The relentless wave of femicides in Guatemala, which has one of the highest female murder rates in the world, has prompted actions by the government, civil society groups, and two Nobel Peace laureates to try to put a stop to this brutal violence against women, which has reached horrific proportions.
After a hearing that lasted more than 11 hours, a Guatemalan court ordered the trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983), who could face up to 30 years in prison if he is convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Guatemala's new president, retired general Otto Pérez Molina, made campaign promises to deal with crime with a firm hand ("mano dura") in this country, one of the most violent in the world where impunity is almost absolute, giving rise to cautious hopes from civil society.
The end of the Maya long-count calendar does not predict a global catastrophe, let alone the end of the world, say native activists and elders who spoke to IPS in Guatemala. But what are coming to an end are the world's natural resources, as a result of human activity, they warn.
Women's rights groups are pinning their hopes on Roxana Baldetti, the first woman to be elected vice president of Guatemala, to boost the chances of increased female participation in politics.
"There's a big difference in the way indigenous people and mestizos (people of mixed ancestry) are treated. We are not paid the same wages for the same work," Higinio Pu, an activist with the native group Waxaquib Noj, which means "wisdom" in the Maya Quiché language, told IPS.
Relatives of former military personnel and businessmen are bringing lawsuits against ex guerrillas and journalists in Guatemala in connection with the 1960-1996 civil war – a legal offensive that human rights defenders say is politically motivated.
"Masked men came and threatened us. Some information was distorted, and they wanted to attack us all," said Enrique Boj, an activist from San Juan Sacatepéquez, 31 km from the Guatemalan capital.
"At the clinic we were attended to by a woman who criticised us and only talked to us about religious questions," says Carlos Valdez of Proyecto Unidos, an NGO in Guatemala that fights for access to HIV/AIDS prevention services by homosexuals and sex workers.
Millions of documents from the Guatemalan national police archive, shedding light on torture, forced disappearances and murders committed during the1960-1996 counterinsurgency war in this country, are now available on-line thanks to a collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin.
Ten years after its launch under a different name, the Mesoamerica Project, which involves major investments in energy, telecommunications, housing, health and other areas, is moving ahead slowly and continues to face scepticism that it will have a real impact against poverty.
"Using high quality seed, I harvested 20 quintals (one quintal = 100 pounds), while with ordinary seed I only get 10 quintals," Vilma Rodríguez, a beneficiary of a seed production programme in the northwestern Nicaraguan province of Estelí, told IPS.
One of the highest poverty levels in Latin America, one of the highest murder rates in the world, and much-needed political and tax reforms are some of the pressing challenges that will face Guatemalan president-elect Otto Pérez Molina.
"I learned to not be afraid, and to love myself. Before, I never wanted to talk to people because I felt like they looked down on me and that I was no good," says 12-year-old Hilda Tura, one of the participants in a programme fostering leadership among indigenous girls in Guatemala.
"The governments of Central America outline a number of requisites for access to housing, and people don't have the money to meet them," says Roly Escobar, an activist with a Guatemalan movement of slum dwellers fighting for the right to decent housing.
"Now it's really dangerous to go out to sea, because of the huge waves. The few who brave it do so to survive," said fisherman Venancio Morales, one of the residents of the Guatemalan beach town of Champerico who have been affected by the construction of an unfinished new port.
The growing frequency of weather-related disasters in Central America has led to greater organisational efforts for risk management and emergency response. But during the most recent storm in the region, the fruits of these efforts were still not visible.
"If we can manage it, we buy something at the butcher's every 15 days, even if it's only a bone, although we normally just eat maize and beans," says Marvin Fajardo, a small-scale farmer and father of three from the southern Guatemalan province of Escuintla.
The countries of Central America have set their sights on research and innovation in the production of tomatoes, cassava, potatoes and avocados to increase food supply and combat hunger, which mainly affects rural areas.
Pilar Toc, a 45-year-old Quiche Maya woman, used to work endlessly in a factory making traditional clothing in northwest Guatemala. Even so, her situation was so precarious that she could not enrol her son in school. But her life changed when she took out a microloan from a community bank.
Taxing large landholdings in Central America could help curb the heavy concentration of land ownership that characterises the region, and contribute to rural development, experts say.