Guatemala This Month: A Summary of Stuff That Actually Happened

By Lucas Vidgen

The month started off with more intrigue as the ministry of Education disobeyed a judicial order to turn over details of the recipients of the controversial Mi Familia Progresa program…

Supporters of the program claim the Q3000 monthly allowances encourage poor families to send kids to school and medical clinics. Critics allege that it is being used by the Colom administration to repay political favors. The Constitutional court later sacked the Minister for Education for not supplying the data. The most vocal critic of the process, Nineth Montenegro, has received death threats.

Alfonso Portillo, Guatemalan president from 2000-2004, whose greatest legacy was emptying the Guatemalan treasury into his own personal bank accounts, found himself on the end of an extradition order from the U.S. for money laundering. After much ‘to-ing’ and ‘fro-ing’, it was decided that Portillo would first stand trial here and then in the U.S. Legal analysts say that if the Guatemalan court fails to convict, the U.S. case may be in trouble. Portillo’s finance minister, Manuel Castellanos, was also arrested on charges of embezzlement of state funds.

Guatemala City’s ailing public transport system limped along, too, as the company in charge of issuing prepaid bus passes came under fire for requiring users to provide a huge amount of highly personal information before obtaining a transit pass. The suspicion was that the company was building a database which it would then sell. After several court challenges, it was ruled that the company had no right to collect such information, at which point they announced that the passes (previously supplied for free) would cost Q40 each.

Lake Atitlán began its slow road to recovery after last year’s algae outbreak scare, with the construction of two water treatment plants in Santiago and Santa Catarina. They are the first such plants to operate around the lake since Hurricane Stan wiped out existing plants, in 2005.

More police trouble, as the director of the National Police (PNC) and two ex-heads of the anti-drug squad were jailed for illicit association, warehousing of drugs and other felonies. Later in the month, 75 police agents from the municipality of Mixco were transferred to other areas for either failing a polygraph test or refusing to take it.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stopped by on her Central American tour and met with President Colom. Word is that number one topic on the table was Guatemala’s role (or lack thereof) in the so-called War on Drugs.

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