Central America Report is the Inforpressca.com vehicle to bring news and bulletins from the region to the English speaking world. This English-language bulletin has remained one of the few independent and reliable sources of key information and analysis about the region and its seven countries. Investigated, written and translated by analysts and journalists within the region, Central America Report offers investigators and actors, both within the region and abroad, an invaluable tool for understanding the current events and trends shaping Central America.

GUATEMALA
Businesses benefit from new waste water disposal law

The Waste Water Disposal Law finally came into effect in mid-March. Over the next three years, this legislation will allow polluters to dump levels of waste three times higher than those permitted in Costa Rica, Honduras, the United States and Spain. Nicaragua is the only Central-American country whose legislation is even more lax than Guatemala’s. After three years, the level of pollutants in sewage water will have to be reduced by an average of around 42%. Although the law is subject to review every three years, the vice-president of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) warns that it will take 18 years before the sewage waste from factories will be treated before being discharged. The law, which was drafted by the government and corporate representatives, has been criticized by environmental experts who believe it will not put an end to the pollution of Lake Amatitlán. Such is the permissive nature of the law that questions have emerged over the government’s ability to limit waste levels emitted by highly polluting industries, such as the mining sector. The Waste Water Disposal Law came into effect a fortnight before the Latin American Water Tribunal strongly condemned the policies of President Berger and the MARN. The Guatemalan authorities refused to comment on the issue. Analysts who oppose the present government and its policies consider this further evidence of corporate interests taking precedence over environmental concerns.

Zelaya faces diverse opposition

Before completing the traditional hundred days of truce usually afforded a new administration by opposition groups, President Zelaya has been criticized for his failure to deliver campaign promises. He is also facing demands from civil society groups, brought together by the Patriotic Coalition for Solidarity (CPS), who are calling for a quick reduction in fuel costs. Militant liberals are also expressing their discontent with decisions regarding government posts. In addition, teachers and other social groups are criticizing political appointments made in the Ministry of Education that breach the Teachers’ Statute. Added to these complaints are protests from the labor sector over the recent approval of CAFTA, and privatization of public companies.

REGIÓN
US seeks to redefine democracy in line with neo-liberalism and national security

The recent electoral victories of left-wing parties in South America, and Hamas in Palestine, together with the gains made by Islamic parties in Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon and left wing groups in Peru and Mexico, have provoked concerns in Washington. The US sees its markets, access to natural resources such as oil, and national security under threat. The Republicans, who have supported their version of democracy in other countries, are now calling into question the validity of general elections. This could have serious consequences for Guatemala and the rest of Central America, whose history has often changed course as a result of US foreign policy.

SPECIAL TOBACCO GROWERS REPORT

Considering A Changing Social Climate To The Accepted Smoking Norms

Facts about Cigarettes - Awareness of tobacco among humans started about 20,000 years ago. Tobacco was native to American soil and was soon cultivated in other parts of the globe too. The practice of tobacco use came along during its dissemination phase. It was solely known as a stimulant, thus everyone wanted to take part in the practice of smoking tobacco. It was only recently that tobacco is seen as a harmful substance. Once a necessity, but now is known to be one of the most dangerous habits there is. Instead of seeking tobacco cigarettes, men and women are now finding ways to avoid tobacco products to ensure long life and good health.
Tobacco smoking was once perceived as a normal habit, the activity alone seemed very natural that it was commonplace even for young people to smoke tobacco products. Until not, there are still cultures which consider smoking as a daily activity, instead of being a bad habit. It was only until recently that the image of tobacco products became rather unpleasant as modern science unveiled the chemical makeup of tobacco. Looking at the base ingredients of tobacco, scientists were able to learn how tobacco is in fact a highly dangerous substance when used on the long-term.

It was when doctors started seeing the relationship between chronic tobacco smoking and lung cancer that the public started to perceive tobacco as a nasty habit that should never be promoted, especially to teens and children. More findings that point to the health hazard of tobacco consumption led to the general negative perception of the public towards tobacco products. The cultural and political atmosphere of the tobacco industry changed, and until now legislations are under study to totally ban tobacco in the commercial market.

Although it is clearly no option to change the history of tobacco smoking and all the deaths associated with its regular consumption, reasons to regulate and prohibit it are totally valid and rational nonetheless.
Here are some useful facts about smoking some of which are positive, while some showcase the dangers of ignoring health advisories and years of medical research.

• There are approximately 1.35 billion people smoke tobacco products worldwide. This means that one in every five people is a tobacco smoker. In the given number of smokers, 36.4% of which are Americans. Each day, an average of 1000 people below 18 starts the habit of cigarette smoking. There are 5,000 per year which are mainly caused by illnesses that are directly caused by tobacco smoking and inhalation.
• The life expectancy of regular smokers in the United States is 64.
• The US government loses an estimated $193 billion from cigarettes smoking; $97 billion of which is mainly due to lost productivity and $96 billion in medical and health care expenditures.
• In every 100 regular smokers who want to quit smoking, only 5 people truly stop the nasty habit altogether.
• There are 4000 harmful chemical compounds in tobacco in which 60 of these are known to be carcinogens.
• Nicotine is the primary compound in tobacco which promotes dependence or addiction among its users.

There are a couple of alternatives that smokers can consider when weaning off of tobacco smoking. There are nicotine patches, gums, lozenges, and medications which are most commonly prescribed by medical professionals to patients who are serious in their efforts of quitting smoking. Although effective, a lot of the users of these products experience unwanted symptoms and side effects from long-term use.
There are also those who undergo behavioral and even psychiatric help to kick the habit to the curb. Although this technique shows promising results, not all smokers have the budget to afford weekly behavioral reconditioning classes as well as psychiatric sessions.

The best alternative it appears from statistics is a new substitute device that is based on harm reduction philosophy however has lead to hundreds of thousands of (anecdotal) “successful quit smoking” attempts.

That has just been recently introduced in the market is electronic cigarette – of special interest to tobacco growers there is ongoing need for nicotine which is extracted and purified from primarily the tobacco leaf itself. This device not only looks like a tobacco cigarette, but also feels and tastes like real cigarettes. A growing number of smokers who have used ecig as their alternative to tobacco have succeeded altogether. With the high rate of effectiveness and the satisfaction derived from smoking ecigs, it is not impossible for ecigs to topple over tobacco cigarettes as the perfect type of a perfect pleasure!

GUATEMALA/ REGIÓN
US seeks to redefine democracy in line with neo-liberalism and national security

 The recent electoral victories of left-wing parties in South America, and Hamas in Palestine, together with the gains made by Islamic parties in Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon and left wing groups in Peru and Mexico, have provoked concerns in Washington. The US sees its markets, access to natural resources such as oil, and national security under threat. The Republicans, who have supported their version of democracy in other countries, are now calling into question the validity of general elections. This could have serious consequences for Guatemala and the rest of Central America, whose history has often changed course as a result of US foreign policy.

NICARAGUA
Reforms approved for CAFTA to take effect

Two weeks ago, the National Assembly approved reforms to three remaining laws necessary for the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) to take effect from the beginning of this month. While the government insists on the benefits for the country, civil society and unions continue to voice serious concerns – ranging from the unconstitutional implications of the Agreement to the lack of protection in place for small and medium-sized producers.

GUATEMALA
State planning needed for CAFTA’s success

A study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), on the US-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) could benefit the majority of Guatemala’s small agricultural producers. Meanwhile , a Carnegie Foundation report analyzes the impact of the common assumptions made in traditional trade analysis, such as measuring unemployment or the costs of transition. Most agree that realizing the agreement’s potential benefits depends on how the public sector handles the economic transition. Economist Wilson Romero asks if it is fair to assume the Guatemalan State will fulfill its commitments to support vulnerable sectors during the transition.

GUATEMALA
Tariff-rate quotas: a co-opted trade policy

Under the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the US and the Dominican Republic (DR-CAFTA), Guatemala must change the way it administers tariff-rate quotas, a two-tiered tariff system in which a determined quantity of a good with scarce domestic supply is imported at a low tariff while additional imports incur significantly higher tariffs. Guatemala is expected to ensure that no more than 80% of the volume within its tariff-rate quotas goes to existing importers, while new importers are entitled to the remainder. The main importers of yellow corn propose a ratio of 96%/4%, arguing that the national agricultural industry must protect itself from foreign interests. Nonetheless, it appears that behind this nationalist argument lies an attempt to protect an oligopolistic sector from competitors _ domestic or foreign. A situation has resulted in which companies create “paper businesses” to increase their import quota, with up to three businesses under the same address. CAR has found that six business groups working under fourteen names imported close to 60% of the yellow corn imported under quota during the first half of 2005.

GUATEMALA
Cardamom prices continue collapse

The price of dried cardamom fell below US$80 per quintal (100 pounds) in January, thus failing to cover the costs of production for many producers. Global overproduction and declining demand in the Arab countries that buy the majority of the spice have led to prices falling to nearly 50% of their 2002 price. Guatemala is the world’s leading producer of cardamom, exporting approximately 30 thousand metric tons per year.

GUATEMALA
Controversial new CICIACS proposal

The new proposal to create a Commission for the Investigation of Illegal Groups and Clandestine Security Organizations (CICIACS) has encountered more opposition than support in its three weeks of existence. Having been presented to deputies by Vice-president Eduardo Stein, it will now be examined by social organizations and the Human Rights Attorney General (PDH). The modified law aims to overcome the illegalities in the previous version pointed out by the Constitutional Court, especially those relating to the interference to national sovereignty. The new version removes the ability of the commission to initiate legal proceedings, limits its access to information and does not mention diplomatic immunity for local employees. These changes have led to strong criticism from some sectors who believe that the new law `mutilates’ the commission and undermines its very essence. However, as the PDH notes, the proposal is liable to be modified and still has to pass a number of tests before being approved by the United Nations.

PANAMA
Electricity price hike crisis delayed

Although an increase in electricity rates was announced on January 1, the government postponed the measure from entering into force for 90 days. According to government supporters, the move was a way of buying time while reforms are made to the Utilities Regulator (ERSP), but opponents of the Torrijos administration accuse it of delaying tactics until the issue has been forgotten.

GUATEMALA
Opposition grows to US immigration bill

Plans aimed at reducing the number of Latin American nationals immigrating to the US are generating opposition on various levels, with signatures being collected in the western part of the country _ an area that would be seriously affected by such a change in policy given its high dependency on family remittances. Plans aimed at reducing the number of Latin American nationals immigrating to the US are generating opposition on various levels, with signatures being collected in the western part of the country _ an area that would be seriously affected by such a change in policy given its high dependency on family remittances.

GUATEMALA
Campesinos march on capital
According to campesino organizations, attention to agrarian issues has declined during the two years of Óscar Berger’s presidency. A report by the Agrarian Platform shows that with Berger’s term half completed, the Land Fund has handed over fincas to only 2,707 families, barely a fifth of the families that benefited under the last administration. Moreover, the Committee of Campesino Unity (CUC) has claimed that under Berger there have been 70 evictions from fincas, while under four years of Portillo there were only 40. CUC has demanded that conflicts on three fincas be resolved, while the Verapaz Union of Campesino Organizations (UVOC) has protested two violent evictions in Alta Verapaz in which several campesinos were injured by security forces.