 and 2010. Agreement with the authorities has been reached at staff-level on a program that could be supported by a 18-month Stand-By Arrangement in the amount of SDR 630.6 million (about US$950 million). The Guatemalan authorities intend to treat the arrangement as precautionary. Guatemala has no immediate balance of payments need, and this program is part of a comprehensive preventive strategy to strengthen the country’s liquidity cushion in the face of an uncertain global environment, thereby enhancing the confidence of investors and market participants. As part of this strategy, an additional US$1 billion of resources from other IFIs, including the World Bank and the IDB, have already been committed for 2009-2010.

Read the details on the IMF web site.

JM Lowers Interest Rate

The Monetary Board (Junta Monetaria) decided to reduce the prime interest rate that serves as a control against inflation. The rate was reduced by 25 basis points and stands now 6.25 percent, which encourages banks to provide more loans.

Inflation rate has dropped from 7.88 percent in January to 6.50 percent in February, which implies a decline in the rate of increase of prices of goods and services. The index measuring economic activity (IMAE) has also declined. Those were some of the reasons the JM chose to lower the prime rate.

This is the fourth time this year that the JM has reduced the rate, each time by 25 basis points. Last December the rate stood at 7.25 percent. The reduction so far in 2009 is 100 basis points.

The function of the prime interest rate is to control money leaving or entering the economy. It is the seven day rate paid by banks.

When inflation rises, the rate is increased so that banks prefer to keep their money in the Bank of Guatemala (Banguat), rather than in loans.

The last time the rate was at 6.25 percent was on November 28, 2007, but at that time the trend was upward because food and fuel prices had increased at the international level.

Exchange Rate Reaches Q8.24

The dollar was offered yesterday at bank tellers at up to Q8.24. The continuing upward trend caused the price of the foreign exchange reference rate for the day at the Bank of Guatemala (Banguat) to reach Q8.12.

Both economic analysts and monetary authorities have said that there is no technical reason for this trend of the dollar.

The dollar has continued to rise in recent days despite the interventions of Banguat in the currency market in an attempt to meet the alleged demand for U.S. dollars.

Banguat's most recent move was on March 18 when it sold U.S. $31 million in two days.

Jorge Briz, president of the Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce (GCC), expressed concern at the sharp upward trend in the exchange rate of the quetzal against the U.S. dollar.

A high exchange rate, affects those who have loans in U.S. dollars, and importers, and traders. It benefits recipients of remittances, exporters, and those who receive a salary in dollars.

Legislators Reach Agreement on Ammunition

Legislators continue to work on Guatemala's new gun control law. One of the most contentious points concerns the quantity of ammunition that a licensed gun owner can purchase each month.
At a six hour long meeting in which members discussed amendments to the Arms and Ammunition Act, a consensus was reached on several items including defining the amount of ammunition that one owner may acquire each month.

Among the agreements was to allow 250 rounds per authorized weapon. Given that the law authorizes the possession of up to three weapons per person they could acquire a total of 750 rounds per month. The original proposal was for 400 rounds per weapon.

Regarding the other article that has generated much discontent is that which allows government officials and former officials to carry a weapon without a license. No consensus was reached.

The current proposal is for officials in public office and those who have held public office to have no limit to the number of authorized weapons and ammunition that they can buy.

The day before yesterday, legislators succeeded in the adopting articles 1 through 54 of the new law, while in the streets of Guatemala at least five people died and six more were injured with firearms.

The discussions on this law have been going on now for more than four months.

Prison Escape Foiled

President Alvaro Colom said yesterday that conspirators planned to create four riots and a wave of violence in the capital to distract police and security forces while a group of drug dealers attempted an escape from the jail in Zone 18.

According to the president, they had plans to start four riots in four jails on April 8th but the plans have been foiled. The idea was to "liberate the drug traffickers arrested in the Zone 18 area and the prisoners are furious," Colom said in a press conference.

The president said that among the prisoners who planned to escape are the Mexican citizens who allegedly active in the group of assassins known as the "Zetas" who serve the Gulf Cartel, who were caught after armed clashes with security forces.

"There are as many Zetas as Guatemalans" among those who were planning to escape. "There are more than 30 Mexicans who are in prison," said Colom.

That evening, the president addressed the people to call for calm and denied that he had intentions to suspend constitutional guarantees in order to fight crime.

Colom did not identify the perpetrators of the attacks saying: "we will not warn them before arresting them."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

No Bail for Ex-PN Officers Linked to Disappearance of Fernando Garcia

The Fourth Criminal Court of First Instance yesterday confirmed the detention of the two former police offiers linked to the disappearance of the trade unionist and student Fernando Garcia, on February 18th, 1984.

Defense attorneys Abraham Lancerio Gomez and Hector Ramirez Rios requested a review of the decision to retain the two in prison.

The former policemen are accused of abduction, kidnapping, illegal detention, and abuse of authority in relation to the arrest and disappearance of Garcia, Congresswoman Ninth Montenegro's first husband.

Both detainees claimed protection under the Law of National Reconciliation and the Law on Amnesty, however the judge refused the argument and confirmed the detention.

The judge also decided to accept Alejandra Garcia, daughter of the disappeared Fernando Garcia, as plaintiff in the case against the two former officers.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Digging Guatemala: Anthropologists Look for Clues to Past Political Killings

One day last spring, Fredy Peccerelli found himself conducting an unusual exercise: correlating the dates of major massacres during Guatemala's civil war to the play schedule of the New York Yankees in the 1980s. It was an attempt, the director of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation says, to compare what happened in his native country with his own life after he and his family fled in the fall of 1980 when he was nine years old.

The violence in Guatemala's 36-year insurgency peaked between 1980 and 1983, under the military governments of General Fernando Romeo Lucas García and General José Efraín Ríos Montt. Both regimes led scorched-earth campaigns in the Guatemalan countryside and "disappeared" urban intellectuals who opposed the government. By the time peace accords between the government and an armed resistance movement called Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity) were signed in 1996, 200,000 people had perished, many in massacres that targeted entire villages, according to the country's Historical Clarification Commission, a United Nations–led investigation into human rights violations there.

As a kid, Peccerelli knew that his family had fled to New York City because his father, then a law student, had received threats from government death squads in the capital, Guatemala City. "At that time, they were killing a lot of people at the law school," says Peccerelli. "[My father] had a lot of people around him disappear." So when the threats came, the family l quickly fled.

Read the rest at Scientific American.

Guatemalan war orphans were sold, records show

Several children listed as missing during Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war were sold in illegal adoptions, the country's social welfare agency records revealed.

The director of the government's Peace Archive, Marco Tulio Alvarez, told a press conference in Guatemala City on Monday that during the analysis the archive, officials found a series of irregularities that prove the disappearance of children between 1986 and 1987.

"In the analysis carried out, patterns of activity can be established that show the ease with which the adoption procedures were handled to hide the violation of rights of Guatemalan children through forced disappearance," he said.

Alvarez did not rule out that members of Guatemala's police and armed forces could be implicated in the selling of the children.

Read the rest of the story here.

Guatemala scans police archive for civil war clues

Information long hidden in police archives covered with mold and bat droppings could implicate hundreds of former officers accused of killing students and leftists during Guatemala's 36-year civil war, according to human rights activists.

Sergio Morales, the Guatemalan government human rights ombudsman, on Tuesday is set to release the first report on the contents of 80 million documents unearthed four years ago that dated from the 1960-96 conflict.

Human rights activists have expressed hope that information from the archives will lead authorities to arrest hundreds of former police officers who may be implicated in crimes committed during a civil war in which around 250,000 people were killed or disappeared.

Two former members of a police unit linked to death squads that operated during the civil war were detained this month based on evidence from the archive.

Human rights workers discovered the dusty floor-to-ceiling stacks of papers in 2005 when they went into a rat-infested munitions depot in Guatemala City to investigate complaints by nearby residents about old explosives stored there.

The government gave the human rights ombudsman permission to investigate the archives from a civil war-era police force so linked to repression and disappearances that it was dissolved in 1997 after leftist guerrillas and security forces signed a peace agreement.

Archivists have cleaned, scanned and filed some 11 million documents, scouring them for information from the conflict.

Read the rest of the Reuters story here.

Hard to Treat Diseases (HTDS) enters Guatemala market

Hard to Treat Diseases (HTDS) www.htdsmedical.com is pleased to announce that Mellow Hope a subsidiary of HTDS was granted import licensing from Guatemala's Ministry of Health to import their Oral Poliomyelitis Vaccine (Brand Name: Mevac-OPV). Application has now been made to the Chinese State Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for an export license. Anticipated delivery date for the vaccine is 2nd quarter of 2009.

Terry Yuan HTDS CEO said, "Guatemala's Expanded Vaccination Program (EPI) requires for all newborns to be vaccinated. The OPV is included in this vaccination program. In 2008, the country realized a new birth rate of 380,000. Given these statistics, demand for the Mevac-OPV is expected to be extremely high".
See the rest of the story on Yahoo Finance.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Easter Dates / Schedule

Easter is coming. Below is the schedule for all the religious and festival dates of this Easter season.

This schedule is available for any year from 1584 to 2499 here: Easter Date Calculator

2009 Easter Schedule

PDH Denounces Violent Attack

The Human Rights Procurator, Dr. Sergio Morales, complained to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) against the violent attack on the head of the Office of Special Investigation of the institution, which is investigating the case of the forced disappearance of union leader Fernando Garcia, husband of Congresswoman Ninth Montenegro.

An unnamed official of the PDH) was brutally beaten by two men who intercepted him at the entrance to his house, said the procurator at a press conference.

Following the attack, he was hospitalized for three days. Morales noted that other researchers in this case have been threatened.

The complaint before the Commission also states that two vehicles have loitered around the Historical Archive building of the defunct National Police (PN) in zone 6, and have photographed who works there.

Another unnamed officer, who serves as head of procurement, has received death threats against him and Morales althought the procurator has not personally received threats..

The procurator refused to comment on the perpetrators of that attack, but said that it depends on the outcome of investigations.

Morales demanded that the PNC provide perimeter security for the headquarters of the files, which have been in the custody of the PDH for four years.

The U.S. National Security Archive reported that the U.S. government had information on the disappearance of Fernando Garcia. The information from the NSA is based on reports found in declassified documents from the U.S. State Department. A press release from the organization said that "the documents show that the capture of Garcia was a political demise orchestrated at the highest levels of the Guatemalan government."

The disappearance of the union leader, 25 years ago, captured headlines two weeks ago, when two former policemen accused of the kidnapping and disappearance of Garcia were arrested. Those captured were Hector Ramirez Rios and Abraham Lancerio Gomez, who worked in the now defunct National Police, which was absorbed by the PNC.

Shannon Confirms Support

Thomas Shannon, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State reaffirmed support to Guatemala in combating drug trafficking. He spoke of the issues discussed at a scheduled meeting with President Alvaro Colom.

In U.S. embassy building, the official said that the region will receive $160 million under Plan Merida. U.S. $16 million of that will be earmarked for Guatemala.

Shannon also reiterated his support for the management of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

He indicated that his government is studying the impact of the economic crisis in Central America. According to the Shannon, it is anticipated that the greatest economic blow will come from the reduction in remittance flows and the decline in exports from the countries of Central America.

He added that the United States will evaluate the possibility of granting loans to alleviate the crisis in the countries of the region. The loans would come from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Special Interests Continue to Block Gun Control Law

The excuses and barriers against at least one of the 146 articles of the new arms law were interpreted by some legislators and the Myrna Mack Foundation as a response by the interests of organized crime and the arms business.

It was expected that the new law on weapons would be adopted last week in the full Congress, apparently with the support of all coalitions of Congress, but in the end they did not even reach the first article of the initiative. The session was followed closely by members of the Asociación de Tiro con Arma de Fuego, which opposes a reduction in the number of munitions that are available each month.

Congress members say they want to approve this legislation to prevent the proliferation of weapons and to punish the illegal use of firearms, but when they come close to achieving the goal, there appeared criticism, questions, and any other excuse to stop it.

This rule has been requested for years by social sectors. After four months of participating in workshops to review its contents, the majority of the blocs in Congress had assured that they had the necessary consensus to approve 72 articles.

Using the argument that they were unfamiliar with the proposed amendments and did not know the result of the workshops, they were excluded from the discussion, and legislators pointed out contradictions and gaps in them. Legislators then engaged in a lengthy discussion that led to a recess in the meeting to seek more agreements.

The debate will continue tomorrow (Tuesday), but skeptics doubt that this day be achieve any different result.

Non-Traditional Agriproducts Promoted

The Agritrade fair, organized by the Guatemalan Association of Exporters (Agexport) was held last week to promote and increase the volume of exports of non-traditional agricultural products.

In the exhibition, which took place in Antigua Guatemala, 120 exhibitors from horticultural products, plants and cut flowers, fruits, vegetables, and other products, will meet and do business with more than 65 international buyers from USA, Europe and Central America.

During the opening, the president of Agexport, Carlos Amador, stressed the importance of tourism for Guatemalan exports, especially in the international economic crisis, since agricultural products are necessities and therefore are businesses that continue booming. Amador called the show "innovative", and stressed the high quality of products being marketed there.

President Alvaro Colom was present at the opening breakfast, and congratulated Agexport for the work that has developed over its 27 years, referring to it as "healthy, strong, entrepreneurial, with an incubation of leadership that has generated so many great ministers, deputy ministers, ambassadors, and even a president."

Colom said that "due to its climate and land in Guatemala, you can plant virtually any product and we must be aggressive to take advantage of these natural features of our country."

Chamber of Industry Denounces Counterfeit Products

Thomas Dougherty, president of the Guatemalan Chamber of Industry, today highlighted that groups linked to organized crime are smuggling Mexican products into Guatemala and that the government authorities have definite plans to counter this scourge.

Dougherty, who was also accompanied by Roberto Herrarte, president of the Union of Foods, José Pivaral, and Luis Mazariegos, directors of the Guatemalan Association of Rice, and Maria del Rosario, Yaqui, from the National Association of Farmers, said that millions in losses result from products smuggled from Mexico.

"We've determined the crossing at Tecún Uman, San Marcos is the main entrance of contraband from Mexico to Guatemala," said Herrarte, who showed to the media, products that were seized yesterday at a police checkpoint in Coatepeque, Quetzaltenango, valued at Q100,000.

Mexican brands of products such as juices, toilet paper, soft drinks, rice, bundles of eggs and candies, boquitas, sardines, and other food products, were submitted by employers.

Dougherty said that smuggling is affecting sales of the industries that produce food in Guatemala which been forced to lay off staff in certain areas of production.

Guatemala to open mass grave in search for war dead

Guatemala's biggest mass grave may give up its secrets this year when bodies from a massacre during the 1960-1996 civil war are exhumed after decades of mystery.

Following years of work in rural graves and battling for clues, official permits and funding, rights groups will start digging at a cemetery in Guatemala City, part of a healing process as Guatemala unearths victims of the long conflict.

Around 1,000 bodies in a mass grave at the La Verbena cemetery are thought to be the victims of extrajudicial killings by the army and police during some of the most violent years of the conflict.

"These are people who were taken to be questioned, interrogated, probably tortured," said Fredy Peccerelli, an activist leading efforts to exhume the bodies later this year with $1 million in aid from the United States and Europe.

"If they knew very little, (they were) killed quickly. If they knew a lot, they were held first for three to six months," added Peccerelli, who runs the non-governmental Forensic Anthropology Foundation and who worked in Bosnia after the 1992-95 Balkan conflict.

Almost a quarter of a million people were killed or disappeared during the conflict between leftist guerrillas and the government. Over 80 percent of the murders were committed by the army, according to a U.N.-backed truth commission.

Read the rest of the Reuters story here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Drug Traffickers Clash With Police in Rio Dulce

An unidentified gang of drug traffickers clashed with police and soldiers yesterday at a clandestine airstrip on Finca San Jorge in Rio Dulce, Izabal. The criminals managed to escape with the shipment of drugs and none were arrested.

The spot is located 3.5 km off the highway to the Peten just north of Rio Dulce.

The Narcotics Police (SAIA) and the PNC said the clash began after authorities detected a small aircraft in the air. Two Guatemalan Air Force helicopters were mobilized but they were repelled by machine gun fire.

While the drug traffickers held off the helicopters with machine gun fire, the plane was able to land at the airstrip. The cargo was transferred to agricultural vehicles and they all fled with the cargo.

The police seized all the weapons and ammunition left behind, five vehicles, and a motorcycle. The plane was left intact and has been moved to Guatemala City. The vehicles are impounded at the Rio Dulce police station.

Police reported that the five seized vehicles were equipped with secret compartments.

Japanese Author Presents Book About Guatemalan History

Last Tuesday, Japanese writer, Atsuko Kondo, presented at the Cervantes Institute in Tokyo, her book "Hidden Episodes of the Contemporary History of Guatemala," which recounts the road to the signing of the peace accords in 1996.

Divided into eight chapters, the book marks the milestones of the twentieth century in Guatemala, the overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 by the U.S., and it addresses issues such as the expropriation of land from the Maya peoples.

The book summarizes the effects of unequal land distribution, which for the former Japanese Ambassador to Guatemala, Heisuke Shinomiya, "is still today the most serious problem in Guatemala."

As a proposal to end this situation, "Hidden Episodes of the Contemporary History of Guatemala" refers to the development of a land register, according to which there should be allocation of land across the country.

The book also gives attention to the relations between Guatemala and Spain, and the first peace negotiations after the military assault on the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala took place in 1990.

During the presentation, the writer urged the improvement of the educational system in Guatemala, especially among the indigenous population, to provide a greater awareness for voting at the polls.

Atsuko Kondo, who is very interested in the politics of Central America, lamented that Japanese schools do not teach the reality of this region.

Agreement Reached Over Security Plan

After a meeting on Tuesday lasting eight hours, with representatives of the Catholic and Evangelical churches, the Human Rights Procurator, and the University of San Carlos (USAC), discussing national security, President Alvaro Colom said that there is total agreement on all 76 points in the document.

The president pledged to meet with President of Congress, Roberto Alejos, Eliu Higuero, president of the judiciary and Amílcar Velasquez, attorney general and head of the Ministerio Publico, to discuss the pact for national security.

Nery Rodenas, of the Archbishop's Office of Human Rights, welcomed the consensus reached at the meeting.

The proposal for a security plan was formulated by the Catholic and Evangelical churches, USAC, and the PDH, when their representatives requested an emergency meeting with President Colom last week.

The president met with representatives of these four institutions after they made a public appeal to the government to discuss the proposal on security.

The president attended the meeting with Darío Pérez, president of the Evangelical Alliance, Estuardo Galvez, president of USAC, Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño, and Sergio Morales, Human Rights Procurator. They had complained last week that the president did not include the essence of their proposal in the government's security agenda. During the announcement, Morales pointed out that the government failed to take note of 69 percent of the proposal, which includes 12 items to reduce insecurity and violence.

Among the suggestions are to develop a national policy framework law for security and the creation of a Ministry of Public Security, the restructuring of the police, review of the background of staff, establishment of criminal investigation and a law for public safety.

Sale of New Cars Down 40%

Sales of new cars fell from 40 to 42 percent in February, reported the Union of Importers of Vehicles.

Cromwell Cuestas, president of the union, said the factors that influenced the decline in sales are bad monetary policy, the illiquidity of the banking system, and the volatility of the dollar.

Cuestas said that at this time it is crazy that Congress raise taxes because this only generates more unemployment.

"It is a punishment of the country's productive class, to approve a tax on the first registration of a vehicle," he said.

According to the union, many people have asked for hybrid cars, which are used in other countries. However, manufacturers have not yet brought these products to Guatemala.

The union believes that sales will recover by summer when the U.S. and European economies begin to lift.

Cuestas advised the banks to grant loans with low interest rates and the Bank of Guatemala to monitor the recovery of the dollar.

The government is trying to modernize the tax system, which includes a tax on first registration of vehicles, but the union did not support this measure. The government is proposing a tax of 30 per cent of the value of the vehicle upon its first registration.

Sewage Polluting Lago Izabal

The Cahabón and Polochic Rivers are the principal sources of pollutants in Lake Izabal, bringing sewage from various municipalities of Alta Verapaz.

The Cahabón passes through places such as Tactic, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal Verapaz, Coban, Carchá, Chamelco San Juan, and Lanquin Cahabón.

The Polochic carries pollution produced by Tamahú, Tucurú, Santa Catalina La Tinta, and Senahú Panzós. The two rivers then join and continue to El Estor, Izabal, where they empty into Lake Izabal, the largest lake in Guatemala.

The two rivers combined carry the daily waste of about 350,000 residents of Alta Verapaz, which has caused the lake water to be unfit for human consumption.

Waldemar Coloch, from the Unidad de Saneamiento Ambiental del Área de Salud de Alta Verapaz (Environmental Health Unit of the Department of Health), confirmed the pollution and the disagreeable odors in different parts of the lake due to lack of sewage treatment facilities upriver.

He also added that it is contradictory that a department like Alta Verapaz, which has a large number of rivers and water sources, should have a shortage in water supply for its inhabitants.

"The 47 per cent of the population of Alta Verapaz has no piped water. Potable water is not even a does not exist because none of the rural areas provide water treatment and only 21 of the 38 distribution systems in urban areas of Alta Verapaz chlorinate or otherwise disinfect water," added Coloch. According to studies, the water in its natural state is not recommended for human consumption because there is always microorganisms. Coloch said that there are plenty of surface and groundwater supplies but there is no quality of distribution.

He also explained that contamination from chemical compounds has increased in recent years, although he has no specific data on this. The increasing use of pesticides by farmers has a large environmental impact.

"We, as the Ministry of Health and Welfare, have to ensure the indexing and classification of contaminants found in each municipality, and each municipality is responsible for having water treatment plants, but 17 municipalities do not have them," he said.

Jose Gutierrez, Delegate of the Proyecto Plan Internacional, said that in a 2005 study in the municipality of Carchá it was determined that 96 percent of the population lacks access to water. But most alarming is that in one hundred percent of the samples, there appeared bacteria that develop in feces, which promote diarrhea, especially in children under 5 years.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dollar Remains High Despite Banguat Intervention

The upward trend of the quetzal against the dollar continues, despite the intervention of the Bank of Guatemala (Banguat).

According to statistics from Banguat, the exchange rate began a steady rise in October of last year. On October first, the exchange rate was Q7.49657 for $1, but in the following months the value increased consistently until it reached Q8.01579 on February 25, 2009.

Last week was no exception and the increase in the value of the dollar continued. Although it fell on Tuesday, the next day it resumed the uptrend.

The spike in exchange rate of the quetzal hurts those making payments in dollars, such as for houses, businesses that have loans, and importers, and favors those receiving remittances, exporters, and those who earn dollars because they exchange into more quetzales.

Fewer Forests, More Chagas

"Guatemala became the first country in Central America to be declared free of Chagas’ disease transmission by the WHO (World Health Organisation)," said Monroy, the founder of the laboratory of entomology and parasitology at the University of San Carlos School of Science and Pharmacy in Guatemala.

The Swiss-educated scientist said that a decade ago, hundreds of cases of Chagas’ disease were reported annually in her country. But this year, after several years of work with local communities, "we have controlled the problem, using a holistic approach," she said.

There is no cure or vaccine for the often deadly Chagas' disease, and in most cases only treatment of symptoms is possible.

The disease is caused by the bite of the reduviid bug, which lives in crevices and gaps in poor rural housing - like thatch, mud or adobe huts - in a number of Latin American countries.

The bug transmits a protozoan parasite named Trypanosoma cruzi through its faeces, which human victims unwittingly rub into the bite wound left by the bug, or into their eyes, mouth or nose. The parasites thus enter the victim's bloodstream and gradually invade organs of the body, often causing severe damage to the heart, digestive tract or nervous system.

The disease has three stages: acute infection, in which symptoms occur soon after infection; an asymptomatic phase, which can last months or years; and chronic infection.

In the first stage, which only a small minority of patients suffer, symptoms include swelling of the eye on one side of the face, exhaustion, fever, enlarged liver or spleen, swollen lymph glands, a rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting.

Symptoms in the chronic stage can appear years or even decades after infection. Health problems include serious, irreversible damage to the heart or intestinal tract.

Monroy said that most reduviid bugs live in the forests, and that "when we cut down the forests, the bugs have to go somewhere, and we provide them with ideal conditions. What temperature does the bug like?...23 degrees Celsius, the same temperature I prefer, so they come to our homes where it is warm, slightly damp, and dark," she said.

"We provide the conditions that make Chagas’ disease a public health problem," said the scientific researcher.

Monroy works with health authorities in Guatemala to combat the spread of the disease, with the direct participation of affected communities. Local communities are taught about the disease and its characteristics, and with that information, they adapt their homes to keep the reduviid bug out and to live in harmony with the environment, she said.

Only an "integrated approach that leaves aside spraying as the sole method for fighting the disease" is effective, said the scientist.

PAHO reports that the socioeconomic impact of Chagas’ disease in Latin America is extremely high, ranking it behind respiratory infections, diarrhea and HIV/AIDS.

"In Guatemala we have curbed the disease; we no longer have a significant number of cases, thanks to the integral approach. If this strategy is applied in the rest of the countries, the battle will be won," said Monroy. (END/2008)


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Declassified US State Dept Docs, US Knew of Abuses by Guatemalan Leaders it Supported

The U.S. government knew that top Guatemalan officials it supported with arms and cash were behind the disappearance of thousands of people during a 36-year civil war, declassified documents obtained by a U.S. research institute show.

The National Security Archive, a Washington D.C.-based institute that requests and publishes declassified government documents, obtained diplomatic and intelligence reports from the U.S. State Department under the Freedom of Information Act and posted them on its Web site on Wednesday.

"Government security services have employed assassination to eliminate persons suspected of involvement with the guerrillas or who are otherwise left-wing in orientation," one 1984 State Department report said.

State Department spokesman Fred Lash said he was unaware of the declassified documents and could not immediately comment.

Guatemala's U.S.-backed army battled leftist guerrillas in a 1960-1996 civil war that left more than 200,000 people dead or missing. Most were Mayan Indians.

"The government is obviously rounding up people connected with the extreme left-wing labor movement for interrogation," then-U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin said in a 1984 cable.

Chapin also said he was optimistic that missing union activist Fernando Garcia was alive and would be released. But Garcia has never been found, and two police officers were arrested in his case last week based on information found in Guatemalan police documents discovered in 2005.

The U.S. and local police files show that disappearances and executions were part of a deliberate strategy to crush leftist rebels, said Jesse Franzblau, a researcher at the Archive.

See the rest of the AP story here

Read it all at the George Washington University National Security Archive

Government Allocates Q900 Million for Social Programs

Yesterday, the president created the Social Solidarity Fund, one of the pillars of social cohesion, which will operate through a trust to be administered by the Ministry of Communications and will be funded with Q100 million.

This axis of Social Cohesion, which consists of infrastructure for schools, housing, and other projects, was handled by the Executive Coordination Secretariat of the Presidency (SCEP), but later it was decided that the Secretariat lacked the necessary ministerial powers and the agency was moved as a trust to the Ministry of Communications.

Jairo Flores, secretary of the SCEP, said the trust aims to develop housing construction, school infrastructure and emergency care.

The decision of the constitutional court on this move has not yet been published.

Flores denied that there is duplication of functions, given that this ministry handles infrastructure and the new trust will also.

Wilfredo Garcia, Vice Minister of Communications, said yesterday that they have no official knowledge of the creation of the new trust. "The only trust that we have is the Road Fund (Covial), funded at Q1.85 billion for 2009," he said.

Assistant Secretary of State to Visit Guatemala

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Thomas Shannon, will make a one-day official visit to Guatemala on Friday to discuss issues related to regional security, trade and immigration.

Official sources confirmed that Shannon will come to Guatemala early on Friday and planned to meet with President Alvaro Colom and foreign minister Haroldo Rodas.

"The topics to be discussed with the Assistant Secretary of State will be about immigration, regional security, trade and the effects of the global financial crisis in Central America," the sources explained.

Moreover, the the president will use the opportunity to confirm to Shannon his participation in the meeting to be held on March 30 in Costa Rica between the presidents of Central America and the U.S. vice president, Joe Biden.

According to sources, "We will also talk about the upcoming Summit of the Americas", scheduled to take place in Trinidad and Tobago from April 17 to April 19 where the presidents of Latin America and U.S. President Barack Obama will meet.

Banguat Sells Another $11.8 Million

The Bank of Guatemala (Banguat) went to battle again yesterday in defense of the quetzal by selling U.S. $11.8 million for the purpose of curbing the rise in the exchange rate.

Banguat initially offered $11.75 million but managed to place only $7.75 million, equivalent to 65 percent. It subsequently offered $13.3 million and sold 31 percent of that, or U.S. $4.1 million, for a total of $11.85 million.

The sale yesterday is in addition to the $19.2 million sold the day before, which means a sale of $31 million in two days.

The exchange rate stood at $ 8.10 today, however, due to the involvement of Banguat, the exchange rate will start tomorrow at $ 8.09. The banks also lowered their earnings yesterday as they had sold Quetzales at at an average of 8.22 and are now selling between 8.14 and 8.18.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Banguat Sells Dollars to Stabilize the Quetzal

The Bank of Guatemala made it's first move in the currency market this year by selling U.S. $19 million, seeking to prevent further depreciation of the quetzal.

Julio Suarez, vice president of Banguat commented that the central bank made it's own decision on this action and none of the automatic intervention mechanisms were activated. Suarez explained that the intention is to temper expectations.

This is the first occasion on which Banguat used its discretionary power to intervene in the exchange rate, a measure adopted last February 25th.

Yesterday, banks sold dollars to the system above Q8.20, while the reference benchmark was Q8.07.

Jorge Briz, president of the Chamber of Commerce in Guatemala, an entity that has questioned Banguat's previous reluctance to intervene, said that "it might be too late for the central bank to stabilize the exchange rate."

Tulio García, of the Guatemalan Association of Exporters of Guatemala, said that Banguat must be careful in the statements and not set a precedent for intervention and not say it will do something and then not follow through.

Banguat buys or sells dollars to prevent abrupt changes in the exchange rate but the world crisis has caused fluctuations in the currencies of various countries.

Projects To Purify Drinking Water In Guatemala, South Africa Aim To Improve Health Of Residents

The device looks deceptively simple - a porous clay pot placed in a five-gallon plastic bucket with a spigot - but Vinka Craver believes it can save millions of lives each year.

The assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Rhode Island says that when water is poured into the ceramic pot and it passes through to the bucket, the water is purified and becomes safe to drink.

Read the rest of the story on Medical News Today

Colom Appoints New Ministers

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom appointed on Monday Mario Aldana as new Agriculture Minister and Ruben Morales as Economy Minister.

Colom made these appointments after accepting the resignations from former ministers Julio Recinos and Romulo Caballeros, according to information reaching here from Guatemala City.

Read the rest of the story on Xinhua.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Large Ash Eruptions from Volcanoes Fuego and Santiaguito

The Institute of Seismology, Volcanology and Meteorology (INSIVUMEH) reported that the volcanoes of Fuego and Santiaguito have been throwing up large amounts of ash, and alerted aviation and the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction to take precautions.

The two giants volcanoes are producing loud explosions and throwing incandescent material and steam. Columns of ash from Santiaguito are reaching 600 to 700 meters in height, and scatter about 8 to 12 miles away.

Around the Volcan de Fuego the village of Sangre de Cristo is having problems with the ash causing contamination of drinking water and food.

Austria and Finland Contribute Support for Renewable Energy

The Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) signed agreements with Finland and Austria for nearly $4 million to support renewable energy projects in Central America.

The Government of Finland provide two million euros (about U.S. $2.6 million) to create a partial guarantee fund for renewable energy projects, said the bank in a statement.

The agreement stems from an initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, the main promoter of "The Energy and Environment Partnership with Central America." The agreement is aimed to "promote renewable energy in the region, thus contributing to their sustainable development, reducing the increase in greenhouse gases and the mitigation of global climate change," said the bank.

Similarly, the bank also signed an agreement for one million euros (U.S. $1.3 million) with the Austrian Development Bank, to create a Special Fund for Technical Cooperation. The funds will be used with a special focus on environmental and energy efficiency.

Remittances to Latin America Drop

Remittances to Latin America from the United States rose by just one percent in 2008 but will be negative in 2009 due to the recession.

The total for 2008 came to U.S. $69 billion, compared with $ 68.6 billion in 2007, said the IDB, which has been monitoring the movement of money since 2000.

In Guatemala, the effect is already evident. In February, remittances were U.S. $281.9 million, $36.8 million less than the same month in 2008.

"Remittances are a vital resource for millions of homes in the region," said Luis Alberto Moreno, IDB President, "A loss means social problems because remittances are a major source of income for thousands of families."

Moreno said that the reduction will bring difficulties for the governments of countries receiving remittances and increase pressures for social programs.

The drop expected during 2009 results from the recession in the United States, Spain and Japan, which are major sources of remittances to the region.

He said that in the United States and Spain, the construction sector which employs large numbers of immigrants and is one of the hardest sectors hit. Industrial paralysis in Japan, for its part, is directly affecting remittances to Brazil and Peru.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Consumer Protection in Guatemala

Ever wonder about the complaint logbook that you see prominently displayed in many businesses?

Since 2006, Guatemala has had a consumer protection law that is quite thorough and the logbook is one of the requirements of the law. The decree outlaws deceptive advertising, deceptive charges or fees, false advertising, phony offers or offers that are not fulfilled, deceptive labeling, tainted products or products that do not contain what they say, improperly calibrated scales or other measuring devices, and much more. The law covers false advertising by any means, print, electronic, etc. The law protects all consumers of goods and services including private individuals and legal entities like corporations, both domestic and foreign.

The text of the law is here: http://www.diaco.gob.gt/ley.php

The original decree is here: http://www.diaco.gob.gt/registro3578.pdf

In addition there is a pan-Central American consumer protection agency called DIACO, with arms in each of the countries of Central America. The Guatemalan agency provides many services for education and training and holds consumer protection fairs in different parts of the country. Most departments have a DIACO office. They also have a web site with lots of information and a mechanism to file complaints online.


Tourism Can Minimize Effects of Global Crisis in Central America

Tourism cannot escape being affected by the global economic crisis, but Central America continued to show growth of visitors in 2008 based on both regional and local strategies, as was shown at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to the Convention of International Tourism, held in Berlin, Germany.

In 2008 there was an increase of two percent in the influx of tourists around the world and in Latin America, Central America was the region ranked highest in income growth from tourism, even higher than Northern South America, which reported an increase of 5.9 percent.

According to data from the Central American Tourism Agency (CATA), with headquarters in Madrid, about 8.2 million visitors came to the region.

Central America offers itself to tourists as both a single product and as individual countries that complement each other.

From the cultural and archaeological tourism represented by Guatemala to Panama on business, are clear examples of how each country has their own potential to be offered to the international market along with all of Central America.

This assertion is supported by the statistics of the Spanish airline Iberia, which in 2008 transported 290,000 passengers to Central America, 14 percent more than in 2007.

The Dutch airline, KLM, also increased its flights between Amsterdam and Panama from three to five per week.

Central America is clear that the global crisis is an opportunity in the field of tourism. The main strategy is to strengthen regional tourism and to provide added value to all products offered, with the goal that every dollar spent by a visitor receives highest quality in every respect.

In addition, the United States represents the main market for tourism to this region. Although it is in recession, tourism operators are confident that Americans who have traveled long distances before will now come the much shorter distance to Central America.

In Guatemala, tourism generated revenues of more than U.S. $208 million in the first two months of 2009, representing an increase of 2.9 percent over the same months in 2008, according to data from Inguat.

Tired of Waiting for New Gun Law

President Alvaro Colom announced yesterday that in the absence of consensus to approve the new Law of Arms and Ammunition, there are arrangements with the next congress, which begins Tuesday, for the approval of the act to strengthen the prosecution and punishment for possession of illegal weapons.

The new rule, proposed by various blocs in congress, contains the most urgent reforms requested by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and has already reached consensus among the heads of the various blocs.

According to the president, the Law of Arms and Ammunition is key but the legislature continues its discussions, and the national security pact that will be signed by the president in the coming days requires tools to strengthen the prosecution.

According the president of the congress, Roberto Alejos, the proposal would be approved on Thursday and is the merger of five initiatives for reform presented by CICIG last year plus a new Law of Extraditions.

"We will reform the Arms and Ammunition Act, the Penal Code, Criminal Procedure, the Law against Organized Crime and Witness Protection," noted the president of congress.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Rigoberta Menchú Founds Own Political Party

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchú, began the process today of creating her own political party "Winaq" for the general election in 2011.

Menchú, whose ethnicity is Quiche, signed the papers at the Department of Political Organizations of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) which legalized Winaq as a committee for the creation of the political party.

The indigenous leader explained that after this step the TSE must authorize the necessary documents to create the party that her followers have "wanted and dreamed of".

"Today we are legally recognized and will seek the participation of citizens throughout the national territory," she added.

Menchu said they want to build a party that responds to the people and the indigenous peoples "because politicians often create an organization in the capital, deal only with petty issues, and only remember the community when there are elections."

"We are going to be the difference," said the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who participated in 2007 for the first time as a presidential candidate, unsuccessfully, with the party "Encounter for Guatemala, which is headed by the leftist congresswoman Ninth Montenegro.

According to the ethnic leader, traditional parties are "in crisis" because "they only remember our people when there are elections, but have not secured the dignity of indigenous peoples." She went on to say, "the goal is to make a party where they see and feel real ethnic equity and civil rights in Guatemala, where many people have no awareness of those rights and so live as slaves We have an obligation to raise these hopes that were established in the Peace Accords signed in 1996."

Menchú clarified that for now is not the time to discuss whether to participate as a presidential candidate in general elections in 2011. "None of those in the executive committee (24 members) is a candidate until it is decided at the general assembly," she said.

"The most important thing now is that we are authorized to initiate and seek membership in the 22 departments that make up the country, she concluded.

Tourism on the Rise According to Inguat

The number of foreign visitors rose 5.6 percent in February, with a flow of 143,869 foreigners entering the country, compared to 138,136 reported in February of 2008, according to the Guatemalan Institute of Tourism (Inguat).

The cumulative increase in the first two months of the year is 5.1 percent with an inflow of 321,065 foreigners, while in 2008 it was 305,500.

The amount of foreign currency increased by 2.6 percent in February, a cumulative growth of 3.4 percent with U.S. $214.43 million accumulated.

The tourism sector in the country, state and private, is preparing to improve tourism to celebrate Easter this April, one of the highest tourism seasons of the year in the country, said Inguat spokeswoman, Valentina Flores .

Another Cold Front

A cold front stalled over Mexico should bring reduced temperatures for the weekend, mainly in the higher elevations and in Northwestern Guatemala.

Pollo Campero Opens in Cherrydale, South Carolina

Guatemala native Tony Zimeri brought a little taste of home to the Upstate when he opened Pollo Campero in the Cherrydale area a few months ago.

The franchised restaurant got its start four decades ago in Guatemala and become known for its signature fried chicken. The taste has since grown around the world and yet has stayed close to home.

According to Walter Zimeri, co-owner and general manager (and Tony's son), every batch of breading for the fried chicken is tested in Guatemala to ensure that it adheres to the restaurant's time-tested standards.

"They have testers in Guatemala that test the ingredients in the breading, and then they cook the chicken and have a taste test on the breading to make sure it's the exact product they've been serving the last 40 years," he said.

"They're very particular about their fried chicken because that's how they built their name."

Read the rest in the Greenville News

Quetzal Exchange Rate Reaches 8.18

The banking system sold quetzales today at a price ranging from Q8.12 to Q8.18. This means the quetzal has depreciated a bit more against the U.S. dollar.

Although the buying and selling varies in each bank, the difference is only two to three points. The benchmark price at the Bank of Guatemala yesterday was Q8.08.

At the meeting of the Monetary Board last Wednesday, the Banguat expressed concern about the movement, noting the exchange rate and approving the application of additional mechanisms to intervene in the behavior of the currency.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Happy 20th Anniversary to the World Wide Web

Twenty years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee, of the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, wrote a paper describing what quickly became the World Wide Web. Back in 1989, the Web was just an idea, but it was a world-changing idea and one of the most important ideas of the 20th century.

At that time, the first browser and the first web server had yet to be created but those things came quickly. Back then, we got our news from newspapers and on TV at 6 PM. We did our research and study in libraries. We met with our friends in church or at a bar. We received and paid bills through the mail. We used to go to the bank to deposit checks and take care of business. We shopped for clothing by driving to stores and touching the products. We learned about new products through print ads, billboards, and television. We learned about different cultures and met people in distant lands by getting on an airplane and going there. We got our music by buying CDs or cassettes. The idea of an individual being able to publish his writings or photos and have them instantly visible to millions of people was inconceivable.

By 1995, things were well underway. At that time the first major search engine was created, called Alta Vista. Does anyone besides me remember Alta Vista? There was no Yahoo, no Google, no Hotmail, no online music, no multiplayer games. Web-based email was yet to be invented (by Hotmail, later bought by Microsoft). There was no YouTube because there was no digital video yet. Compressed audio (MP3) had just been developed by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. The first MP3 player for computers (WinAmp) came in 1998. The first portable MP3 player came in 1999.

Look at what has happened in the last 10 to 14 years. The whole world has changed for anyone who has access to the Internet, and access is spreading throughout Guatemala very quickly.

What will the next 20 years bring?

TC II Strain of Chagas Disease Found in Guatemala

Using a method of identification more precise than those used until now, a group of scientists in Guatemala found a genetic variant of the causative agent of Chagas disease, which until now was believed to be found only in South America.

According to the article published in the February issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi), the causative agent of this parasitic disease is divided into two genetically and biologically different lineages: T . cruzi I (TCI) and T. cruzi II (TCII). Until now it was known that the TCI was in both domestic and wild environments of South America and Central America, but it was believed that TCII only occurred in South America.

However, scientists at the Center for Health Studies at the Universidad del Valle in Guatemala felt that the lack of detection of TCII might be a limitation of the screening tests used so far. To confirm this hypothesis, the researchers collected samples of Triatoma dimidiata, the main vector of Chagas disease in Central America, commonly called chinches or chinch bugs, from houses in five departments where the disease is considered endemic.

These samples underwent a genetic analysis by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which amplifies a copy of a gene billions of times and identifies the gene by electrophoresis. The researchers found that 84 percent of the sample bugs tested carried both lineages of the parasite.

Pamela Pennington, leader of the study, said that finding the genetic markers for both TCI and TCII raises another research question since the two strains show different sensitivities to drugs. It will be interesting to see whether the strains in Guatemala have more or less drug resistance than those found elsewhere.


New School in El Cedro, Livingston

For many years, nearly 150 children from the village of El Cedro have been studying in classrooms built with walls of reeds and roofs of manaca. Now they have a proper building that was built with municipal funds, from Cocode and community.

This village was founded 60 years ago and is located one hour from the capital of the municipality. To reach the village one must travel paths through forests of the Canyon of the Rio Dulce.

José Ac Choc, mayor of the community said that the building had been requested for a long time but plans were rejected because of the difficult access to the community and difficulty getting building materials in. "The negativity was understandable. Each sack of cement takes two hours to be carried in by hand. For this reason the parents decided to employ unskilled laborers," said Choc.

The community lacks electricity and road access. So the materials had to be brought by barge on the Rio Dulce and then carried in by hand.

The mayor of Livingston, Miguel Rax, explained that the cost of the project was Q500,000 and that the construction was hampered by rains that prevented the entry of the building materials. "It was a great effort made by the business community to build the school now. Thank God the kids have a decent place to get lessons," he said.

Canadian mine accused of causing skin infections

The photographs are disturbing, Mayans young and old covered in blisters and welts. Anti-mining activists say the rashes result from water polluted by a giant open-pit gold mine located in the Western Highlands of Guatemala.

Marlin Mine is owned and operated by a large Canadian corporation called Goldcorp. The company strongly denies any link between their operation - which in a hot gold market is running 24 hours a day, seven days a week - and the ill health of the Mayans.

Read the rest of the story on BBC.

Committee Created to Oversee Declassification of Military Archives

President Alvaro Colom announced a government agreement that created the Committee on Declassification of Military Archives, which aims to manage the documentation of military affairs in the period from 1954 to 1996.

Their work will be to organize the written material classified as secret or top-secret and deliver reports on their findings to the president, who will decide whether it is a national security risk to release the information.

The activities of this committee will be confidential and they will have 10 months to complete the work and report the results to the president.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Guatemalan Airport Modernization

During his visit to Montreal, Canada, Vice President Rafael Espada told representatives of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of the Guatemala government's plan to modernize its airport system, including the construction of new air terminals and the remodeling others.

Espada said that the plan is to be implemented over the next 50 years and includes building an international airport in the Pacific side, one in Puerto Barrios, and another in the Trifinio area, where the borders of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala come together.

The official also mentioned the renovation of the Mundo Maya airport in Petén as the gateway to tourism, especially for the park Cuatro Balam, which President Colom is promoting.

The cost of this ambitious project has not yet been estimated. It must include the purchase of radar systems and air traffic control systems, among others, and measures to strengthen the Directorate of Immigration and Civil Aviation.

The works would be implemented through the law of public / private partnerships which is awaiting approval by Congress.

Cost of Living is Up

According to data from the National Statistics Institute (INE), the cost of living in February of this year stood at 6.5 percent, compared to the same month last year.

Products overall showed a general increase of 6.5 percent and this is the first time that this economic indicator is within the target range projected by the Bank of Guatemala, 4.5 to 6.5 percent, although right at the upper limit of the range.

Food rose much higher than the average. The "canasta basica" or basic food basket, which is the minimum that a family of five people needs to subsist for a month, stood at 1,978.10, an increase of 17.94 percent compared to February 2008.

The monthly "canasta básica vital", which includes transportation and clothing, was valued at Q3,609.58.

The minimum wage in rural areas and the in the city is Q1,831.66.

Crucial Week for New Gun Law

This week will be crucial for the new gun law. It will be a trial by fire for lawmakers to show, as they have promised, that they will approve the law.

But first, the legislators will have to make one last effort and finish the review of the articles in this initiative. Workshops and meetings have been going on since 2008 and there are now only 10 articles remaining to be finalized, including specifying the time period within which this law takes effect and whether shooting ranges will be allowed to sell ammunition.

Some of the articles are still points of contentious debate including a decision on the number of rounds of ammunition that a licensee can purchase per month. The agreement now stands at 800 rounds per month, per caliber, but there are those who argue for less.

Of the legislation can be finalized in time it can be approved by the plenary session next Thursday. "If this initiative is not ready, we will at least try to approve a project to strengthen the prosecution of crimes related to the misuse of weapons," said Roberto Alejos, President of the Congress.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Status of Northern Transversal Highway Unknown

Despite the fact that President Alvaro Colom promised the start of construction of the road in the Northern Transversal Highway in March of 2009, the project has still not come to Congress to be analyzed and approved.

Two weeks ago, the Minister for Communications, Luis Alejos said that the proposal for construction of the road was taken to the General Secretariat of the Presidency so that Colom could have a good look at it before sending it to Congress. At that time, Alejos said "Everything is a matter of formality." However, Carlos Larios, the Secretary General, was unable to explain what state the megaproject is in. "I do not even have that information. Nothing is ready yet," he said.

The project envisions the construction of 329.5 kilometers of asphalt, from Finca Trinidad in Nentón, Huehuetenango, following the border between that department and Quiché, and finally arriving at Modesto Méndez in Izabal.

The megaproject is divided into five sections and will provide significant benefits to the 170 villages, 11 municipalities, and 1.6 million people along the route.

Late last year, the El Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica (BCIE) approved funding for construction of the "Franja Transversal del Norte", and a loan for $201 million, which includes funding for design, supervision, management of the right of way, and construction.

Ramiro Choc Trial Begins

The trial of Ramiro Choc opened began in the Criminal Sentencing Court in Puerto Barrios, Izabal.

Choc is accused of aggravated theft, kidnapping, and aggravated robbery, He is accused of leading a group of squatters last year, who seized and occupied land and caused damage to the flora and fauna. The case was covered in the news internationally in March 2008.

On the first day of the trial, the court will hear witnesses for the prosecution, including four officers of the Tourist Police, two private guards, and the administrator of the estate that was allegedly illegally occupied by Choc.

The defense will present witnesses on March 16.

After his capture, Choc's supporters staged violent protests in Rio Dulce, Izabal to demand his release. On March 13, 2008 they took four Belgian tourists hostage: Eric Stosstris, 62, his wife Jenny, 59, Gabriel and Mary Paul Van Huysse, 64 and 62, respectively, and Guatemalans Mauricio Dubón and Leider Estrada.

Protesters Block Aduana in Santo Tomás de Castilla

Hundreds of protesters snarled the offices of aduana in Santo Tomás de Castilla, Izabal and Tecún Umán 2, San Marcos over the proposed increase in car import taxes. They plan to continue the protest until Congress reduces the amount of the tax.

Protesters claim that the tax is harmful to a large number of workers who are involved in the repair, body work, painting, and sale of imported used cars that were damaged in accidents. They say that the tax is especially bad now during the tough economic times.

President Colom's response is that the tax revenue is needed for new social programs and that the claims of the protesters are exaggerated. It does not effect the entire population but only the 7 percent of Guatemala's population that can afford cars.

Gallo Unveils New Plastic Bottles

With investment of about Q4 million, Cervecería Centroamericana today launched its new packaging for Gallo beer in 20 oz PET containers, to be distributed in more than 85 thousand outlets.

Federico Muñoz, Gallo Beer Brand Manager, said that several studies indicate that in the global market there is demand for this type of container, especially in Eastern Europe. This is in response to a global trend to offer consumers an innovative option to purchase Gallo beer in non-returnable plastic containers.

Gallo beer in 20-ounce plastic container will be sold in packages of 12 units with a transparent label. It offers several advantages such as easy handling and low weight. The unbreakable container keeps the product cold for longer and has a screw cap for easy opening and closing.

The new offering will carry a suggested retail price of Q13 per unit.

According to Muñoz, the new packaging will use PolyShield, used in the manufacture of PET bottles of beer, which provides increased shelf life and better flavor stability.

According to Muñoz, PET is a polyester and as such is a chemically inert and without additives, and easily recycled.

Lack of Electric Power Limits Development in Quetzaltenango

That capital of Quetzaltenango is missing out on opportunities to attract more industry due to lack of electric power.

According to the National Electrification Institute, the Municipal Electricity Company of Quetzaltenango is alloted 37 megawatts from the grid and actual consumption hovers around 32 to 35 megawatts. There is no more capacity for expansion.

The Chamber of Commerce reports that in recent years only a few small and medium industries have been founded in Quetzaltenango. There is not enough power for a factory. "If you decide to put in a heavy industrial factory such as a glass bottle plant that requires a big blower, it will consume a lot of energy. When they turn the circuit breaker for the blower on, it's half the power of Xela," said Manolo Veliz of the Chamber of Commerce.

Xelapán Bakery, which has 12 factories, has had to install special equipment to ensure the stability and quality of energy that reaches them, said Raul Ramirez, general manager of that company.

Alejandro Ximín, managing director of EEMQ, said the primary transmission lines to Quetzaltenango are 13,800 volts. According Ximín, a project to install 69,000 volt lines would help improve the power transmission but is still under study, and the cost would range from Q10 to Q12 million.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Archaeologist Hansen Unveils Frieze at El Mirador

A group of archaeologists led by Richard Hansen, who discovered the frieze representing the twin heroes of the Popul Vuh, Hunapú and Ixbalanqué, revealed it to the public on Sunday. The frieze was built about 300 years before Christ in the El Mirador archaeological site, in the north of Petén.

Hansen, director of the El Mirador Basin project and who coordinates the group of archaeologists-mostly Guatemalans, who work at that site, reported the discovery of a part of the Mayan sacred book, the Popul Vuh.

The frieze is about four meters long and three meters high, and was built in limestone and stucco.

This find is very important because it proves that Ixbalanqué and Hunapú existed 300 years before Christ, confirming that they are purely a product of the Mayan civilization.

"Some do not give credibility to the Popul Vuh because they say it has Christian influence, but this find demonstrates that the Mayan culture was already aware of the Popol Vuh story in 300 BC," he said.

Hansen pointed out that the oldest copy of the Popol Vuh dates from 1700, when the Spanish friar Francisco Jiménez found a document written by the Maya and translated it. So it was felt that this book had a lot of Christian influence.

Hansen described the frieze as illustrating the story of the two twins swimming after rescuing the head of their father, Hun Hunapú, after he was deceived and decapitated by the gods of the underworld.

The frieze was a lucky find when archaeologists were trying to locate the site of water storage cisterns and channels used at El Mirador because there are no nearby rivers.

The expert explained that the major discoveries about the Maya at Mirador date from 200 to 150 BC, such as the famous La Danta pyramid, considered one of the largest in the ancient world in terms of volume, along with 45 other sites.

La Danta, which is not yet fully uncovered, is thus far the largest built by the Mayans. It is 300 meters wide by 600 meters long and reaches a height of 72 meters.

"The Mirador Basin is the beginning of the Mayan culture, which began a thousand years before the development of Tikal," he added.

Hansen reported that the archeological operations at El Mirador require a budget of U.S. $2.7 million a year to continue.

Captors of Nineth Montenegro's First Husband Finally Identified

Investigation on the part of the Procuraduría de los Derechos Humanos (Procurator for Human Rights) enabled the indentification of those responsible for the disappearance, 25 years ago, of university student, Edgar Fernando García, Congresswoman Nineth Montenegro's first husband.

The congresswoman was stunned by the news, learning that the investigation by the PDH had discovered the names of those responsible. "I can't believe it. I'm sweating, sitting still, wondering what they said to my daughter," said the congresswoman.

When the news arrived, she learned that the parties responsible were from the Fourth Corps of the National Police and the names of her husband's captors were known. She also learned that her husband was taken on February 18, 1984, from near the market El Guarda in Zone 11. Ms. Montenegro also noted that some of the police involved are still active on the force and others have been captured.

Attorney Sergio Morales, said that one of the police officers detained is the Distinguished Commissioner of Quetzaltenango, Rodero Héctor Ramírez Ríos. The attorney added that he has issued several arrest warrants and expects that they will be carried out promptly.

An excited Nineth Montenegro said, "It's a gift that 25 years later we can find the thread and follow it. I am grateful to the Human Rights Procurator, because he did what no one else would do for us."

Montenegro was repeatedly frustrated in her attempts to access the files of the EMP, which documented human rights violations during the 1980's. During that period there were hundreds of such "forced disappearances". The congresswoman also made repeated attempts to access the files of the Ministry of Defense regarding her husband but when she did gain access all she got was a packet of disordered papers containing no useful information. At the time she said that it appeared to her that it was intentional that she not be allowed to see the files.

The PDH indicated that the information came not only from files but from various other sources.

Hilda Morales, from the Red de la No Violencia contra las Mujeres, said there are great expectations about learning what is in the files of the National Police. "This will bring to light incidents that have been denied for years," she said. There is concrete information in those files about cases where the public has been accusing the police for what happened. She said that justice must proceed from this investigation and with the evidence obtained, bring about criminal convictions.

Newly Paved Streets in Puerto Barrios

Last week, Puerto Barrios inaugurated the paving of 8th Street (8a. Calle), which connects 8th and 6th Avenues, the bus terminal, and 7th Avenue and 9th Street at the Mercado La Revolución

These routes are very important in the city because there is a lot of local traffic on those streets as well as through traffic going to other destinations.

The Consejo Departamental de Desarrollo (Codede), the Municipality of Puerto Barrios and the Consejo Comunitario de Desarrollo (Cocode) worked together on the project, which cost Q1.3 million.

Prior to the paving project, traveling on these streets was a major problem due to potholes and mud. Nobody wanted to use the bus terminal at the end of the market.

Mayor David Pineda Coded Acevedo explained that the community of the town and the local villagers worked together the project as a team. He added that while they had the backing of the Department of Interior, his office still had to "work miracles" because the budget is insufficient to meet the need of the municipality.

Few Advances Against Femicide

Deputies and representatives of women's groups demanded action last Friday. Although there has been a law against femicide on the books since April 2008 there have been few results in combating violence against women.

"In the last year there was only been one criminal sentence handed out for femicide. Institutions have yet to make the law their own and apply it to the aggressors," said Ana Gladys Ollas, defender of the rights of women, from the Office of Human Rights.

Marlene Blanco Lapola, director of the National Civil Police (PNC), emphasized that the police should coordinate better with the Ministerio Publico (MP) and the judiciary to punish the guilty.

"It's frustrating for a cop who risks his life to capture a criminal, who minutes later comes out free and making fun of the cop," said Blanco Lapola in Congress during a conference that was part of a commemoration of International Women's Day. The official said that this year alone, 345 people have been caught committing violence against females and in 120 of those cases, the women were killed.

"We need to strengthen the justice system, which is weak in enforce the laws that we adopted here [in Congress]. We must unite to end this scourge that costs lives every day and leaves broken families," said the legislators.

Ríos Montt Appeal

The team of defense lawyers for Ex-president and current congressman Efrain Rios Montt presented an appeal on March 5th, insisting that military documents from the 1980's be kept secret, including the documents that Defense Minister Abraham Valenzuela was ordered to deliver to a judge.

The appeal was to Judge Jorge Mario Valenzuela of the Second Instance Criminal Court. The appeal may stop the investigation of the files of the EMP to which the media has had no access.

On March 6th, Defense Minister Abraham Valenzuela, an appointee of President Colom, mandatory complaint (denuncia obligatoria) over the alleged loss of two military files and requests that the Ministerio Publico investigate. The petition explains that the documents relating to the military operational plans called "Ixil" and "Sofia" are missing.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thousands March in Streets of Guatemala City

Thousands of women marched yesterday in the streets of Guatemala City to demand the cessation of violence against women, which so far this year has killed at least 72 women.

Activists, students, professionals, feminists, working women, and housewives, were involved in a massive demonstration on International Women's Day. They marched from the Plaza Italia in the City Civic Center to the Plaza de la Constitution.

"No more violence", "No more femicide," "Equality, justice and peace" read the slogans on the banners carried by the protesters.

Gabriela Hernandez, a student of political science at a private university, said that "the terror I feel every day as a result of violence" was the main reason I participate in this march. "It used to be believed that women were murdered because they were involved in something bad but I do not believe these arguments. All women of all ages and social strata are vulnerable. So we must protest and demand a stop to all violence against the Guatemalans, but especially against women and children," said the 23 year old student.

Sandra Moran, leader of the Women's Sector, a coalition that brings together a dozen organizations working for the rights of women, said that "the State has become the principal accomplice of the murderers of women" by not prosecuting the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.

The macho culture that prevails in Guatemalan society, according to experts, is the main source of male violence towards women.

In February of last year, Congress passed the Law Against Femicide and other Forms of Violence against Women, which provides for heavy penalties against those found guilty of violence.

Over the past five years the number of women murdered in Guatemala has steadily increased, totaling more than 7 thousand cases.

Although most of these crimes are attributed to the "violence", the authorities also claim that many of these cases are caused by organized crime gangs, local gangs, and drug trafficking.

Just in the last week, according to reports compiled by the National Civil Police (PNC), a dozen women were killed, four of them with signs of extreme violence including torture and dismemberment of their bodies.

The impunity in Guatemala and the increasing rate of attacks against women has placed this country as one of the most violent against women worldwide.

The demonstrators also demanded that the state institute policies to end discrimination and inequality, and to promote greater development opportunities for women.

For the rest of the week, women's, social organizations, and the government have planned activities to continue the commemoration of International Women's Day.

Boom in Bird-Watching

Tourists interested in bird-watching is booming worldwide and Guatemala seeks to become a destination for this type of tourism. For this reason, World Vision, Inguat, and the Centro de Capacitación Comunitaria Tule have decided on a program to train 15 youths to serve as bird-watching guides in Chiquimula y Jutiapa.

It's estimated that 30 percent of tourists arriving in Guatemala are interested in bird-watching and these visitors not only seek to see certain species but also to learn about the species' environment and interaction with other birds.

Guatemala has many places to observe birds and what is needed now are competent guides who know the bird species and know how to work with tourists.

In just one week in Guatemala, a bird-watcher can observe as many as 400 different species. Guatemala has least 720 bird species.

This pilot program is aimed at young people from remote communities, not only to create specialist guides but also to contribute to the conservation of natural resources in the country.

JM Authorizes Printing of Q200 Notes

According to an official from the Junta Monetaria, the authorizing is for the printing of one million of the new Q200 notes. The new notes contain numerous high-tech security features to prevent forgery.

The authorization is the first step in creating the new notes which should enter circulation around October or December.

Banguat has put out the RFQs to the varous international printers of paper currency and will finalize a contract in June.

Congress approved the designs for new Q200, Q500, and Q1000 notes last April but the Q200 is the most important to get into circulation.

Colom Announces Presidential Commission Against Impunity

President Alvaro Colom announced the creation of the Presidential Commission Against Impunity. The new commission will be the Guatemalan government's counterpart to the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which directs the special prosecutor, Carlos Castresana.

Colom made the announcement during the graduation of the first class of police officers trained by U.S. Army. to combat drug trafficking. The graduating class consisted of 24 officers from the PNC and 20 members of the army.

The Minister of National Defense, Abraham Valenzuela, indicated that this support will make the war against the narcotraffickers more efficient and more effective. The Director of the PNC, Marlene Blanco Lapola, said that it's a "great compromise" that allows the coverage of areas that were previously neglected.

Confidence in the Economy Remains Low

Pessimism about the future of the Guatemalan economy continues, as evidenced by the Índice de Confianza de la Actividad Económica (Index of Confidence in Economic Activity) produced by the panel of analysts from the Bank of Guatemala (Banguat). The index fell 60 percent in one year.

The monthly index (preliminary data) last February was at 14.29, implying a decrease of 21.40 percent over the previous month and 60 percent over the same month last year.

85.7 percent of the analysts felt that the economy will not improve within in six months. In January this parameter was at 100 percent.

Similarly, 57.1 percent believe it is a bad time to invest in the country and an equal percentage believe that the business climate will worsen over the next six months. In both cases the response was slightly more positive in January.

The index for February is the second lowest since December 2003.

Regarding inflation, the panel of analysts expected to fall by next February to 7.37 percent and that for March and April reaching, 7.06 percent and 6.70 percent, respectively, and 2009 ending with the cost of living increase at 6.74 percent for 2009. The increase in cost of living for 2010 is predicted to be 5.97 percent.

The panel of analysts puts economic growth for this year at 2.6 percent. In January, the estimate was 2.9 percent, which is below the margin provided by Banguat which is between 3 and 3.5 percent.