Douglas Cuc, a 32-year-old clown, entered the courtroom with the same smile on his face as when he told jokes for coins on the buses in the town of San Miguel Petapa, near the Guatemalan capital. But this time there was no greasepaint on his face, he did not wear his clown's nose, and he was in handcuffs.
A recent agreement between El Salvador and Germany, with the latter supporting two renewable energy projects that would increase installed capacity in the Central American country by 94.2 megawatts by 2013, points to a promising alliance for carbon-free energy.
An “integral rural development law” to promote access to land, employment and other rights for small farmers is bogged down in the Guatemalan Congress due to opposition from large landowners, who see it as an attempt at land reform.
"Many tourists come to this area for bird watching, but the terrible deforestation is leading to the disappearance of so much of our flora and fauna. The cleared land is used for cattle ranching,” said Haroldo Figueroa, who works as a guide in nature reserves along Guatemala’s Caribbean coast.
As the mining industry booms in Guatemala, local communities are increasingly opposed to the operations of the mainly foreign companies because of the potential negative effects on the environment and on their villages.
"I was surprised at how hard it was to learn more English. I had looked for work in a bank, but I would have earned only half what I make here, and I'd have had to work more hours," said Carlos de León from his cubicle in a call centre, part of a rapidly growing industry in Guatemala.
The Maya Indians of Central America and Mexico will have little to celebrate when the current era comes to an end on Dec. 21. The extreme poverty and marginalisation they face contrast sharply with the plans for lavish celebrations to lure tourists.
From satellites to inter-oceanic canals, the most innovative or ambitious investments in Central America are coming from China - even though six of the seven countries in this sub-region do not have diplomatic ties with the Asian giant.
"I heard about the Zero Hunger plan on television, but unfortunately it has not arrived here," complained Elías Ruíz, a small farmer in the southern community of Santa Odilia, about the Guatemalan government's flagship programme to end poverty.
El Salvador has managed to bring down one of the world’s highest murder rates thanks to a truce between gangs that was lauded by the United Nations as an example to be followed in other countries of Central America.
The deaths of eight indigenous demonstrators taking part in a protest against the Guatemalan government in the southwestern province of Totonicapán have provoked outrage within the country and abroad. The protesters accuse the army of shooting into the crowd.
"Our economic situation improved a great deal because we obtained more income for our families" as a result of setting up a social enterprise, Matilde García, who makes fashion jewellery in the municipality of Pastores, 60 km west of the capital of Guatemala, told IPS.
"In the garrison they had rooms where they would rape us; sometimes there were three, four or five soldiers,” Rosa Pérez*, one of the women used by the Guatemalan army as a sex slave during this country’s civil war, testified in court.
Since Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey became attorney general in Guatemala in 2010, a string of crimes involving military personnel who fought leftwing guerrillas, drug traffickers and organised crime have been cleared up.
The Association Agreement between Central America and the European Union (EU) will increase environmental and social pressures on the region, warn experts and activists. But some observers stress its potentially positive impacts.
In a country as vulnerable to natural disasters as Guatemala, a “state of public calamity” is frequently declared – to the joy of contractors, which find a good opportunity to line their pockets.
The suspension of the privatisation of a port company unleashed debate in Guatemala about the countless concessions granted to foreign companies in areas like oil, mining, railways and energy, where corporate interests are seen as prevailing over the common good.
“Service is definitely improving. Transmetro is good quality and Transurbano is using the prepaid system, which means they can’t charge you extra,” said Manolo Contreras, one of the thousands of users of the public transit system in the Guatemalan capital, which is under renovation.
“I feel proud to be a part of this change. Malnutrition cannot be wiped out in just two or three years, but this is the beginning and I want to be a part of it,” says Isabela Tzoc, a civic service volunteer involved in a youth programme aimed at fighting extreme poverty in Guatemala.
Cases like that of a little boy with an undetected metabolic disorder whose parents sold everything they owned to cover the costs of medical treatment that was ineffective prompted a doctor to create a vanguard institute of human genetics in Guatemala.
Access to justice for women who suffer sexual violence in Central America and southern Mexico remains limited despite the high incidence of rape and other crimes, of which underage girls are the main victims, experts say.