Monday, March 23, 2009

Special Interests Continue to Block Gun Control Law

The excuses and barriers against at least one of the 146 articles of the new arms law were interpreted by some legislators and the Myrna Mack Foundation as a response by the interests of organized crime and the arms business.

It was expected that the new law on weapons would be adopted last week in the full Congress, apparently with the support of all coalitions of Congress, but in the end they did not even reach the first article of the initiative. The session was followed closely by members of the Asociación de Tiro con Arma de Fuego, which opposes a reduction in the number of munitions that are available each month.

Congress members say they want to approve this legislation to prevent the proliferation of weapons and to punish the illegal use of firearms, but when they come close to achieving the goal, there appeared criticism, questions, and any other excuse to stop it.

This rule has been requested for years by social sectors. After four months of participating in workshops to review its contents, the majority of the blocs in Congress had assured that they had the necessary consensus to approve 72 articles.

Using the argument that they were unfamiliar with the proposed amendments and did not know the result of the workshops, they were excluded from the discussion, and legislators pointed out contradictions and gaps in them. Legislators then engaged in a lengthy discussion that led to a recess in the meeting to seek more agreements.

The debate will continue tomorrow (Tuesday), but skeptics doubt that this day be achieve any different result.

Non-Traditional Agriproducts Promoted

The Agritrade fair, organized by the Guatemalan Association of Exporters (Agexport) was held last week to promote and increase the volume of exports of non-traditional agricultural products.

In the exhibition, which took place in Antigua Guatemala, 120 exhibitors from horticultural products, plants and cut flowers, fruits, vegetables, and other products, will meet and do business with more than 65 international buyers from USA, Europe and Central America.

During the opening, the president of Agexport, Carlos Amador, stressed the importance of tourism for Guatemalan exports, especially in the international economic crisis, since agricultural products are necessities and therefore are businesses that continue booming. Amador called the show "innovative", and stressed the high quality of products being marketed there.

President Alvaro Colom was present at the opening breakfast, and congratulated Agexport for the work that has developed over its 27 years, referring to it as "healthy, strong, entrepreneurial, with an incubation of leadership that has generated so many great ministers, deputy ministers, ambassadors, and even a president."

Colom said that "due to its climate and land in Guatemala, you can plant virtually any product and we must be aggressive to take advantage of these natural features of our country."

Chamber of Industry Denounces Counterfeit Products

Thomas Dougherty, president of the Guatemalan Chamber of Industry, today highlighted that groups linked to organized crime are smuggling Mexican products into Guatemala and that the government authorities have definite plans to counter this scourge.

Dougherty, who was also accompanied by Roberto Herrarte, president of the Union of Foods, José Pivaral, and Luis Mazariegos, directors of the Guatemalan Association of Rice, and Maria del Rosario, Yaqui, from the National Association of Farmers, said that millions in losses result from products smuggled from Mexico.

"We've determined the crossing at Tecún Uman, San Marcos is the main entrance of contraband from Mexico to Guatemala," said Herrarte, who showed to the media, products that were seized yesterday at a police checkpoint in Coatepeque, Quetzaltenango, valued at Q100,000.

Mexican brands of products such as juices, toilet paper, soft drinks, rice, bundles of eggs and candies, boquitas, sardines, and other food products, were submitted by employers.

Dougherty said that smuggling is affecting sales of the industries that produce food in Guatemala which been forced to lay off staff in certain areas of production.

Guatemala to open mass grave in search for war dead

Guatemala's biggest mass grave may give up its secrets this year when bodies from a massacre during the 1960-1996 civil war are exhumed after decades of mystery.

Following years of work in rural graves and battling for clues, official permits and funding, rights groups will start digging at a cemetery in Guatemala City, part of a healing process as Guatemala unearths victims of the long conflict.

Around 1,000 bodies in a mass grave at the La Verbena cemetery are thought to be the victims of extrajudicial killings by the army and police during some of the most violent years of the conflict.

"These are people who were taken to be questioned, interrogated, probably tortured," said Fredy Peccerelli, an activist leading efforts to exhume the bodies later this year with $1 million in aid from the United States and Europe.

"If they knew very little, (they were) killed quickly. If they knew a lot, they were held first for three to six months," added Peccerelli, who runs the non-governmental Forensic Anthropology Foundation and who worked in Bosnia after the 1992-95 Balkan conflict.

Almost a quarter of a million people were killed or disappeared during the conflict between leftist guerrillas and the government. Over 80 percent of the murders were committed by the army, according to a U.N.-backed truth commission.

Read the rest of the Reuters story here.