Sunday, May 31, 2009

Work on 300MW Jaguar Project Could Begin Soon

Construction of Jaguar Energy's 300 megawatt, $700 million thermo plant in Guatemala could begin in the second half of this year, according to project parent Houston-based AEI.

Start of works are subject to the securing of financing and completion of other project milestones, AEI said in its 20-F form filed with US securities regulator SEC.

The project has executed an EPC contract with China Machine New Energy, and commercial operations startup is penciled in for 2H12, the form said.

Last year, distributors Deorsa and Deocsa awarded Jaguar 15-year PPAs to supply 200MW, while 75MW are expected to be sold to the Guatemalan and regional market, the form adds.

The plant site is 80km south of Guatemala City in Escuintla.

In Guatemala, AEI already boasts 234MW of thermo capacity through subsidiary Puerto Quetzal Power.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Travel Warning: Avoid Stopovers in the U.S.

Nobel Prize Winner Gets Hassled At Bush Intercontinental Airport

by John Nova Lomax

HOUSTON, Texas - Mairead Corrigan Maguire thought the hard part was over. Along with fellow Nobel Laureates Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala, American landmine activist Jody Williams, and Iranian Shirin Ebadi, she had been in Guatemala, where the women had just co-hosted a three-day conference on democracy, human rights and peace that had attracted 150 female international activists.

She was probably tired and ready to get back to Belfast, where her attempts to bring about an end to The Troubles in 1976 made her at 32 the youngest Nobel Peace Prize-winner ever. Since then, she's been given the Pacem in Terris Award by Pope John Paul II, and the United Nations selected her (along with the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Jordan's Queen Noor and a dozen or so other fellow Nobel Laureates) as an honorary board member of the International Coalition for the Decade.

Unfortunately for Maguire, her flight back home to Northern Ireland was routed through Houston, where none of that meant diddly. Federal Customs officials were far less interested in any of that than they were in a box on the back of the transit form she filled out on her flight.

"They questioned me about my nonviolent protests in USA against the Afghanistan invasion and Iraqi war," Maguire said later in a statement. "They insisted I must tick the box in the Immigration form admitting to criminal activities."

Maguire was detained for two hours -- grilled once, fingerprinted, photographed, and grilled again. She missed her flight home. She was only released after an organization she helped found -- the Nobel Women's Initiative -- started kicking up a fuss.

Customs spokesperson Paula Rivera confirmed the incident to Hair Balls: "When international passengers are asking for access to the United States, we rely on them to accurately complete their forms for us. If those entry forms are not completed accurately it would be a reason to have a person referred for a secondary examination."

Because of privacy issues, Rivera wouldn't tell us what it was that Maguire failed to disclose, but reading between both the official lines and Maguire's statement, it's safe to say that Maguire failed to admit to having been arrested in the United States. In May 2008, Maguire and 60 others were arrested for crossing a police line at a non-violent prayer protest outside of the White House.

Maguire eventually admitted she was arrested, apparently, but remains defiant that she committed no crime.

"I am not a criminal, my nonviolent acts in USA opposing the war on Afghanistan, and Iraq, are acts of conscience and together with millions of USA citizens, and world citizens, I refuse to be criminalized for opposing such illegal policies," her statement read. "Every citizen has a right, indeed a moral obligation, to nonviolent civil disobedience in the face of illegal and unjust laws, especially war. If anyone is to be criminalized for these illegal and immoral policies it is the USA Government, who must be held accountable before the International community for these acts of crime against humanity."

She added that she was disappointed that this happened in "Obama's America." But then again, she was at Bush Airport, so maybe she should have expected this shabby treatment.

And hell, at least we didn't tear-gas her and clip her with a rubber bullet like the Israelis did two years ago.

See original story in The Houston Press

Friday, May 29, 2009

Post-Quake Situation in Izabal Under Control

The National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (Conred) reported today that the situation in Izabal still under supervision by the rescue team dispatched immediately after the 7.1 earthquake which struck yesterday morning off the coast of Honduras.

The strong tremor caused damage in several communities in Izabal. There were no fatalities but 18 houses are uninhabitable and 199 sustained moderate damage.

According to Sergio Cabañas of Conred, assessments are being made on a house to house basis to look for structural damage in the communities of Quetzalito and Media Luna.

After inspecting the damaged homes, structural engineers and geologists reported that the damage to homes in Izabal was caused by a phenomenon known as liquefaction, where soil and subsurface material that is saturated with water, when agitated by an earthquake, turn into mud making houses collapse.

$100 Million Damage in Honduras

Authorities reported today an early estimate that approximately U.S. $100 million in damage was caused by the magnitude 7.1 quake that struck early Thursday morning. Six persons were killed.

Marco Burgos of the Comisión Permanente de Contingencias (Copeco) , stated that this was a preliminary estimate and that damage assessments were still underway, particularly at the dock of Puerto Cortés where something serious might happen."

According to Burgos, major damage occurred on the premises of the National Port Company (ENP) in Puerto Cortes.

"The pier is 50 percent operational and inspections are being done by divers to see if there is damage to infrastructure," he explained.

Other major damage occurred in the La Democracia Bridge on the River Ulúa in El Progreso, Yoro Department, which fell into the river. Reconstruction will cost 20 to 25 million dollars.

"Also the levees were broken in 12 places and that it is serious, especially now that we are in winter," the officer lamented.

Sula Valley, the most productive in the country, with the thriving financial capital of San Pedro Sula, is protected by concrete retaining walls to control flooding from the Ulúa and Chamelecón rivers.

After Hurricane Mitch, which hit the country in 1998, the rivers of Honduras are loaded with sediment and have very little capacity to handle large runoff. When it rains, the rivers flood and retaining walls have been built along the banks of the rivers to prevent flooding, especially in the flatlands of the valley in La Lima and El Progreso.

"The pier, the bridge, and the retaining walls have suffered damage but also private companies have suffered losses, such as the hotels Copantl Sula and el Sula. Also the court building at San Pedro Sula will have to be rebuilt, and eight colonial churches were damaged," said deploró Burgos.

Burgos added that work has already begun to repair damage, starting with removing landslides that fell on roads, and a Bailey Bridge is being considered in La Democracia.

The epicenter of the quake was 63 km north of Roatan and was felt in the neighboring countries of Belize, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Izabal Quake Damage Climbing

The National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (Conred) today reported 2,488 persons in Izabal injured in the 7.1 quake that struck off the coast of Honduras early Thursday morning. This is 562 more than the previously reported count.

177 homes sustained varying degrees of damage.

The latest report from Conred states that 95 homes have minor damage, 58 moderate damage, and and 24 were destroyed or sustained severe damage. The damage is concentrated in the communities of Las Vegas, Quebrada Seca, Santa María del Mar, Suite Tres, Media Luna, La Laguna, Mojanales y El Quetzalito.

According to Conred, water systems in Izabal were damaged so service has been irregular.

Assistance has not been at the levels stated by authorities. At least 14 families are housed in the village school in Aldea Media Luna. They have not received food and authorities have only provided 120 bottles of drinking water and sponges, according to Edvin Cordón, president of Consejo Comunitario de Desarrollo (Cocodes).

"There were a thousand promises, but so far we have not received anything at all, only water that is insufficient for the number of people housed," said Cord.

He added that the task has been left to the community, but people do not have enough resources to feed so many.

David de Leon, spokesman for Conred, confirmed this morning that there were problems with the electric grid serving Izabal but that power has been restored.

The Education Minister, Ana de Molina, said that as a preventive measure classes were suspended yesterday and today, and are expected to resume on Monday. All schools in Izabal are being inspected for damage.

Cases of AH1N1 Surpass 15,000 Worldwide

Geneva, Switzerland - The number of cases of people infected worldwide with influenza virus AH1N1 now stands at 15,510 in 53 countries. 99 have died, according to the latest statistics released by the World Health Organization (WHO).

This represents an increase of about 2,000 cases since Wednesday.

The United States has the greatest number infected at 7,927, followed by Mexico at 4,910, and Canada with 1,118.

Japan has reported 364 cases, United Kingdom 203, Chile 165, Australia 147, Spain 107, and Panama 103, according to the WHO.

In Latin America, other countries with confirmed cases are Argentina 37, Costa Rica 33, Ecuador 32, Peru 31, Colombia 17, El Salvador 11, Brazil 10, and Cuba 4.

Guatemala has registered 2 cases, the Dominican Republic 7 cases, while Honduras and Uruguay have one confirmed case each.

Mexico reports the largest number of fatalities from the flu with 85, while the United States reports 11, Canada 2, and one in Costa Rica.

Law on National Languages Still not Enforced

Six years after being adopted, the Law on National Languages is still not enforced, several organizations reported today.

During a forum organized by the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) it was pointed out that since May 23, 2003 no government has shown any willingness to put the law into practice.

The law requires, among other things, that services be provided in the Mayan, Garifuna and Xinca languages, and encourages and promotes the use of those languages. In addition, Article 26 states that the president is responsible for issuing regulations for enforcing the law 90 days after the law took effect.

Martín Sacalxot, an indigenous attorney with the PDH said that "the current president has had four drafts of regulations in his hands and all have been discarded."

Presidential spokesman Fernando Barillas said that he had no knowledge of the subject but stated that the Ministry of Culture would decide the matter.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Big Quake off Honduras Kills 5

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - A powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook Honduras on Thursday, killing at least five people, knocking down flimsy homes and causing damage in neighbouring Guatemala.

Officials expected the death toll to rise as reports came in from poor villages and towns in the mountainous area around Honduras' Caribbean coast.

The offshore quake damaged buildings across the north of Honduras, a poor country of 7 million people, and briefly triggered a tsunami alert for Central America's Caribbean coast.

A 7.1 magnitude quake can cause serious damage over a wide area.

Four children, aged 3 to 15, died when their houses collapsed after the quake struck at 2:24 a.m. (9:24 a.m. British time) near the resort island of Roatan.

"They were all asleep. Most of them died crushed," said Randolfo Funes, an official at Honduras' civil protection agency who said a fifth person died. "There will be many more dead."

Security guard Pedro Ramirez, 52, was in his truck outside an office building in the capital of Tegucigalpa.

"I felt the car rock and I started to hear little bits of debris from the building next door hitting the roof," he said. "It was frightening because it was shaking a lot. I've never felt anything like it."

The earthquake hit 39 miles (64 km) northeast of Roatan, the biggest of the country's three picturesque Bay Islands, where snorkelers and divers come to see dolphins and a big coral reef. It had a relatively shallow depth of 6.2 miles (10 km). Earthquakes close to the earth's surface are often more powerful than deeper tremors.

On Roatan, rescue officials said the quake had knocked out power and caused minor damage to buildings.

Houses also collapsed in Puerto Cortes and Santa Barbara, where the ceiling of an old colonial church caved in, while fires broke out in the northern business city of San Pedro Sula.

The tremor sent people running into the street and the power was cut in some areas.

Honduras will temporarily shut down the port of Puerto Cortes, where it ships 80 percent of its exports like coffee, industrial goods and bananas.

"There is damaged machinery and equipment," said Roberto Babum, head of the national port authority.

But a major coffee producer reported no damaged to crops and Canada's Yamana Gold said its mine in Honduras, the country's largest, was not affected.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued a tsunami watch for Honduras, Guatemala and Belize, but lifted it half an hour later.

The quake knocked out electricity in two towns in eastern Guatemala and damaged roads isolated another town in the area.

Quake Shakes Rio Dulce

A quake lasting about one minute shook the Rio Dulce area this morning, May 28, 2009 at 3:24:45 AM, awakening residents and tossing water from swimming pools.

Electricity shut down during the quake and was restored immediately after the shaking stopped. A few minutes later, power failed again and was restored later in the morning.

I am not aware of any damage reports from Rio Dulce.

The Mag 7.1 quake struck under the sea north of Honduras, near the island of Roatan. It was centered at 16.729°N, 86.212°W, 75 miles (125 km) NNE of La Ceiba, Honduras. Horizontal location error, 4.3 km (2.7 miles). Depth 10 km (6.2 miles).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Municipalities Being Investigated for Corruption

The Ministerio Publico has allegations and complaints against at least 50 mayors, former mayors, and council members for crimes such as embezzlement, fraud, blackmail, money laundering, abuse of authority, dereliction of duty, making threats, and more.

Among the communities that are being investigated are Saint Martin Jilotepéque, Dolores, Petén, San Antonio Huista, Huehuetenango, Jutiapa, Coban, Alta Verapaz, San Pedro La Laguna, Solola, Joyabaj, Quiché, San Jose La Arada, Chiquimula, and Coatepeque, Quetzaltenango. There are also actions against municipalities in the department of Guatemala, San Raymundo, San Pedro Ayampuc, Petapa, and Chinautla, among others.

The complaints are being processed by prosecutors in the divisions of Administrative Offenses Against Corruption, Money Laundering, and district agencies, among others. The number of actions could increase after the Controller General of Accounts presents the results of audits conducted in all communities later this month.

"Among the most common abnormalities are pay for work that was not completed, forged documents that allegedly prove the amount of work done, payment of social security contributions and income taxes with public funds, and funds simply missing from the municipal coffers," said Omar Contreras, Prosecutor against Corruption.

Other prosecutors reported that one of the major difficulties in prosecution is that by the time the crime is discovered much time has passed and then judges take months to reach a decision to issue an arrest warrant.

Thus far in the process, prosecutors have managed to get 30 arrest warrants issued against individuals associated with these case. More are pending and others are in the preliminary stages.

Prosecutors are aware of cases involving Q10 million to Q12 million and the greatest delay in the process occurs in the court system.

In the past, such crimes usually go unpunished. By law, public officials enjoy automatic immunity from prosecution. That immunity can be removed by a court but the courts have traditionally been very reluctant to remove it even when presented with strong evidence that a crime has been committed.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Guatemala Photo Group on Flickr

A photo group/pool for great photos of Guatemala has been created on Flickr.

Photos in this group must be related to Guatemala, its people, landscape, flowers, foods, birds, animals, insects, weather, natural phenomena, and so forth.

Come take a look and if you have photos that are appropriate for the group, please participate.

http://www.flickr.com/groups/mayaparadise/

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ormat Technologies Announces $42 Million Senior Debt Financing for the Amatitlan Geothermal Power Plant in Guatemala

RENO, Nev., May 21 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Ormat Technologies, Inc. (NYSE: ORA - News) announced today that on May 18, 2009, its wholly-owned subsidiary, Ortitlan Limitada, signed a Note Purchase Agreement with TCW Global Project Fund II, Ltd., an energy and infrastructure investment vehicle managed by TCW Energy and Infrastructure Group (part of TCW Asset Management Company), providing for the issuance of up to $42 million to refinance Ormat's investment in the 20 MW Amatitlan geothermal power plant located in Amatitlan, Guatemala.

The closing of the sale and purchase of the Note under the Note Purchase Agreement and the payment of the Note purchase price proceeds to Ortitlan Limitada were consummated on May 21, 2009. The Note is scheduled to mature on June 15, 2016.

Ormat initially financed the development and construction of the project, as well as the drilling of wells, from internal funding sources. The power plant currently generates approximately 17MW and is scheduled to reach its design capacity towards the end of the second quarter of 2009, upon the connection of an additional well that was recently drilled.

"We are pleased with the competitive terms of the financing that we have secured for this power plant," commented Dita Bronicki, Chief Executive Officer of Ormat. "Guatemala in general, and the Amatitlan resource in particular, have potential for additional geothermal energy production. The terms of the financing that we have secured are typical non-recourse project finance, but enable us to proceed with the development of phase II expansion of the project in coordination with TCW once we determine that the resource can support it."

See the rest of the press release here.

Authorities Cite Lead in Lawyer’s Murder in Guatemala

GUATEMALA CITY – An anonymous informant has provided authorities with the names of three suspects in the May 10 murder of a prominent attorney who said in a posthumously released video that he feared Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom was planning to kill him, the national ombudsman said Thursday.

Sergio Morales told reporters that the informant sent a document to his office indicating that six people were behind the slaying of Rodrigo Rosenberg.

“In the document, the witness identified three of the six alleged killers by their names and surnames,” Morales said.

The ombudsman said he delivered the report Wednesday to the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, which is investigating Rosenberg’s slaying with assistance from the FBI.

Morales said his office is trying to locate the anonymous witness in order to provide the individual with police protection, since given the delicate nature of the case his or her life could be at risk.

Ten days after the release of the video in which Rosenberg can be seen accusing Colom, first lady Sandra Torres, presidential aide Gustavo Alejos and several others of plotting to kill him, the document represents the first concrete lead in the case.

Rosenberg said on the video that his life was at risk because he had evidence of the involvement of the president and his associates in the April 14 slayings of businessman Khalil Musa and his daughter, Marjorie.

Musa, recently appointed by Colom to the board of the public-private Banrural development bank, was killed for refusing to cover up “illegal, multi-million-dollar transactions being carried out day after day” at the financial institution, Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg’s murder and the video have touched off one of the worst political crises of the past decade in Guatemala and polarized society into two camps: mostly middle- and upper-class protesters who are demanding the center-left head of state step down and poor demonstrators who support Colom.

“I haven’t killed anyone. I’m not a drug trafficker and I’ve never made shady deals against the opposition. The truth about Rosenberg’s murder will be revealed; the truth about the preparation of the video and the hatching of this plot also will be discovered,” Colom told Efe last week in an interview.

Colom, Guatemala’s first left-of-center president in more than 50 years, also said that only over his “dead body” will he leave office before the end of his term.

EFE
Latin American Tribune

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Red Alert Declared in San Marcos due to A(H1N1) Virus

The head of the health department of San Marcos, Miguel Ángel Santizo, today declared a red alert due to the detection of a positive case of influenza A (H1N1) in a 75 year old woman, a native of San Jose Ojetenam.

The patient confirmed is being cared for in a hospital in Quetzaltenango and is being kept in isolation.

As a result of the red alert, breaks, holiday leave, and vacations are canceled for the 500 health care workers in San Marcos. The move was ordered by Health Minister Celso Cerezo.

The Health Ministry also sent 300 doses of the antiviral Tamiflu to the department.

Meanwhile, the head of the regional health department reported that at the National Hospital of Malacatán, there are 10 suspected but unconfirmed cases.

Guatemala murder scandal could threaten the presidency

Guatemala City and Mexico City - The scandal surrounding accusations that Guatemala's president orchestrated the murder of a prominent lawyer is intensifying – deepening divisions in a country still recovering from a 36-year civil war. It is also, according to some analysts, handing the country its greatest threat to democracy since that war ended in 1996.

Tens of thousands of Guatemalans have taken to the streets since a video emerged in which Rodrigo Rosenberg, the lawyer, accused Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom and three others of murder and corruption.

Mr. Rosenberg, who was shot dead while riding his bike on May 10, recorded the video days earlier, saying in it that: "If you are watching this, it is because I was murdered by President Alvaro Colom, with the help of Gustavo Alejos," the president's secretary.

Mr. Colom denies any involvement and says the protests are politically motivated. His critics maintain that they are not out to topple any president but merely are seeking the truth.

On Monday, they presented a petition to Congress signed by more than 35,000 Guatemalans that calls for Congress to strip Colom of his prosecutorial immunity.

The scandal comes as Guatemala is threatened by rising levels of lawlessness, with street gangs terrorizing residents and drug traffickers taking over wide swaths of the country.

"This is a crisis. When the people lose confidence in the authorities, what comes next is ungovernability and with it more corruption and violence," says Mario Polanco, director of the human rights organization Mutual Support Group in Guatemala City.

Vast right-wing conspiracy?

Colom, the nation's first leftist president in 50 years, says the scandal is a right-wing political conspiracy designed to bring down his government.

His administration has challenged the traditional power brokers, including former military officials. Earlier this year, he agreed to open a police archive that details information on left-leaning dissidents abducted and killed during the country's civil war.

Guatemala's past has been marred by a series of military coups. When the war ended, politically motivated murder did not. Eleven years ago, for example, Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi was bludgeoned to death after delivering a damning report on abuses committed by the state during the war.

Today's accusations "have created the greatest political crisis for this democracy, because never before has a democratically elected president been accused of murder," the Prensa Libre newspaper said in an editorial.

Video details money-laundering scheme

In the video, Rosenberg says that Colom, the first lady, and two others were involved in a money-laundering scheme that diverted public funds to dummy organizations that could be accessed for personal gain and by drug traffickers. Rosenberg also alleged in the video that a powerful businessman, Khalil Musa, was killed with his daughter in April because he refused to take part in the scheme. Rosenberg represented him.

Although Rosenberg mentions documents to support his claims, they have not surfaced. "We know nothing about any documents that he was talking about," says Rosenberg's nephew Andres Rodas. "He kept the family out of it because he did not want to put us in danger."

Colom – as well as the three others named in the video – has repeatedly denied the accusations and said that he has no reason to step down, even temporarily.

But, if the scandal escalates, it could threaten to undermine his presidency, says Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a left-leaning think tank in Washington. "He is in real trouble right now," says Mr. Birns. "The case against him is very formidable, and he hasn't attempted to come forth with an explanation that fair-minded people could see as a possibility. There is no explanation for why someone would commit suicide to get back at him."

Dueling protests reveal 'two Guatemalas'

Demonstrators took to the street daily last week to call for Colom to step down. They dressed in white and carried signs calling Colom an "assassin."

The protests were organized by wealthy and middle-class Guatemalans and students from the city's right-leaning private universities. One of the organizers, Javier Ogarrio, says that Rosenberg was acting in the interest of the country.

"We have lived with so much violence and corruption here," Mr. Ogarrio says. "We have to continue what he started."

The poor and mostly indigenous rural population forms the base of Colom's political support – and many have come out in protest to support him. "He is the only president that has given us anything, and they don't like that," said local resident Julieta Espinoza at a rally last week. "These are all lies against him."

Allegations threaten to further polarize the country. "What you see are the two classes in distinctly different demonstrations," says Anita Isaacs, a professor of political science at Haverford College in Pennsylvania who was in Guatemala City to observe the protests. "This has exposed the rift between the two Guatemalas."

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a United Nations-backed body formed to probe the country's growing organized crime problem, has been asked to investigate. The FBI will also investigate.

CSM

Chiquita touts ‘green’ efforts at annual meeting

Chiquita Brands International Inc. touted its corporate responsibility initiatives at the company’s annual meeting of shareholders, including the construction of 1,850 new housing units for banana workers in Honduras and Guatemala and a water-recycling initiative that saved 576,000 gallons in Latin America.

“We are doing great work that no other player in the industry is doing in either bananas or salads,” said Fernando Aguirre, CEO of the Cincinnati-based produce company.

Shareholders had no questions and the agenda was light for Chiquita’s annual meeting, which was held at the company’s Fifth Street headquarters downtown. Shareholders elected the company-nominated slate of nine directors and ratified PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC as its independent auditor, affirming a selection made by Chiquita after a competitive process last May.

Aguirre said Chiquita’s financial objectives are to secure profitable growth from the sale of bananas and other fresh fruits and vegetables, with a mix of new products and expanded distribution channels. He said the company would use free cash flow to pay down debt and will improve profit margins in its Fresh Express salad business by 3 to 4 percentage points.

“When we bought Fresh Express in 2005 we bought a company that was delivering about a 6 percent margin and it is our intention to get back to that level,” he said.

Aguirre described Chiquita’s corporate responsibility initiatives “an area of increasing importance” to consumers. He said the company has worked with the Rain Forest Alliance on reforestation and the using ground cover in ways that reduce pesticide use. At Chiquita’s Latin American packing stations, the company has reduced water usage by 96 percent.

“If we implemented this water recycling system in all our Chiquita-owned packing stations, we would save the equivalent of 2,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools or enough water for 15,400 families per year,” Aguirre said. “That is a huge improvement that I haven’t heard any other company claim.”

Chiquita (NYSE: CQB) is a marketer and distributor of fresh and packaged produce in Europe and North America.

Business Courier

30,000 Back Bid To Impeach Guatemala President

GUATEMALA CITY (AFP)--Guatemalan opposition activists handed a petition of some 30,000 signatures to Congress Monday in a bid to impeach President Alvaro Colom over a scandal set off by the killing of a lawyer.

Before his death, lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg recorded a video saying that if he was killed, the president and his aides would be responsible.

The tape was released the day after the 47-year-old was shot dead on May 10, setting off a political scandal that has shaken up the Central American country coming more than a decade after the end of its civil war.

Colom has denied involvement in the killing, which sparked mass protests.

Opposition activists targeted the private secretary of the presidency, Gustavo Alejos, and the first lady Sandra Torres - who are both also accused in the video - in their petition Monday.

"If we don't get a reply in eight days, we'll continue with peaceful protests through a national strike," said Luis Pedro Alvarez, one of the group's leaders.

Tens of thousands took to the streets Sunday in the country of more than 13 million, demanding justice on either side in the case.

The U.S. deputy undersecretary for Latin America, David Robinson, was to meet Colom in Guatemala Monday, according to the presidency. Guatemalan officials sought support for the president in Washington last week.

The Rio Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries Monday expressed support for Colom and Guatemala's government in a statement.

Organization of American States Secretary-general Jose Miguel Insulza was due Thursday in Guatemala to discuss the crisis.

Guatemalan president gets U.S. support as murder scandal rolls on

A senior U.S. official visited Guatemala on Monday to show support for President Alvaro Colom, who has been facing public protest due to alleged involvement in a lawyer's murder, news reports said.

Colom restated his innocence of all charges at a meeting with U.S. Undersecretary of State for Latin America David Robinson, a Guatemala government spokesman told reporters Monday.

Colom has already received support from the Organization of American States following the accusation, made by the slain lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg in a posthumous video, that the president had ordered the murder.

In Guatemala, however, the scandal has been growing and exposed divisions between the urban rich and the rural and working class voters who voted for Colom.

Guatemala's legislature on Monday received a petition signed by over 35,000 citizens seeking to lift the president's immunity, the first step in a possible prosecution.

Roberto Alejos, head of Guatemala's legislature, promised that he would call the party leaders in the parliament to make the petition known to them "the same day" and that it would then go onto a plenary session of the legislature.

According to the constitution, it is the Supreme Court that can demand stripping a president of immunity once sufficient evidence is brought in, Alejos told media, adding that this will then go to the legislature for a so-called "political judgment."

The major evidence implicating Colon is a video in which Rosenberg, who was gunned down on May 10 while riding his bike, claimed he would soon be murdered because he helped clients who had refused to cooperate in the government corruption and money-laundering scheme at development bank Banrural.

Colom has ordered the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, a UN panel set up in 2007 to clean up corruption, to investigate the matter.

On Sunday, the center of Guatemala City was blockaded by rival demonstrations with middle- and upper-class protestors dressed in white demanding Colom leave and working class and rural Guatemalans demonstrating to support the president.

Xinhua

Luxury resort with large spa planned for Guatemala

US-based developers Alekson Development Group are looking to build a new luxury resort in Guatemala.

Working in association with Group West Companies, Alekson is looking at the UNESCO World Heritage city of Antigua Guatemala or Peten, located next to the Maya site of Tikal, as likely locations of the resort, which will be the first of its Luxuriant Masterpiece Collection.

The Luxuriant Masterpiece Collection brand will integrate 'ultra-luxury' hospitality services, casinos, top quality cuisine, spas, eco-wellness and fitness programs and celebrity signature golf courses.

The company said it chose Guatemala for its "diversity of landscapes and rich culture, as well as its proximity to the US". Details: luxuriantworldresorts.com

Saturday, May 16, 2009

INTERVIEW-Guatemala president sees plot behind murder claims

Source: Reuters
By Sarah Grainger

GUATEMALA CITY, May 15 (Reuters) - Guatemala's president said on Friday powerful enemies are behind a scandal about claims he ordered the murder of a prominent lawyer, as his government cracked down on military abuses and drug gangs.

President Alvaro Colom has tried to prosecute former military officials linked to massacres during the country's 1960-1996 civil war and at the same time is clamping down on drug cartels operating in the country with dozens of arrests.

"Opening the all the military files from the war was almost impossible but I did it," Colom told Reuters in an interview.

"There is a war we are fighting against different drug traffickers. We have made a lot of changes and some are causing anger," he said.

Colom was plunged into crisis this week when a videotape surfaced accusing him of ordering a murder, misusing government funds and turning a blind eye to drug money transactions at the local development bank Banrural.

Lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg, who represented a well-known businessman also killed this year, was gunned down in Guatemala City on Sunday. The next day a pre-recorded statement was delivered to Guatemalan media in which Rosenberg warned he might be killed and accused Colom of ordering the hit.

"It's a conspiracy and we still haven't found out who's at the heart of it, but we are looking," Colom said.

The video and written statement from Rosenberg also accused Colom's wife and his private secretary of crimes.

Se the rest of the story on Reuters AlertNet

Friday, May 15, 2009

FBI joins investigation of Guatemala lawyer's death

U.S. officials have confirmed to The Miami Herald that the FBI has joined the investigation of a murdered Guatemalan lawyer who — in a postmortem video — accused President Alvaro Colom of ordering his death.

U.S. Ambassador Stephen McFarland said the FBI sent one agent to Guatemala to assist in the investigation into Rodrigo Rosenberg's murder.

The case has shaken a nation with a long history of corruption and political conflict and a democracy still in its infancy, 13 years after the end of a bloody civil war.

"This is the biggest political scandal in decades," said Marco Antonio Barahona, director of political research for the Guatemalan think-tank Association of Investigation and Social Studies. "Whether or not it will cause Colom to resign – it's too early to say. But the allegations have motivated the public to act. And that could be powerful."

McClatchy News

Influenza A(H1N1) - update from WHO

Here's the latest on the swine flu:

15 May 2009 -- As of 06:00 GMT, 15 May 2009, 34 countries have officially reported 7520 cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection.

Mexico has reported 2446 laboratory confirmed human cases of infection, including 60 deaths. The United States has reported 4298 laboratory confirmed human cases, including three deaths. Canada has reported 449 laboratory confirmed human cases, including one death. Costa Rica has reported eight laboratory confirmed human cases, including one death.

The following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths - Argentina (1), Australia (1), Austria (1), Belgium (1), Brazil (8), China (4), Colombia (10), Cuba (3), Denmark (1), El Salvador (4), Finland (2), France (14), Germany (12), Guatemala (3), Ireland (1), Israel (7), Italy (9), Japan (4), Netherlands (3), New Zealand (7), Norway (2), Panama (40), Poland (1), Portugal (1), Republic of Korea (3), Spain (100), Sweden (2), Switzerland (1), Thailand (2), and the United Kingdom (71).

WHO is not recommending travel restrictions related to the outbreak of the influenza A(H1N1) virus.

Individuals who are ill should delay travel plans and returning travelers who fall ill should seek appropriate medical care. These recommendations are prudent measures which can limit the spread of many communicable diseases, including influenza.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Twitter User Arrested for "Causing Financial Panic"

GUATEMALA - Police today arrested Jean Ramses Anleu Fernández, a computer technician accused of having promoted a financial panic on the social network Twitter.

Last Tuesday, he made a comment where he called for people to remove funds from the Rural Development Bank (Banrural), after hearing the statements made in the video recorded by the lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg before he was assassinated.

Jean Anleu Fernández, known on the micro-blogging network Twitter as "Jeanfer", was arrested today at his home in Zone 8 in Guatemala City at the request of the Ministry of Public Banks. Police also seized his computer.

The prosecutor Genaro Pacheco told reporters that Anleu admitted to having made the commentary on the social network.

Anleu Fernández wrote on Tuesday, a Twitter post (Tweet) which stated: “Primera acción real, sacar el pisto de Banrural, Quebrar al banco de los corruptos” (The first real action, pull the money out of Banrural, break the bank of the corrupt.) And he added the keyword #escandalogt which is used on Twitter to mark posts related to the Rosenberg case.

The comment made by "Jeanfer" is one of many that have circulated on the social networks as an expression of rejection against the bank that the murdered lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg mentioned in the video as "a den of thieves, murderers and drug traffickers"

Like many countries, Guatemala has a law that makes it a crime to "cause a financial panic by producing, reproducing or disseminating by any means or communication system, false or inaccurate information which undermines the confidence of customers, users, depositors or investors in an institution subject to supervision and inspection the Superintendency of Banks."

The same Banking Superintendency said days ago that Banrural enjoys full liquidity and stability and called for users to avoid being surprised by malicious communications.

Edgar Barquin, Superintendent of Banks, said last Tuesday that action should be taken against those who disseminate press releases that harm the stability of banks. Anleu has become the first detainee for the crime of financial panic although Banrural is not the first bank to have been the object of negative commentary that could cause financial panic. Banco G&T Continental, BAM, and Banco Industrial have been targeted in the past by negative commentary.

Capturing Anleu is already a hot topic of discussion on the social networks of the Internet, the same networks that have managed a series of protests in Guatemala City calling for the resignation of President Alvaro Colom and his removal from office pending the clarification of the assassination of Rosenberg.

This case is reminiscent of the Korean blogger, Park Dae-sung, who was arrested in January of this year and charged with causing financial panic.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123178875223174403.html

For months, under his user name "Minerva" he posted criticisms of the South Korean government's monetary policies and predicted a collapse. His predictions turned out to be correct but he was arrested and charged with having caused the economic crisis. He was cleared of all charges in April.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Guatemala rejects allegations of role in lawyer's death

(CNN) -- Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has dismissed an allegation that he was behind the death of a lawyer who left a video blaming the president if anything happened to him.

The lawyer, Rodrigo Rosenberg, was shot and killed Sunday while riding a bicycle in Guatemala City.

On Monday, a video surfaced in which Rosenberg -- seated behind a desk and calmly speaking into a microphone -- linked Colom and an aide to his death.

"If you are watching this message," Rosenberg said on the video, "it is because I was assassinated by President Alvaro Colom, with help from Gustavo Alejos," the president's private secretary. Rosenberg mentions a third person who he believes would have been involved in his death and also mentions those three people as well as the president's wife in connection with two killings last month.

In a broadcast to the nation Monday night, Colom denied any connection.

"We categorically reject the accusations that pretend to tie the president, first lady and private secretary as those responsible for this assassination," Colom said.

A dated and signed transcript of the video's content indicates Rosenberg made the recording last week. It surfaced Monday after his funeral, and was posted on YouTube and distributed to other media outlets by the newspaper El Periodico de Guatemala.

Rosenberg's video said he was targeted for talking about the death of prominent businessman Khalil Musa and his daughter in April.

They were killed, Rosenberg said, because they had refused to participate in acts of corruption as the president wanted.

See the rest of the story here.

Death squads for hire as citizens tackle gang rule

At first it looked like a family day out, with crowds gathering by the banks of a river in Guatemala City. Mothers chatted to each other as their children pushed forward, trying to get a better view. But the entertainment on offer was not as it seemed.

Lying on the grass in front of them was a family of five, their hands tied behind their backs and their throats slashed. The youngest was 8 years old.

“Could be gangs, could be a personal vendetta,” said a policeman. “But who knows, here everybody is killing everybody.”

With more than 5,000 murders a year in this country of only 12 million — more than during the dark days of the civil war — violence in Guatemala is out of control. But now citizens are fighting back, hiring assassins to kill gang members and criminals.

They call it “social cleansing” and, according to a USAID opinion poll, nearly half of all Guatemalans support it. They say that they have been forced to take the law into their own hands because of police corruption and inefficiency. Yet there are claims of complicity with the security services.

“Thirty per cent of murders I see now are social cleansing killings,” Comisario Tomás Gómez, the head of a special army unit that patrols neighbourhoods run by gangs, said.

“People have had enough. Communities are being terrorised by gangs, they are extorted and even evicted from their houses. If you don’t pay, you’re killed.”

Communities are clubbing together to hire hit men. Gang members, who control huge swaths of the city, are disappearing, their bodies found dumped and mutilated. The killers leave messages pinned to bodies, or sometimes carved into flesh, warning other gang members that this is what will happen to them. For the first time, gangs are living in fear.

When violence started affecting business in the sprawling La Terminal market, the Merchants’ Association hired a group of 12 hit men known as the Avenging Angels. In a year they killed between 50 and 60 gang members and criminals. Now they patrol the market and anyone caught stealing or causing trouble gets a bullet in the back of the head — three to four people a week.

“The murder rate hasn’t changed, but the crime rate is down,” a local butcher said. ()

The gangs claim that members of the police and security services are involved. Even the country’s chief of police, Erwin Sperison, admits that members of his force may be acting as vigilante death squads.

“It is possible,” he said. “I kicked out 1,200 policemen last year. This year there’s already around 600 policemen that have been taken out of the institution.”

Mynor, a member of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, said that he knew scores of gang members who had been snatched from their homes in the middle of the night by men in police uniform.

“It’s always the same, homies [gang members] are taken in blacked-out, unmarked cars by armed men and their bodies turn up tortured,” he said.

As well as death squads, whole communities are handing out vigilante justice.

A year ago in the small town of Palin, just outside the city, three gang members were beaten and then burnt to death. More than a thousand people, including women and children, took part. After the lynching, the community formed its own protection group, which now patrols the streets every night, armed with guns and machetes.

“The community was forced to act. Crimes don’t get investigated here,” said José Dario López, head of the protection group. “The lynching sent out a pretty strong message.”

Original story here.

Heavy rains leave 3,850 people homeless in Guatemala

Heavy rains have left 3,850 people homeless in two Guatemalan provinces, according to news reaching here on Monday.

The worst hit area was Chisec in the province of Alta Verapaz, where 2,300 people have been affected and 404 houses have been destroyed, according to the National Disaster Reduction Coordination.

In Dolores in the neighboring Peten province, 1,550 people have been forced to leave their homes and 288 houses have been damaged.

The disaster reduction coordination said it had set up committees to coordinate with regional authorities in coping with the situation.

The rains over the weekend were caused by humid air that could also trigger downpours across the country in the coming days, according to weather forecast.

Guatemalan President under pressure after video alleges he ordered murders

He came to power promising to rid Guatemala of corruption, violence and narcotrafficking. Now, Alvaro Colom, the country's first left-wing leader in 50 years, is fighting for his political life after a video surfaced of a dead lawyer claiming that he was killed on the orders of the President.

"If you are watching this message, it is because I was assassinated by Gustavo Alejos, the President's private secretary, and his business partner Gregorio Valdez, with the approval of President Alvaro Colom," says Rodrigo Rosenberg, who was shot dead in Guatemala City on Sunday, in a taped message distributed to the country's media.

The lawyer claims that he will be killed for trying to expose a vast conspiracy reaching to the top of Guatemalan politics, involving the murders of a prominent figure and his daughter in April.

Mr Rosenberg, 47, says that Khalil Musa, a businessman, and his daughter Marjorie were assassinated because Mr Musa refused to collude with corruption at a state-owned bank.

See the rest of the story on Times Americas

Guatemala asks for UN probe into lawyer killing

GUATEMALA CITY—A slain man's videotaped and posthumously broadcast accusation that President Alvaro Colom ordered his murder threw Guatemala into an uproar and prompted government calls Tuesday for a U.N. agency and the FBI to investigate the killing.

Colom vehemently denied the allegations made in a videotape left by lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg, who was shot to death by unidentified assailants while riding his bicycle Sunday. Opposition leaders and protesters called for Colom to step aside.

"If you are watching this message, it is because I was assassinated by President Alvaro Colom with help from Gustavo Alejos," the president's secretary, Rosenberg said in the video distributed at his funeral on Monday.

Rosenberg said on the tape that officials might want to kill him because he represented businessman Khalil Musa, who was slain in March. The lawyer alleged that Musa was killed because he refused to engage in acts of corruption that Colom purportedly invited him to participate in.

The Guatemala City newspaper Prensa Libre said the recording "has created the greatest political crisis for this democracy, because never before has a democratically elected president been accused of murder."

Television stations repeatedly broadcast the video and so many people watched it on Guatemalan Internet sites that some temporarily collapsed under the load.

Read the rest of the story here.

Project launched to fight frog-killing fungus

WASHINGTON - Zoos in the U.S., Panama and Mexico are deploying researchers in Central America to develop new ways to fight a fungus blamed for wiping out dozens of frog and amphibian species as part of a project announced Monday.

The Smithsonian Institution is leading six other zoos and institutes in the Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, which aims to raise $1.5 million to fight the fast-spreading chytrid fungus.

Their protection efforts will focus on a small slice of Panama that is the only area in Central America that appears to be untouched by the disease, said Dr. Karen Lips, a University of Maryland researcher. Lips said it's only a matter of time, though, before even that area is hit with the fungus - perhaps five years.

The speed at which the fungus has spread is "absolutely incredible," she said. "It's probably much worse than we even appreciate."

Scientists say the chytrid fungus threatens to wipe out a vast number of the approximately 6,000 known amphibian species and is spreading quickly. Already, 122 amphibian species are believed to have gone extinct in the last 30 years, primarily because of the fungus, conservationists say.

"We're looking at losing half of all amphibians in our lifetime," said Brian Gratwicke, the Smithsonian's lead scientist on the project.

The fungus has been found in 87 countries, including the United States.

See the rest of the story here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Slain lawyer accuses Guatemala's president in tape

GUATEMALA CITY – A lawyer slain by gunmen over the weekend appears in a video tape that emerged Monday alleging that if anything happened to him it would be at the behest of Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom.

Colom's spokesman, Fernando Barrillas, issued a statement saying the government "categorically rejects any accusations made in tapes and statements being distributed to some news media."

"This reveals the intention of creating a political crisis around a case that should be investigated and processed by the courts," the statement posted on the government's Web site said.

Lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg was shot to death by unidentified assailants while riding his bicycle Sunday, the newspaper El Periodico de Guatemala said.

In the video distributed to local media, Rosenberg says: "If you are watching this message, it is because I was assassinated by President Alvaro Colom with help from Gustavo Alejos," the president's private secretary.

Former interior minister Adela de Torrebiarte, who knew Rosenberg, said he was the man on the video.

The director of El Periodico, Juan Luis Font, said the accusation was distributed to media in audio format at Rosenberg's funeral and later in the video.

Rosenberg says on the tape that officials might want to kill him because he represented businessman Khalil Musa, who was killed along with his daughter Marjorie in April. Rosenberg alleged those killings were in retaliation for Musa's refusal to engage in acts of corruption that Colom purportedly invited him to participate in.

See AP Story Here

Sunday, May 10, 2009

WHO Reports 900 New Cases of A(H1N1) Virus in last 24 Hours

10 May 2009 -- As of 07:30 GMT, 10 May 2009, 29 countries have officially reported 4379 cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection.

Mexico has reported 1626 laboratory confirmed human cases of infection, including 45 deaths. The United States has reported 2254 laboratory confirmed human cases, including two deaths. Canada has reported 280 laboratory confirmed human cases, including one death. Costa Rica has reported eight laboratory confirmed human cases, including one death.

The following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths - Argentina (1), Australia (1), Austria (1), Brazil (6), China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (1), Colombia (1), Denmark (1), El Salvador (2), France (12), Germany (11), Guatemala (1), Ireland (1), Israel (7), Italy (9), Japan (4), Netherlands (3), New Zealand (7), Panama (3), Poland (1), Portugal (1), Republic of Korea (3), Spain (93), Sweden (1), Switzerland (1) and the United Kingdom (39).

WHO is not recommending travel restrictions related to the outbreak of the influenza A(H1N1) virus.

Individuals who are ill should delay travel plans and returning travelers who fall ill should seek appropriate medical care. These recommendations are prudent measures which can limit the spread of many communicable diseases, including influenza.

Guatemalan activists receive death threats by text message

Nine activists working for two prominent human rights organizations in Guatemala have received dozens of death threats by SMS text messages. Amnesty International has warned that their lives are at risk.

Between 30 April and 5 May, nine members of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security under Democracy and the Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit received over 40 SMS text messages containing abuse and death threats. The texts focused on their work to bring to justice those responsible for the crimes committed during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict.

One of the messages, sent on 2 May read: “You’ve got one hour, this is the last warning. Stop messing with us, military declassified files. We’ll kill your kids first, then you.”

On the morning of 4 May, two unknown men sat in a dark green car with tinted windows parked outside the house of one of the activists. Police officers were called and they later told the activist that the men were armed, had a valid licence to carry the weapons and were let go because they were considered not to be posing a threat.

At the same time, two of the activists received the same SMS text message, which read: “I am watching you [...] It’s good that you didn’t go to work, I have my sight set at you. Son of a bitch […] you’re scared.”

"The death threats received by these activists are an illustration of a climate of insecurity and fear in Guatemala, where those working to protect human rights and seek justice are required to do so at great personal risk,” said Kerrie Howard, Americas Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

"The government must take immediate steps to protect these activists and ensure they are able to carry out their legitimate and important work free from fear.”

The victims of the threats are members of Association for the Study and Promotion of Security under Democracy (Asociación para el Estudio y Promoción de la Seguridad en Democracia SEDEM and Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit (Unidad de Protección de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos, UDEFEGUA.

SEDEM has campaigned for justice for the crimes committed during the 1960-1996 internal armed conflict, including by urging the authorities to declassify military archives that might contain evidence of some of the crimes. UDEFEGUA has supported hundreds of Guatemalan activists at risk since 2000.

Both organizations have asked Amnesty International to withhold the names of the victims.

Last March, members of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office working on legal cases from the time of the internal armed conflict were victims of threats and attacks. Days later, the Ombudsman’s wife, Gladys Monterroso, was kidnapped and tortured.

Original article here.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A(H1N1) Swine Flu Update

Two news cases of swine flu were confirmed this morning in Guatemala, bringing the total to three. One patient is a woman from Mixco, and the second is a woman from Guatemala City. The first confirmed case, an 11 year old girl, is in stable condition.

Costa Rica has registered its first death from the H1N1 virus.

As of this morning, WHO reports that there are 3,440 confirmed cases in 29 countries.

WHO does not recommend travel restrictions for anyone unless they are ill.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Payments and Apologies for Victims of Guatemala's Civil War

GUATEMALA CITY -- When army helicopters landed in his village in August 1982, Francisco Velasco was away in the cornfields with the men. Then they heard the screams. Velasco rushed back home and found his wife and two baby daughters dead.

Velasco lost 16 relatives, including his mother and father, in the army's scorched-earth campaign against leftist guerrillas. Five years after applying for compensation, his family received $5,400 from the state a few months ago and an official apology.

"You can't pay for a life," Velasco said. "But it is a gesture of support."

Since President Álvaro Colom took office in January 2008, Guatemala has stepped up payments to survivors of the estimated 200,000 people who died in the 36-year civil war. Begun in 2003, the program had compensated 3,000 survivors by 2007, according to its directors. But under Colom, whose family suffered a high-profile death during the war, the state has handed out 10,477 checks -- many for claims ignored for years, according to Cesar Davila, president of the National Compensation Program.

Survivors also get a letter from Colom asking for forgiveness for the losses they suffered as a result of the abuses committed by the state during the war, which ended in 1996. "The fact that the president signs it is very important," said Orlando Blanco, Guatemala's secretary of peace. "It is an official document that says, 'Here is the truth: My son was not a subversive or a delinquent. It was the state that killed him.' "

See the rest of the story in the Washington Post

15 Million Cell Phone Users in Guatemala

Reports from the Superintendency of Telecommunications (SIT) show that the number of cell phone users in Guatemala rose by 3 million during 2008.

As of December 31, 2008 the total was 14,948,640 users, representing an annualized growth rate of 25.6 percent during 2008.

2007 was the year that saw the greatest percentage growth rate, 65 percent. The rate is slowing because of market saturation.

The long term growth rate, from 1997 to 2008 was 2,000 percent. This growth rate and user count makes Guatemala the number one cellular telephone market in the region.

Breakdown by Provider as of December 31

Claro: 5,906,000 users, 39 percent

Tigo: 3,871,000 users, 34 percent

Movistar: 3,871,000 users 25.9 percent

The majority of users pay by purchasing cards rather than plans.

The global economic crisis and the drop in remittances from abroad is expected to reduce the growth in gross income in the cellular sector from 27 percent (annualized) to 5.4 percent during 2009 as users are expected to buy fewer minutes.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Huge Steaming Crack Appears in the Ground

Residents on the border between San Francisco El Alto and Momostenango are alarmed by a crack that formed in the earth belching superheated steam. They are demanding that authorities call in experts to explain what is going on.

The departmental governor, Mario Jacinto Chaj, said that the government has been informed and requests made for geologists to explain the phenomenon.

The crack is about 20 meters (60 feet) wide and more than 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) long. Rumbling sounds can be heard coming from the earth. On the evening the crack first appeared there were reports of an incandescent light in the area.

The superheated steam is hot enough to instantly melt plastic. One of the villagers fell into the crack and suffered burns on his hands and legs.

The governor urged people not to panic and not to go near the crack lest others get hurt, and to wait for geologists to arrive.

Some residents believe the crack is volcanic however there is no smell of sulfur or other minerals anywhere along the crack. Just clean steam.

The area is characterized by the existence of hot springs and it's possible that the crack results from an underground river of superheated water.

In 1999, downtown San Francisco El Alto was affected by a similar problem. At that time about 10 houses were damaged. You can still see the trench that was formed by that geological phenomenon.

Results Negative for Five Suspected Cases of AH1N1

As previously reported, there were five possible cases of H1N1 in Guatemala and tests were being analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Vice-President Rafael Espada reported today that all five cases turned out negative for H1N1 and results are still pending on identification of influenza type A.

Thus far, the only positive case is an 11 year old girl who returned from Mexico about 10 days ago.

Espada added that border crossings and La Aurora International Airport are now equipped with thermal imagers to precisely measure the body temperatures of people passing through.

Color of Motorcycle Vests Changed, Compliance Delayed to June 9th

The government again amended the provisions of Acuerdo Gubernativo 105-2009, has acceded to demands, and "de-authorized" the use of yellow vests by motorcyclists. Although the color has not yet been decided, it will not be yellow. The deadline for compliance has been extended until June 9th.

However, the Q1,000 fine for riding double on a motorcycle remains in force in the Guatemala City region and enforcement begins on Friday.

Nery Morales, spokesman for the Ministerio de Gobernación said "to avoid confrontations and leave anyone offended by the color, it was decided that a change will be announced when a consensus is reached among all concerned."

Coban Half Marathon Cancelled due to H1N1

The Coban Half Marathon, which was to be held on Sunday, May 17, will be postponed because of the risk from the H1N1 virus.

The governor of Alta Verapaz met on Wednesday morning with race organizers and explained the recommendations from the Ministry of Health.

The help prevent the spread of the virus, departmental meetings and events with mass participation of people are discouraged.

All Transactions Exceeding $10,000 Will Be Reported

President Alvaro Colom announced on Monday that all cash transactions of properties and items worth more than U.S. $10,000 will be subject to greater control, to prevent money laundering and drug trafficking.

The president said that from now on, transactions must be conducted with checks or a declaration of the source of the funds must be made.

The government seeks to control the purchases of property, vehicles, tractors, motorcycles, boats, jewelry, and precious metals, whose price exceeds U.S. $10 thousand.

"This measure is related to the seizures that we have done this year--vehicles and properties where we have detected drug trade activity," said Colom.

The government intends to implement new controls using the new Law Against Money Laundering, which was passed by Congress in 2001, by decree 67-2001.

More than 560 companies have already signed on with the new controls on the sale of goods of high value. Some companies have been in compliance for years. For all cash transactions the buyer must fill out a form to explain the origin of money which is then investigated by SAT.

The president announced that the list of items whose sale will be controlled will be issued next Friday.

Colom explained that the Superintendency of Banks, through the Special Audit Office (IVE), is responsible for tracing the source of funds for purchases of property.

"Anyone who buys something of high value must explain the source of the funds," said Colom.

He also reiterated that those who rent property must hold formal contracts, to avoid being taken as accomplices to the drug traffickers.

José Javier Casas, general manager of Cofiño Stahl, said that for years "we no longer accept the purchase of vehicles with cash and we check with the Superintendency of Tax Administration (SAT). The practice of paying in cash has disappeared."

"We are trying to improve on the Colombian version of this law. Those whose properties are used to store weapons, ammunition, cocaine or opium, or activities that result in the death of children, you run the risk of the property being seized," he said.

Guatemala Ships Record Load of Sugar

Guatemala is shipping a record single shipment of 50,000 tons of sugar to China.

The flag ship of the Marshall Islands, Yasa Ozcan, arrived Monday in Puerto Quetzal and will transport the sugar to the port of Rizhao in the People's Republic of China.

Carlos Ponce, manager of services of Expogranel, explained that this will be the "biggest load of sugar ever shipped by Guatemala."

Ponce explained that the previous record was about 46,000 tons. He added that the sugar will be shipped in bulk and will be refined by the buyer.

The process of loading the ship will take about 24 hours.

Cargill is the company that purchased the shipment.

Illegal Wood Harvesting by Mexican Thieves Continues

More than 15,000 cubic feet per month of precious hardwoods are being illegally harvested by poachers in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Petén. The contraband wood is then transported illegally into Mexico.

The wood is cut with chainsaws. Planks and logs are then loaded onto trucks that move on dirt roads that connect with roads in the Mexican state of Yucatan.

Citizens and environmentalists are complaining about this activity which is aggravated by the fact that the poachers are often heavily armed and commit other crimes against the local citizens.

There is a police force whose job it is to protect the natural resources of Guatemala, verify that wood harvesting is conducted legally, and collect data for ecological studies, but most of the officers are unarmed. Recently an officer was kidnapped by the poachers.

Citizens live in fear of the poachers and hesitate to report illegal activities for fear of reprisals.

Recent reports indicate that poachers are setting up operations near the El Mirador archeaological site.

At least six checkpoints need to be set up and manpower from the Army and military police is required but the resources are hard to come by. There is a plan to begin building the first checkpoint in about three months but the predators are moving so quickly that some fear that within a year there will be little left to protect.

Economic Crisis Reduces Guatemalan Shipping Traffic

Shipping traffic in and out of Guatemala dropped by 9.5 percent in the first quarter of 2009. The cause for the drop is the global economic crisis.

The official figures from the Comisión Portuaria Nacional (CPN) show that imports and exports totalled 3.8 million metric tons through three ports in the first quarter of 2009. This compares to 4.2 million metric tons during the first quarter of 2008 and 4.5 million in the first quarter of 2007.

The drop has been approximately the same in the three major ports of Guatemala: Puerto Quetzal, Escuintla, Puerto Santo Tomas de Castilla and Puerto Barrios in Izabal.

The buoy terminal in Esquintla has been negatively affected by the drop in movement of fuels, petrochemicals, chemicals, and molasses.

Pedro Muadi, manager of the Chamber of Industry of Guatemala, said that air cargo has been affected the same as sea cargo.

The latest assessment of the growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from the Bank of Guatemala said that transport activity could register a growth of only 2.8 percent (compared with 4.8 percent in 2008), influenced by the drop in exports and imports.

Guatemala May Open Bidding for Oil, Gas Areas in June

By Jeb Blount and Andres R. Martinez

May 4 (Bloomberg) -- Guatemala’s bidding process for 12 oil and natural-gas blocks may begin in June, which could result in the Central American nation becoming self- sufficient in oil and fuels in as little as seven years.

The government expects to complete the leases by the end of June, with an auction and final contract signing completed by early 2010, said Cesar Augusto Corado Elias, director general of hydrocarbons at the nation’s Mines and Energy Ministry, after a presentation in Rio de Janeiro.

Leasing of nine onshore and three offshore blocks may raise output seven-fold to 100,000 barrels a day, Corado said today. The bids may attract as much as $235 million of exploration investments, most of it to search for gas off Guatemala’s Pacific coast, he said.

“If all goes as planned we may have new exploration activities as early as next year and new output soon after,” Corado said. “Our goal is self-sufficiency.”

Guatemala produces about 14,000 barrels of oil a day, most of which is exported or used to asphalt local roads.

The leases will be for 25 years and require at least six years of exploration, Corado said.

Companies working in Guatemala include Perenco, a closely held French oil company, Toronto-based Quetzal Energy Ltd., Petro Energy SA and Cia. Petrolera del Atlantico.

See the rest of the story here.

Guatemala Apr 08-09 Coffee Exports Down 17%

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES-Guatemalan coffee exports in April, the seventh month of the current 2008-09 crop cycle, were down 17% at 436,431 bags of 60 kilograms each, the Guatemalan Coffee Association, Anacafe, said Monday.

This compares with Guatemalan coffee exports of 524,428 bags in April last year during the 2007-08 crop cycle (October-September), Anacafe said in its latest report, releasing first preliminary figures for the month.

Total exports in the first seven months of the 2008-09 crop cycle from Oct. 1 through April 30 were down 11% at 1,800,579 bags, compared with exports of 2,017,396 bags in the same period of the 2007-08 cycle, Anacafe said.

Physical harvesting of Guatemala's 2008-09 crop is now completed in all growing regions, but picking was off to a late start this year after multiple weather problems delayed and damaged the crop.

Guatemalan coffee exports are forecast to drop 12% in the current cycle from shipments in the 2007-08 crop cycle of 3,814,833 bags, Anacafe said earlier this year.

-By Maja Wallengren, Dow Jones Newswires; mwallengren@hotmail.com

See original story here.

Two Passenger Ban Lifted Outside Guatemala City

The president has lifted the ban against two passengers riding a motorcycle outside of Guatemala City and seven municipalities in the Department of Guatemala.

The restriction will remain in effect in the capital, Villa Nueva, Villa Canales, Mixco, Chinautla, Santa Catarina Pinula, San Jose Pinula and San Miguel Petapa said Luis Velasquez, Secretary of Issues Specific to the President.

However, representatives of motorcyclists continue to complain about the measure because they want it withdrawn across the whole country.

"There is no agreement," was the first thing said by Armando Soto, a representative of a motorcycle riders group, after a three hour meeting with representatives of the president.

Rolando Yoc who is responsible for mediating conflicts for the Attorney of Human Rights, commented that he fears increased tension and riots in the capital.

Velasquez added that the requirement for colored vests and helmet displaying the motorcycle's license plate number remains in force throughout the country.

President Alvaro Colom gave the Interior Ministry 48 hours to reach agreement on the color of the vest.

Enforcement of the law requiring marked vests and helmets begins on May 8th throughout the country.

Cause of Last Night's Power Failure

The national power grid was knocked out for almost two hours, caused by the explosion of a lightning arrester at San Joaquin, Escuintla.

The blackout began at 17:14 and lasted until after 19:00, after which the service was restored sector by sector, reported the National Electrification Institute (INDE).

99.9 percent of the country was affected by the blackout. The failure occurred at a time of day when the system is under maximum load. Because there was no reserve power available, failover devices caused the whole grid to go down, leaving only two major power lines still operating.

The lack of electricity in the capital caused traffic jams because of non-functioning traffic lights.

This is the second power outage that's knocked out the national grid in less than 10 days. On Sunday April 26th, a transformer explosion at the station in San Jose Villa Nueva left the country without electricity.

Orange Alert Declared in Poptún After Storm

An Orange Alert was declared after the passage of a violent storm (reported here: http://maya-paradise.blogspot.com/2009/05/thunderstorm-kills-one-damages-800.html) pass, leaving 920 home damaged by high winds and lightning.

Approximately 120 people are homeless.

The areas receiving the most damage were Ixobel, Santa María, Pioneros de la Paz, Las Tres Cruces, El Venado, Amistad and El Centro.

Sixty families are affected and were taken in at two shelters made available to handle the emergency. Victims are being supported with cold food rations, blankets and water.

The department has requested assistance from the goverment in replacing the seven thousand sheets lamina (corrugated roofing) that were damaged or lost.

The storm also damaged six schools. Two classes were suspended but will resume next Monday.

The storm also caused power outages. Several poles were demolished but electricity has been restored.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Arguments Arise over Gun Control Law

Last Thursday, the judges who listened to the cases of nine persons arrested for violation of the gun control law each adopted different criteria for deciding the status of such persons.

A spokesman for the judiciary said that the judges opinions were based on the view that the legislation does not clearly specify that persons arrested for carrying unlicensed firearms must be sent to prison.

However, various social groups and Oliverio García Rodas of the Partido Patriota (PP) argue that the law is clear in that the section that discusses application of the law against organized crime states that bail shall be denied to those arrested for carrying guns without a license. He went on to say that judges should consider amending article 264 of the Criminal Procedure Code to include these new crimes among those not entitled to bail.

The judge in the Mixco division sent César Augusto Sontay Colón, 32, Héctor Édgar Saldaña, 51, and Jimmy Estrusbal Saldaña Acevedo, 24, to prison, but not for carrying unlicensed weapons but because they had violated restraining orders.

The Court of First Criminal Instance in Nebaj, Quiché, sentenced Nicolás Terraza Santay to house arrest for carrying a firearm without a license. the court decided that the weapon was damaged and had no ammunition.

First Case of AH1N1 Confirmed in Guatemala

Health authorities in Guatemala this morning confirmed the first positive case of influenza A (H1N1). The test was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control, in Atlanta, USA.

This patient is an 11 year old girl who returned from Cuernavaca, Mexico about 10 days ago. She is isolated and doing well.

Guatemala now joins Mexico, United States, El Salvador and Costa Rica with confirmed cases of influenza in the Americas. There are 17 countries worldwide with confirmed cases.

With the discovery of a positive case, Conred will now escalate the nationwide alert level from Yellow to Orange. Usage of protective masks and gloves will become more widespread as will increased surveillance.

Minister of Health, Celso Cerezo assures that Guatemala has sufficient supplies of medicines and anti-viral drugs which are being stockpiled around the country, should the epidemic become more serious.

There is no cause for alarm yet. For the time being, school, public activities, and work can continue as usual.

Thunderstorm Kills One, Damages 800 Homes in Poptún

Yesterday a thunderstorm with hurricane force winds in Poptún, Petén, caused wind and lightning damage, and left one person dead.

The winds began yesterday at about 3 :00 PM and left a path of destruction as they approached the town.

During the storm, observers said that hundreds of sheet metal roofs were ripped loose and were flying through the air. Two schools were left without roofs.

The one casualty was Esau Segura, who crashed his car into a truck when the wind lifted the hood of his car, blinding him.

Emergency personnel responded from a wide area. Government agencies and neighbors worked together and counted some 800 homes damaged by the high winds.

Observers also reported hail several centimeters in diameter.

The mayor Kilkan Angel Ochoa reported that two shelters were activated for those left homeless by the storm.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

First Flu Cases Confirmed in El Salvador

The health ministry of El Salvador confirmed the first two cases of AH1N1 (swine flu).

"We have confirmed that two people are suffering from influenza A, virus H1N1 and we are redoubling health measures," said Minister Guillermo Maza.

Maza said that besides the two confirmed cases there are three other suspected cases of the disease. Laboratory samples have been sent to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, United States, in order to confirm the disease.

The two confirmed infections affect two 22 year old youths. One of them returned after spending a couple of weeks in Mexico, traveling to different places in the central department of La Libertad.

According to Maza, both young men are responding well to the medication that was administered and are being kept in isolation at home. The family does not currently have symptoms of infection.

The State Social Security Institute has also ordered a redoubling of efforts to care for people suffering from flu symptoms so they can identify other possible cases of swine flu.

El Salvador now joins Costa Rica with confirmed cases of influenza A, while in Guatemala there are still no confirmed cases but 18 patients remained under observation.

Two More Tremors hit San Marcos

A magnitude 6.1 quake occurred near Guatemala City this morning, as reported in the Maya Paradise bulletin board. One poorly constructed home collapsed in Retalhuleu but no serious damage has been reported. Contacts in the city report cracked stairways and some leaking plumbing. This 6.1 rates as the strongest quake of 2009, thus far.

Two more tremors occurred this afternoon in San Marcos, between 6:45 and 6:58 PM causing fear due to the anxiety from the first quake that occurred this morning.

Data on the last two quakes has not yet appeared on USGS reports which implies they were less than mag 2.5. There is no report from INSIVUMEH yet.

More info will appear as it becomes available.

Puerto Barrios Health Care May be Cut Back

Budget cuts may cause patient care centers in Los Amates, Morales, El Estor, and Livingston to reduce their hours and go back to category B health centers, decreasing patient care by 85 percent.

The Union of Health Workers staged a peaceful demonstration against the Directorate of the Department of Health protesting staff cuts, cuts in salaries to employees, reduced quality of service and the possible closure of the Customer Service Centers.

Sonia Negreros of that organization, said: "We are demonstrating peacefully to protect the rights of staff recruited for Customer Service Centers and against the budget cut, because it will lay off workers."

"The Ministry of Health intends to continue with the same hours of work, but in reality service will be reduced from 24 to 8 hours, and the number of patients served will decline by 85 percent," said Negreros.

"The Ministry of Health is pretending that 20 people can perform the same task as 39, which is impossible. This is a setback to the country's health, because after having risen to a higher level of health care, this cut would reduce the health center to category B and patients with more serious conditions will have to travel over a hundred kilometers to reach the hospital in Puerto Barrios, a journey that will result in death for some, depending on the situation," said Negreros.

The municipalities affected are Amates, Livingston, Morales and El Estor, because they are the most remote areas from Puerto Barrios. According to local citizens, one is not "allowed" to get sick in these places because there is no quality services.

The austerity measures by the Ministry of Health would result in dismissal of nurses, ambulance drivers, laundry and maintenance staff. For now, the staff will continue at their posts with reduced their salaries. If a maintenance worker earns a salary of Q2,000, it must be reduced to Q1,000.

Del Monte Earnings Fall 45%

The profits of Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc. fell 45 percent in the first quarter of 2009 due to problems in the production of fruit from Costa Rica and Guatemala, it was learned yesterday.

In a communique published on page www.freshdelmonte.com, Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh, executive officer of the company, explained that climate problems hurt banana production in Costa Rica and Guatemala, as well as pineapple, in this last quarter.

These factors led to an earnings per share of $ 0.56 per share as of March 27th, below the $ 1.07 in the first quarter of last year.

"There were interruptions in our operations, a significant decrease in fruit quality, and higher production costs and logistics," added the executive.

The manager of the Association of Independent Banana Producers, Nery Moran explained that not all regions were harmed by the weather. He noted that the plantations of the South Coast had no problems, and that exports are continuing normally.

The full Del Monte quarterly report is here:

http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=108461&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1281181&highlight=