Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Huge Steaming Crack Appears in the Ground

Residents on the border between San Francisco El Alto and Momostenango are alarmed by a crack that formed in the earth belching superheated steam. They are demanding that authorities call in experts to explain what is going on.

The departmental governor, Mario Jacinto Chaj, said that the government has been informed and requests made for geologists to explain the phenomenon.

The crack is about 20 meters (60 feet) wide and more than 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) long. Rumbling sounds can be heard coming from the earth. On the evening the crack first appeared there were reports of an incandescent light in the area.

The superheated steam is hot enough to instantly melt plastic. One of the villagers fell into the crack and suffered burns on his hands and legs.

The governor urged people not to panic and not to go near the crack lest others get hurt, and to wait for geologists to arrive.

Some residents believe the crack is volcanic however there is no smell of sulfur or other minerals anywhere along the crack. Just clean steam.

The area is characterized by the existence of hot springs and it's possible that the crack results from an underground river of superheated water.

In 1999, downtown San Francisco El Alto was affected by a similar problem. At that time about 10 houses were damaged. You can still see the trench that was formed by that geological phenomenon.

Results Negative for Five Suspected Cases of AH1N1

As previously reported, there were five possible cases of H1N1 in Guatemala and tests were being analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Vice-President Rafael Espada reported today that all five cases turned out negative for H1N1 and results are still pending on identification of influenza type A.

Thus far, the only positive case is an 11 year old girl who returned from Mexico about 10 days ago.

Espada added that border crossings and La Aurora International Airport are now equipped with thermal imagers to precisely measure the body temperatures of people passing through.

Color of Motorcycle Vests Changed, Compliance Delayed to June 9th

The government again amended the provisions of Acuerdo Gubernativo 105-2009, has acceded to demands, and "de-authorized" the use of yellow vests by motorcyclists. Although the color has not yet been decided, it will not be yellow. The deadline for compliance has been extended until June 9th.

However, the Q1,000 fine for riding double on a motorcycle remains in force in the Guatemala City region and enforcement begins on Friday.

Nery Morales, spokesman for the Ministerio de Gobernación said "to avoid confrontations and leave anyone offended by the color, it was decided that a change will be announced when a consensus is reached among all concerned."

Coban Half Marathon Cancelled due to H1N1

The Coban Half Marathon, which was to be held on Sunday, May 17, will be postponed because of the risk from the H1N1 virus.

The governor of Alta Verapaz met on Wednesday morning with race organizers and explained the recommendations from the Ministry of Health.

The help prevent the spread of the virus, departmental meetings and events with mass participation of people are discouraged.

All Transactions Exceeding $10,000 Will Be Reported

President Alvaro Colom announced on Monday that all cash transactions of properties and items worth more than U.S. $10,000 will be subject to greater control, to prevent money laundering and drug trafficking.

The president said that from now on, transactions must be conducted with checks or a declaration of the source of the funds must be made.

The government seeks to control the purchases of property, vehicles, tractors, motorcycles, boats, jewelry, and precious metals, whose price exceeds U.S. $10 thousand.

"This measure is related to the seizures that we have done this year--vehicles and properties where we have detected drug trade activity," said Colom.

The government intends to implement new controls using the new Law Against Money Laundering, which was passed by Congress in 2001, by decree 67-2001.

More than 560 companies have already signed on with the new controls on the sale of goods of high value. Some companies have been in compliance for years. For all cash transactions the buyer must fill out a form to explain the origin of money which is then investigated by SAT.

The president announced that the list of items whose sale will be controlled will be issued next Friday.

Colom explained that the Superintendency of Banks, through the Special Audit Office (IVE), is responsible for tracing the source of funds for purchases of property.

"Anyone who buys something of high value must explain the source of the funds," said Colom.

He also reiterated that those who rent property must hold formal contracts, to avoid being taken as accomplices to the drug traffickers.

José Javier Casas, general manager of Cofiño Stahl, said that for years "we no longer accept the purchase of vehicles with cash and we check with the Superintendency of Tax Administration (SAT). The practice of paying in cash has disappeared."

"We are trying to improve on the Colombian version of this law. Those whose properties are used to store weapons, ammunition, cocaine or opium, or activities that result in the death of children, you run the risk of the property being seized," he said.

Guatemala Ships Record Load of Sugar

Guatemala is shipping a record single shipment of 50,000 tons of sugar to China.

The flag ship of the Marshall Islands, Yasa Ozcan, arrived Monday in Puerto Quetzal and will transport the sugar to the port of Rizhao in the People's Republic of China.

Carlos Ponce, manager of services of Expogranel, explained that this will be the "biggest load of sugar ever shipped by Guatemala."

Ponce explained that the previous record was about 46,000 tons. He added that the sugar will be shipped in bulk and will be refined by the buyer.

The process of loading the ship will take about 24 hours.

Cargill is the company that purchased the shipment.

Illegal Wood Harvesting by Mexican Thieves Continues

More than 15,000 cubic feet per month of precious hardwoods are being illegally harvested by poachers in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Petén. The contraband wood is then transported illegally into Mexico.

The wood is cut with chainsaws. Planks and logs are then loaded onto trucks that move on dirt roads that connect with roads in the Mexican state of Yucatan.

Citizens and environmentalists are complaining about this activity which is aggravated by the fact that the poachers are often heavily armed and commit other crimes against the local citizens.

There is a police force whose job it is to protect the natural resources of Guatemala, verify that wood harvesting is conducted legally, and collect data for ecological studies, but most of the officers are unarmed. Recently an officer was kidnapped by the poachers.

Citizens live in fear of the poachers and hesitate to report illegal activities for fear of reprisals.

Recent reports indicate that poachers are setting up operations near the El Mirador archeaological site.

At least six checkpoints need to be set up and manpower from the Army and military police is required but the resources are hard to come by. There is a plan to begin building the first checkpoint in about three months but the predators are moving so quickly that some fear that within a year there will be little left to protect.

Economic Crisis Reduces Guatemalan Shipping Traffic

Shipping traffic in and out of Guatemala dropped by 9.5 percent in the first quarter of 2009. The cause for the drop is the global economic crisis.

The official figures from the Comisión Portuaria Nacional (CPN) show that imports and exports totalled 3.8 million metric tons through three ports in the first quarter of 2009. This compares to 4.2 million metric tons during the first quarter of 2008 and 4.5 million in the first quarter of 2007.

The drop has been approximately the same in the three major ports of Guatemala: Puerto Quetzal, Escuintla, Puerto Santo Tomas de Castilla and Puerto Barrios in Izabal.

The buoy terminal in Esquintla has been negatively affected by the drop in movement of fuels, petrochemicals, chemicals, and molasses.

Pedro Muadi, manager of the Chamber of Industry of Guatemala, said that air cargo has been affected the same as sea cargo.

The latest assessment of the growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from the Bank of Guatemala said that transport activity could register a growth of only 2.8 percent (compared with 4.8 percent in 2008), influenced by the drop in exports and imports.

Guatemala May Open Bidding for Oil, Gas Areas in June

By Jeb Blount and Andres R. Martinez

May 4 (Bloomberg) -- Guatemala’s bidding process for 12 oil and natural-gas blocks may begin in June, which could result in the Central American nation becoming self- sufficient in oil and fuels in as little as seven years.

The government expects to complete the leases by the end of June, with an auction and final contract signing completed by early 2010, said Cesar Augusto Corado Elias, director general of hydrocarbons at the nation’s Mines and Energy Ministry, after a presentation in Rio de Janeiro.

Leasing of nine onshore and three offshore blocks may raise output seven-fold to 100,000 barrels a day, Corado said today. The bids may attract as much as $235 million of exploration investments, most of it to search for gas off Guatemala’s Pacific coast, he said.

“If all goes as planned we may have new exploration activities as early as next year and new output soon after,” Corado said. “Our goal is self-sufficiency.”

Guatemala produces about 14,000 barrels of oil a day, most of which is exported or used to asphalt local roads.

The leases will be for 25 years and require at least six years of exploration, Corado said.

Companies working in Guatemala include Perenco, a closely held French oil company, Toronto-based Quetzal Energy Ltd., Petro Energy SA and Cia. Petrolera del Atlantico.

See the rest of the story here.

Guatemala Apr 08-09 Coffee Exports Down 17%

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES-Guatemalan coffee exports in April, the seventh month of the current 2008-09 crop cycle, were down 17% at 436,431 bags of 60 kilograms each, the Guatemalan Coffee Association, Anacafe, said Monday.

This compares with Guatemalan coffee exports of 524,428 bags in April last year during the 2007-08 crop cycle (October-September), Anacafe said in its latest report, releasing first preliminary figures for the month.

Total exports in the first seven months of the 2008-09 crop cycle from Oct. 1 through April 30 were down 11% at 1,800,579 bags, compared with exports of 2,017,396 bags in the same period of the 2007-08 cycle, Anacafe said.

Physical harvesting of Guatemala's 2008-09 crop is now completed in all growing regions, but picking was off to a late start this year after multiple weather problems delayed and damaged the crop.

Guatemalan coffee exports are forecast to drop 12% in the current cycle from shipments in the 2007-08 crop cycle of 3,814,833 bags, Anacafe said earlier this year.

-By Maja Wallengren, Dow Jones Newswires;

See original story here.

Two Passenger Ban Lifted Outside Guatemala City

The president has lifted the ban against two passengers riding a motorcycle outside of Guatemala City and seven municipalities in the Department of Guatemala.

The restriction will remain in effect in the capital, Villa Nueva, Villa Canales, Mixco, Chinautla, Santa Catarina Pinula, San Jose Pinula and San Miguel Petapa said Luis Velasquez, Secretary of Issues Specific to the President.

However, representatives of motorcyclists continue to complain about the measure because they want it withdrawn across the whole country.

"There is no agreement," was the first thing said by Armando Soto, a representative of a motorcycle riders group, after a three hour meeting with representatives of the president.

Rolando Yoc who is responsible for mediating conflicts for the Attorney of Human Rights, commented that he fears increased tension and riots in the capital.

Velasquez added that the requirement for colored vests and helmet displaying the motorcycle's license plate number remains in force throughout the country.

President Alvaro Colom gave the Interior Ministry 48 hours to reach agreement on the color of the vest.

Enforcement of the law requiring marked vests and helmets begins on May 8th throughout the country.

Cause of Last Night's Power Failure

The national power grid was knocked out for almost two hours, caused by the explosion of a lightning arrester at San Joaquin, Escuintla.

The blackout began at 17:14 and lasted until after 19:00, after which the service was restored sector by sector, reported the National Electrification Institute (INDE).

99.9 percent of the country was affected by the blackout. The failure occurred at a time of day when the system is under maximum load. Because there was no reserve power available, failover devices caused the whole grid to go down, leaving only two major power lines still operating.

The lack of electricity in the capital caused traffic jams because of non-functioning traffic lights.

This is the second power outage that's knocked out the national grid in less than 10 days. On Sunday April 26th, a transformer explosion at the station in San Jose Villa Nueva left the country without electricity.

Orange Alert Declared in Poptún After Storm

An Orange Alert was declared after the passage of a violent storm (reported here: pass, leaving 920 home damaged by high winds and lightning.

Approximately 120 people are homeless.

The areas receiving the most damage were Ixobel, Santa María, Pioneros de la Paz, Las Tres Cruces, El Venado, Amistad and El Centro.

Sixty families are affected and were taken in at two shelters made available to handle the emergency. Victims are being supported with cold food rations, blankets and water.

The department has requested assistance from the goverment in replacing the seven thousand sheets lamina (corrugated roofing) that were damaged or lost.

The storm also damaged six schools. Two classes were suspended but will resume next Monday.

The storm also caused power outages. Several poles were demolished but electricity has been restored.