October 12, 2005 [LINK]

Mudslides in Guatemala

While U.S. media attention has focused on the terrible earthquake in Kashmir, another disaster closer to home has become progressively worse over the last few days. After the floods caused by Hurricane Stan last week, an earthquake in Guatemala on Friday triggered mudslides that killed over a thousand people, and possibly many more than that. The death toll is certain to exceed the number of American lives lost to Hurricane Katrina. The town of Panabaj near Lake Atitlan (a major tourist center) was completely wiped out, and rescue efforts have been abandoned. As a tragic legacy of the deep social distrust engendered by the long civil war, many Mayan Indians shunned Army troops that were on relief missions. Guatemala Today's Washington Post includes a dramatic photograph of devastating erosion in in hilly farmlands, illustrating how bad the situation is.

Nicaragua approves CAFTA

On Monday, the congress of Nicaragua voted 49-37 in favor of the Central America Free Trade Agreement, one of the few political victories that President Bolaños has won in recent months. His government has been besieged by a coalition of Sandinistas and a faction of Liberal Party members loyal to former President Aleman, and some call the present circumstances a "creeping coup." Several independent legislators joined with the pro-Bolaños faction to ratify the treaty. In order for this measure to have the intended positive effect on exports and employment, it is imperative for the U.S. Congress to follow through by passing legislation that slashes restrictions on imports from countries in that region. Will that cost U.S. jobs? Probably, but the alternative is increased illegal immigration.

Drought in Brazil

Several cities in the Amazon Basin have been declared disaster areas because of a severe drought that has made several tributaries unnavigable because the water level is so shallow. Supplies of fresh water and food have become scarce in many towns, because nearly all transportation in that region is by river boats. It is said to be the worst drought in 60 years.

Gas takeover in Bolivia

Army and police forces peacefully retook control of a natural gas installation in eastern Bolivia. Peasants had seized it to back up demands for road paving and land redistribution, interrupting gas shipments to Argentina for two days. Meanwhile, the government has decreed that private firms must increase their output of natural gas, which had been curtailed by some producers after they were subjected to special emergency taxes earlier this year.