Highway to hell

From the government of Guatemala’s Flickr feed, the scariest thing ever. Ever. This is what happens when sewage and rainwater rush uncontrolled under crumbling city streets built on mud. Oh, and it’s happened before, too. Not cool.

(H/T BoingBoing)

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Pacaya awakes

The Calgary Herald has a nice photo gallery of the cleanup from the Pacaya Volcano eruption in Guatemala.

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The judges deciding whether to extradite ex-Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo to the U.S. said they received death threats. An anonymous caller to the court threatened to kill the three judges’ families if they did not suspend proceedings. Though the judges later approved Portillo’s extradition to face money laundering charges in the U.S., he has to face trial in Guatemala first on other charges. [link]

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Victims of rape at the hands of the military during Guatemala’s civil war gathered in Guatemala City to tell their stories and call for justice: “Up to now, Alvarado said, no case of rape during the war has been investigated, much less brought to trial, so that the outrages remain in a state of ‘total impunity.’” [link]

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Guatemalan union leaders are taking Coca-Cola to court in New York, accusing the company of “negligence and complicity in violence aimed at union activists, as well as deception.” Union members took similar action against Coca-Cola in Colombia, but the company was exonerated. [link]

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Portillo back in the clink

After 10 days in a military hospital, Guatemalan ex-President Alfonso Portillo is being transferred back to prison. A court finally ruled that according to a medical examination, his health problems were not serious enough to merit hospitalization. During his stay in the military hospital, it was never clear why exactly he had been transferred there. The United States has officially requested Portillo’s extradition to try him on charges of launder millions of dollars embezzled from the Guatemalan people.

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Portillo report still missing

Empty? (Via markhillary.)

Is Alfonso Portillo healthy or sick? No one knows yet, though we were supposed to find out yesterday. It’s now been three days since the ex-Guatemalan president accused of embezzlement and money laundering ditched a maximum-security prison for a military hospital with conflicting reports as to why.

El PeriA?dico says today that it got hold of two reports from two different doctors that say two completely different things. The one from a National Forensic Science Institute doctor says the ex-prez is in perfect health. The one from the doctor hired by the defense says he suffers from a racing heart, chest pains, and high blood pressure. Doctors from the military hospital itself haven’t released any official statements.

Prensa Libre, meanwhile, is reporting that the hospital denied a public prosecutor’s request to do a medical examination of Portillo. The article also says the U.S. has until March 29 to formalize a request for extradition.

Central American leaders have a history of receiving special treatment upon entery to the penal system. Nicaragua’s Arnoldo Aleman served most of his prison term for robbing the Nicaraguan state of about $100 million in house arrest, due to health reasons. Also, arrested former Costa Rican presidents RodrAi??guez and CalderA?n spent their “preventative detention” in the comfort of their own homes, rather than prison.

One can only imagine the strings Portillo might be pulling.

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Calling in sick

Found a "Portillo"? (Via Prensa Libre.)

What’s wrong with Alfonso Portillo? The Guatemalan ex-president (2000-2004) was arrested and placed in a maximum-security prison on January 26 at the request of the United States, which is seeking him on charges of laundering part of the US$70 million in government funds that Guatemala, in turn, is trying him for embezzling.

But on Saturday, he was suddenly transferred to a military prison hospital with “respiratory problems.” Then it was rumored he had heart problems, but no one had released any official statement. The public prosecutor requested a report on Portillo’s condition from the military, but the report was delayed.

People are starting to wonder what’s going on. Portillo has evaded justice before: To face the embezzlement charges, he had to be extradited from Mexico in 2008. And his mysterious illness occurred right after President Colom stated that extraditing Portillo to the U.S. was fine by him. The authorities say the report on Portillo’s health will be released today.

But we’re still waiting.

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Who’s the best paid of them all?

Of the top 12 highest paid presidents in the region, who do you think is number one? OK, fine, Barack Obama, who makes about US$400k annually. What about number two? Colombian news magazine Portafolio says it’s Guatemalan President A?lvaro Colom, who makes about US$220k annually presiding over a country of 12 million people.

At the bottom of the list is Bolivia’s Evo Morales, who supposedly makes $22,200 a year, which is not enough. And around about the middle is Venezuela’s Hugo ChA?vez, who makes about US$90k, which is surely not true. Canada’s Stephen Harper didn’t even make the list, which has to be a mistake (or maybe because he’s only a prime minister?). And finally, Cuba’s Raul Castro supposedly makes only $30 a month, which is not a big deal when you already own an entire country.

(link: “Los 12 presidentes que mas ganan en AmAi??rica”)

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    • The Nation has a long, wonky, wonderful article on Mexican maize cultivation, the effects of NAFTA, and the dangers of genetically-modified seeds. Author Peter Canby backs up his excellent writing with piles and piles of meticulous research. Not to be missed. [link, via SM] (Image from Joel Penner.)

    • Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas ended his hunger strike yesterday after 134 days. Farinas decided to end his strike after the Cuban government said it would release political prisoners rounded up in the "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003. Get well soon. [link]

    • The Uruguayan selection, which has made it to the quarter finals of the World Cup, just received a shipment of half a ton of fine cuts of beef for the mother of all asados in preparation for a contest against Ghana on Friday: "450 kilos of lomo, 200 of entrecot, 75 of vacAi??o, 75 of colita de cuadril, 150 of ojo de bife and 50 kg of picaAi??a."Ai??[link]

    • Hitmen have assassinated the PRI candidate for governor of Tamaulipas State, Rodolfo Torre CantA?. Torre was gunned down along with six others at about 10:30 this morning on a highway on the way to a campaign event. Drug mafias are assumed to be responsible. [link]

    • From the days when coups were something of a regional sport, new documents detail a famous British ballerina's role in a plot to topple the government of Panama. The plan was to use her yacht to gather men and arms, then "land somewhere and collect in the hills." It didn't work. [link]

    • Mexico's Attorney General's Office has posted on its web site irrefutable evidence that gold-plated AR-15s and diamond-studded pistol grips are not nearly as cool-looking as they sound. The deadly knick-knack collection is said to belong to Valencia Cartel leader El Lobo. [link]

    • Two Brazilian ranchers were sentenced to 30 years in prison apiece for ordering the killing of an environmentalist nun: "Prosecutors said the pair offered to pay a gunman $25,000 to kill the 73-year-old [Dorothy] Stang because she had prevented them from stealing a piece of land that the government had granted to a group of poor farmers." [link]

    • This video of a kidnapping and car chase in Mexico is notable mainly for the bad-assitude of the TV journalists who were on this like white on rice. Well done, gentlemen.

    • The Economist takes a peak at the Mockus phenomenon in Colombia: "His moustacheless beard gives him the air of a Baltic pastor... He is financing his campaign with a bank overdraft. His supporters rely on Facebook and make their own posters; street vendors sell unofficial campaign T-shirts." [link]

    • Some cruise lines will cease traveling to Antarctica after this cruise season, as a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil goes into effect next year. The ban came after a 2007 incident when a Gap Adventures ship got punctured by ice and sank, causing a mess. [link]