Business unnerved by LatAm crises


TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, AP

Kidnappings, killings, political disputes and public transportation strikes are scaring both domestic and foreign business communities in Honduras and Nicaragua, private business associations in both countries said.

In Honduras, President Carlos Flores has sent more than 1,100 soldiers to San Pedro Sula, a northern city where numerous U.S., European and Asian companies are located, in response to numerous kidnappings, some deadly.

The president’s action followed a plea on Friday from the president of the Private Business Council, Juliette Handal, who said kidnappings and assaults against businesspeople were terrorizing the population and discouraging foreign investment.

In Nicaragua, meanwhile, the president of the national private business council, Roberto Teran, said Sunday that the international community is afraid that an ongoing public transportation strike, coffee crisis and vitriolic political dispute could lead to anarchy.

“This should worry us all,” Teran said.

Causing concern on the political front is the failure of the national election council to issue a decision by last Tuesday’s deadline as to whether Conservative Party candidate Jose Antonio Alvarado can run for vice president in November’s elections.

The council is paralyzed over the decision, with both leftist Sandinistas and conservative members in favor of the candidacy and members of the governing Constitutionalist Liberal Party opposed.

Opponents claim that Alvarado failed to renounce his U.S. citizenship before running, while Alvarado and his supporters have presented documents to show he has. The Sandinistas’ interest in allowing Alvarado to run is that he would draw votes away from the ruling party and increase the Sandinistas’ chances.

The Sandinista National Liberation Front overthrew the Somoza family dictatorship in 1979, veered toward socialist policies, prompting the United States to organize and finance a rebellion against them. It ended with the Sandinistas’ electoral loss in 1990.

Also in Nicaragua, a strike by public bus drivers in the capital of Managua reached its eighth day Sunday with no end in sight, with workers protesting the government’s refusal to authorize a fare hike from two to three cordobas (one cordoba equals approximately 7 cents U.S.).

And at least 16 coffee producers were set to protest if the parliament on Tuesday backs President Arnoldo Aleman’s veto of a law that would give them more time to pay off massive bank debts. Teran said the president’s decision to veto the law is a good one economically speaking.

Teran said the government should stop subsidizing bus service, which would allow the public to determine fares, and that the law, not politics, should determine whether Alvarado is permitted to run.

In Honduras, army troops will patrol the streets of San Pedro Sula 24 hours a day. The city, 180 kilometers (110 miles) north of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, is the country’s business hub and site of numerous foreign business. In the past five years, at least 110 businessmen have been kidnapped; four of them were killed.

“The situation keeps the people in a state of terror and discourages foreign investment,” said Handal, who noted that at least 18 Korean and Taiwan businesses have left the country, leaving 8,000 without jobs, after their executives were assaulted, robbed, kidnapped or killed.