Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Red Alert Declared in San Marcos due to A(H1N1) Virus

The head of the health department of San Marcos, Miguel Ángel Santizo, today declared a red alert due to the detection of a positive case of influenza A (H1N1) in a 75 year old woman, a native of San Jose Ojetenam.

The patient confirmed is being cared for in a hospital in Quetzaltenango and is being kept in isolation.

As a result of the red alert, breaks, holiday leave, and vacations are canceled for the 500 health care workers in San Marcos. The move was ordered by Health Minister Celso Cerezo.

The Health Ministry also sent 300 doses of the antiviral Tamiflu to the department.

Meanwhile, the head of the regional health department reported that at the National Hospital of Malacatán, there are 10 suspected but unconfirmed cases.

Guatemala murder scandal could threaten the presidency

Guatemala City and Mexico City - The scandal surrounding accusations that Guatemala's president orchestrated the murder of a prominent lawyer is intensifying – deepening divisions in a country still recovering from a 36-year civil war. It is also, according to some analysts, handing the country its greatest threat to democracy since that war ended in 1996.

Tens of thousands of Guatemalans have taken to the streets since a video emerged in which Rodrigo Rosenberg, the lawyer, accused Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom and three others of murder and corruption.

Mr. Rosenberg, who was shot dead while riding his bike on May 10, recorded the video days earlier, saying in it that: "If you are watching this, it is because I was murdered by President Alvaro Colom, with the help of Gustavo Alejos," the president's secretary.

Mr. Colom denies any involvement and says the protests are politically motivated. His critics maintain that they are not out to topple any president but merely are seeking the truth.

On Monday, they presented a petition to Congress signed by more than 35,000 Guatemalans that calls for Congress to strip Colom of his prosecutorial immunity.

The scandal comes as Guatemala is threatened by rising levels of lawlessness, with street gangs terrorizing residents and drug traffickers taking over wide swaths of the country.

"This is a crisis. When the people lose confidence in the authorities, what comes next is ungovernability and with it more corruption and violence," says Mario Polanco, director of the human rights organization Mutual Support Group in Guatemala City.

Vast right-wing conspiracy?

Colom, the nation's first leftist president in 50 years, says the scandal is a right-wing political conspiracy designed to bring down his government.

His administration has challenged the traditional power brokers, including former military officials. Earlier this year, he agreed to open a police archive that details information on left-leaning dissidents abducted and killed during the country's civil war.

Guatemala's past has been marred by a series of military coups. When the war ended, politically motivated murder did not. Eleven years ago, for example, Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi was bludgeoned to death after delivering a damning report on abuses committed by the state during the war.

Today's accusations "have created the greatest political crisis for this democracy, because never before has a democratically elected president been accused of murder," the Prensa Libre newspaper said in an editorial.

Video details money-laundering scheme

In the video, Rosenberg says that Colom, the first lady, and two others were involved in a money-laundering scheme that diverted public funds to dummy organizations that could be accessed for personal gain and by drug traffickers. Rosenberg also alleged in the video that a powerful businessman, Khalil Musa, was killed with his daughter in April because he refused to take part in the scheme. Rosenberg represented him.

Although Rosenberg mentions documents to support his claims, they have not surfaced. "We know nothing about any documents that he was talking about," says Rosenberg's nephew Andres Rodas. "He kept the family out of it because he did not want to put us in danger."

Colom – as well as the three others named in the video – has repeatedly denied the accusations and said that he has no reason to step down, even temporarily.

But, if the scandal escalates, it could threaten to undermine his presidency, says Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a left-leaning think tank in Washington. "He is in real trouble right now," says Mr. Birns. "The case against him is very formidable, and he hasn't attempted to come forth with an explanation that fair-minded people could see as a possibility. There is no explanation for why someone would commit suicide to get back at him."

Dueling protests reveal 'two Guatemalas'

Demonstrators took to the street daily last week to call for Colom to step down. They dressed in white and carried signs calling Colom an "assassin."

The protests were organized by wealthy and middle-class Guatemalans and students from the city's right-leaning private universities. One of the organizers, Javier Ogarrio, says that Rosenberg was acting in the interest of the country.

"We have lived with so much violence and corruption here," Mr. Ogarrio says. "We have to continue what he started."

The poor and mostly indigenous rural population forms the base of Colom's political support – and many have come out in protest to support him. "He is the only president that has given us anything, and they don't like that," said local resident Julieta Espinoza at a rally last week. "These are all lies against him."

Allegations threaten to further polarize the country. "What you see are the two classes in distinctly different demonstrations," says Anita Isaacs, a professor of political science at Haverford College in Pennsylvania who was in Guatemala City to observe the protests. "This has exposed the rift between the two Guatemalas."

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a United Nations-backed body formed to probe the country's growing organized crime problem, has been asked to investigate. The FBI will also investigate.


Chiquita touts ‘green’ efforts at annual meeting

Chiquita Brands International Inc. touted its corporate responsibility initiatives at the company’s annual meeting of shareholders, including the construction of 1,850 new housing units for banana workers in Honduras and Guatemala and a water-recycling initiative that saved 576,000 gallons in Latin America.

“We are doing great work that no other player in the industry is doing in either bananas or salads,” said Fernando Aguirre, CEO of the Cincinnati-based produce company.

Shareholders had no questions and the agenda was light for Chiquita’s annual meeting, which was held at the company’s Fifth Street headquarters downtown. Shareholders elected the company-nominated slate of nine directors and ratified PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC as its independent auditor, affirming a selection made by Chiquita after a competitive process last May.

Aguirre said Chiquita’s financial objectives are to secure profitable growth from the sale of bananas and other fresh fruits and vegetables, with a mix of new products and expanded distribution channels. He said the company would use free cash flow to pay down debt and will improve profit margins in its Fresh Express salad business by 3 to 4 percentage points.

“When we bought Fresh Express in 2005 we bought a company that was delivering about a 6 percent margin and it is our intention to get back to that level,” he said.

Aguirre described Chiquita’s corporate responsibility initiatives “an area of increasing importance” to consumers. He said the company has worked with the Rain Forest Alliance on reforestation and the using ground cover in ways that reduce pesticide use. At Chiquita’s Latin American packing stations, the company has reduced water usage by 96 percent.

“If we implemented this water recycling system in all our Chiquita-owned packing stations, we would save the equivalent of 2,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools or enough water for 15,400 families per year,” Aguirre said. “That is a huge improvement that I haven’t heard any other company claim.”

Chiquita (NYSE: CQB) is a marketer and distributor of fresh and packaged produce in Europe and North America.

Business Courier

30,000 Back Bid To Impeach Guatemala President

GUATEMALA CITY (AFP)--Guatemalan opposition activists handed a petition of some 30,000 signatures to Congress Monday in a bid to impeach President Alvaro Colom over a scandal set off by the killing of a lawyer.

Before his death, lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg recorded a video saying that if he was killed, the president and his aides would be responsible.

The tape was released the day after the 47-year-old was shot dead on May 10, setting off a political scandal that has shaken up the Central American country coming more than a decade after the end of its civil war.

Colom has denied involvement in the killing, which sparked mass protests.

Opposition activists targeted the private secretary of the presidency, Gustavo Alejos, and the first lady Sandra Torres - who are both also accused in the video - in their petition Monday.

"If we don't get a reply in eight days, we'll continue with peaceful protests through a national strike," said Luis Pedro Alvarez, one of the group's leaders.

Tens of thousands took to the streets Sunday in the country of more than 13 million, demanding justice on either side in the case.

The U.S. deputy undersecretary for Latin America, David Robinson, was to meet Colom in Guatemala Monday, according to the presidency. Guatemalan officials sought support for the president in Washington last week.

The Rio Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries Monday expressed support for Colom and Guatemala's government in a statement.

Organization of American States Secretary-general Jose Miguel Insulza was due Thursday in Guatemala to discuss the crisis.

Guatemalan president gets U.S. support as murder scandal rolls on

A senior U.S. official visited Guatemala on Monday to show support for President Alvaro Colom, who has been facing public protest due to alleged involvement in a lawyer's murder, news reports said.

Colom restated his innocence of all charges at a meeting with U.S. Undersecretary of State for Latin America David Robinson, a Guatemala government spokesman told reporters Monday.

Colom has already received support from the Organization of American States following the accusation, made by the slain lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg in a posthumous video, that the president had ordered the murder.

In Guatemala, however, the scandal has been growing and exposed divisions between the urban rich and the rural and working class voters who voted for Colom.

Guatemala's legislature on Monday received a petition signed by over 35,000 citizens seeking to lift the president's immunity, the first step in a possible prosecution.

Roberto Alejos, head of Guatemala's legislature, promised that he would call the party leaders in the parliament to make the petition known to them "the same day" and that it would then go onto a plenary session of the legislature.

According to the constitution, it is the Supreme Court that can demand stripping a president of immunity once sufficient evidence is brought in, Alejos told media, adding that this will then go to the legislature for a so-called "political judgment."

The major evidence implicating Colon is a video in which Rosenberg, who was gunned down on May 10 while riding his bike, claimed he would soon be murdered because he helped clients who had refused to cooperate in the government corruption and money-laundering scheme at development bank Banrural.

Colom has ordered the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, a UN panel set up in 2007 to clean up corruption, to investigate the matter.

On Sunday, the center of Guatemala City was blockaded by rival demonstrations with middle- and upper-class protestors dressed in white demanding Colom leave and working class and rural Guatemalans demonstrating to support the president.


Luxury resort with large spa planned for Guatemala

US-based developers Alekson Development Group are looking to build a new luxury resort in Guatemala.

Working in association with Group West Companies, Alekson is looking at the UNESCO World Heritage city of Antigua Guatemala or Peten, located next to the Maya site of Tikal, as likely locations of the resort, which will be the first of its Luxuriant Masterpiece Collection.

The Luxuriant Masterpiece Collection brand will integrate 'ultra-luxury' hospitality services, casinos, top quality cuisine, spas, eco-wellness and fitness programs and celebrity signature golf courses.

The company said it chose Guatemala for its "diversity of landscapes and rich culture, as well as its proximity to the US". Details: