Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Status of Northern Transversal Highway Unknown

Despite the fact that President Alvaro Colom promised the start of construction of the road in the Northern Transversal Highway in March of 2009, the project has still not come to Congress to be analyzed and approved.

Two weeks ago, the Minister for Communications, Luis Alejos said that the proposal for construction of the road was taken to the General Secretariat of the Presidency so that Colom could have a good look at it before sending it to Congress. At that time, Alejos said "Everything is a matter of formality." However, Carlos Larios, the Secretary General, was unable to explain what state the megaproject is in. "I do not even have that information. Nothing is ready yet," he said.

The project envisions the construction of 329.5 kilometers of asphalt, from Finca Trinidad in Nentón, Huehuetenango, following the border between that department and Quiché, and finally arriving at Modesto Méndez in Izabal.

The megaproject is divided into five sections and will provide significant benefits to the 170 villages, 11 municipalities, and 1.6 million people along the route.

Late last year, the El Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica (BCIE) approved funding for construction of the "Franja Transversal del Norte", and a loan for $201 million, which includes funding for design, supervision, management of the right of way, and construction.

Ramiro Choc Trial Begins

The trial of Ramiro Choc opened began in the Criminal Sentencing Court in Puerto Barrios, Izabal.

Choc is accused of aggravated theft, kidnapping, and aggravated robbery, He is accused of leading a group of squatters last year, who seized and occupied land and caused damage to the flora and fauna. The case was covered in the news internationally in March 2008.

On the first day of the trial, the court will hear witnesses for the prosecution, including four officers of the Tourist Police, two private guards, and the administrator of the estate that was allegedly illegally occupied by Choc.

The defense will present witnesses on March 16.

After his capture, Choc's supporters staged violent protests in Rio Dulce, Izabal to demand his release. On March 13, 2008 they took four Belgian tourists hostage: Eric Stosstris, 62, his wife Jenny, 59, Gabriel and Mary Paul Van Huysse, 64 and 62, respectively, and Guatemalans Mauricio Dubón and Leider Estrada.

Protesters Block Aduana in Santo Tomás de Castilla

Hundreds of protesters snarled the offices of aduana in Santo Tomás de Castilla, Izabal and Tecún Umán 2, San Marcos over the proposed increase in car import taxes. They plan to continue the protest until Congress reduces the amount of the tax.

Protesters claim that the tax is harmful to a large number of workers who are involved in the repair, body work, painting, and sale of imported used cars that were damaged in accidents. They say that the tax is especially bad now during the tough economic times.

President Colom's response is that the tax revenue is needed for new social programs and that the claims of the protesters are exaggerated. It does not effect the entire population but only the 7 percent of Guatemala's population that can afford cars.

Gallo Unveils New Plastic Bottles

With investment of about Q4 million, Cervecería Centroamericana today launched its new packaging for Gallo beer in 20 oz PET containers, to be distributed in more than 85 thousand outlets.

Federico Muñoz, Gallo Beer Brand Manager, said that several studies indicate that in the global market there is demand for this type of container, especially in Eastern Europe. This is in response to a global trend to offer consumers an innovative option to purchase Gallo beer in non-returnable plastic containers.

Gallo beer in 20-ounce plastic container will be sold in packages of 12 units with a transparent label. It offers several advantages such as easy handling and low weight. The unbreakable container keeps the product cold for longer and has a screw cap for easy opening and closing.

The new offering will carry a suggested retail price of Q13 per unit.

According to Muñoz, the new packaging will use PolyShield, used in the manufacture of PET bottles of beer, which provides increased shelf life and better flavor stability.

According to Muñoz, PET is a polyester and as such is a chemically inert and without additives, and easily recycled.

Lack of Electric Power Limits Development in Quetzaltenango

That capital of Quetzaltenango is missing out on opportunities to attract more industry due to lack of electric power.

According to the National Electrification Institute, the Municipal Electricity Company of Quetzaltenango is alloted 37 megawatts from the grid and actual consumption hovers around 32 to 35 megawatts. There is no more capacity for expansion.

The Chamber of Commerce reports that in recent years only a few small and medium industries have been founded in Quetzaltenango. There is not enough power for a factory. "If you decide to put in a heavy industrial factory such as a glass bottle plant that requires a big blower, it will consume a lot of energy. When they turn the circuit breaker for the blower on, it's half the power of Xela," said Manolo Veliz of the Chamber of Commerce.

Xelapán Bakery, which has 12 factories, has had to install special equipment to ensure the stability and quality of energy that reaches them, said Raul Ramirez, general manager of that company.

Alejandro Ximín, managing director of EEMQ, said the primary transmission lines to Quetzaltenango are 13,800 volts. According Ximín, a project to install 69,000 volt lines would help improve the power transmission but is still under study, and the cost would range from Q10 to Q12 million.