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Guatemala News Wrap

With his inauguration last month, the era of President Otto Perez Molina has officially begun. Among his first moves was to implement a plan to improve security in the country. Known as the Interdiction Plan, the operation put 7,000 soldiers into the country’s most dangerous and criminally active areas. While the administration has provided high arrest figures to boast of the plan’s success, it remains too early to determine whether it will have a meaningful impact.

On a slightly divergent note, it emerged that the President has continued to drive his own car, declining to be chauffeured around town by a professional driver, no word on whether he still fills up his own tank with gas.

On the economic front, the new government has begun to roll out a series of proposals to rewrite the country’s tax code. While details are still emerging, it looks as if the idea is to broaden the number of people paying taxes while reducing the tax rate over time. One tax rate that will go up is that on foreign mining companies. They had been paying a tax of 1%, which was widely criticized as too low given both international norms and their huge profits margins; it will increase to a rate of 3-5%.

In other political news, former president Efrain Rios Montt was recently in court facing charges of genocide. Until last month, the 85 year old retired general had enjoyed immunity as a member of Congress, but now he must face accusations stemming from civil war massacres that took place during his rule in the early 1980s.

A reported 12,000 people ascended to the top of Volcan Agua to denounce domestic violence in Guatemala. The volcano, located outside of Antigua, stands at over 12,000 feet and the rally hoped to bring the fight against domestic violence (the #1 reported crime in the country) to new heights.

On a more local front, Mayor Jorge “Mito” Barrientos began his 3rd term as mayor of Xela last month. One new project is the controversial reconstruction of 19th Avenida in Zone 1. Stretching from the edge of Zone 3 down to El Calvario Park (you may recognize it as that huge cobblestoned hill near the cerveceria), it is being torn up yet again after another project late last year added 10 speed bumps in a 2 block stretch. This time the idea is to replace some of the cobblestones with concrete, but in the meantime the only north/south artery in this part of the city has been severed thus leading vehicles to go the wrong way down nearby streets as an alternative route.

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