Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Salamander Losses in Mexico, Guatemala Cause Worry

Many salamander species in Mexico and Guatemala have suffered dramatic population declines since the 1970s, driven to the brink probably by a warming climate and other factors, U.S. scientists said on Monday.

The salamanders' fate provides the latest evidence of striking losses among the world's amphibians, a phenomenon some experts see as a harbinger of doom for many types of animals.

Biologist David Wake of the University of California Berkeley and colleagues tracked about two dozen species of salamanders at several sites in Guatemala and southern Mexico.

They put a special emphasis on the San Marcos region of Guatemala, boasting one of the most thoroughly studied and diverse salamander populations in the tropics.

Compared to levels measured in the 1970s, the population of half of the species in the two countries declined markedly. Four species were apparently completely gone and a fifth virtually wiped out, Wake said.

The cause is probably a complex combination of factors including climate change -- with warming temperatures forcing salamanders to higher and less hospitable elevations -- as well as habitat destruction and a fungal disease, Wake said.

"We have documented what has long been feared -- that tropical salamanders are being hit hard by something and are disappearing," Wake, whose findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said in a telephone interview.

See rest of the story here: Reuters

Challenging Conditions for TECO Unit in Guatemala

Florida-based Teco Energy's (NYSE: TE) Guatemalan operations will face challenging conditions this year, according to company CFO Gordon Gillette.

Results in 2009 from Guatemala will be hurt by last month's steam engine-induced forced outage at the 120MW San José coal-fired plant and the full-year effect of a reduction in the value-added distribution (VAD) rate, Gillette said in a webcast.

Teco's assets in Guatemala also include the 78MW gas-fired Alborada plant and a 24% stake in distributor Eegsa. The San José plant is due to come back online around mid-March.

Last month, the company announced it had delivered a notice of intent to Guatemala's government announcing plans to file an arbitration claim over the new VAD rate that came into effect on August 1.

In the fourth quarter of 2008, Teco Guatemala posted a net loss of US$0.2mn versus a net profit of US$11.4mn in 4Q07. The new VAD rate reduced earnings by roughly US$3mn in the quarter, Gillette said.

Also impacting Teco Guatemala's bottom line last quarter were additional taxes from the repatriation of cash and investments and lower earnings from San José due to lower spot energy sales.


Dangerous Mexican Drug Traffickers in Guatemalan Jails

The large number of Mexican drug traffickers in the central detention center in Zone 18 has authorities on alert for an armed rescue or escape.

The detainees are violent and include Daniel Perez Rojas, alias "El Cachetes", head of the group of assassins known as the Zetas, who entered Guatemala intending to conquer territory for the drug traffickers who run the Gulf Cartel.

The threat of a violent rescue is real. The PNC have uncovered plans to break seven of the prisoners out of jail but the plan has not been realized. Three safety measures have been installed, including an army tank.

Perez is the main concern of the authorities since Eddy Morales, director of the Penitentiary System, said yesterday at a press conference that he had heard constant rumors about a possible break.

The tension is so high that the Interior Minister, Salvador Gándara, joked that "every night we pray that El Cachetes does not escape." Perez (El Cachetes) is imprisoned with 19 others linked to the Gulf Cartel.

There are three rings of security at the jail with about 150 officers, including policemen, soldiers and prison guards.

The most recent capture of men associated with Mexican drug traffickers was made last Saturday, when five alleged members of the Zetas, three Mexicans and two Guatemalans, were arrested in Alta Verapaz and taken by helicopter to the capital the next day. Another of the defendants in the same jail is Victor Morales Gonzalez, one of four Mexicans caught at the end of 2008, accused of having participated in the massacre of 17 people in Agua Zarco, Huehuetenango.

Also in the same prison is Cárdenas Roberto Rodriguez, considered by the Mexican authorities as head of the Zetas in Veracruz. Rodriguez was arrested along with four Mexicans and a Guatemalan when they escaped after a shootout occurred between drug traffickers in Zacapa, in March 2008, which left 11 dead.

Regarding the problem of drug trafficking, President Alvaro Colom said that between 50 and 60 members of that group, mostly undocumented, are in Guatemala. He added that the drug traffickers have threatened judges, prosecutors and other members of the justice system.

"El Cachetes" is a very important man for the Zetas and with the concentration of several members of that group in the jail there a lot of risk.

Portillo Embezzlement Could Exceed Q120 Million

Investigators continue to uncover more and more financial shenanigans by ex-President Alfonso Portillo.

In 2001, Portillo approved several transfers of funds to Defense from the ministries of Education, Health, and Administration, estimated at Q906 million even though the country was at peace.

So far, approximately Q120 million has been verified as transfered to accounts of Jose Armando Llort Quiteño, former president of the National Mortgage Bank (CHN) . The Ministerio Publico requested a release from bank secrecy on two accounts which was approved by a judge. Twenty more accounts are under investigation as well as the individuals and businesses that may have benefited from public funds.

The former president remains free on bond. The Fifth Court of First Criminal Instance imposed a bail of one Q1 million after Portillo was extradited from Mexico, where he lived for over four years in order to avoid investigations.

Witnesses state that of the funds sent to Defense, checks were given to the workers who who cashed them and then delivered the cash to senior military leaders, to Portillo, and then Defense Minister Eduardo Arevalo Lacs. Five witnesses, one of whom was killed in March 2005, described how Q34 million came into the hands of Llort. Llort has betrayed Portillo and turned state's evidence, giving testimony in the United States against the former leader and the group of military leaders who architected the embezzlement from the state budget.

Another witness, Salomón Molina Girón, CHN's former deputy, said that on the nights of March 5, 6, and 9 of 2001 the military moved cash from the army's accounts to the vaults of the bank (CHN). According to the witness, the shipments were made at night in an armored truck and allegedly guarded by soldiers under the command of the military and Napoleon Rojas Jacobo Sal.

US to Give $16 Million in Drug Aid to Guatemala

GUATEMALA CITY -- The U.S. has pledged $16 million in drug aid to Guatemala.

Guatemalan Interior Secretary Salvador Gandara says the money will fund training for police officers and investigators and help to improve air and sea surveillance.

U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Stephen McFarland says that from 200 to 300 tons of cocaine pass through Guatemala on the way to the U.S. each year.

The funds are part of the Merida Initiative, a $1.3 billion anti-drug aid package approved by the U.S. Congress in June. The aid will go to Central America, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

Gandara and McFarland signed the agreement pledging the money on Thursday.