Monday, January 26, 2009

Two CONAP Guards Kidnapped

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bank of Guatemala Extends Liquidity

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

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

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

Fuentes: Guatemala Not In Deep Economic Crisis

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

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

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

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

SAIA Agents Search for Drugs in Puerto Barrios

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

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