Monday, December 27, 2010

Mexico at war, the US is to blame

Mexico resembles a ‘failed state’, caught in a deadly trap, beset by every type of armed thug.

November 20 was the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution, the first major social revolution of the 20th century: a heroic deed carried out by two legendary popular figures, Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, whose victory was a victory for workers and peasant farmers: rights, agrarian reform, free, non-religious public education, and social security.

One hundred years later, paradoxically, the situation of Mexico “is analogous in many respects to that at the and of 1910: an obscene concentration of wealth accompanied by widespread social backwardness; distortion of the popular will; infringement of workers rights; the negation of basic guarantees by the authorities; ceding of sovereignty to international capital, and a oligarchic, patrimonialist, technocratic political class out of touch with the people.”

Add to this depressing catalogue of problems a war — or, to be more precise, three wars: one waged among the drug traffickers for the control of territory; one of the Zeta groups (criminal groups comprised of ex-military and ex-police) that rob and kidnap the civil population; and one of the military and special forces against their own citizens.


Starting Dec 1, 2006, under pressure from Washington, Mexican president Felipe Calderon launched his ‘offensive against drug trafficking’. The wave of violence that followed left about 30,000 dead.

Mexico increasingly resembles a ‘failed state’, caught in a deadly trap, beset by every type of armed thug: paramilitary and parapolice; bands of ‘legal’ and ‘liberated’ assassins; US agents from the CIA and DEA; and finally the Zetas, who target particularly central and south American migrants on their way to the United States. They are without a doubt responsible for the atrocious murder of 72 migrants discovered last August 24 in the state of Tamaulipas.

Every year some 5,00,000 Latin Americans cross through Mexico on their way north. During the passage they undergo a wide range of abuses, from arbitrary arrest, robbery, and plundering to rape. Eight of 10 women experience sexual abuse; many are impressed as servants to criminal gangs or forced into prostitution. Hundreds of children are put to work. Thousands of migrants are kidnapped. The Zetas make the families of their victims pay ransom.

For organised crime it is easier to kidnap 50 or so unknown people for a few days and receive payments of between $300 and $1,500 than kidnap an important businessman. If the kidnapped person has no way to pay the ransom, he is killed. Each Zeta cell has its own ‘butcher’ to decapitate and dismember the victims, and burn the remains in a steel barrel. In the last decade, some 60,000 undocumented people whose families were unable to pay their ransom were ‘disappeared’.

Such barbaric violence concentrated in certain cities, like Ciudad Juarez, and in certain states, has spread to the rest of the country. Washington has designated Mexico a ‘dangerous country’ and ordered its consulate workers in various cities to send their children back to the US.

President Calderon regularly announces successes in the war on drug trafficking and the arrest of important narco leaders. He is content to have mobilised the army. The majority of Mexicans do not agree, because the military, who have no experience in this sort of intervention, increase the ‘collateral damage’, killing hundreds of civilians by mistake.

By mistake? Abel Barrera Hernandez, who just won the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Prize, awarded in the US, doesn’t believe it. On the contrary he believes that the drug war is being used to criminalise civil protest.

The Obama administration believes that the bloodbath Mexico has become is a threat to the security of the US. In reality, the US bears a major share of the responsibility for this war. It is the main opponent of the legalisation of drugs. It is the supplier of (up to 90 per cent of) the weapons used in the violence, whether by the cartels or the Zetas or the army or the police. Moreover, the US is the main drug power: it is a major producer of marijuana and the largest producer of chemical drugs like amphetamines, ecstasy, etc.

The US is, above all, the largest drug market in the world, with 7 million cocaine addicts. And the mafias that operate in its territory make the largest profits off of the sale of drugs: 90 per cent, or $45 billion per year. In contrast, the total made by all of the Latin American cartels come to a mere 10 per cent.

Yet again, rather than give its neighbours (bad) advice, which has precipitated Mexico into a hellish war, Washington should clean its own house.

Shortcomings in functioning of Panchayati Raj Institutions:CAG

The Comptroller and Auditor General has expressed displeasure over tardy functioning of Panchayati Raj Institutions in Uttar Pradesh, citing allocation of funds ''without any need-based assessment'' and inability to utilise money in a time-bound manner.

In its report on the working of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in UP for the year 2007-08, the CAG has said "as per recommendation of the 11th Finance Commission, the Centre had released Rs 933.71 crore to the state government during 2001-05 for development work like road, water supply and sanitation.

Out of this amount, the state government released Rs 921.88 crore to PRIs and retained Rs 11.84 crore at their level.

Further, Rs 43.21 crore lapsed at the Directorate (state Panchayati Raj department), due to non-utilisation of funds, the CAG said.

The report pointed out that out of the total amount of non-utilised funds, Rs 42.07 crore was meant for creating database on finances.

"The 11th Finance Commission had recommended that a database on the finances of the PRIs should be developed at district, state and central levels and the same should be made easily accessible by means of computerisation," the report said.

"The data were to be collected and compiled in standard formats prescribed by the CAG. This would have facilitated comparison of performances of the PRIs among the states.
The database was, however, not developed as of May, 2008."

In August 2005, the Centre rejected the state government’s request for the extension of time and thus, the purpose of high priority to the expenditure on creation of database and maintenance of accounts for providing accurate information on the finances of PRIs was defeated," the CAG said.

The CAG also pointed towards the non-functionality of District Planning Committees (DPCs), before which Zila Panchayats were supposed to submit their development programmes, which were to include development plans of the Kshetra Panchayats and the Gram Panchayats involved.

However, since these DPCs "remained non-functional as of June 2008", despite the state government having passed an order for the constitution of these in February 2007, there was no effective monitoring of the development programmes, the CAG report said.

Underscoring these shortcomings in the functioning of PRIs in the state, the CAG has emphasised on the need for ensuring creation of a database on finances "as per recommendations of the 11th Finance Commission and the 12th Finance Commission".

The CAG has further said that the grants should be utilised in a time-bound manner to derive the intended benefit and the state government should ensure that District Planning Committees are effective and functional.

GLSV failure: Future space missions under cloud

The second failure of the Geo-Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) in a span of six months is expected to have a serious impact on Isro's three important space programmes, according to space scientists here. On April 15 this year, a GSLV, powered for the first time with an indigenous cryogenic engine, failed. On Saturday, the mission flopped following a technical snag in the first stage of the rocket.

Speaking to STOI, TIFR space scientist M N Vahia, who has had a long association with Isro, specifically mentioned three projects which could suffer a temporary setback — the Rs 425-crore second Indian moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, which will be flown by the GSLV. "Well, Saturday's failure will certainly produce delays in the second lunar programme. If my payload was being flown on this mission using a GSLV, I would certainly want this rocket to be tested and evaluated more thoroughly," he said. As of now, the mission is slated for lift off in 2013.

Also to be affected could be the nearly Rs 13,000 crore human space flight mission, for which a formal green signal is still awaited from the government, Vahia said. Isro chairman K Radhakrishnan has been quoted as saying that this flight will take off around 2015.

According to Vahia, there could be delays in launching India's communication satellites from Sriharikota because Isro is running out of cryogenic engines. With just one Russian cryogenic engine left, Isro is in a position to schedule just a single flight of the GSLV firmly in future. The Indian cryogenic engine is not operational. The question arises whether the space agency will have to depend on foreign launchers like Ariane for some more time to carry its communication satellites.

"What happened on Saturday afternoon at Sriharikota was an unnerving situation because India's reputation as a reliable space launching country has taken a serious dent," said Vahia.

Secretary of India chapter of Moon Society, Pradeep Mohandas, said: "If I were the vehicle director, I would subject all the stages of the GSLV to more exhaustive tests again before launching a flight."

Nehru Planetarium director Piyush Pandey expressed confidence that the GSLV will be used for Chandrayaan-2 though he felt "there could be a marginal delay if not a major one."

The most affected by these two GSLV failures are the scientists of Isro's Ahmedabad-based Space Application Centre whose payloads flown by this rocket have headed for the sea rather than the sky. The GSat-4, with important payloads which was carried by the GSLV, went into the Bay of Bengal on April 15 followed by GSat-5P on Saturday.

It is in this context that Pandey's remark assumes significance when he said that the next flight of the GSLV should have a dud satellite rather than an operational one which will allow the rocket to be tested.

According to other space scientists the weight of the GSat-5P, which was 2,310kg, resulted in Indian and Russian engineers having to modify the parts of the rocket to lift the satellite which is the heaviest payload ever to be flown by an Indian rocket.

Eminent astrophysicist S M Chitre however sounded a note of optimism when he said: "We will succeed and we should not give up the capabilities of the GSLV."

Read more: GLSV failure: Future space missions under cloud - The Times of India

Isro checks rocket failure data

India’s top space scientists are analysing data to find out what caused the satellite launch to fail yesterday and an expert committee is likely to be formed soon.

“Teams are looking at the data to find out the reason,” said Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) spokesperson S. Satish.

“A failure analysis committee is likely to be formed in the next one or two days,” he added.

Yesterday, a launcher rocket carrying India’s heaviest communication satellite exploded within a minute after lift-off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh.

Initial data indicated that the control command signals from the rocket’s onboard computer failed to reach the first-stage circuits, causing the vehicle to lose altitude, veer off its flight path and crack up under the heavy load on its structure, Isro chairman K. Radhakrishnan said yesterday.

Top scientists today said they suspected that a connector chord, which takes the signal down, had snapped.

The committee to be formed is expected to be similar to the one set up after the failure of another satellite, the GSLV-D3, on April 15.

The officials, among them multi-disciplinary experts, concluded that the primary cause for the failure was the sudden loss of thrust in one of the four liquid propellant strap-on stages just 0.2 seconds after lift-off.

With only three strap-on stages working, there was significant reduction in the control capability. The vehicle altitude could be controlled till about 50 seconds.

U.R. Rao, a veteran space scientist, has strongly vouched for the robustness of the indigenously-built GSLV, saying it was a well-proved rocket and that “quality problem” led to its failure. He said unlike the GSLV failure on April 15 when the fault was at the cryogenic stage, the problem yesterday was at the first stage itself.

Rao said the first stage is “well-proven” and “we must be able to get back to the rails very quickly”.

“Once in a while, these things (failures) do happen. It has happened with Ariane (European space consortium) and Shuttle (of Nasa),” he pointed out.

Rao said he did not foresee any impact of yesterday’s launch failure on India’s space programme, but acknowledged that it would take time to “sort out enormous data” and find out the ”problem” that led to the unsuccessful mission.

He also said he believes that the failure would not lead to a delay in the 2013-scheduled Chandrayaan-2 mission.

China's dams in Xinjiang region trigger concerns in Kazakhstan

China's dam-building spree in its far-west Xinjiang region has triggered concerns in the neighbouring Kazakhstan, where officials say two main rivers have begun to see water-levels recede at an alarming rate.

Officials from the Central Asian nation are expected to raise the issue with Beijing early next year and press for more information on hydro-projects in Xinjiang, officials in the Kazakh government told The Hindu.

The Irtysh and Ili rivers, crucial to Kazakhstan's water security, have their source in Xinjiang. Since 2000, China has accelerated development in the region, which has seen intermittent ethnic unrest.

Kazakh officials say China's development push in Xinjiang, which includes a number of dams and irrigation projects, is the main reason behind the falling water-levels in both the rivers. The rivers drain into the Balkhash lake, which sustains the livelihood of more than two million Kazakhs.

“The water flow from China is much less now than it was before,” Gabit Koishibayev, a senior counsellor at the Kazakh Embassy here who is involved in negotiations with the Chinese government, told The Hindu.

Negotiations have made little headway so far, say officials. The dispute, which stretches to over a decade, could hold crucial lessons for India in managing water-sharing issues with China over the Brahmaputra river. China's plans to build dams in the difficult terrain of Tibet are still at a nascent stage compared with its projects in Xinjiang.

Kazakhstan has, however, been reluctant to publicly voice its concerns. China is a major destination for Kazakhstan's energy exports. In both cases, China, as the upper-riparian or upstream-lying state, holds the cards, having not committed to any bilateral water-sharing treaties and being entitled to, under international laws, use the rivers' waters for hydropower generation and other projects.

As with the Brahmaputra, there are also persisting concerns that China has plans to divert the Irtysh, though in both cases Chinese officials have stressed there are no such plans.

“We are very concerned about Chinese plans concerning the Irtysh,” said Mr. Koishibayev. “We also know that they are building channels and other infrastructure in Xinjiang.”

The Balkhash lake, he said, was “losing water.” “The water level is now lower by more than two metres to what it was three decades ago. Pollution is also rising, which has affected the banks and surrounding areas. Agriculture, the health of the ecosystem and the communities around it are at risk.”

Kazakh officials fear that the Balkhash will face a similar fate to the Aral Sea, which is on the verge of disappearing because of heavy pollution. Its mismanagement is regarded as one of the world's worst environmental disasters. Chinese officials stressed that China was “paying high attention to international communication on trans-border water issues”.

China was “carrying out related works according to principles of sustainable development,” the Foreign Ministry told The Hindu in a statement. “This is also in accordance with international laws and international principles.

At the same time, we are paying high attention to international communication on trans-border water issues.”

For China, managing water resources with its neighbours is emerging as an important diplomatic challenge, as it looks to balance the demands of its own spreading water shortages, especially in the arid north and north-west, with its foreign policy priority of maintaining a “harmonious” periphery.

China, which is increasingly reluctant to be seen as ignoring the concerns of its neighbours, has over the past year appeared to co-operate more in sharing information, Kazakh officials noted, both with Kazakhstan and southern neighbours who have voiced concerns about plans for the Mekong river.

In April, Chinese officials attended a meeting of the Mekong River Commission, which China has not formally joined, and promised to cooperate on flood prevention.

“We are providing information on floods and hydrological information related to the security of people's lives and wealth both upstream and downstream,” the Foreign Ministry told The Hindu.

China and Kazakhstan are now close to signing an agreement on quality protection, which will ensure that Xinjiang's industrial development will not continue to adversely reduce water quality in the two rivers, said Mr. Koishibayev.