Thursday, February 5, 2009

High Winds in Guatemala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congress Approves $950 Million Debt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thievery in El Estor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banks Earn 2.1 Billion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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