Thursday, April 30, 2009

VIDEO: Guatemala Takes Steps to Stop AH1N1 Virus

Congressional Unit Formed to Implement Open Information Law

The reporting unit of the Congress has begun training sessions for staff that will be in charge of the dissemination of information under the new Freedom of Information Law.

That meeting was held in the auditorium of the Casa Larrazabal and interestingly, the press had no access to the meeting so there are no details on how the congressional information unit will operate.

Starting last Tuesday, April 21, all public institutions must have specialized units to address the needs of the general population that request information.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

WHO Escalates to Phase 5 on Swine Flu Pandemic

The Geneva-based World Health Organization on Wednesday raised its alert level for the fast-spreading swine flu to its next-to-highest notch, signaling a global pandemic could be imminent.

The move came after the virus spread to at least 10 U.S. states from coast to coast and swept deeper into Europe.

"It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic," said WHO Director General Margaret Chan. "We do not have all the answers right now but we will get them."

In the United States, President Barack Obama mourned the first U.S. death, a Mexican toddler who had traveled with his family to Texas. Total American cases surged to nearly 100, and Obama said wider school closings might be necessary.

In Mexico, where the flu is believed to have originated, officials said Wednesday the disease is now confirmed or suspected in 159 deaths, and nearly 2,500 illnesses.

The WHO said the phase 5 alert means there is sustained human to human spread in at least two countries. It also signals that efforts to produce a vaccine will be ramped up.

El Salvador declares national emergency due to swine flu

Salvadorian President Elias Antonio Saca declared on Tuesday a "national emergency" due to the possibility of swine flu cases detected in the country.

According to information reaching here from San Salvador, Saca said that he signed the "national emergency" after it was confirmed one case in Costa Rica and another two in Guatemala.

Salvadorian Health Minister Jose Guillermo Maza Brizuela will be in charge of the measures to prevent the spread of the disease in the country from Tuesday.

Saca told reporters that the country is "working with the Pan American Health Organization to buy medicine."

Saca said that there is not a big emergency in El Salvador with the need of extreme measures, "we have not reached the stage of closing night clubs or host soccer matches without audience," as it has happened in Mexico.


Epidemic Not Slowing Down

WHO says the swine flu epidemic shows no signs of slowing down.

The epidemic remains at Phase 4 but WHO is getting closer to declaring a Phase 5 pandemic.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine Flu: Three New Cases, Three Discharged

The three suspected cases of swine flu that were mentioned in previous posts here have turned up negative and have been discharged. However, three new possible cases are under observation.

The three new cases were announced by Zeceña Waleska, of the National Center for Epidemiology of the Health Ministry, together with the Vice-President Rafael Espada.

Early rapid tests performed on the new cases came up negative. One of the patients in the San Juan de Dios Hospital and two are at the private medical center Herrera Llerandi.

The three new suspect cases are from Izabal, Huehuetenango, and Petén.

The vice-president stated that more doses of antiviral drugs are being purchased and he stressed that people should not panic. He also talked about the security cordons set up at border crossings and the airport. When asked about the blind spots at the border he said, "You cannot control all the blind spots, but I personally would ask people to take precautions because we are not talking about an epidemic affecting animals but human beings."

Ludwing Ovalle, Deputy Minister of Health, said that the hospital network has made preparations with special isolation rooms. He said that persons who have returned from trips to Mexico or who have had contact with someone who comes from Mexico, if they display cold symptoms they should go to health centers for tests. The deputy minister said that all cases coming in under these circumstances will be treated with the appropriate drugs against swine flu in order to not waste time confirming the infection.

Swine Flu Not Confirmed in Guatemala

The three possible cases detected in Guatemala are still not confirmed by laboratory results as being swine flu. So far, no additional suspect cases have been reported in Guatemala.

Seven countries of the world now have confirmed cases of swine flu. The most recent addition to the list is Costa Rica.

WHO continues at Phase 4 pandemic status.

The number of deaths in Mexico due to swine flu now stands at 152.

Monday, April 27, 2009

President Announces Expropriation Policy

President Alvaro Colom said on Saturday that all persons who rent or sell houses, warehouses, and vehicles to drug dealers will be included in the blacklist of organized crime and whose assets will be expropriated.

The president announced the measure as a result of what happened last Friday on the Pacific Highway where a group of drug traffickers killed five agents of the SAIC, Guatemala's drug enforcement police.

"All the properties and companies that are providing fronts for these criminals are being investigated. Whoever rented the warehouse involved yesterday, all their business dealings and trade relations are already being investigated,"said Colom.

According to the president, all those people who rent premises and vehicles, or even sold to drug trafficking groups will be investigated.

"We will see where and how the purchases were paid for, verify relationships with the criminals, and then they fall onto the blacklist of drug traffickers," he warned.

He stressed: "It is important that entrepreneurs and property owners, when renting something, do it with contracts, because if not they become complicit with the criminals.

According to the chief executive, a meeting of the National Security Council will be convened. The president cited as an example those properties where cocaine and illegal weapons were found will be subject to a process of expropriation unless it is found that the owners were deceived.

"This government is already prepared, and prosecution is the bottom line," said Colom.

Tourist Income Drops

The Bank of Guatemala (Banguat) reported a drop of 3.6 percent in foreign tourist trade in the country in the first quarter of this year, compared with same period last year.

The figures included in a report by the central bank show that in this period visitors spent U.S. $364.3 million, while from January to March 2008 the amount was $377.8 million.

Entrepreneurs in the tourism industry say that the global economic crisis and the high cost of airfares is the cause of this decline and in the number of people entering the country.

However, the Guatemalan Institute of Tourism (Inguat) states that the number of visitors during this period increased 3.9 percent over last year.

According to data from Banguat, Guatemalans also reduced their trips abroad and their expenditures in general.

Three Possible Cases of Swine Flu in Guatemala

The Ministry of Health announced three possible cases of swine flu in Guatemala.

Guatemalans are urged not to travel to Mexico where there are 103 confirmed deaths so far. The true number might be 147.

Avoid contact with people, avoid crowds, wash your hands often, don't touch your face, especially eyes, with unwashed hands.

Swine Flu Tracking Maps

It's not clear how often these maps will be updated. So far they are being well maintained, but no promises:

Tracking Map

Another Tracking Map

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Central America Taking Steps to Mitigate Swine Flu Outbreak

So far the outbreak has caused 20 deaths and more than a thousand worldwide have come down with the disease. Central America is taking preventive measures to slow or prevent the spread of the disease to the isthmus.

In addition to health warnings, hospitals are informed and trained to detect suspected cases. At airports and border inspections, people coming from north of the country either by air or road and are being checked.

In Guatemala, the Ministry of Health has declared a yellow alert.

At the La Aurora International Airport, a clinic has been put into operation. Mexico has reached agreements with the Central American countries to prevent persons who are suspected of carrying the virus from boarding planes. A "sanitary cordon" has been placed around the isthmus because the virus is most likely to enter from Mexico.

The National Epidemiology Center of the Ministry of Health, said yesterday that it has intensified epidemiological surveillance in San Marcos, Huehuetenango and Petén departments bordering Mexico, where special clinics have been set up and personnel have orders to not allow the movement of Mexicans to into Guatemalan territory if they have severe coughing and high fever, which are symptoms of swine flu.

However, Guatemala has more than 900 kilometers of border with Mexico and there are hundreds of illegal entry points.

Alert in El Salvador

The Ministry of Health of El Salvador declared a state of alert at all border points against the possible arrival of swine flu, reported the Health Minister Guillermo Maza.

Under the alert, the health authorities promoted a series of preventative measures at the land borders with Honduras and Guatemala, as well as at El Salvador International Airport, 44 km southeast of the capital.

"We do not want to alarm people but we must be alert and careful with respiratory diseases," stressed the head of Health.

According to Maza, the flow of people arriving from North America to Central America leaves open the possibility of contagion.

Under the early warning, hospitals and health centers were told to be alert for cases of influenza.

The surveillance was joined by the Salvadoran army that has facilities throughout the country.

Prevention in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, the Ministry of Health launched mechanisms for monitoring and prevention, and urged the public to be vigilant for any symptoms that might be related to the disease.

In parallel, the authorities stepped up surveillance at its two international airports in order to control the entry of tourists from United States and Mexico.

Health authorities urged people who have traveled to Mexico in the last two weeks to report immediately to a hospital in case of showing symptoms of flu.

Health Alert in Honduras

In Honduras, the Health Minister, Carlos Aguilar, announced that a health alert was declared.

The Honduran Ministry of Health may announce new measures in the coming days.

Health checks are being done in Honduras in all air and land customs points.

Cities with greater vigilance are Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the two most important cities in this country.

Nicaragua Restricts Imports

Meanwhile, authorities in Nicaragua restricted the importation of pigs from Mexico as part of preventive measures taken before the flu outbreak in that country, reported an official source.

A communique of the National System for Prevention, Mitigation and Attention of Disasters (SINAPRED) reported that the country's health authorities say that the pig population has not been officially implicated in cases of influenza or swine flu.

The Ministry of Health (MINSA) and Agriculture and Forestry (MAGFOR) have stepped up surveillance in the Sandino International Airport in Managua and at the various border posts there.

Cause of Today's Power Failure

The explosion of a transformer substation in Villa Nueva (Guatemala City) caused an almost nationwide blackout today. The failure of the transformer triggered a domino effect as protective devices tripped causing a blackout of almost the entire country, reported the minister of Energy and Mines, Carlos Meany.

The blackout occurred at around 10:50 AM and spread to almost all departments except Quiché and Petén.

Power was restored in Izabal in about 3 hours.

Regarding the electricity interconnection (intertie) between the electrical systems of Guatemala and Mexico, tests that were scheduled for today were postponed until next Tuesday and that the interruption of electrical power was not related to any tests or to the intertie.

The intertie with Mexico will enable Guatemala to obtain as much as 200 megawatts of energy from Mexico, 120 MW is allocated to INDE.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

IMF Executive Board Approves US$935 Million Stand-By Arrangement for Guatemala

The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund approved on April 22 an 18-month, SDR 630.6 million (about US$935 million, or 300 percent of quota) Stand-By Arrangement for Guatemala. The Guatemalan authorities intend to treat the arrangement as precautionary, meaning that they do not intend to draw on the Fund’s resources unless the need arises. 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.

Guatemala has made substantial progress in consolidating macroeconomic stability and implementing structural reforms. Adverse external conditions, however, are affecting economic activity and financial conditions. The Guatemalan authorities have taken a number of upfront measures to mitigate the impact of the external shock and preserve macroeconomic stability. The program will support the authorities’ policies and provide insurance against significant downside risks.

Following the Executive Board discussion on Guatemala, Mr. Murilo Portugal, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, issued the following statement:

“Guatemala has a strong track record of prudent macroeconomic policies and structural reforms, which has helped to solidify the economy in recent years. As in many countries in the region, however, the global crisis has weakened economic conditions. A more prolonged global recession could increase downside risks to Guatemala’s outlook in 2009 and 2010. The authorities’ economic program, supported by a Stand-by Arrangement with the Fund, which the authorities plan to treat as precautionary, is an appropriate response to mitigate these risks and preserve macroeconomic and financial stability.

See full story here:

California Assemblywoman Receives Guatemala's Highest Cultural Honor

State Assemblywoman Norma Torres (D-Pomona) received the highest Guatemalan cultural award on Monday from Guatemala's Ambassador of Indigenous Peoples, Don Alejandro Cirilo Perez Oxlaj. The Guatemalan community gave Sacramento State a set of books detailing Guatemala's history.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Finally Some Thunderstorms Coming... Maybe

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week might bring slightly lower temperatures and thunderstorms.

Highs on those days are forecast at 28 to 29C.

Chance of thunderstorms is 40% on Wednesday, 50% on Thursday, and 40% on Friday.

Protest of Electric Rate Hike

On Friday, more than a hundred leaders from 11 municipalities came to together in Mazatenango to denounce the increase in electric rates imposed by Union Fenosa.

They also denounced the fees for public lighting that are charged in an area where there are no poles of the Municipality of Mazatenango.

The protestors marched through the town and then stopped in front of the Interior Department to press for actions by the president.

The approximately 150 protesters were members of the Departmental Association of Cocode (Asodecos) of Suchitepéquez.

They also added that electric bills include a fixed charge of Q13.20 where the Value Added Tax was not charged.

Villagers are unhappy that their bills have increased over 50 percent from what they paid per month a few months ago.

Calls were made for additional public support from the departments of San Marcos, Quiche, Huehuetenango and other regions.

Francisco Castro, of Asodecos, stated that according to the National Institute of Statistics, poverty affects 75 percent of the population. "Of this, 55 per cent suffer from extreme poverty, which shows that people have no ability to pay high fees," he said, and requested that the government withdraw the grant of power distribution rights from Union Fenosa.

Governor Werner Martinez undertook to report this request to the president and Congress.

Hector Salvatierra, a spokesman for Union Fenosa, said that the rate has fallen rather than risen. He added that the population is being manipulated by groups interested in destabilizing things.

Remittances from Abroad Fell 11.4% in February

The receipt of remittances from Guatemalans abroad fell 11.42 percent in February, adding to the 8 percent drop in January, according to data released today by the Bank of Guatemala (Banguat).

In January, Guatemalans abroad sent U.S. $290 million back home to Guatemala, 8 percent less than the same month of 2008. In February, remittances only reached U.S. $281.9 million, or 11.4 percent less than in the same period last year.

The drop is a result of the economic crisis of United States. 95 percent of the 1.3 million Guatemalans living abroad live in the United States. 60 per cent of those are illegal.

Remittances are the second-largest source of foreign exchange for Guatemala. Last year, remittances totaled $4.314 billion.

On a positive note, exports grew by 4.1 percent in the first quarter and tourism increased by 2 percent. However, imports in the same period fell 29.46 percent, which an indicator of the economic slowdown in Guatemala.

Guatemalan Military Recruiting 2,000 New Soldiers

Two thousand new soldiers will be recruited into the Guatemalan Army. The new soldiers will come from the jurisdictions in the north and western parts of the country, said the Defense Minister Abraham Valenzuela.

The minister explained that these areas have people who are interested in military service. The army is looking for new troops aging from 18 and 29 years.

New acquisitions will cover the gap that exists within the armed forces due to reductions effected by the previous government.

The actual call to enlist has not yet come, however. In the coming weeks an allocation of Q150 million will be released by the Ministry of Defense and then the call will come for interested parties to join the ranks of the Army.

The minister said that the amount approved will activate the army brigades in San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Playa Grande, and Quiche, Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz and another unit in Izabal will be activated.

The present military strength is 15,500 total officers and troops.

Fungus Damaging Corn Crops

Corn crop losses in Guatemala due to a fungus called "black stain" or "asphalt stain" have reached Q25.9 million, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

According to an agency report, at an average price of Q110 per quintal in the field, the loss would be around 235,932 quintals.

The crop damage occurred on 5,500 hectares of corn. At least 6,500 families are affected.

Areas being monitored include Cobán, Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango; Puerto Barrios y Livingston, Izabal, and the municipality of Ixcán in Quiché. The last area is of greater concern because the bulk of the crop is for consumption by maize farming families.

The agency also announced the delivery of improved seeds for the next crop, the availability of corn for immediate consumption by the families affected, and that there may be a problem with food safety.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hurray! Expect Lower Temperatures in Rio Dulce

This past week, the temperatures and heat index in Rio Dulce have been so high that the local citizens have been shaking their heads. Temperatures and humidity have pushed the heat index as high as 107F (41C) But some relief appears to be arriving.

The forecast for tonight (Friday) is 21C with a 20% chance of trace amounts of rain.

Saturday should bring scattered clouds with a high of 31C, heat index of 32C, and 18 kmh winds. 20% chance of trace amounts of rain. Saturday night's low should be 20C with ENE winds at 10 kmh.

Sunday one degree C warmer than Saturday.

Monday and Tuesday, highs of 30C, NE winds at 14 kmh, 20% chance of trace amounts of rain. Lows of 20 to 21C.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Zolic at Point of Breakdown

Operations in the Free Industry and Trade Zone (Zolic) in Puerto Barrios could break down at any moment due to a lack of piped water which is used to cool the boilers and cooling towers of the tenants.

Aguas de Izabal suspended water service a month ago due to default in payment.

Risk of explosion

David Tobar, general manager of Zolic, said Aguas de Izabal suspended service "without dialogue with us to minimize risks and dangers that it might cause the two seaports in the area."

Water is necessary to extract heat from boilers and refrigeration systems. Lack of water could result in an explosion. Because of the nearby oil and fuel tanks, such an explosion "could destroy both Puerto Santo Tomás de Castilla and Puerto Barrios." "The representatives of Aguas de Izabal do not take this into account," he added.

He stated that Zolic is unable to pay the increased rates because they have no budget for it.

Excessive rise

Mr. Tobar recalled that the water service used to be provided by the municipal company Hydro Atlantic, S. A., and the cost was approximately Q4,000 per month. But in 2007 the concession Aguas de Izabal, suddenly increased the monthly cost to Q18,000 and then to Q78,000 per month.

He considers that the suspension of the service was in bad faith because it is known that interruption of water could result in an explosion of the overheated boilers and tanks.

Fernando Barrera, an official with Aguas de Izabal, confirmed that they cut off service to Zolic due to lack of payment.

Walderma Barrera, of the Office of Human Rights, said that it is unfair that a concession company that did not invest in the water distribution system is attempting to charge a state entity so much money.

Freedom of Information Arrives in Guatemala, April 21

Starting on April 21, anyone interested in government information, including service delivery costs and number and salaries of government officials, and more, may apply to the appropriate public entity and obtain the information. On April 21 the "Law on Free Access to Information" will go into effect. The law was adopted in September 2008 and marks the beginning of a process to ensure transparency in Guatemala, as long as officials comply with the provisions of the law.

The executive branch has had seven months to prepare but not all institutions are ready. Execution of the law is overseen by a Deputy Minister of Transparency.

Three major institutions are nearly ready: Superintendency of Tax Administration (SAT), Superintendency of Banks, Bank of Guatemala (Banguat), and the Controller General of Accounts are 90 percent ready to comply with the new law.

Other ministries and secretariats of the executive branch are about 70 percent ready. Some municipalities and autonomous and decentralized entities are not ready.

Among these groups, institutions like the Ministry of Health and the University of San Carlos are having difficulties in the process. Seminars and trainings are being offered by the government to help the process along.

In a survey conducted by Prensa Libre, it was found that the municipalities are much weaker in the implementation of the new legislation, to the point that some mayors are unaware of the new law.

"We do not know how. The truth is that we do not know how to operate," said Carlos Alfredo Cahuec, mayor of Ixcán Playa Grande, Quiche. The mayor said that while his community has the information in order, he stated that it is necessary that training be given to mayors across the country.

Some mayors are concerned about the use which might be made of the information, for extortion or political interests.

According to ANAM, of the country's 333 municipalities, only the metro (Guatemala City) has implemented a reporting unit. Santa Catarina and Pinula Fraijanes are in the process of doing so. The rest have not reported progress.

Institutions like the Supreme Electoral Court, Congress, the Ministerio Publico, and the Office of Human Rights (PDH), among others, have signed agreements with institutions such as Citizen Action (AC) to obtain advice on the implementation of the new requirements.

Alejandro Urizar, of Citizen Action, said that all subjects are required to publish information, including private entities, including NGOs and trusts. This will create setbacks in implementing the law.

"One of the big challenges is that all organizations must be able to publish a web site starting on April 21," he said.

The new regulations include administrative or criminal penalties for those who do not meet the established requirements and to imprisonment for people who attempt to market data.

Requesting Information

To request information, citizens may do so orally, in writing, or electronically, through an information unit.

If the requested data are included in the set of data that the entities should have in view then it should be delivered immediately. If additional searching is required, the entity shall have 10 days to respond with the information.

The Attorney General has the responsibility to monitor and deliver civil or criminal sanctions in case of failure to comply with these regulations.

Sergio Morales, attorney with the PDH, said his institution is prepared to fulfill its obligations but warned that it needs more budget.

Meanwhile, Carlos Barreda said that the first step is the implementation of the law. Then other proposals may emerge to improve processes, which may involve the creation of a regulator with more powers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Desertification of Regions of Guatemala Causes Worry

Concern is increasing over the growth of semiarid regions of Guatemala. These regions now extend to Huehuetenango, San Marcos, Quetzaltenango and Totonicapán. In addition, there is a strip of drought prone land in the south, in the departments of Escuintla and Suchitepéquez, said Jose Miguel Leiva, coordinator of the unit of Drought and Desertification in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources

Leiva said that 49 percent of the country now has a high susceptibility to drought. This equates to approximately 53,000 square kilometers.

Deforestation, poor soil management, and indiscriminate use of agrochemicals are some of the factors affecting the deterioration of the soil.

The semi-arid corridor includes the departments of Jutiapa, Jalapa, Chiquimula, Zacapa, El Progreso, Baja Verapaz and Quiche. These are the departments that are most affected by severe drought.

In areas threatened by desertification are home to approximately 1,113,000 people or 13 percent of the population. Of this total, 35 percent or 387,000 of the persons affected are indigenous.

Poverty and extreme poverty affects approximately 921,000 people living in areas threatened by desertification, which represents 14.8 percent of the population.

According to the Guatemalan National Financial Strategy, the sustainable management of land is a fundamental instrument to prevent, halt and reverse land degradation and to promote the implementation of good agricultural practices, forestry, and water resource management. These practices help to prevent deterioration of soils and prevent losses before disasters, such as when Hurricane Stan struck the country in 2005 resulting in the loss of 9 million tons of fertile soil with an economic value of Q300 million, and affecting and area of 800,000 hectares.

Desertification is a term originated and established by the General Assembly of the United Nations during the annual meeting held in the city of Nairobi, Kenya, in 1977. This term is related to the diminution or destruction of the soil biological potential that can lead ultimately to desert-type conditions.

Recent Quakes Related to Volcan de Fuego

The Instituto Nacional de Sismología, Vulcanología, Meteorología e Hidrología, INSIVUMEH, stated that the quakes that have occurred the last few days are a result of increased activity in Volcan de Fuego.

Quakes are a normal occurrence when Fuego has an active episode and is ejecting ash.

The quakes felt in Esquintla are due to the volcano and are not associated with the Jalpatagua fault, which has been responsible for the quakes felt in Guatemala City.

The yellow alert remains in effect. Volcan de Fuego is ejecting ash and there are explosions that rattle windows up to 5 km away.

Aircraft are also prohibited from flying close to the crater, a prohibition that's been in place since November.

Guatemalan Exports Total $1.166 Billion in First Quarter

Guatemalan exports to the international market generated about $1.166 billion in the first quarter of 2009 according to data from Banguat.

This figure is U.S. $46 million higher than for the same period in 2008, when exports generated U.S. $1.120 billion.

Traditional products, coffee, sugar, bananas, and cardamom, produced from January to March accounted for U.S. $501 million.

The remaining foreign exchange, U.S. $665 million, was generated by non-traditional products such as clothing, food, and chemicals.

During 2008 Guatemalan exports totalled more than U.S. $4.9 billion.

Source: Banco de Guatemala

CNEE to present transmission plan in Houston

Guatemala's power regulator CNEE will participate in this month's 7th Latin American Leadership Forum in Houston as part of promotion efforts to build transmission lines under the 2008-18 sector expansion plan, a CNEE official told BNamericas.

Last month, the watchdog issued a call for bids to build a new transmission network which includes 1,394km in new lines and substations that will require US$422mn.

Another US$82.1mn will go to works for the interconnection with Mexico and the Siepac grid. Offers are due on September 29.

Local and international firms have expressed interest in the process, with successful roadshows already held in Spain and Colombia, said the official, adding another roadshow could be held next month in Miami.

The 1,394km are divided into the following systems: Metropacífico (144km, central and south regions), Hidráulico (464km, northwest), Atlántico (585km, northeast), Oriental (55km, southeast) and Occidental (146km, southwest).

Business News Americas

1,300 Acre Golf Resort Opens Near Antigua

La Reunión Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala’s first golf resort, opened last month. Built on what used to be a coffee plantation outside the colonial town of Antigua (a Unesco World Heritage site), the property is lodged between four volcanoes, at 3,700 feet above sea level, with the Pacific Ocean about 30 minutes away. It spans 1,384 acres and includes 26 golf course casitas (each with a small pool, outdoor whirlpool and terrace). A luxury hotel, boutique eco-hotel, spa, observatory and cultural center are planned to open within the next two years.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wal-Mart's Next Conquest: Latin America

Last May, Michael Bergdahl, former director of human resources at Wal-Mart, told the First Global Forum on Customer Service in Santiago, Chile, “Our strategy of low prices has become a competitive advantage for us. So long as our competition focuses on how much they can get for their products, we focus on how little we can get for ours.” According to Bergdahl, this strategy generated revenues of about US$13 billion in 2007, and in 2008, “we open a new store each day, and each week, 176 million customers buy from our stores.”

This year, disruptions from the global financial crisis have forced retailers to discard their earnings forecasts and alter their plans for investment and expansion. Nevertheless, Wal-Mart has emerged unscathed, and has even continued to grow. In February, the company announced its results for 2008, during which it registered US$13.4 billion in income -- an increase of 5.2% from 2007. That’s quite an achievement in times like these.

Taking advantage of its strong performance in Brazil and Mexico, Wal-Mart has now undertaken the massive task of conquering the rest of Latin America. The company announced that this year, it will open stores in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Chile and Puerto Rico.

For Claudio Aqueveque, a professor at the business school of Adolfo Ibáñez University in Chile, the current recession represents an opportunity for Wal-Mart. “The problems our region is facing this year will lead to major changes in the behavior of consumers, associated with a greater sensitivity to price; and this means tuning in to [Wal-Mart’s] low-price strategy.”

Read the full story originally published Mar 25, 2009 at Wharton.

Guatemalans Make an Alfombra in Virginia

It is a tradition in Guatemala to decorate the streets where Semana Santa processions are to pass with "alfombras". Alfombra translates as "carpet". The pavement is decorated with elaborate drawings and patterns made from brightly colored sawdust. When the procession passes, the pretty designs are destroyed. The most spectacular examples of Semana Santa alfombras can be seen in Antigua, Guatemala.

This year, Guatemalans from Chiquirichapa Concepción, Quetzaltenango, now residents in the State of Virginia, USA. UU., produced a rug in a street near the church of San Antonio de Padua in Falls Church, VA.

Dany Lopez and Ubaldo Sanchez explained that this is a tradition that began five years ago and it is a way of keeping the Guatemalan culture and traditions alive.

Sanchez explained that with the help of other artists, molds were made. The carpet took about eight hours to make.

See original story and photo here.

Pollo Campero Opens Restaurant in Chelsea, Massachusetts

The Guatemalan restaurant chain Pollo Campero has recently opened a new branch in the city of Chelsea, in the state of Massachusetts.

As in all the restaurants that opened in United States, the taste of the brand has caused sensation among the guests who make long lines at the entrance to the restaurant to taste the taste of the traditional fried chicken.

The success of the restaurant, according to the newspaper quoted Boston Globe, is because it is a great opportunity for Central American migrants to plunge into the tastes, sounds and smells of home far away.

The chain has five restaurants in the state running, and opened others in New York and Miami, among others. Its operations extend to Spain, China, Central America and South America.

Macroeconomic Indicators Deteriorating

The impact of the global financial problems became apparent in the first quarter of this year in Guatemala. A decline in business led to a decline in inflation, slower growth in exports, falling imports, and falling remittances sent to Guatemala from overseas.

Imports in March of this year fell 29 percent, exports grew just 4.1 percent, remittances fell 7.1 percent, and tourism increased by 2 percent.

However, it's interesting to note that despite the declines the inflow of dollars entering the economy is greater than the outflow of dollars. Banguat's balance as of March 26 was plus $656.3 million.

While the macroeconomic indicators have deteriorated, Guatemalan monetary authorities are not declaring a recession. A recession is defined as a drop in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for two consecutive quarters, and that has not occurred.

Banguat has revised the projected economic growth figures. Back in December, growth was projected at 3 to 3.5 percent. On March 25th, the projection was scaled back to 1 to 2 percent. Experts agree that these figures may still be optimistic because the full impact of the global crisis is unknown.

Paulo De Leon, a researcher at Central American Business Intelligence, noted that growth this year could be between 0 and 1 percent.

Forecasts based on past crises are not adequate since the factors that have driving the current crisis are new. And there is political manipulation from not wanting to admit the seriousness of the crisis.

Eric Daniels, professor of economics at Clemson University USA, found that there is a delay in the impact of the crisis in a country and the length of the slowdown could be several years.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Emerging Secrets of Guatemala's Disappeared

GUATEMALA CITY -- For years the national police dumped millions of old files in a onetime munitions depot inhabited by bats.

About two weeks ago, authorities opened the door to the warehouse, stacked floor to ceiling with musty papers. Now Guatemalans are using the documents to search for information about loved ones murdered or disappeared in the long dirty war against critics of security forces.

"For 25 years we knew absolutely nothing," said Alejandra García Montenegro, 26, who was a baby when her father, labor leader Fernando García, left for a meeting in February 1984 -- when Guatemala was under military rule -- and never came home.

"It was as if the earth had swallowed up my father and he had never existed," she said. "Then a paper turns up that confirms our suspicion that he had been captured by state security."

The files were hidden by the national police and their protectors until 2005, when civil authorities accidentally discovered the warehouse. Some of the logs date to the 1880s, but the most significant archives were amassed during Guatemala's civil war, when an estimated 200,000 people died and 40,000 disappeared between 1960 and 1996.

Guatemalan human rights advocates describe the files as the largest such archive ever released in Latin America. Archivists believe there are more than 80 million documents. Many pages are in chaotic, unsorted piles, green and yellow with mold. Others are stacked neatly.

See the full story with photos at The Washington Post

Road Repairs in Morales

After 12 years of receiving no maintenance from the government, the road from Morales to Playitas is finally receiving some attention.

The work is being done by Covial at a cost of Q40 million. The project includes 1.80 meters of road filling to serve as a bulwark and prevent flooding in the villages Hurón, Sioux, Shanne, Creek Zarco y Cerritos.

In addition, the project includes dredging a kilometer of the Motagua river and the construction of a breakwater to keep the river on course during flood season. During the last rainy season, flooding destroyed parts of the road leaving 60,000 people essentially isolated.

The president of the Community Development Council of Morales (Cocode) said that Bandegua used to maintain the road but have not done so in 12 years. "The road is deteriorating because of river flooding. And when the river is low there are deep holes that prevent the entry of light vehicles. Only heavy trucks can get through. This project will solve those problems."

The new road is being fitted with drains to minimize future problems and to also prevent damage to cattle grazing land and fields planted with maize, chile, ocra, plátano, and bananas.

Work is being carried out in two phases. The first is to construct the road fill and curbs along 3 km to get the road functional as soon as possible. Phase two will take care of the full 15 km and will include the river dredging and breakwaters.

Financial Group Executives Trade Bonuses For Service

Utah-based Beneficial Financial Group says it doesn't hand out giant bonuses to its executives. It sends them on community service instead. For a third year, the insurance and financial-services company says it will send its top agents to a tropical destination -- a poor village of 300 people in Guatemala -- to dig latrines.

Story from Utah's

Single-Rider Rule. Motorcycle Helmet and Vests Must Comply

The Deputy Minister of the Interior, José Donald González explained that the government agreement published on Wednesday in the Official Journal of Central America is not motivated by profit. Motorcyclists can purchase helmets and vests from any supplier as long as the equipment complies with regulations.

The rules require that helmets display the motorcycle's license plate number and that motorcyclists wear a fluorescent yellow vest bearing the license place number in letters visible from 5 meters away.

Fines for failure to wear properly marked helmets and vests will be imposed within 30 days.

One Rider Only

Hugo Mota, Director of Transit, also reminded the public to obey the new single-driver rule. Beginning on Thursday, more than one person traveling on a motorcycle will result in a fine. Only one person is allowed to ride a motorcycle, and no passengers.

Editor's note: Nothing that I have read says specifically, but I presume that this law will be enforced by the transit police in Guatemala City only and not in other parts of the country. Consult with your local police.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Maritime Mobile Net Frequencies / Skeds Updated

About a dozen updates and additions have been made to Capt Nemo's HF Frequencies for Boaters page on the Maya Paradise web site:

Access to Temple II, Tikal Now Open

The Director of the Tikal National Park announced that the repairs are complete on the access staircase on Temple II, known as the Temple of the Masks. Visitors can again access the temple safely.

The repairs were completed in time for Holy Week. 15,000 visitors were expected at Tikal.

Prior to the repairs, access to Temple II was risky for visitors.

Temple II is located west of the Great Jaguar. It is known as the Temple of Masks because its peak was decorated with a mask at a height of 38 meters. According to archaeologists, the temple was built in the year 700 AD by king number 26, called Jasaw Chan K’awiil. The principal lintel of this temple is on display in the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Evangelist Luis Palau draws 425,000 in two days in Guatemala City

A two-day evangelistic festival drew an estimated 425,000 people to Parque de la Democracia in Guatemala's capital city, capping a 10-day regional campaign led by evangelist Luis Palau and setting the stage for a month-long community service effort involving tens of thousands of volunteers.

The March 13-14 festival drew Guatemala's president, first lady, vice president and three ministers of state, according to a statement from the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association. A total of 3,200 Guatemalan churches invited Palau to hold the campaign, which involved 25 outreach events. Local leadership included Danilo Pérez, president of the Evangelical Alliance of Guatemala. Hundreds of local pastors and more than 25,000 volunteers worked on grassroots organization for the campaign.

See the rest of the story at The Baptist Press

Evangelist Luis Palau draws 425,000 in two days in Guatemala City

A two-day evangelistic festival drew an estimated 425,000 people to Parque de la Democracia in Guatemala's capital city, capping a 10-day regional campaign led by evangelist Luis Palau and setting the stage for a month-long community service effort involving tens of thousands of volunteers.

The March 13-14 festival drew Guatemala's president, first lady, vice president and three ministers of state, according to a statement from the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association. A total of 3,200 Guatemalan churches invited Palau to hold the campaign, which involved 25 outreach events. Local leadership included Danilo Pérez, president of the Evangelical Alliance of Guatemala. Hundreds of local pastors and more than 25,000 volunteers worked on grassroots organization for the campaign.

See the rest of the story at The Baptist Press

Way of the Cross Performed in Livingston

On Good Friday, a group of actors perform the Via Crucis in the municipality of Livingston, Izabal.

Photo from

Friday, April 10, 2009

Paving of Polochic Road to Begin

Paving is finally set to get underway on the 185 km road from San Juan, Tactic, down the Polochic Valley, to El Estor, and then to Sumaché, Río Dulce. The project planning and arrangement of financing has been underway for seven years.

This road runs from Tactic, through Tamahú, San Miguel Tucurú, Santa Catalina La Tinta, Panzós y Senahú, El Estor, Izabal, to Sumaché.

Thousands of residents in those towns and many other small villages along the way will benefit.

The project will begin on May 20th and will be executed in five phases:

  • Phase 1: From the crossroads at San Julián, Tactic to the Chascó bridge at Santa Catalina La Tinta.
  • Phase 2: From the Chasco bridge to Panzós.
  • Phase 3: From Panzós to El Estor.
  • Phase 4: El Estor to Sumaché, Río Dulce
  • Phase 5: From the crossroads at Telemán, Panzós, to Senahú.

The project's cost is more than U.S. $150 million and is being financed by the Japanese government.

Guatemalan ambassador: Mexican cartels moving to border area to avoid crackdown

Mexican drug cartels are moving to the area bordering Guatemala and El Salvador to avoid anti-drug measures, Guatemalan ambassador to Mexico said Wednesday.

Mexico narcotraffickers, operating in Guatemala's borders with other Central American countries, are transferring to avoid harsh crackdown posed by the Mexican government, Ambassador Jose Luis Chea Urruela said.

Mexican cartels have dominated the border region, the ambassador said.

Drug traffickers are moving to neighboring countries for a less hostile environment, he added.

Mexican drug cartels, the most powerful in the region, have entered Guatemala to take full control of the business, from drug production to transportation and final sales, he said.

See the rest of the story here.

Pre-Paid Bus System Coming

Due to the escalation of violence and extortion in the country, mostly attacks on urban transport, the Ministry of Finance announced in the Official Gazette, Government Agreement 103-2009, which awards $35 million to the Asociación de Empresas de Autobuses Urbanos to implement a pre-paid system.

Article 3 of that agreement allows tge Ministry of Finance to disburse U.S. $35 million from the general budget of state expenses in fiscal year 2009 to urban transport on the condition that it is used correctly and specifically to implement the pre-paid system.

Gomez explained that pre-paid cards should be sold at about 800 to 1,000 locations and that means a big investment.

As part of the process, the union will issue cards free to all users of urban transport at a cost of about $4 million since each card has a cost of $1.50.

The union reported that it is working on a loan of U.S. $360 million with a Brazilian bank to upgrade the fleet of buses. "We want top quality installations not just wires to install the prepaid system," said Gomez.

Gomez noted that the implementation of the electronic card could take between six months and one year. "Many state institutions such as the city, the central government, the Directorate General for Transport, and others, must work hand in hand in this task," explained the president of the guild.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Quakes Likely to Continue for Days or Weeks

The National Institute of Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology (INSIVUMEH) announced yesterday that although earthquakes are not predictable, prior experience with quake swarms in this area indicates that the activity could continue in the coming days and weeks.

In the period from Saturday to Wednesday, more than 700 tremors have been recorded.

Traffic Jams Leaving Guatemala City

The beginning of the Easter Holiday was marked by traffic jams as thousands of families leave Guatemala City and head for traditional summer vacation spots such as Puerto de San José and Itzapa in Escuintla, Rio Dulce, Puerto Barrios, and Livingston in Izabal.

By midday yesterday (Wednesday) 5,500 cars passed the tolls on the Palin-Esquintla highway. By Wednesday night that number was expected to exceed 30,000 vehicles.

Because of the traffic jams, vendors set up shop every 500 meters along the highway to sell bottled water, candy, and soft drinks.

The traffic jams will begin all over again on Sunday April 12th as vacationers returns to the city.

Back to the Heat

The moderate cold front that gave us two cool days here in Rio Dulce is fading. Wednesday night might bring a little rain.

Thursday, expect warm south winds, hazy skies, and high temperatures typical of summer to start to return.

Financial Dealings of Public Officials will be Monitored

The Guatemalan justice department rejected an appeal seeking to block an initiative that will monitor the bank accounts and finances of 1,200 civil servants and their families in order to avoid corruption.

The Board of Appeals rejected the petition of attorney Jose Alfredo Solano Chuy, who personally sought to block the initiative designed to monitor Personas Expuestas Políticamente or "Politically Exposed / Prominent Persons".

Edgar Barquin, Superintendent of Banks, the entity charged with keeping an eye on accounts, said that thanks to this ruling the will of the Government will be done and things will proceed.

The Intendencia de Verificación Especial (IVE) or Special Audit Office will monitor accounts and contact public officials and servants, their parents, spouses, and children to establish the reasons for large cash transactions. If the answers are unsatisfactory the case will go to investigation.

One Rider Per Motorcycle

The Ministry of the Interior yesterday released the official government journal Government Agreement 105-2009, which prohibits motorcycles and motorized bicycles that are occupied by more than one person. Those rules go into effect starting today and comes in response to the wave of violence affecting the country.

The constant attacks being committed by criminals who ride motorcycles and murder the drivers of passenger transport vehicles or holdup busloads of passengers prompted the Interior Ministry to respond with a government agreement that prohibits, starting Thursday morning, April 9th, more than one rider on a motorcycle.

Moreover, the agreement obliges motorcycle riders to wear a reflective vest, with a distinctive yellow fluorescent reflective pattern, with the license plate number of the motorcycle visible from five meters away.

It also requires that a white sticker with the license plate number appear on the helmet of the driver.

In accordance with Article 185 of the Traffic Regulations, fines shall apply for all violations.

Removal or covering of the identification markings or not wearing a vest that complies with the rules will be fines Q1,000. Obstruction of a public highway or use of a public highway for racing carries a fine of Q5,000 to Q25,000.

The Interior Minister, Salvador Gándara said that this decision was made after analyzing the statistics, which show that most of these crimes are committed by people driving a motorcycle.

Gándara added that in countries where this law has been implemented, crime has fallen considerably, as is the case of Colombia.

"We know there are honest people who use this medium to travel, but people are crying out for security," the official said. However, he explained that once public safety has been restored the law can be amended so as not to affect honest motorists.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

CICIG Has More than 50 Proofs Against Portillo

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Special Prosecutor of the Ministerio Publico (MP) brought an indictment against ex-president of Guatemala, Alfonso Portillo.

Portillo spent 4 years hiding in Mexico and was extradited to Guatemala six months ago. He is accused of embezzling Q120 million in state funds during his term in office. Those funds ended up in bank accounts belonging to his daughter and ex-wife, and those accounts are now frozen by the governments of France and Luxembourg where the banks are located.

The indictment contains more than 50 separate proofs including testimony from witnesses directly involved in the transfers.

Despite the evidence, the prosecution is presently stopped due to a protest of unconstitutionality raised by Moisés Galindo, one of the military officials linked to the case.

And there is another case against Portillo being investigated by the prosecutor involving the diversion of Q906 million in military funds. Six soldiers and retired general Enrique Ríos Sosa are linked to this second case.

There is direct evidence that several workers withdrew the funds and then handed over the cash to the senior military leaders, among them Portillo and then Interior Minister Eduardo Arevalo Lacs.

The investigative trail also leads to Portillo for embezzling Q34 million that went to the accounts of companies of José Armando Llort Quiteño, ex-president of Crédito Hipotecario Nacional, CHN (National Mortgage Bank). Llort was arrested in the U.S. and is now a protected witness.

Five witnesses, one of whom was murdered in March 2005, told how the money was handed to Llort Quiteño. In 2005, he decided to testify for the people and betray Portillo. He testified in the U.S. against the former military leader and several other architects of the embezzlements committed from 2001 to 2003.

Another witness, Salomón Molina Girón, former deputy manager of the CHN, explained that on the nights of March 5, 6 and 9 of 2001, the military transferred cash from the accounts of the Army into the vaults of CHN.

Four of the witnesses are abroad, for fear of reprisals.

800 Pounds of Marijuana Captured

Agents of SAIA arrested a man in Petén who was transporting 800 pounds of marijuana, headed for Zacapa and Chiquimula.

Samuel Barrios, chief of the PNC in Petén, confirmed the capture of Gregorio Jorge Humberto Gonzalez, 45, at kilometer 82 of the highway between Santa Elena and Poptún, near the village of Boca del Monte, Dolores.

Gonzalez was apprehended while transporting 38 packages of processed marijuana in a pickup truck. The marijuana was ready for sale and distribution, and included samples. The shipment was valued at Q340,000.

The shipment came from plantations along the border with Belize and Melchor de Mencos.

Last month in the area known as the Montañas del Chiquibul, Melchor de Mencos, five men were captured and 10 thousand marijuana plants were destroyed.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Two Day Break from the Heat

A cold front arrived as expected and cooled things off here today with partially cloudy skies and temperatures about 12 to 14 degrees C cooler than the preceding several days.

This condition will persist through tomorrow (Wednesday).

Thursday will see a return to normal high temperatures for this time of year of 36 to 38C.

Quake Swarm Continues

An earthquake swarm that may be connected with increased activity of Volcan Pacaya continues to rattle Guatemala City and surrounding areas.

There have been many quakes in the 2.0 to 3.5 range. On April 4th more than 600 microseisms were recorded.

The most recent stronger quake occurred three hours ago at 14:50:10.1 local time. It was a mag 4.5, with epicenter 27 km from the seismological station in Guatemala City. The quake was felt in Guatemala City, Retalhuleu, Escuintla, Sacatepequez, and Santa Rosa.

Similar swarms have occurred in Nov-Dec 1981, Jan-Mar 1982, Apr-May 1983, Jan 1984, Aug-Dec 1986, Feb-Mar 1987 and in July of 1999.

This swarm is not necessarily a cause for alarm but people should be aware. Now would be a good time to check your earthquake preparedness supplies.

Monday, April 6, 2009

31 Homes Damaged by Temblors

At least 31 homes of mud construction were damaged and six destroyed in a village of Villa Canales, after earthquakes shook the area around Guatemala City.

A swarm of quakes has been going on for two days and is expected to continue for another three days. The swarm has brought temblors up to magnitude 4.7 on Sunday afternoon.

Eddy Sanchez, director of the Institute of Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology (INSIVUMEH), explained that most of the days activity was on the Jalpatagua fault.

At least five earthquakes caused panic among some Guatemalans. Those concerned devised plans and gathered candles, blankets, food and water in case of a more serious earthquake.

Students criticize government in traditional parade

Costumed students marched through Guatemala City in the nation's 111-year-old Parade of Ridicule, which has become, some say, more social than political.

GUATEMALA CITY -- Wearing face masks and brightly colored hoods and robes, thousands of university students carrying banners ridiculing the government paraded through this capital city's downtown district Friday, protesting Guatemala's escalating violence and leaving a trail of graffiti in their wake.

The annual Parade of Ridicule is the culmination of the Huelga de Dolores, or Strike of Sorrows, started in 1898 by students from the public University of San Carlos to protest the corrupt regime of then-dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera.

Some lament that, after 111 years, much of the parade's political import has given way to vulgarities and a chance to drink and party in the streets. Still, parade organizers and watchers agree the huelga has become a lasting part of Guatemala's cultural heritage.

See the rest of the story in the Miami Herald.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Quake Swarm in Progress

An earthquake swarm has been going on near Guatemala City for a couple of days and is likely related to the increased volcanic activity of Volcan Pacaya. Activity is concentrated in the area between Pacaya and Fuego, which is also experiencing increased volcanic activity.

As this was being written, another pair of quakes hit about 15 minutes ago, a mag 4.7 and a 4.5.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Record Breaking Temperatures, Heat Warning

The Institute of Seismology, Volcanology, Meterology, and Hydrology (INSIVUMEH) has issued a high temperature alert for the Caribbean side of Guatemala, the Peten, and the northern transversal strip. Elderly, children, and the ill should take extra precautions.

Temperatures have risen above the highest levels registered in the past ten years, reaching 40 to 42 degrees C.

The heat is resulting from very high insolation (solar radiation) combined with high humidity.

These conditions are expected to continue through the weekend and into Monday and Tuesday.

In the Rio Dulce area, the weather may cool a bit on Tuesday night and Wednesday with a chance of rain, after which temperatures will again rise.

Duty-free fashion at CAFTA apparel show

This year's Apparel Sourcing Show will throw a spotlight on the most competitive textile and apparel producers in the Central American region.

The event, which takes place from 19-21 May in Guatemala City, provides an opportunity for buyers, suppliers and industry experts to look at the area's dynamic textile and apparel industry - from machinery and yarn producers to full-package solutions.

Flexibility, an integrated supply chain, proximity to the US market, and the ability to produce a wide range of high-quality garment are just some of the region's advantages.

See rest of the story here

Firestone Ventures Completes Phase One of Exploration Program

EDMONTON, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - April 3, 2009) - Firestone Ventures Inc. (TSX VENTURE:FV)(FRANKFURT:F5V) is pleased to announce that Phase One of this season's surface exploration program has been completed. The work included aerial surveys of the Torlon Hill project area in western Guatemala and reconnaissance fieldwork on Firestone's newly acquired land holdings (see news release dated Dec. 8, 2008). Phase Two surface exploration is scheduled to begin in April.

"Market conditions for zinc and lead are improving. We are advancing our zinc projects during these challenging market conditions by concentrating on low-cost work that will add value to future development," says Lori Walton, President of Firestone Ventures. "In addition, the property package we acquired in December, 2008 includes a zinc-copper-gold skarn prospect that we believe has potential for porphyry copper-type mineralization at depth."

Torlon Hill Zinc-Lead-Silver Deposit

Colour aerial photography and digital topographical and orthophoto mapping of the Torlon zinc-lead-silver project area was completed in early March, 2009 and delivery of final maps is pending from the contractor. A Phase Two grid-based mapping, prospecting and soil sampling program at Torlon Hill is scheduled for completion in May, 2009.

In addition, the Company has engaged Grupo Sierra Madre, a Guatemala-based consulting firm, to conduct baseline environmental assessment work focused on the Torlon Hill zinc-lead-silver property.

Firestone is continuing its program of metallurgical testwork to determine optimal processing options for the zinc oxide mineralization at Torlon; the next round of metallurgical testwork is being finalized and prioritized subject to budget requirements.

The Company is continuing its collaborative work with local communities on social-economic initiatives, upgrading existing access roads and stream crossings and the coordination of local supplies and services. The 100% owned Torlon Hill zinc-lead-silver deposit is road-accessible and open to expansion.

Read the rest of the story on Market Wire

Friday, April 3, 2009

Gun Law Finally Approved

After months of discussions, lobbying, arguments, and negotiations between various factions of Congress, and many changes to the text that was originally submitted in October 2008, the law was passed.

The law contains several new features that are considered essential to address the violence in the country.

Among the most important as well as controversial is the creation of the Directorate General of Arms and Ammunition (Digecam) of the Ministry of Defense, but to be transferred within a period not exceeding two years after the legislation takes force, to the Interior Ministry. This was one of the major points and discussion, as some factions felt that the government cannot fulfill the responsibilities. But agreement was finally reached.

The new law establishes the filing requirements for purchasing a weapon, including a background check with law enforcement, certification of income, employment record, and personal identification documents, among others.

Despite the controversy, the portion of the text giving special consideration to government staff and former staff, chairs of agencies, the Vice President, deputies, ministers, attorney general, former officials, judges of the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, among other officials.

The monthly limit of munitions that may be purchased is fixed 250 per gun license and 200 in possession at any one time.

One of the main novelties introduced by the law is the making of sentences for violations of this law incommutable. Violations of the new law will result in the confiscation of all weapons. Illegal carrying of weapons brings an 8 to 15 year prison sentence depending on the type of weapon (not commutable). The law criminalizes illegal exports and imports, 5 to 10 years in prison, selling of an illegal weapon or ammunition, 5 to 12 years, and explosives, 10 to 15 years. The law also makes illegal the firing of a weapon without just cause, a crime that will result in one to three years in prison.

During the same session, legislators removed a paragraph of Article 71 of the act which stipulated that legislators and officials would have the privilege to obtain, in a maximum of 30 days from the filing of an application, a license to carry offensive and defensive weapons. These are exclusively to be used used by the army and security forces.

The plenary session finally ended at 7:00 PM with members of Congress welcoming the adoption of the text, which is considered essential to stem the violence in Guatemala.

Volcan Pacaya Having an Episode

An increase in Pacaya's eruption prompted the Guatemala Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (Conred) to issue an orange alert in Pacaya National Park.

Authorities consider the increase in volcanic activity to be a danger to residents and tourists so the tours and hikes up the big mountain were suspended.

Residents near the volcano indicated that since they noticed the increase starting in the early hours of Thursday, April 2. According to a local tour guide, one could count up to 20 bursts per minute. The normal rate is about one every five minutes. He added that the volcano is emitting lava and hurling rocks.

Conred indicated that a new crater has formed in the southeastern part of the mountain, threatening the village of El Rodeo which is located near the slopes of the volcano. The agency is prepared with 10 vehicles and shelters if evacuations are necessary.

Guatemala Makes G-20 List of Tax Havens

PARIS- The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) announced today the list of tax havens that are considered "less cooperative" in releasing banking information. The list includes Guatemala, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Guatemala, Switzerland, Chile, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Singapore and Luxembourg are a group described by the OECD as "other financial centers" that have pledged to respect international standards, but still substantially do not.

Costa Rica, Uruguay, Malaysia and the Philippines have not committed to respect the international standards, according to the OECD.

In the case of Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Austria, the OECD states that had withdrawn its reservation on article 26 of the OECD Convention on the lifting of banking secrecy in cases of fraud.

The organization had previously refused to publish lists of tax havens. Some countries like Switzerland say that such a list should be produced privately, in-house.

"The times of banking secrecy are over," said French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking from London. Sarkozy argued that it's time to begin the fight against such tax haven countries that do not cooperate and pledged to make it a priority of the summit of the G-20.

The Heads of state and government asked their finance ministers to adopt sanctions against countries that do not cooperate.

Sarkozy was satisfied that the G-20 agreed to publish the list of tax havens and it was revealed that China was the most reluctant member to agree.

Guatemalan Anthropologists speaking at CNC

Two anthropology experts from Guatemala will share horror stories of genocide, crime, mass disasters, child trauma and murder of pregnant women during a public forum at the College of New Caledonia.

Shirley Chacon and Alma Vasquez, forensic anthropologists and archaeologists, have worked on several high-profile cases around the world, including Guatemala’s 30-year civil war in which more than 200,000 people were killed in conflict between 1960 and 1996.

Chacon works on cases of genocide, contemporary crimes and mass disasters for the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation, and will speak about children’s traumas during the civil war.

See rest of the story here.

Three Police Sentenced to 25 Years

The Seventh Court of Criminal Sentencing sentenced three policemen to serve 25 years in prison for the extra-judicial execution of a man identified as Jorge Eduardo Rivera-Cabezas Klussman.

The crime took place on April 25, 2008 in a field in Zone 11 of Guatemala City, where the victim was driving his car and did not stop when ordered to do so by police.

The police who were found guilty were Israel Barco Arana, Julio Roberto Aguirre Martinez and Juan Carlos Jalal Caal.

During the trial, four other policemen were acquitted on charges of covering up the crime but there was not enough evidence to convict.

Global Knowledge Exchange Network (GKEN) to Hold Leadership Conference in Guatemala

AUSTIN, Texas--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Global Knowledge Exchange Network (GKEN) will host its semi-annual conference today through April 3 with health executives, practitioners and policy experts from around the globe to explore and identify “better and best" practices in the healthcare field. The invitational conference, to be held in Antigua, Guatemala, is in keeping with GKEN's mission to search the globe for replicable practices to improve health and the quality of healthcare around the world.

The spring 2009 conference will focus on identifying better and best practices to help healthcare systems and individual providers better manage and control chronic disease, secure better health outcomes, and identify replicable and meaningful health promotion programs and practices that are yielding positive results. In Antigua, the participants will consider more than 50 better practice summaries and assess the appropriateness of their content. The overarching objective for the Antigua meeting is to develop a formal protocol that GKEN will use to determine better practices in multiple content areas and how to promote those practices globally in a variety of cultural and economic environments.

“GKEN, founded in the fall of 2007 through a generous grant from the CIGNA Foundation, convened with the recognition that healthcare, like the economy, is global. Additionally, medical research, the management and implementation of new medical technologies and drug therapies, and new ways of addressing problems, are taking place around the globe but there are few resources committed to bringing the new innovations and practices to the attention of the entire global healthcare community,” explained Jon Comola, CEO. “GKEN is attempting to meet that daunting challenge and serve as a catalyst for the global exchange of valuable healthcare information in real time. The concept is straight forward: advancing information to knowledge, then to action!”

See rest of the story here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Drug traffickers sought in Guatemala bus killings

GUATEMALA CITY -- Investigators in Guatemala announced Tuesday that a drug gang was responsible for the grisly killings of 15 Nicaraguans and a Dutch man aboard a bus in November.

United Nations investigators and Guatemalan police said they are looking for a total of 10 suspects and have already arrested one man who allegedly participated in killing the foreigners and then burning the bus.

U.N. anti-crime commissioner Carlos Castresana said three of the suspects are former police officers. Castresana's commission is aiding in the investigation.

Investigators say the drug gang was apparently looking for a rival trafficker's drug shipment when they stopped the bus in eastern Guatemala.

See rest of the story here.

Milestone Toward Ending River Blindness In The Western Hemisphere By 2012: Escuintla, Guatemala Biggest Endemic Area Yet To Stop Transmission

An international team of researchers led by Rodrigo Gonzalez of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala reports that the transmission of onchocerciasis or river blindness has been broken in Escuintla, Guatemala, one of the largest endemic areas in the Western Hemisphere to date to stop the transmission of the parasitic disease.

The findings, which detail the lack of ocular lesions and the absence of infections in school children as well as in the black fly which spreads the disease, are published March 31st in the open-access journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. Escuintla is now the second of four Guatemalan areas to have stopped the transmission of river blindness.

"In a few short years-with continued hard work and increased political will-river blindness will never threaten the Americas again," said co-author Frank Richards, MD, of the Carter Center's River Blindness Program. "Ending transmission in Escuintla is an important victory in the campaign to eliminate this devastating disease."

Read the rest at Medical News Today.

Nobel Prize Winner, Rigoberta Menchu coming to Dartmouth

DARTMOUTH—A Nobel Peace Prize winner who has campaigned for peasant workers’ rights in her native Guatemala will talk about human rights Monday at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum was a teenager when she began fighting for social reform and women’s rights, and she later pushed for better working conditions for farmers after her father, mother and brother were killed by an area guerilla army, according to the Nobel Prize organization. In 1983, she wrote a book about her life that was translated into 12 languages.

See the rest of the story here.

Research and Markets: Guatemala - Telecoms Mobile and Broadband

DUBLIN--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Research and Markets ( has announced the addition of the "Guatemala - Telecoms Mobile and Broadband" report to their offering.

Guatemala is the largest telecom market in Central America, but has been held back by poverty, crime, and corruption. Guatemala's social development indicators, such as infant mortality and illiteracy, are among the worst in Latin America. While Guatemala's capital city enjoys a modern telecom network, the rest of the country's fixed-line infrastructure is inadequate and antiquated. Nevertheless, Guatemala's mobile penetration is remarkably high considering the country's extremely low GDP per capita. Mobile telephony is the fastest growing market by far; in fact, there are more than seven times as many mobile phones as fixed lines in service. This report provides an overview of the country's telecom sector accompanied by relevant statistics and analyses.

Story and contact info here.

USDA Amends GSM-102 Credit Guarantees for Export Sale to Central America Region

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2009 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture today amends the availability of the following credit guarantees for sales of U.S. agricultural commodities under the Commodity Credit Corporation's Export Credit Guarantee Program (GSM-102) for fiscal year 2009.

  • Additional Amount Available: $200 million
  • Geographical Area: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama
With today’s announcement, a total of $550 million has been made available in the Central America Region during the fiscal year 2009.

The GSM-102 program helps ensure that credit is available to finance commercial exports of U.S. agricultural products to developing countries, while providing competitive credit terms in these countries. Under this program, the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) reduces the financial risk to lenders by guaranteeing payments due from approved foreign banks to exporters or financial institutions in the United States.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Massive Early Hurricane Slowed By Large Land Mass To South

WASHINGTON-In what many are calling the most devastating natural disaster of 2009, a massive hurriphoonado touched down in Southeast Asia three weeks ago, upending countless homes and drowning thousands before picking up speed and ravaging three other continents.

A storm system characterized by high winds, torrential rain, lightning, fist-sized hail, massive tidal waves, low barometric pressure, and six separate cyclonic eyes, the first-recorded hurriphoonado caused billions of dollars in property loss along the coast of China in early March. From there, meteorologists said, the weather system traveled inland, covering most of Asia Minor, where it sparked a series of even more destructive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, monsoons, and landslides.

"The scope of Hurriphoonado Claire is unprecedented," said Mark Mancuso, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, who classified the hybrid storm as an F4 tornado, Category 5 hurricane, and Level 7 redemptive act of God. "By the time it surged through the Middle East in mid-March, there was little anyone could do but pray."

"If only we'd evacuated all of Eastern and Western Europe in time," Mancuso added. "And Northern Africa."

According to a handful of survivors in the Bahamas and what was once the island of Saint Kitts, the hurriphoonado continued to gather strength as it traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, swelling in size, producing a number of catastrophic tsunamis, and, in late March, sucked up sharks from Caribbean waters and heaved them onto unsuspecting residents in Nicaragua.

"It's difficult to make sense of what occurred in Nicaragua as most of our weather satellites were pulled back down to Earth by the sheer force of the hurriphoonado," Mancuso continued. "However, we do know that the impact of those satellites into the Gulf of Mexico did not help matters."

Experts were not able to measure Hurriphoonado Claire's true strength until it made landfall in Florida on March 25th. Barreling through Georgia and Alabama over the next two days, the storm dropped 15 feet of snow on Tennessee, opened a mile-wide chasm in Missouri, and then doubled back and obliterated much of southern Texas. It then returned to Florida to flood its remaining four cities.

After igniting hundreds of wildfires in California, the hurriphoonado reportedly made its way out to the Pacific Ocean, where it finally slowed down and broke into four separate storms, which then ravaged Oregon, a coastal state located 25 miles from Hawaii.

Despite the utter devastation, many Americans said they weren't going to let "just any little hurriphoonado" change their way of life.

"It's going to take more than the complete destruction of our planet to make me pack up my belongings and leave my home behind," said West Virginia resident and mother of three, Margaret Baker. "Now, if you don't mind, where exactly am I?"