Saturday, March 21, 2009

Drug Traffickers Clash With Police in Rio Dulce

An unidentified gang of drug traffickers clashed with police and soldiers yesterday at a clandestine airstrip on Finca San Jorge in Rio Dulce, Izabal. The criminals managed to escape with the shipment of drugs and none were arrested.

The spot is located 3.5 km off the highway to the Peten just north of Rio Dulce.

The Narcotics Police (SAIA) and the PNC said the clash began after authorities detected a small aircraft in the air. Two Guatemalan Air Force helicopters were mobilized but they were repelled by machine gun fire.

While the drug traffickers held off the helicopters with machine gun fire, the plane was able to land at the airstrip. The cargo was transferred to agricultural vehicles and they all fled with the cargo.

The police seized all the weapons and ammunition left behind, five vehicles, and a motorcycle. The plane was left intact and has been moved to Guatemala City. The vehicles are impounded at the Rio Dulce police station.

Police reported that the five seized vehicles were equipped with secret compartments.

Japanese Author Presents Book About Guatemalan History

Last Tuesday, Japanese writer, Atsuko Kondo, presented at the Cervantes Institute in Tokyo, her book "Hidden Episodes of the Contemporary History of Guatemala," which recounts the road to the signing of the peace accords in 1996.

Divided into eight chapters, the book marks the milestones of the twentieth century in Guatemala, the overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 by the U.S., and it addresses issues such as the expropriation of land from the Maya peoples.

The book summarizes the effects of unequal land distribution, which for the former Japanese Ambassador to Guatemala, Heisuke Shinomiya, "is still today the most serious problem in Guatemala."

As a proposal to end this situation, "Hidden Episodes of the Contemporary History of Guatemala" refers to the development of a land register, according to which there should be allocation of land across the country.

The book also gives attention to the relations between Guatemala and Spain, and the first peace negotiations after the military assault on the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala took place in 1990.

During the presentation, the writer urged the improvement of the educational system in Guatemala, especially among the indigenous population, to provide a greater awareness for voting at the polls.

Atsuko Kondo, who is very interested in the politics of Central America, lamented that Japanese schools do not teach the reality of this region.

Agreement Reached Over Security Plan

After a meeting on Tuesday lasting eight hours, with representatives of the Catholic and Evangelical churches, the Human Rights Procurator, and the University of San Carlos (USAC), discussing national security, President Alvaro Colom said that there is total agreement on all 76 points in the document.

The president pledged to meet with President of Congress, Roberto Alejos, Eliu Higuero, president of the judiciary and Amílcar Velasquez, attorney general and head of the Ministerio Publico, to discuss the pact for national security.

Nery Rodenas, of the Archbishop's Office of Human Rights, welcomed the consensus reached at the meeting.

The proposal for a security plan was formulated by the Catholic and Evangelical churches, USAC, and the PDH, when their representatives requested an emergency meeting with President Colom last week.

The president met with representatives of these four institutions after they made a public appeal to the government to discuss the proposal on security.

The president attended the meeting with Darío Pérez, president of the Evangelical Alliance, Estuardo Galvez, president of USAC, Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño, and Sergio Morales, Human Rights Procurator. They had complained last week that the president did not include the essence of their proposal in the government's security agenda. During the announcement, Morales pointed out that the government failed to take note of 69 percent of the proposal, which includes 12 items to reduce insecurity and violence.

Among the suggestions are to develop a national policy framework law for security and the creation of a Ministry of Public Security, the restructuring of the police, review of the background of staff, establishment of criminal investigation and a law for public safety.

Sale of New Cars Down 40%

Sales of new cars fell from 40 to 42 percent in February, reported the Union of Importers of Vehicles.

Cromwell Cuestas, president of the union, said the factors that influenced the decline in sales are bad monetary policy, the illiquidity of the banking system, and the volatility of the dollar.

Cuestas said that at this time it is crazy that Congress raise taxes because this only generates more unemployment.

"It is a punishment of the country's productive class, to approve a tax on the first registration of a vehicle," he said.

According to the union, many people have asked for hybrid cars, which are used in other countries. However, manufacturers have not yet brought these products to Guatemala.

The union believes that sales will recover by summer when the U.S. and European economies begin to lift.

Cuestas advised the banks to grant loans with low interest rates and the Bank of Guatemala to monitor the recovery of the dollar.

The government is trying to modernize the tax system, which includes a tax on first registration of vehicles, but the union did not support this measure. The government is proposing a tax of 30 per cent of the value of the vehicle upon its first registration.

Sewage Polluting Lago Izabal

The Cahabón and Polochic Rivers are the principal sources of pollutants in Lake Izabal, bringing sewage from various municipalities of Alta Verapaz.

The Cahabón passes through places such as Tactic, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal Verapaz, Coban, Carchá, Chamelco San Juan, and Lanquin Cahabón.

The Polochic carries pollution produced by Tamahú, Tucurú, Santa Catalina La Tinta, and Senahú Panzós. The two rivers then join and continue to El Estor, Izabal, where they empty into Lake Izabal, the largest lake in Guatemala.

The two rivers combined carry the daily waste of about 350,000 residents of Alta Verapaz, which has caused the lake water to be unfit for human consumption.

Waldemar Coloch, from the Unidad de Saneamiento Ambiental del Área de Salud de Alta Verapaz (Environmental Health Unit of the Department of Health), confirmed the pollution and the disagreeable odors in different parts of the lake due to lack of sewage treatment facilities upriver.

He also added that it is contradictory that a department like Alta Verapaz, which has a large number of rivers and water sources, should have a shortage in water supply for its inhabitants.

"The 47 per cent of the population of Alta Verapaz has no piped water. Potable water is not even a does not exist because none of the rural areas provide water treatment and only 21 of the 38 distribution systems in urban areas of Alta Verapaz chlorinate or otherwise disinfect water," added Coloch. According to studies, the water in its natural state is not recommended for human consumption because there is always microorganisms. Coloch said that there are plenty of surface and groundwater supplies but there is no quality of distribution.

He also explained that contamination from chemical compounds has increased in recent years, although he has no specific data on this. The increasing use of pesticides by farmers has a large environmental impact.

"We, as the Ministry of Health and Welfare, have to ensure the indexing and classification of contaminants found in each municipality, and each municipality is responsible for having water treatment plants, but 17 municipalities do not have them," he said.

Jose Gutierrez, Delegate of the Proyecto Plan Internacional, said that in a 2005 study in the municipality of Carchá it was determined that 96 percent of the population lacks access to water. But most alarming is that in one hundred percent of the samples, there appeared bacteria that develop in feces, which promote diarrhea, especially in children under 5 years.