Central America: 'narco-deforestation'?

Central America's rainforests are being destroyed by drug traffickers who cut roads and airstirps on officially protected lands, according to a paper in the journal Science. The phenomenon, called "narco-deforestation," is occurring across large swaths of Guatemala and Honduras, and perhaps elsewhere. Erik Nielsen, an assistant professor in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University, said: "Not only are societies being ripped apart, but forests are being ripped apart." He added that cattle ranches are being established on cleared land as fronts to launder drug money.

Guatemala's ex-prez took bribes from Taiwan

Former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo pleaded guilty before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York March 18 to taking $2.5 million in bribes from Taiwan in exchange for continued diplomatic recognition of the nation. Portillo read a statement before the court admitting to taking the bribes as part of a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. As part of the plea deal Portillo will face 46 to 71 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines with sentencing scheduled for June 23. Portillo was extradited to the US after the Guatemala Constitutional Court last May ruled in favor of his extradition. The $2.5 million Portillo received from Taiwan is only a small fraction of the tens of millions of dollars US prosecutors have alleged Portillo embezzled from the Guatemalan government and laundered through US banks.

Guatemala: Tahoe opens troubled silver mine

In mid-January Canadian-US mining company Tahoe Resources Inc. announced that its El Escobal silver mine, located in San Rafael las Flores municipality in the southeastern Guatemalan department of Santa Rosa, is now in commercial production. "Our Guatemalan team has done a terrific job in delivering this world-scale silver mine within four years of the company's initial public offering," a Tahoe vice president, Ira Gostin, told Mining Weekly Online. Tahoe Resources is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Reno, Nevada; Goldcorp Inc., also based in Vancouver, owns 40% of the mine. Tahoe, whose stock has risen 12% in the past year, is considering several other exploration prospects in Guatemala and Latin America, according to Gostin. (Mining Weekly Online, Jan. 20)

Guatemala: maquila stole $6 million from workers

Over the course of 12 years management at the Alianza Fashion apparel factory in the central Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango cheated employees out of some $6 million dollars in back wages and benefits, according to a report released Jan. 23 by Pittsburgh-based Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights (IGLHR, formerly the National Labor Committee). The maquiladora—a tax-exempt assembly plant producing for export—stitched items like suits and jackets for at least 60 US retailers, including Macy's, JCPenney, Kohl's and Wal-Mart. The owner, South Korean national Boon Chong Park, shut the factory down in March 2013.

Guatemala: indigenous ex-rebel leader killed

Guatemalan indigenous activist Juan de León Tuyuc Velásquez was murdered the night of Jan. 15-16 by unknown persons in Sololá, capital of the western department of Sololá. The body had gunshot wounds and signs of beating. Tuyuc worked on development projects in indigenous communities, and under the pseudonym "Peter" he commanded a front of the leftist Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP) during Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war. His sister, Rosalina Tuyuc, heads the National Coordinating Committee of Guatemalan Widows (CONAVIGUA), which represents women widowed by the war. Indigenous leader Rigoberta Menchú, the winner of the 1992 Nobel peace prize, described Juan Tuyuc as "committed to democracy, justice" and "the firm and lasting building of peace." She called for the "prompt investigation, capture and application of the law to the material and intellectual authors of the crime." (Latin American Herald Tribune, Jan. 16, from EFE; TeleSUR, Jan. 16, from AFP)

Guatemala grapples with opium boom

Guatemala has emerged as a major opium producer in recent years, and now President Otto Pérez Molina—a conservative who is increasingly breaking with the US-led "drug war" consensus—is considering legalized and regulated cultivation of the poppy as an alternative to eradication. "We started exploring the capacity that we could have for controlled planting," said Pérez Molina. "What that means is that we would know exactly what extensions are being planted, what the production would be and that the sale would also be well controlled, especially for medicinal use." Interior minister Mauricio López added: "There are two paths; one is cultivated substitutes, and the other is the alternative which is controlled cultivation. This is what is already being done in other countries such as India and China, that is to say identifying hectares clearly, seeing how they are grown, carrying out the harvest, taking control of the commercialization and above all making sure this serves mainly the pharmaceutical industry."

Guatemala: court seeks amnesty for Ríos Montt

Guatemala's Constitutional Court (CC) voted 5-2 on Oct. 22 to issue a ruling that could lead to amnesty for former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83), who faces charges of genocide for the killings of 1,771 indigenous Ixil from March 1982 to August 1983 in a counterinsurgency campaign he headed. The CC ordered the trial judge, High Risk Cases Court judge Carol Patricia Flores Polanco, to rule on defense lawyers' motion for a dismissal of the charges based on Decree 8-86, a 1986 blanket amnesty for all crimes committed by the Guatemala military and leftist rebels during Guatemala's civil war, which started in 1960.

Gulf Cartel's Guatemalan jefe busted in Chiapas

Mexican federal police on Oct. 4 announced the apprehension of a fugitive Gulf Cartel operative, Eduardo Francisco Villatoro Cano AKA "Guayo"—wanted in Guatemala for a bloody attack on police earlier this year. Guayo was captured in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, capital of southern Chiapas state, bordering Guatemala. Guatemalan authorities hold him responsible for a June armed attack on a National Civil Police post in Salcajá, Quetzaltenango, in which nine officers were killed.  He was arrested along with his cousin, Édgar Waldiny Herrera Villatoro AKA "El Gualas." Although both men are Guatemalan nationals, they were said to be serving as agents of Mexico's Gulf Cartel. They were turned over to authorities in Guatemala, where President Otto Perez Molina said the Gulf Cartel network in the country has now been dismantled.

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