Friday, March 27, 2009

Disturbance in San Felipe over Lack of Water

RIO DULCE (March 27, 2009) A group of irate citizens from the aldea San Felipe de Lara gathered in the mid-afternoon today at the entrance to the aldea and blocked the road with tree limbs and cars, protesting the ongoing lack of potable water.

Water has been rationed in San Felipe for many months, coming on for only a few hours in the wee hours of the morning. Over the past few weeks the problem has become more and more acute. Sometimes the water does not come at all and when it does the pressure is so low that it only reaches homes at the lowest elevations. For the past few days, water has only come on for about 30 minutes each day at around 6 PM.

The mayor met with the protesters and explained that the situation has no immediate solution. The reservoir that feeds Fronteras and San Felipe is essentially empty. He went on to say that the problem will continue until June when a new water system, specifically for San Felipe, is supposed to come on-line. He added that the new water system is being built at a cost of Q7.2 million and that it should provide plenty of water for the residents of San Felipe de Lara.

Former Guatemalan Dictator's Son Arrested for Embezzlement

Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt's son has been arrested for allegedly embezzling 15 million dollars, Cuban news agency Prensa Latina reported.

Enrique Rios Sosa embezzled the money during the government of President Alfonso Portillo (2000-2004) when he was the army finance chief.

The money was stolen from the army budget and deposited in private accounts in state-run Credito Hipotecario Nacional bank (National Mortgage Credit Bank).

Other high-ranking officials, some of them retired, were also under investigation for the crime. Rios Montt, who is at present Congress deputy and founder of the Guatemalan Republican Front party, confirmed the arrest of his son.

Abducted Boys' Possibly Still in Rio Dulce

The FBI has learned that two Westchester brothers who abducted their sons and vanished nine months ago have been in Guatemala and at some point in the Rio Dulce area of Guatemala.

The news has provided the boys' mothers, Zanni Meguerian and Christine Jeanbart, with hope they might one day again see their children.

"It's really reassuring to know that the FBI is closely following up on this," said Meguerian, who hasn't seen her two sons since July. "Hopefully they will continue until my kids are back."

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said agents "believe they spent time in Guatemala and may still be in Central or South America.

The FBI would release no other details. However, family members said that at some point George and John Silah and the children were in the Rio Dulce area, a popular travel destination about a five- to six- hour journey from Guatemala City.

No one knows if they are still there, but federal warrants have been issued for the arrest of the men.

See photos below.

Alexander Silah

Zaven Silah

George Silah (Father of Alexander and Zaven)

Greg Silah

John Silah (Father of Greg)

More of the story here.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children links:

Centro Nacional para Menores Desaparecidos y Explotados (USA)

1-800-843-5678(USA) o 001-703-522-9320

011-703-522-9320 (outside United States), or, or Los Angeles Police Department (California) 1-877-275-5273, or your local FBI

IMF Agrees To $950 Million Precautionary Loan For Guatemala

Mr. Gabriel Lopetegui, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) mission chief for Guatemala, made the following statement on March 26, 2009 in Guatemala City:

“During the past two weeks, an IMF staff mission visited Guatemala for discussions on possible IMF financial support for the government's economic program for 2009 and 2010. Agreement with the authorities has been reached at staff-level on a program that could be supported by a 18-month Stand-By Arrangement in the amount of SDR 630.6 million (about US$950 million). The Guatemalan authorities intend to treat the arrangement as precautionary. Guatemala has no immediate balance of payments need, and this program is part of a comprehensive preventive strategy to strengthen the country’s liquidity cushion in the face of an uncertain global environment, thereby enhancing the confidence of investors and market participants. As part of this strategy, an additional US$1 billion of resources from other IFIs, including the World Bank and the IDB, have already been committed for 2009-2010.

Read the details on the IMF web site.

JM Lowers Interest Rate

The Monetary Board (Junta Monetaria) decided to reduce the prime interest rate that serves as a control against inflation. The rate was reduced by 25 basis points and stands now 6.25 percent, which encourages banks to provide more loans.

Inflation rate has dropped from 7.88 percent in January to 6.50 percent in February, which implies a decline in the rate of increase of prices of goods and services. The index measuring economic activity (IMAE) has also declined. Those were some of the reasons the JM chose to lower the prime rate.

This is the fourth time this year that the JM has reduced the rate, each time by 25 basis points. Last December the rate stood at 7.25 percent. The reduction so far in 2009 is 100 basis points.

The function of the prime interest rate is to control money leaving or entering the economy. It is the seven day rate paid by banks.

When inflation rises, the rate is increased so that banks prefer to keep their money in the Bank of Guatemala (Banguat), rather than in loans.

The last time the rate was at 6.25 percent was on November 28, 2007, but at that time the trend was upward because food and fuel prices had increased at the international level.

Exchange Rate Reaches Q8.24

The dollar was offered yesterday at bank tellers at up to Q8.24. The continuing upward trend caused the price of the foreign exchange reference rate for the day at the Bank of Guatemala (Banguat) to reach Q8.12.

Both economic analysts and monetary authorities have said that there is no technical reason for this trend of the dollar.

The dollar has continued to rise in recent days despite the interventions of Banguat in the currency market in an attempt to meet the alleged demand for U.S. dollars.

Banguat's most recent move was on March 18 when it sold U.S. $31 million in two days.

Jorge Briz, president of the Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce (GCC), expressed concern at the sharp upward trend in the exchange rate of the quetzal against the U.S. dollar.

A high exchange rate, affects those who have loans in U.S. dollars, and importers, and traders. It benefits recipients of remittances, exporters, and those who receive a salary in dollars.

Legislators Reach Agreement on Ammunition

Legislators continue to work on Guatemala's new gun control law. One of the most contentious points concerns the quantity of ammunition that a licensed gun owner can purchase each month.
At a six hour long meeting in which members discussed amendments to the Arms and Ammunition Act, a consensus was reached on several items including defining the amount of ammunition that one owner may acquire each month.

Among the agreements was to allow 250 rounds per authorized weapon. Given that the law authorizes the possession of up to three weapons per person they could acquire a total of 750 rounds per month. The original proposal was for 400 rounds per weapon.

Regarding the other article that has generated much discontent is that which allows government officials and former officials to carry a weapon without a license. No consensus was reached.

The current proposal is for officials in public office and those who have held public office to have no limit to the number of authorized weapons and ammunition that they can buy.

The day before yesterday, legislators succeeded in the adopting articles 1 through 54 of the new law, while in the streets of Guatemala at least five people died and six more were injured with firearms.

The discussions on this law have been going on now for more than four months.

Prison Escape Foiled

President Alvaro Colom said yesterday that conspirators planned to create four riots and a wave of violence in the capital to distract police and security forces while a group of drug dealers attempted an escape from the jail in Zone 18.

According to the president, they had plans to start four riots in four jails on April 8th but the plans have been foiled. The idea was to "liberate the drug traffickers arrested in the Zone 18 area and the prisoners are furious," Colom said in a press conference.

The president said that among the prisoners who planned to escape are the Mexican citizens who allegedly active in the group of assassins known as the "Zetas" who serve the Gulf Cartel, who were caught after armed clashes with security forces.

"There are as many Zetas as Guatemalans" among those who were planning to escape. "There are more than 30 Mexicans who are in prison," said Colom.

That evening, the president addressed the people to call for calm and denied that he had intentions to suspend constitutional guarantees in order to fight crime.

Colom did not identify the perpetrators of the attacks saying: "we will not warn them before arresting them."