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A new secret runway found in Laguna del Tigre National Park in Guatemala

  • Such clandestine landing strips are often built in forest reserves by people who claim to be cattle ranchers, but are actually working for drug traffickers.
  • These illegal structures pose a threat to the Laguna del Tigre National Park.
  • What does the head of Guatemala s anti-drug unit think about this new secret runway that has just been discovered?

(This is a collaborative article by Mongabay Latam[1] and Plaza P blica[2], a Guatemalan investigative news outlet)

On the 26th of April, two reporters flew over the Laguna del Tigre National Park, located in the San Andr s municipality in the department of Pet n, intending to monitor fires that were devastating the protected area. Whilst up in the air, the plane flew over the Xan oil field, which has been in operation for the Franco-British company Perenco since 2001. It was here that the industrial plant, chimneys and their large tarmac runway could be seen. They then continued to fly north when suddenly they spotted what was clearly a secret runway: a basic 1km strip that crossed a field and a bit of forest, and that started barely 25 meters from one of Perenco s oil wells, the Xan-30.

A New Secret Runway Found In Laguna Del Tigre National Park In GuatemalaBird s-eye view of the secret runway, located alongside the oil company Perenco s Xan-30 well. Photo by Manual Morillo.

The experienced pilot who flew over the area was in no doubt that this was a runway. He pointed out that its orientation was ideal given the prevailing winds. Afterwards, the captured photos were shown to Aldo Chapas, the head of the Guatemalan anti-drug unit. The public prosecutor confirmed that the strip matches up to a secret runway but in order to confirm it, there would need to be an investigation and the General Civil Aviation Authority would need to be consulted to see if the landing strip had authorisation.

When the head of Civil Aviation, Carlos Vel zquez Monge, was asked which runways within the Laguna del Tigre National Park have authorisation, it turned out that Perenco s tarmac runway is the only one. This supposed secret runway is a bit paradoxical: half way up the strip it goes into a small forest area. It s clear that there are trees on the edge of the strip. In talking with that pilot and the public prosecutor, there are two possible explanations: either the strip isn t yet finished and the owners haven t got round to removing all the vegetation, or this small clump of woodland serves to hide the light aircraft that land there. What s more, the cows that graze amongst the trees demonstrate that the plot of land has been occupied by someone who has invaded a protected area.

A New Secret Runway Found In Laguna Del Tigre National Park In GuatemalaCattle can be seen grazing at both sides of the secret runway. Photo by Manuel Morillo. A New Secret Runway Found In Laguna Del Tigre National Park In GuatemalaPerenco s airstrip. Photo by Manuel Morillo.

Two days after the flight, the journalists travelled to the Xan area and visited the Xan-30 well. Walking around, it was clear that there were only a few steps between the apparent secret runway and the fence surrounding the oil well. The strip is about four meters wide and the vegetation on either side has been burned, although some small pieces are beginning to sprout again. This could indicate that the fire, which struck the park two weeks before the visit, cleared a part of the landing area that was hidden among vegetation.

A New Secret Runway Found In Laguna Del Tigre National Park In GuatemalaSecret runway located alongside the oil company Perenco s Xan-30 well. Photo by Manual Morillo.

The Xan-30 well is situated 5km from the Perenco s focal area and 6km from a military detachment for jungle operations. The apparent secret runway is easy to get to, both the runway and the well are adjacent to the main road that runs through the Laguna del Tigre National Park. The dirt track road which is very well maintained connects those living in El Naranjo to the Xan field, and then continues towards Los Cerritos and La Paz, which are on the border with Mexico. Once in the oil-production area, signs lead the way to well 30. During the visit, journalists chatted with one of Perenco s technicians who, alongside a security officer from the company Visersa, carried out routine checks on the other Xan wells. The technician explained that all 46 Xan wells were checked every day.

A New Secret Runway Found In Laguna Del Tigre National Park In GuatemalaThe Laguna del Tigre National Park s main road runs adjacent to the secret runway and the Xan-30 well. Photo by Manuel Morillo.

Perenco documents show that Xan-30 is an active injection well, in which the oil tanker reintroduces the acid water produced by oil extraction into the subsoil. Perenco executives were asked if they knew about the existence of runway. The director of corporate cross-border affairs, Antonio Minondo Ayau, responded in an email: We had no knowledge of the existence of the runway you re talking about.

It was also asked if the company knows any of the people who had occupied the land surrounding the well. No, we do not know the identities of those who live on the land surrounding the Xan-30 well, was the response from Minondo Ayau. He added: Perenco Guatemala on several occasions has denounced the existence of invasions and fires to the National Council for Protected Areas (CONAP).

A New Secret Runway Found In Laguna Del Tigre National Park In GuatemalaThe secret runway and Perenco s Xan-30 well from another angle. Photo by Manuel Morillo.

The Army s press executive, colonel William Garc a, stated that he was not up-to-date regarding the construction of a secret runway next to the Xan-30 well. He said that one of the tasks of the Army is to patrol the Laguna del Tigre in order to detect and destroy all such types of illegal infrastructures. He indicated that there are currently 65 runways in the park, 23 of which have been blown up.

Perenco in the department of Pet n

According to the public prosecutor, Aldo Chapas, the proximity of the Laguna del Tigre reserve to Mexico makes it a key place for drug traffickers, since their light aircrafts from South America can touch down there, and the drugs can then be brought into Mexico. During the flight over the park, another two secret runways were actually spotted. However, these were in remote areas such as Tri ngulo Candelaria, north of the Laguna del Tigre National Park, and not in any industrial areas that are strategically important for Guatemala, like the area in which Perenco operates, nor are they as close to a military detachment.

A New Secret Runway Found In Laguna Del Tigre National Park In GuatemalaPerenco s Xan-30 well. Photo by Manuel Morillo.

The public prosecutor, Aldo Chapas, stated: When a secret runway is discovered, it s assumed that it s used for drug trafficking. He also added that it can also be used for other illegal activities such as human trafficking, people smuggling and the smuggling of firearms or contraband. A report published in 2011 by the US organisation Insight Crime titled Grupos de Poder en Pet n: Territorio, pol tica y negocios[3] (Power Groups in Pet n: Territory, Politics and Deals) presented the role of Perenco in the network of forces and alliances that are in Pet n, and in the Laguna del Tigre National Park in particular. According to the , the transnational company, alongside Manuel Baldiz n, Manuel Barqu n, Juli n Tesuc n, Javier L pez (all local leaders from the Conservative Patriotic and Unionist Parties) and the Mendoza family, who are linked to organised crime in Guatemala (drug trafficking, land grabbing and murders), are the sometimes-rival, sometimes-allied forces that occupy the area.

A New Secret Runway Found In Laguna Del Tigre National Park In GuatemalaBird s-eye view of Perenco s industrial site. Photo by Manuel Morillo.

In this amalgam of interests, the company Perenco plays a central role and may continue to do so depending on its executive and legislative support, the backing (real or otherwise) of the communities that live in the area and cohabitation with criminal groups who have already taken over substantial pieces of land within the protected area, stated the report from 2011.

In the presence of the military detachment that guards the entrance to the Xan oil field, there is a gate and a control station run by the National Council for Protected Areas (CONAP) and the Army. When the group of journalists were passing through these controls, the authorities had just stopped a pick-up truck carrying a group of people from the countryside. They were ordered to get out of the truck and line up. Under the watchful eye of the soldiers and CONAP park rangers, they had to open their rucksacks, empty them and lay out all of their belongings on the white dust of the road. From their forbearing expression and from the testimonies of several of the locals, it s clear that these kinds of checks are part of their daily routine.

A New Secret Runway Found In Laguna Del Tigre National Park In GuatemalaSoldiers form the military detachment located at the entrance to the Xan oil field search the belongings of a group of locals. Photo by Manuel Morillo.

15 minutes away from this check point, as if it were no big deal, there is a secret runway right next to an oil well.

A New Secret Runway Found In Laguna Del Tigre National Park In GuatemalaA satellite image taken on 4th May 2017 shows the secret runway. Image courtesy of Planet Labs.

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Think the new SLO airport terminal means shorter security lines? Not so fast

Travelers hoping the new $39 million terminal at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport [1]will mean less time in line may be disappointed there are no plans to add a second security checkpoint. The terminal, scheduled to open in October, promises four times more space and to improve the flow of passengers. A video touting the new terminal[2] even shows two security lines. But a Transportation Security Administration spokesman told The Tribune that it doesn t plan to add more staff to address long lines that often plague the current single security checkpoint.

Right now, San Luis Obispo requires one lane, and we don t expect that to change in the new terminal, TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said. If they get more flights, we can certainly work with the airport to accommodate their needs. At this point, we don t expect a huge increase in staffing. Early morning and midday rushes involve long waits and missed flights and the problem is getting worse with more and more travelers using the airport. The industry responded to the growing Central Coast market with a new midday flight to Seattle that started in April[3], and flights to Phoenix shifted to larger planes that carry more passengers. In addition, an early morning flight to Denver [4]will start in June.

A promotional video for the new county-run terminal appeared to address the concerns of frustrated air commuters, clearly showing travelers breezing through two security checkpoints in a mockup of the building under construction.

AIRPORT_PASSENGERS

Airport Director Kevin Bumen confirmed Wednesday that the new terminal will open with a single security checkpoint because of the TSA s staffing formula.

We re just not big enough, Bumen said. As we continue to grow, we will get there, but we re not there yet. He acknowledged that some people have missed flights because they underestimated the time it would take to get through security.

We have had people miss their flight that showed up much later than they should have and did not try to get to the front of line more expeditiously, Bumen said. He also said the terminal s cramped quarters have caused travelers to wait outside or arrive late, tightening their window to navigate through security.

Bumen said improvements at the new terminal should make traveling through it easier even without another security checkpoint.

Terminal Photo

A promotional video for the new terminal at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport shows the use of two security checkpoints for travelers, but officials have told The Tribune that there are only plans for one line when it opens in October.

San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport

The new terminal will include:

A security checkpoint that is always open instead of one that closes periodically throughout the day.

More room for the security area.

A second line for TSA Precheck passengers (that will feed to the single checkpoint).

A larger and improved waiting area with concessions on the other side of security that could inspire travelers to come early. In addition, the X-ray machine that most travelers currently walk through security will be replaced this summer by a body scanner, which Melendez said is more efficient and faster. All of that, officials say, will help relieve some of the pressure caused by the regular rush of travelers.

Still, while the new terminal will be much bigger and nicer than the decades-old building used now, flyers will still have to arrive earlier than they would normally expect for a small airport. Officials recommend arriving 90 minutes before a flight.

New terminal features

A security checkpoint that is always open instead of one that closes periodically throughout the day.

More room for the security area.

A second line for TSA Precheck passengers (that will feed to the single checkpoint).

A larger and improved waiting area with concessions on the other side of security that could inspire travelers to come early.

References

  1. ^ San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport (www.sloairport.com)
  2. ^ video touting the new terminal (vimeo.com)
  3. ^ new midday flight to Seattle that started in April (www.sanluisobispo.com)
  4. ^ early morning flight to Denver (www.sanluisobispo.com)

Press agency condemns arrest of journalist at WV Capitol

Press Agency Condemns Arrest Of Journalist At WV Capitol

Gazette-Mail file photo

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has issued a letter condemning the May 9 arrest of journalist Dan Heyman at the W.Va. Capitol. The arrest of a journalist at the West Virginia Capitol Complex while trying to ask questions of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has sparked national outrage, and prompted the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to send a letter condemning the response of law enforcement. On Wednesday, in a letter sent to the Capitol Police, the Division of Protective Services and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, the committee said pressing charges is an inappropriate response, and Capitol Police should give more latitude to those who are clearly reporting.

If a reporter is talking too loudly, an instruction to lower his voice may well be appropriate and reasonable, the letter states. If someone who is clearly a reporter does breach a security line, she could be held off or moved from her location without interfering with her ability to cover a newsworthy situation. A more serious remedy like arrest would only be warranted if a journalist clearly threatens someone s physical safety.

Several other news associations co-signed the letter. Authorities with the West Virginia Capitol Police arrested Dan Heyman, a reporter with the Public News Service, on May 9 and charged him with the willful disruption of governmental processes after he jockeyed with a Secret Service agent to ask Price a question about the American Health Care Act. Price entered the Capitol, accompanied by Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., and Kellyanne Conway, special counselor to President Donald Trump. When Heyman approached the entourage, using his phone as a recorder, he asked Price if domestic violence would be considered a pre-existing condition under the AHCA.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail filed a Freedom of Information Act request to view the security footage of the incident. Authorities with the Division of Protective Services denied[1] this request, citing an exemption to open records laws pertaining to terroristic threats, among other statutory exemptions. In Heyman s audio recording[2] of the event, he asks Price his question once, which goes unanswered. Heyman then repeats it. In an interview, Heyman said a Secret Service agent then commanded him to back up.

Do not get close to her [Conway], the agent says in the recording. Back up.

Heyman then repeats his question and asks Price to either answer or decline to comment as he grows out of breath. Eventually, a member of the Capitol Police arrives, and Heyman seems to threaten the officer with media exposure.

Yeah, you want to talk to a member of the press, you want to beat me up and end up on the news tonight? he says. The officer then attempts to calm Heyman, telling him to relax. Heyman tells him not to take his phone. He can then be heard being taken away by police, breathing heavily, as he asks the officer his name (Lt. Tim Johnson), badge number and whether he s under arrest.

You know those people are there for a reason? The security detail? Really? Was it worth all that? Johnson asks.

Heyman responds, Well, I got a story out of it. According to the criminal complaint[3], authorities made the arrest because Heyman was aggressively breaching the Secret Service agents to the point where they were forced to remove him a couple of times from the area walking up the hallway in the main building of the Capitol. However, the complaint appears to contradict itself, going on to say officers detained Heyman before he tried aggressively to breach the security of the Secret Service.

Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, attributed the apparent contradiction to imprecise wording, saying that because the complaint already established one breach, the second statement refers to the prevention of another. When asked for specific detail regarding Heyman s behavior, Messina said it s likely such things will be hashed out in court. However, he said the department stands by the charges as submitted.

Our response to whatever he [Heyman] has to say is in the criminal complaint, and Capitol Police remain confident in the complaint they filed, he said.

Heyman said Wednesday that he did not realize the men in suits surrounding the pack were Secret Service agents and that they did not identify themselves as law enforcement. He also said he did not see their earpieces, the usual giveaway of a security detail.

I guess some of them were probably Secret Service, but being Secret Service, they didn t identify themselves as such, just guys in suits, he said. I guess, in retrospect, it should have been fairly obvious. But they don t wear signs. Heyman refuted the allegations made in the criminal complaint, and said he was just trying to ask a question.

I wasn t trying to get past anybody; I wasn t trying to breach the Secret Service, whatever that means, or disrupt a governmental process, whatever that means, he said. I was just trying to get my phone close enough to Secretary Price, and I wasn t trying to get into his personal space either. I just wanted to get it close enough to him to be able to record him. Although footage was not made available, several eyewitnesses to the arrest said Heyman tried to get through the security detail s perimeter to ask Price his question.

Chris Zenn said she saw Heyman approach the group when they entered the Capitol, using his phone as a recorder, trying to get through. She said she didn t realize the men in suits were the Secret Service.

The security guards were all around in plain clothes, I think he [Heyman] was trying to get in and talk to the secretary, she said. Kristin O Sullivan was at the event as a protester. She said she didn t see any scuffle herself. She saw Heyman inside the perimeter and said he must have gotten in there one way or another.

When I had the visual on him, if he had been jockeying, it would have already happened, she said. He was right behind Secretary Price. He had to have gotten in there somehow, and there was a big group of folks. I would not say, just from my vantage point and from what I saw, that I saw that [jockeying], but I know that I saw him from the point he was behind Secretary Price. Valerie Woody, the protest organizer and an eyewitness to the event, did not respond to phone calls seeking comment for this report.

In an email, Heyman said he only resorted to yelling questions because of a lack of media availability.

I was reduced to yelling out a question in the hallway of the state Capitol by the fact that he has, I must assume, been dodging the press and the public to avoid [answering] questions about health care, Heyman said. If he had a press conference, I would have asked my one question, sat down and shut up. But he has not been holding any press availability when traveling around the country. Roughly an hour after the arrest, Price and Conway held an already-scheduled news conference, taking only four questions. When asked if he was aware of the news conference at the time, Heyman said he was, but didn t expect to have his questions answered.

It s not like that department [DHHS] or the Republicans have been particularly willing to talk about health care; let s be honest here, he said. [Price] answered the minimum amount of questions that he could on a topic that he could control, and again, this is speculation on my part, but it fits a pattern of what administration officials have been doing, trying to avoid the public because they re embarrassed about these angry town halls.

The arrest drew outrage on an international scale, amid clampdowns on press freedom since the beginning of the Trump presidency, although press protection groups have responded in different, sometimes limited capacities. The Journalism Institute of the National Press Club opted to stay out of the issue, letting other news associations take the lead. Kathy Kiely, a fellow with the institute, said an infringement on the free press requires no stretch of the imagination, but the organization won t enter the fray until more facts come to light, which will be more difficult, given the FOIA request denial.

Given the atmosphere right now with how reporters are being treated, any kind of reporter being interfered with, we take it seriously, she said. We re all aware that, sometimes, things can happen in close quarters when there s security involved, and reporters trying to do their job and security trying to do their job. But given the current environment and the tone being set by the president of the United States about reporters, it makes us more concerned. We realize reporters aren t always right but, given the atmosphere, we re hyper-vigilant. Jake Jarvis contributed to this report.

Reach Jake Zuckerman at [email protected], 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

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References

  1. ^ denied (twitter.com)
  2. ^ Heyman s audio recording (soundcloud.com)
  3. ^ criminal complaint (twitter.com)