Oil Hunt in Guatemala

Guatemala is a strikingly beautiful country… stunning and magical. I cringe at how this latest quest to find oil and natural gas will affect this “Land of Green Light.”

Read the report from Life in Guatemala:

World Energy Research, a New Zealand-based energy research and investment company, is moving into energy exploration in Guatemala. WER plans to investigate the viability of 12 project sites with a focus on environmentally-friendly oil and natural gas extraction methods.

Of the 12 sites, three are natural gas reserves off the Pacific coast of Guatemala and nine are onshore sites located in the departments of Peten, Huehuetenango, Quiche and Alta Verapaz. All projects will be privately operated and based on contracts by the Guatemalan government.

This development is expected to bring multiple benefits to the area, including the creation of up to 1500 direct and indirect jobs in each project area. As well, World Energy Research is structuring plans for a long term and holistic preservation of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Next to the Brazilian Rain Forest, the Maya Biosphere Reserve is the world’s second largest oxygen producing natural habitat.

Chad Willis, managing director of World Energy Research, said, “This move into Guatemala will be an important advancement not just for our company and our investors, but also for Guatemala who will benefit from having their own sustainable energy market into the future, possibly even enough to develop their export markets.” Guatemala is the largest oil-producing nation in Central America.

A Parallel Guatemala

I just wanted to briefly comment upon the fact that I had to get online and read the news to realize that Guatemala, a Latin country that is slightly smaller than the state of Tennessee – the country in which I’m happily living – is enduring the worst drought it has faced in 30 years. The drought is reportedly affecting 2.5 million people… and, living in La Antigua, I had no clue. The only reference I’ve heard in passing about the drought is the fact that the tomatoes are super pricey at the market right now. Other than that, I haven’t heard, seen or felt much about the fact that the Guatemalan government has declared a ‘state of public calamity.’

Report from Voice of America (VOANews.com):

United Nations agencies say Guatemala is facing the worst drought in 30 years. They report some 2.5 million people in 21 provinces are affected and in need of urgent food assistance.

The effects of the weather phenomenon known as El Nino have extended the dry spell in Guatemala, triggering a food crisis in the country. The drought has caused a reduction and loss of agricultural production.

The World Food Program says people are suffering from a combination of factors, including high food prices, the global financial crisis, unemployment and recurrent poor food crops.

WFP spokeswoman, Emilia Casella, says this situation is having a bad affect on the nutritional status of the rural poor in Guatemala, particularly women and children.

“Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean,” she said. “Nearly 50 percent of children under five years old in Guatemala suffer from chronic under-nutrition, which can cause stunting or severe weight loss. WFP is expecting that the worst-hit families will be about 54,000 families in Guatemala, although the government is estimating the number could be closer to 300,000.”

Casella says WFP so far has managed to distribute food to more than 20,000 families in affected areas. She says 20 metric tons of high-energy biscuits also are currently being distributed to more than 10,000 families. In the next few weeks, she says WFP will continue to distribute these biscuits to a further 20,000 families.

She says stocks in Guatemala are at their lowest level in years. She says WFP currently is providing a special fortified blended food to 100,000 children under three, as well as to 50,000 nursing and pregnant women in 136 communities.

The WFP spokeswoman warns this critically important program will be cut by the end of October unless the agency receives seven million dollars to fund it over the next 12 months.

More from UPI.com:

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 19 (UPI) — Guatemala’s worst drought in 30 years is affecting an estimated 2.5 million people, especially children and pregnant women, the United Nations said.

Drought conditions have been exacerbated by pest infestations, which have reduced the food supply, especially in the so-called dry corridor along the Pacific Ocean, U.N. officials said in a release Friday.

An estimated 30 percent of all pregnant women in the corridor are malnourished and 25 children have died in recent weeks, Guatemala’s Ministry of Health said.

The Guatemalan government needs $117 million in foreign aid to feed 54,000 families in the corridor and another 410,800 families elsewhere in the country, the United Nations said, noting food aid to tens of thousands of families will end this month unless more money is made available.

Nearly half of all Guatemalan children under age 5 suffer from stunting because of chronic malnutrition and the number of children being admitted to hospital for acute malnutrition has tripled in recent months, the United Nations said.

Wildlife, Soccer and Sunken Ships at Monterrico

monterrico_egret_4Monterrico has became a favorite weekend-destination for me. In the past several months, I’ve shuffled back to the lazy, Latin beach town at least four times, maybe more. There are several ways to get there, but hands down, the best way is to include “una lancha” or a small, motorized boat in your route. For just Q5 (Q7 to Q10 if they insist on giving you the “gringo” rate), you get to skim through a swampy waterway, observing wild birds among the tall swaying reeds and knotted roots of thickly tangled mangroves. You can spy local huts, with children bathing near the shore. For the Westerner, it’s rather alarming when you first see a small, wooden “ferry” slowly churning by, carrying one, even two automobiles. You wonder how the “ferry,” which looks more like leaky planks of wood tacked together, manages to stay afloat with such a load.

Elegant white egret with fish at Monterrico

Just this last weekend I went to Monterrico with some friends on a last-minute whim. I took the chicken bus, or camioneta, to La Escuintla in order to catch up with Chicharon, Pepin, Peter and Asusana who had already left. We finished the trip by car, crossing over the bridge that passes by the sunken ships, but skipping the boat ride. When we arrived, I immediately changed into my bathing suit and ran out to join the locals in the daily game of beach soccer. Once again, soccer has served as an invaluable resource in bridging the “local-foreigner” gap, helping me get to know the local people and the local culture. I have a lot of local friends at Monterrico now and it’s because of soccer. After the soccer match it began storming. At night, the night sea always feels fierce and wild, but when heavy, ashen clouds charge a dark sky with crackling lightening… the waves responding with their own fit of crashing fury… the wild and fierce sensation is overwhelming.

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We dined at El Pelican with the rain spilling off our palm-thatched shelter. I enjoyed guicoy soup (guicoy is a zucchini type squash) and a Camembert cheese salad with walnuts and grapes. The French-cuisine restaurant is a little on the pricey side for Guatemala, but the extra Q is definitely worth it. The food is mouth-watering.

The next morning Pepin, Peter and Asusana took off. Chicharon and I decided to stay and enjoy the rented beach house complete with its little, palm-shaded pool for a few hours more. Our plan was to leave around noon. But, noon turned into never… that day at least. I was having too much fun sun-tanning and enjoying refreshing fruit licuados. Chicha was enjoying new friends he met over cocktails. By four I was enjoying another game of beach soccer with the local Latino chicos. I must say, its quite fun playing the sport you love on the beach with a bunch of dark, handsome men! Hahaha.

That night was the typical dance party at Johnny’s Place, the most-popular place to chill out in Monterrico: Dancing salsa, reggaeton and techno with those same chicos guapos. Yeah, the beach is sweet… especially when it’s in Latin America.

Chicharon headed back to La Antigua quite early on Sunday. I decided to stick around for a few more hours and catch a ride back with another friend Randy and a random Polish traveler who tagged along as well. Because Randy had parked on the other side of the canal, we got to enjoy the little boat ride through the reeds and mangroves before leaving. I am so behind on photos that I haven’t been taking many lately. But, I did whip out my camera to try to catch the elegant egret (pictured above and below) taking off with its freshly caught fish as we lazily cruised by on our lancha. I should have picked a higher shutter speed for the shot since we were on a moving boat… but the pic still turned out pretty cool.

Elegant white egret with fish at Monterrico

I also spent the weekend prior (Sep 12,13) at Monterrico. In contrast to the highly-festive, beach party atmosphere of this past visit, this was a nice tranquil visit at the exquisite, beach paradise house of a friend. Alex invited Joaquin, Chofo, Sofia and I for the chill getaway at his family’s beachfront home. We spent our time relaxing by the pool, reading on hammocks, playing cards and cooking pasta and ceviche. Joaquin and I also enjoyed a nice, black sand beach run before heading back to La Antigua.

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AKA: Filthy Rich Clothing Companies Still Want Dirt Cheap Labor

Clothing manufacturers in the U.S. are apparently becoming a bit uneasy as the country’s political fiasco continues. ChinaView.com reports in its article “U.S. clothing companies request normality in Honduras” that U.S. manufacturers are “concerned.” The article claims these companies are concerned about violence. I would argue that these companies are more concerned about losing their privileges of ridiculously low pay for labor. The minimum wage in Honduras was just recently raised by ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Officially, workers in Honduras are supposed to be earning 5,500 Lempiras – or about $290 – per month. But the reality is most of the labor force that works in factories such as Nike and Gap are earning about $0.63 per hour or $112 per month. Compare that to the reported $3 BILLION dollars of exports from Honduras each year. Not quite what you would call clean and fair business if you ask me.

Not to mention the FREE ZONE LAW that applies in Honduras. As reported on the Central American Business Consultants‘s website:

A special law has been established for export companies operating in government Free Zones that provides the following benefits:

No import or export duties for material, equipment, office supplies, etc., required by the manufacturing plant.
Companies are exempt from income tax, city and county taxes.
100% repatriation of currency is permitted.
The paperwork required to clear incoming and outgoing shipments is minimal.

Plus the following additional incentives:

Unrestricted currency conversion
Duty free importation of all production machinery, other equipment, fixtures, spare parts, raw Material and supplies.
Import and export shipments cleared in less then one day with minimum documentation.
No government income, sales or corporate taxes or fees.
Unrestricted repatriation of profits and capital at any time.
Low cost skilled and unskilled labor.
Ample supply of trainable and productive labor.
A wide range of low cost, local raw materials such as wood, cotton, textiles, fruits, sugar, vegetables, meats, seafood, leather, coffee, cocoa and spices are available for processing and manufacturing industries.
Many Honduran products enter the US duty free under the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

Please tell me why the following article failed to mention all of the above. Are we meant to feel sorry for these clothing manufacturers that chose to do incredibly low-cost business in a politically-volatile country with a suppressed labor force??

TEGUCIGALPA, July 28 (Xinhua) — U.S. clothing companies in Honduras said Tuesday that they were concerned about the political crisis in the country. They called for a dialogue to find a solution.

Regional director of the Makers up Association of Honduras, Guillermo Matamoros, said on Tuesday that they had urged the Honduran government to solve the crisis with a dialogue.

He said the companies were operating normally. However, they were worried that the conflict, which may affect their production, cannot be solved immediately.

Clothing companies like Nike, Adidas and Gap that manufacture products in Honduran factories released a letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for the “restoration of democracy in Honduras.”

They said they were “very concerned about the continuation of the violence, if the dispute is not solved immediately.”

They also sent a copy of the letter to the general secretary of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, and to the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, Thomas Shannon.

Honduran manufacture exports about 3 billion U.S. dollars per year. Most of the foreign clothing companies in Honduras are from the United States and Asia.