brad brace contemporary culture scrapbook

April 22, 2006

Tamil Tigers

Filed under: india — admin @ 6:07 am

Tamil Tiger rebels say they will not meet the Sri Lankan government for
more peace talks because of a recent surge in violence in the
Tamil-majority areas. The already postponed talks were due to be held in
Geneva, Switzerland next week. More than 60 people have died in bombings
in Sri Lanka in the past week. The Tamil Tigers want autonomy for minority
Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka. More than 60,000 people have
died during two decades of conflict.

April 20, 2006

Thailand extends emergency rule

Filed under: thailand — admin @ 5:55 am


# Thai PM sobs as he quits
# Thai PM claims poll victory
# Thai PM faces political storm
# Thai paper punishes itself
# Bomb explodes in Thailand

Bangkok – Thailand’s government said on Tuesday it will extend a state of emergency in violence-plagued southern Thailand as part of measures to combat a Muslim insurgency that has left over 1 000 people dead.

“The terrorist movement still has the capacity to cause danger to lives and property, so the state of emergency is needed to cope with the situation,” acting prime minister Chitchai Wannasathit told reporters.

The state of emergency covers Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces.

Shortly before the announcement was made, a 24-year-old man was shot and killed by suspected insurgents on his way to work at a factory in the Yaha district of Yala province. The man, identified as Suebsak Chansupha, was shot by a man riding on the back seat of a motorcycle, said local police spokesperson Suwat Chanchao.

The insurgency has left at least 1 300 dead since it flared in 2004.

Emergency rule lets the government impose curfews, prohibit public gatherings, censor and ban publications, detain suspects without charge, confiscate property and tap telephones.

It also makes officials immune from “civil, criminal and disciplinary penalties” while carrying out acts – including killing civilians – under its provisions.

Rights activist say the emergency rule has failed to contain the growing violence, and has worsened the situation by allowing violations of constitutional rights.

Chitchai said the state of emergency, first imposed last July and extended at three-month intervals, was due to expire on Thursday.

April 12, 2006

India: A Tale of Two Worlds

Filed under: india — admin @ 6:47 am

When India’s Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram presented the government’s budget this past February, he trumpeted the country’s vault into modernity. Economic growth is 8.1% and is projected to rise as high as 10% next year. India has completed its “Golden Quadrilateral,” a multi-lane highway that links New Delhi in the north, Calcutta in the east, Chennai in the south, and Mumbai in the west. The collective wealth of India’s 311 billionaires jumped 71% in the last year.

“Growth will be our mount,” the Minister told the Parliament, “equity will be our companion, and social justice will be our destination.”

But for India ‘s rural and urban poor, the chasm between them and the wealthy only got wider and deeper. Last year, India slipped from 124 out of 177 countries to 127, according to the United Nations Human Development Index. Life expectancy is seven years less than in China , and 11 less than in Sri Lanka . Mortality for children under five, according to a United Nations Development Report, is almost three times China ‘s rate, almost six times Sri Lanka ‘s, and greater than in Bangladesh and Nepal .
Disconnect and Division

The divide is best summed up in a searing editorial by Palagummi Sainath , India ‘s leading independent journalist. In an April 1 opinion piece in The Hindu , Sainath contrasts the two worlds that increasingly make up the second most populous nation on earth.

“Farm suicides in Vldharbha crossed 400 this week. The Sensex (stock exchange) crossed the 11,000 mark. And Lakme Fashion Week issues over 500 media passes to journalists. All three are firsts. All happened the same week. And each captures in a brilliant if bizarre way a sense of where India ‘s Brave New World is headed. A powerful measure of disconnect. Of the gap between the haves and the have-mores on the one hand, and the dispossessed and the desperate, on the other.”

For more than a decade, the Mumbai-based journalist has criss-crossed India by train, bicycle and foot, chronicling the daily lives of the poor. He writes about people like Ganesh Bhimrao Thakre, a small farmer in Vidharbha who struck hard times. His daughter got cholera, his wife had an eye operation, and his son was forced to drop out of college for financial reasons. Desperate and unable to get a loan, he played Bhishi, a sort of Ponzi scheme where farmers pool money to try and win a monthly jackpot.

He lost.

So he committed suicide. Most farmers kill themselves by drinking pesticides. Thakre hung himself.

There are literally thousands like him in the countryside, where in states like Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar the “average” income is considerably below the national rural poverty line of $650 a year. Stories like the death of Ganesh Thakre do not make Sainath a popular man in the corridors of power, where “India Shining” is the slogan. The government is less interested in helping the poor, as it is increasing military spending and building a “blue water” navy.

India has launched a 30-year program to build a fleet capable of projecting power into the South China Sea and Indian Ocean . It has purchased Jaguar bombers from Britain and is negotiating to purchase 66 Hawk fighter-bombers for $1.43 billion. The price of a single Hawk could supply a lifetime of clean drinking water to 1.5 million people.
Skewed Priorities

The new budget is a case study in skewed priorities.

Under the former right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, social support networks were systematically dismantled, and social expenditures declined from 22.9% to 19.7%.

But the center-left Congress-UPA government’s budget is only marginally better. Social expenditures will rise just 1.2%. Education will jump a paltry 0.4%, and health funding will go from 4.4% to 4.9%. According to the Finance Minister, “Growth is the best antidote to poverty.”

The “growth” formula is the so-called “Washington Consensus” of open markets and foreign investment, which has accelerated the divide between rich and poor from Terra del Fuego to West Africa . Latin America is presently in the process of dismantling much of the neoliberal “consensus” that dominated economic systems from Mexico to Argentina throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s

In India , “growth” has been restricted to a relatively narrow band of industries, like high tech. In the countryside, where 75% of the population lives, living conditions have worsened. A World Bank study in 2004 found that while the number of Indian millionaires rose so did the number of poor. According to a UN Development Report, inequality in India has grown faster in the last 15 years than in the last 50 years. The Report also found that rural poverty alleviation schemes generally ended up being used in the interests of the wealthy.

In his searing book Everyone Loves a Good Drought , Sainath exposed how the elites manipulate rural aid to enrich themselves and impoverish small farmers. Wealthy landowners used government aid during a drought to dig wells so deep that they drained off the water small farmers were using. In exchange for water, the small farmers had to grow what the wealthy farmers wanted them to grow, generally export crops like cotton and rice.

Most small farmers quickly found themselves squeezed between low prices for their crops and high prices for seed and fertilizer. Many had no choice but to turn to the local sahukar , moneylenders who charge usurious rates of 60% or higher. “Banks don’t loan money to small farmers,” says Sainath, “although you can get all you want to buy a Mercedes.”

In 1991, 26% of rural households were in debt. By 2003 that had jumped to just under 50%, although in some states, like Andhra Pradesh, four fifths of the farmers were in arrears. Tens of millions of small farmers ended up losing their land and became landless laborers. If they were lucky and had a union, they made $1 a day. If they were not, they made as little as 33 cents a day.

In contrast, each of those 311 billionaires takes in about $17.5 million a day.

Since the government has cut back on irrigation aid and dried up most of the money for small loans, more and more farmers have little choice but to use the sahukars . The lenders—who many times are big landowners—forced many farmers to sign a document “selling” their land to the sahukar . According to Sainath, many times those documents are not torn up even after the debt is paid.

While some farmers who lose their land become agricultural day laborers, large numbers migrate to the cities in search of services and jobs. But services have been cut, and the jobs are mainly for the literate and the well schooled. In rural areas, 38% of males, and 57% of women are illiterate.

The miserly increase in health spending is particularly burdensome to the rural poor. Medical care is the second most common cause of rural debt, and close to the 25% of the population do not seek medical care because they cannot afford it.

As a share of its GDP, India spends less on health care than countries like Cambodia, Myanmar, Togo, Sudan, Guinea, and Burundi. According to a UN Human Development Report, “Some of India’s southern cities may be in the midst of a technological boom, but one in every 11 Indian children dies in the first five years of life from want of low-technology, low-cost interventions.”

The medical situation is deepened by the food crisis that many Indians endure. A study by Professor Utsa Patnaik found that per person food availability is lower now than it was during the horrendous Bengal famine of 1942-43.

It is common for rural family members to alternate days when they eat. The result is that 46.7% of Indian children are underweight, and 44.9% of them are growth stunted. In comparison, in China—which also has a wide and growing gap between rich and poor—those figures are 10% and 14.2%, respectively.

Ganesh Thakre’s wife, Rekha, told Sainath that the family had reached the point, “Where when we take our household wheat to the mill, we leave it there until we can pay the miller the tiny amount it takes to grind the flour.”

Urban slum dwellers fare little better. In the same week that the fashion shows and the stock market were doing well, almost 5,000 urban shanties were torn down in Mumbai.

“In the village we demolish their lives,” writes Sainath, “in the city their homes.”

April 11, 2006

Tiny Belize strikes bubblin’ crude

Filed under: belize — admin @ 6:18 am

One partner in Belize Natural Energy has said that 75 million barrels could be under a single 1,618-hectare parcel of land.

How sweet it is, some say. But the Beverly Hillbillies-style courting of big oil companies worries others.


This tiny country struck oil in much the same way TV’s Jed Clampett did in the Ozarks. A few years ago, a Mennonite farmer dug a shallow well in this bucolic hamlet and up bubbled crude.

“It was just like the Beverly Hillbillies,” said government petroleum inspector Andre Cho.

Belize joined the ranks of the world’s oil exporters in January when its first shipload of crude hit the market. Production is only 3,000 barrels a day, but people in this Central American nation of 280,000 are getting a glimpse of the opportunities — and opportunists — that accompany $60-a-barrel oil.

“When you see Texans coming down here, you know that something is up,” said Belize City bartender Robert Williams at a restaurant called the Smoky Mermaid. Cho said wildcatters have been tantalized by the speed with which Belize Natural Energy– a small private firm backed by American and Irish investors — last year found the first significant deposits of oil. In contrast to the heavy, sulphur-laden stuff found in neighbouring Guatemala and Mexico, Belizean crude is so sweet and light that some local farmers are putting it raw into tractors.

The strike couldn’t have come at a better time for Belize’s debt-strapped government, which hopes to use oil wealth to reduce taxes and bolster social spending. Minister of Natural Resources John Briceno calculates that at current prices, the government’s take from even modest oil production of around 60,000 barrels a day would cover the entire national budget of Belize.

BNE officials say they don’t know the true size of the find, but one partner told a local newspaper that 75 million barrels could be under a single 1,618-hectare parcel. “If we could produce even 20,000 barrels a day, you can imagine what we could do with that. It could make a huge difference for our little country.”

For half a century, oil drillers came to Belize hoping to hit the big one. Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz spent millions of dollars chasing black gold in this Massachusetts-size nation located southeast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. So did Texaco, Chevron and others. Studies hinted at petroleum deposits lurking beneath the jungle floor, but drilling yielded 50 dry holes in as many years.

Thus BNE made history when it struck oil on its first attempt, 25 kilometres from the spot where the Mennonite farmer first found petroleum.

Two BNE partners were key to the effort — Northern Ireland-born Susan Morrice, the company’s president and a veteran geologist with two decades of experience in Belize, and the late Mike Usher, an engineer and member of a prominent Belizean family who never gave up the dream that his nation could be an oil producer.

Usher’s 89-year-old mother, Jane, recalls her son bringing rocks to Sunday dinner, evidence that Belize was rich in petroleum. He didn’t live to see his dream fulfilled, dying in 2004 of a liver-related ailment, but she never doubted him. “Every Sunday, it was always the same. The oil thing. The oil thing,” said the mother of 10, known as Miss Jane.

With financing from Morrice’s husband, Colorado oil executive Alex Cranberg and more than 80 Irish investors, the firm used seismic technology to map unexplored territory around Spanish Lookout. They found what they believed to be a sizable oilfield under Mennonite pastureland.

The company’s roughnecks hit oil three times in as many tries, naming the wells Mike Usher No. 1, Mike Usher No. 2 and Mike Usher No. 3.

Some Belizeans fear that coaxing the long hidden oil to the surface is equivalent to opening Pandora’s box.

Belize boasts lush rainforests, delicate coral reefs, piercing blue skies and what it claims is the world’s only jaguar preserve.

Because the nation lacks a refinery, pipelines or basic petroleum infrastructure, the oil must be moved by tanker trucks along narrow roads to the docks in the southern city of Big Creek for export. “We simply aren’t prepared,” said Godsman Ellis, president of the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy, who says spills and other disasters are inevitable.

Mennonite farmers on whose land the oil was discovered are also wary.

Concerns about outsiders meddling in their affairs led the conservative Christian group to flee Mexico 45 years ago for Belize. The federal government, which owns all mineral rights in Belize, has the power to force landowners to accept oil drilling on their property for a small share of the oil revenue. Other Belizeans suspect they, too, will be shortchanged.

A block from Belize’s petroleum department in the capital of Belmopan, on the campus of United Evergreen Primary School, principal Pamela Neal hasn’t a single computer for 765 students.

Neal said she would like to believe poor students would benefit from oil riches. But the experience of developing nations such as Nigeria, where multinationals and corrupt officials pocketed most of wealth, have her fearing the worst.

“We are between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

April 9, 2006

Thailand’s traditional new year death toll continues to rise

Filed under: thailand — admin @ 3:38 pm

BANGKOK, April 9 (Xinhua) — Road accidents during the Thai traditional New Year “Songkran” holidays claimed 68 lives on Friday and Saturday, while the number of injured stood at 810, according to local media reports on Sunday.

Songkran, Thailand’s traditional “water festival”, is a time of traditional festivity and celebration which is now characterized by long journeys back to hometowns and too much consumption of alcohol, in tandem with driving, the reports said.

The long Songkran holiday is notorious for its high casualties from road accidents as a large number of Thais, particularly those who work in the capital, Bangkok, usually travel to reunite with their families upcountry to celebrate the water festival, the reports added.

Caretaker Interior Minister Kongsak Wanthana said on Sunday that the number of deaths from road accidents on Saturday stood at 38, bringing the death toll in two days since Friday to 68, while the number of injuries reached 496. There were a total of 731 road accidents, including 445 accidents on Saturday.

Motorcycles were involved in most road accidents, followed by pick-up trucks and passenger cars.

According to the Thai police, this year’s “crisis period” is April 7-16 when all agencies concerned have to work with full commitment to achieve the target by reducing the road deaths to less than 506 deaths and 6,194 injuries, or a drop of at least 15 percent compared to last year.

April 8, 2006

Thailand to buy Blackhawk helicopters

Filed under: thailand — admin @ 4:44 pm

Thailand has contracted to buy the latest special operations version of the Blackhawk helicopters from the United States with a bill amounted to 246 million U.S. dollars, the Bangkok Post said on Saturday.

According to papers filed by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency of the United States to the Congress, Thailand has requested up to six of the MH-60s helicopters, made by United Technologies Corp. unit Sikorsky Aircraft, plus 14 engines, spare parts and various support services.

The agency said Thailand requested the sale because of the need to enhance its maritime defense and disaster relief capabilities, highlighted by the tsunami search and rescue operations in December 2004 and January 2005.

The MH-60s, special operations version of the Blackhawk was a major upgrade to the Sirkorsky aircraft.

Among other improvements, it has advanced integrated cockpit, upgraded engines and transmission, forward looking infrared and terrain-following radar, additional internal and external fuel tanks and an external rescue hoist.

The Blackhawk usually has a crew of four: two pilots, a flight engineer and a gunner.

Rise in Kenya Rape Incidents

Filed under: kenya — admin @ 4:25 pm

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) is urging the Kenyan Government to take strong measures following a recent spike in rape incidents that has seen young girls to elderly women being brutally assaulted.

Only last Thursday, Kenyans watched with horror the unfolding news of an 80-year old grandmother who was violently robbed, raped and left for dead.

“Every woman’s life and dignity needs to be valued and protected,” UNIFEM regional programme director Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda said. “Women are urging the Kenyan Parliament to expedite passage of the Sexual Offences Bill. We can no longer afford to brush aside the issue of rape and impunity for sexual offences – it is time for Government, community and religious organizations to take concrete action to end violence against women.”

Current statistics indicate that a Kenyan woman is raped every 30 minutes. UNIFEM and its partners are urging the Kenyan Government, which is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to take a strong stand on addressing the scale of sexual violence and urgently strengthen its legal support services to violence survivors.

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