Saturday, 18 December 2010

WikiLeaks and Free Speech

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, and his website have gained such prominence following leaks of sensitive information. In the process, they have reignited issues of freedom of information / speech.
What is the ideology of WikiLeaks?
You have to use IP address for gaining access to their website [as the web hosts have kicked them out!] and their stated mission is:
“WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists. We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices”. 
WikiLeaks came into prominence with the release thousands of documents on Afghan War and a video footage of Iraq War showing a collateral murder.  The footage shows US troops shooting civilians including two Reuters’ journalists and laughing over it  [Collateral murder].
Time Magazine had this on WikiLeaks - "Could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act."
Freedom of Speech
The US prides itself as a beacon of democracy and a practitioner of Free Speech.  The First Amendment to the Constitution in 1791 established, in no unequivocal terms, the right to practice any religion and the freedom of speech and no law can ever be passed to overturn this.
It will not be exaggeration to say that the democracy is underpinned by journalism. Freedom of press does not exist outside of democratic societies. There is no democracy without press freedom.
The WikiLeaks saga, however, has raised questions on the limits to this freedom of speech. Journalists argue that they are in the disclosure business and revealing secrets is part of its trade description. “News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising”. Lord Northcliffe, a news baron of the early 20th century. 
I can visualize the likes of Vinod Mehta and Manu Joseph, editors from Outlook and Open magazine respectively, nodding their head in agreement and grinning gleefully…[see Radia Tapes controversy- [Barkha Dutt 1 of 4 ;  Vir Sanghvi – but more on that some other time!]
More importantly the immediate questions that are being raised are –
·       Does freedom of speech equate to "freedom to publish all and any information one can gain access to"?
§  Do journalists carry a sense of responsibility for their actions?
§  Do they owe a duty of care and accountability?
These have surfaced in the wake of the latest set of WikiLeaks revelations and the investigations carried out by The Sunday Times and BBC’s Panorama into the activities of FIFABelievers and supporters of freedom of speech equally advocate right to privacy and exercise of discretion to ensure that public interest is served in such disclosures.
Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
Any discussions on freedom of speech would be incomplete without delving into the watershed case of ‘Pentagon Papers’. Daniel Ellsberg, a former government analyst had served in the Pentagon.  He later joined Defense Secretary Robert McNamara who had instituted a secret study on Vietnam War. Neither President Lyndon Johnson nor the Secretary of State knew about the study until its publication.  Ellsberg had contributed to this top-secret study regarding the conduct of the Vietnam War during 1967. The compilation of the study, which was contained in 43 volumes and 4100 pages, was completed in 1968.  These documents later became known collectively as the ‘Pentagon Papers’.
Initially Daniel Ellsberg tried to engage the National Security Adviser but failed.  In February 1971 Ellsberg discussed the study with New York Times and gave 43 of the volumes to them in March. The Times began publishing excerpts on June 13, 1971.  Subsequently, Ellsberg gave the documents to other newspapers.
President Nixon's first reaction to the publication was that since the study embarrassed the Johnson and Kennedy administrations, not his, he should do nothing. However, Kissinger convinced the president that not opposing publication set a negative precedent for future secrets [ of course to prevent release of the Watergate Scandal tapes!]. Kissinger went on to brand him as “The most dangerous man in America”. The administration argued Ellsberg and Russo were guilty of a felony under the Espionage Act of 1917, because they had no authority to publish classified documents.
After failing to persuade the Times to voluntarily cease publication on June 14,  the Attorney General and President Nixon obtained a federal court injunction forcing the Times to cease publication after three articles. The newspaper appealed the injunction, and the case NewYork Times v. United States and the case came up to the Supreme Court.  
On June 18, 1971, the Washington Post began publishing its own series of articles based upon the Pentagon Papers and the Assistant U.S. Attorney General not surprisingly asked the paper to cease publication. After it refused, the government unsuccessfully sought an injunction at a U.S. district court. The government appealed that decision, and on June 26 the Supreme Court agreed to hear it jointly with the New York Times case. Fifteen other newspapers received copies of the study and began publishing it. On June 30, 1971, the Supreme Court decided, 6–3, that the government failed to meet the heavy burden of proof required for prior restraint injunction.  One of the judges wrote:
“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.” - Justice Black
Ellsberg said the documents "demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents, the violation of their oath and the violation of the oath of every one of their subordinates". He added that he leaked the Papers to end what he perceived to be "a wrongful war".  He further added - “I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.”
Ellsberg surrendered to the authorities in Boston and admitted that he had given the papers to the press. He was later indicted on charges of stealing and holding secret documents by a grand jury in Los Angeles. Federal District Judge Byrne declared a mistrial and dismissed all charges against Ellsberg [and Russo] on May 11, 1973, after several irregularities appeared in the government's case.
[A viewing of the Pentagon Papers documentary entitled “The most dangerous man in America” is highly recommended].
How does this compare with WikiLeaks?
WikiLeaks’ reported source, Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, having watched Iraqi police abuses, and having read of similar and worse incidents in official messages, reportedly concluded, “I was actively involved in something that I was completely against.” Rather than simply go with the flow, Manning wrote: “I want people to see the truth … because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public,” adding that he hoped to provoke worldwide discussion, debates, and reform.  WikiLeaks released the video as well 250,000 documents of diplomatic cables, now referred to as “Cablegate”.
In contrast to Pentagon Papers, critics of WikiLeaks point out that, WikiLeaks’s huge data dump as an indiscriminate act of dissemination of data that included the names of agents and sensitive diplomatic cables endangering lives in the process. Some have even likened it to no more than rifling through the neighbour's bins and publishing their bank statements on the internet. The official line is that diplomacy depends on secrecy. It is part of statecraft going far back into history. By compromising secrecy, WikiLeaks and the media outlets that feed off its website are placing the whole system of international relations in jeopardy.
The notion that millions of Americans already had access to 250,000 confidential diplomatic files beggars belief. Many of the diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks confirm what journalists, and most sensible citizens, loathe — that what is said in private does not accord with what is said in public.  Diplomats regard such hypocrisy as typical, just as they accept the compromises necessary to get along with despots. It is part of their trade.
However, the history of journalism suggests that democracy has benefited from a knowledgeable and informed citizenry. Society thrives on transparency and accountability.
Politicians have, however, resisted such notions including the reporting / televising of Parliament or Senate or Congress for years. This does not mean that freedom of speech war has been won because those in the know inevitably develop alternative ways to conceal things from the public's knowledge.
However, In the digital age both journalists and citizens have many ways to discover more than ever before. It is easy for whistle-blowers to bring material to the public domain.  Based on the leaks thus far, short-term consequences might be embarrassing, though it is questionable whether they will ever be as catastrophic as so many officials and spokesmen are claiming.
At the same time, it is changing the face of journalism too. The newspaper journalists have now the responsibility to turn the leaked cables into sensible, readable news.  Contemporary journalists are still doing what their ancestors did, that is, making sense of heaps of knowledge for the wider public good.
Persecution of Assange
It is not totally unexpected then, given the red faces in the administration, Julian Assange is being pursued by the Interpol, the Swedish Sergeants, the British Police and commercial organizations like Mastercard, Paypal and even Amazon have jettisoned him. Most of the media are demanding that Julian Assange be hunted down, with some politicians calling him to be branded a terrorist and punished with a death penalty. It would not be far fetched to speculate that the various actions being pursued are at the behest of US, whether by arm-twisting its cronies or by its allies across the world.
Daniel Ellsberg commented - "If I released the Pentagon Papers today, the same rhetoric and the same calls would be made about me. I would be called not only a traitor—which I was then, which was false and slanderous—but I would be called a terrorist... Assange and Bradley Manning (Private from US army – the source of the leak) are no more terrorists than I am. Every attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time.
WikiLeaks has let the genie of transparency out of a very opaque bottle, and powerful forces in America, who thrive on secrecy, are trying desperately to stuff the genie back in.  Ironically enough, in a recent commentary in Pravda: “What WikiLeaks has done is make people understand why so many Americans are politically apathetic … After all, the evils committed by those in power can be suffocating, and the sense of powerlessness that erupts can be paralyzing, especially when … government evildoers almost always get away with their crimes. …
The American people should be outraged that their government has transformed a nation with a reputation for freedom, justice, tolerance and respect for human rights into a backwater that revels in its criminality, cover-ups, injustices and hypocrisies.”
 “The corruption of the press is part of our sad reality, and it reveals the complicity of the oligarchy.” Monsenor Romero.  Sadly, that is also true of the media situation across the world today.
The challenge is to make the truth available in a straightforward way so that the public can draw its conclusions.
“There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nothing hidden that will not be made known. Everything you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight; what you have whispered in locked rooms will be proclaimed from the rooftops.” – SAAII.
As Charles Dickens put it, “There is nothing so strong ……. as the simple truth.”
As the Chinese curse goes – “May you live in interesting times”  - The Assange judicial saga has just begun!!!!!.  Meanwhile the fight for freedom of speech takes a new turn….with retaliatory cyber attacks!!! 

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

India v China - Crouching Tiger, Roaring (or Slowing) Dragon

Comparisons between India and China have always evoked enormous interest but in recent times this has taken the top slot for discussion in economic forums and cocktail circuit alike.

The graph below (source: EIU) shows the expected growth rates of the two Asian engines of global growth and refers to a slowing growth rate in the Chinese economy.  It is important to recognise that slowing growth rate of China’s is by design as it turns its focus on the quality of its growth (balanced economy and wider distribution of prosperity). 

World Bank expects India to eclipse China’s growth rate in 2011/12 when China is expected to grow at a rate of 8.5% as opposed to India’s 8.7%.  Obviously one has to remember that India is growing from a smaller base and the absolute growth will still be higher in China. India may also outpace China’s growth rate as it is coming off a lower base. India’s income per head would have to grow at 8% a year for 17 years to match the level China enjoys today. One year of faster growth does not, then, mean that India is somehow overtaking China.

Both countries have large population and huge income disparity. Both countries are grappling with the challenge of keeping the economic growth inclusive, though unsuccessfully with increasing economic disparity. And that’s where the similarity begins and ends.

China is essentially a manufacturing powerhouse while India has focused on services to drive economic growth.  China is much bigger (about 4x of India) and stronger with much better execution of infrastructure projects compared to India (a glaring example is - Beijing Olympic Games v New Delhi Commonwealth Games).  China has the ability to execute projects within a predictable time frame and at reasonable cost as it has less legal hassles to deal with.

It is expected that both countries will continue to grow strongly, however, the future bodes well for India. The reasons are largely demographic. China’s one-child policy, introduced in 1978 will result in the number of young Chinese (15-29-year-olds) falling sharply after 2011, depriving the country’s factories of mobile young workforce. Within a couple of years, Chinese youngsters will be outnumbered by their Indian counterparts, even though India’s population will not match China’s until about 2025. In 2020 the average age in India will be 29 versus 37 in China and 48 in Japan.


The focus in China is moving to quality of growth rather than pursuing quantitative growth targets.  Where does this ‘quality of growth’ likely to reflect?

§         Reduce economic and social disparity – Pursue policies to help the weakest strata of society through wage support, self employment programmes and the development of health care and social security;
§         Boosting domestic consumption as a share of overall GDP growth – increasing domestic consumption is a priority for China to further insulate its economy from external shocks; India scores well in this respect.
§         Restraining the current account surplus.  China is increasingly coming under pressure from the US to revalue the CNY.  As part of this, increased flexibility of the CNY is likely to persist, including more appreciation and further steps to boost its usage. The developments currently taking place in Hong Kong are interesting as China aims to further boost the usage of CNY for trade settlements.
§         Reducing carbon footprint- steps to deliberately restrain the output of energy polluting industries.


While China opened up to foreign direct investment in 1978, India opened much later, in 1991 following the balance of payments crisis. India still has massive catching up to do, particularly in infrastructure. While the level of infrastructure is clearly substandard and fails dramatically in any direct comparison with China, India has planned to invest US$ 1 trillion in infrastructure projects during the plan period 2012-17. Poor infrastructure, it is estimated, knocks off a full 2% of the GDP growth.  It remains to be seen as to how much of the spend in projects is realised in quality infrastructure and how much of it is consumed in graft and scams! 

India has remarkably positive demographics. India is also turning its focus on pursuing policies to boost agricultural productivity which, if successful, might help boost trend growth considerably. The above factors will have positive influence on growth rates.

India is about to experience some years of Chinese growth rates.  It is not yet certain whether India will become the world’s fastest-growing big economy in 2011. If it does so, it will have to be thankful to China for shifting its focus to quality of growth, more than its own effort!

The debate should be India & China

The combined GDP of the BRIC nations might exceed the US GDP before this decade is over.  Below are two interesting graphs that show the composition of world GDP over time and it is quite telling.

Interesting data points: 

1) In 1700 India, China and Europe had about the same GDPs at 20% of world GDP each;
2) From early 1800s China and India are straight down hill while the US is straight up;
3) Around 1973 India and China awoke and are starting to climb back, while US and Europe fell respectively.

A peek at the history tells us that up to the 1830's, India and China were 50 percent of the world's G.D.P., and then they missed the entire revolution of industry.  It may well be time for the Asian giants to dance!

Both countries are expected to enjoy strong economic growth.  To put this in the context of the world economy, there is a decisive shift in the balance of economic power from the West to the East.

So if you take a long view of this game, this journey has just begun! Enjoy the ride!!

Thursday, 4 November 2010


Barely two years ago, even as the financial system was staring into abyss, there was an overwhelming desire from major countries to act in concert.  The fear of a global financial meltdown was too powerful a motivation that propelled the G20 towards a unanimous agreement for a coordinated policy action. This now seems like a distant memory as countries are pursuing their domestic goals as such fears have dissipated.

This is further accentuated by a divergence in economic outlook between the East & the West and the effects of policies pursued in some regions are having adverse impact on others.

In the West growth is faltering as the effects of fiscal stimulus fades. A double-dip is possible if there is a policy misstep, a further shock or a loss of confidence. With this backdrop, timing of policy tightening is the big fear for the Central Bankers’ in the West.

Basle 3 regulations imposes increased requirements for bank capital and liquidity.  The mood was “never waste a good crisis”. It seemingly assumes capital and funding will be available cheaply and in abundance to meet the new requirements.  The reality cannot be farther from this.  It will neither cheap nor will it be limitless.  Any increased cost of raising capital and liquidity by banks will be passed onto customers.  To the extend demand for capital and funding cannot be met banks will limit lending.  

Regulatory actions to appease the public now seems likely as politicians force draconian measures on banks, that will most likely lead them to shrink balance sheets and restrain lending.  This will herald a new credit crunch.  Although a global deal, the reality is the US never adopted its predecessor Basle 2 and some countries may implement different measures now. With change in political scene in the U.S. it remains to be seen whether some the measures may soften as high unemployment in the west continues to be the major political issue.

The monetary and fiscal policies pursued by the West is driving asset prices through the roof in Asia and is leading to the heightened risk of asset bubbles in most Asian markets.
Low interest rates, quantitative easing and loose fiscal policies in the west has encouraged the classic “carry trade” as money flows in search of higher returns to emerging economies. The combination of cheap money, one-way expectations, and the ability to borrow creates the environment in which asset price inflation occurs unabated  and bubbles are created, destabilising economies.

Hence in the west, interest rates will have to stay low to limit the pain. This will feed flows to the east, adding to bubbles and inflation across much of Asia. Thus, currency policy has come to centre-stage. Intervention by China and others to keep foreign exchange competitive for their exports is adding to trade tensions. Consequently, there is an increase in decibel levels around exchange controls, the fear of protectionism and talk of currency wars.

Intervening to stop a currency appreciating is easier than trying to stop one weakening. If a currency is overvalued and the markets decide to sell then it is just a matter of time before it falls. In contrast, governments and central banks can stop a currency appreciating.   

Thus it has become popular to consider exchange controls. Recently Brazil doubled the tax on bond inflows. Thailand re-introduced withholding tax for foreign investors. But if a country has been liberalising, controls may be less effective, being easier to circumvent. Also, any tax will have to be high enough to deter investors if they still think a country's prospects are good. Despite this, such controls are welcome, even if they just deter currency speculators.

In the near-term other measures may be needed. Hong Kong and Singapore have used specific measures to cap their property markets.

Some have opted for currency appreciation, although it has an adverse impact on export competitiveness. Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, have allowed their currencies to strengthen. Although many Asian currencies are undervalued the big problem is the Chinese renminbi. Thus recent talk of currency wars needs to be kept in perspective.

An important thing to remember is that currency moves alone will not guarantee a stronger global growth. They are only part of the puzzle.  To rebalance the global economy there is a need for the west to save, the east to spend and currencies to adjust.

China, by keeping a strong economic growth, feels it is doing its bit. Hence it is unlikely to shift policy dramatically and as reiterated by them prefer gradualism. Ahead of the G20 meeting in Seoul next week it is always possible that there may be token moves  of appreciation. But may not be enough.

Across Asia, stronger currencies, higher interest rates and macro-prudential measures to curb asset prices with exchange controls to curb speculative inflows may all be needed. However, progress may be gradual. That is a big challenge.

In the west, fragile economies mean a failure to resolve the currency issue could lead to trade protectionism, led by the US. This is why global policy coordination is crucial.

Recent weeks have continued to see mixed data from around the world on the economic outlook. This has added to the air of uncertainty. In addition, uncertainty about future policy stances has increased.

What about Double-dip?

The biggest concern at the moment is - whether there will be a double-dip in the West. Across much of the emerging world, economic conditions are broadly stabilising.  In the West, however, there are enough uncertainties that could trigger a double dip:
§         an external shock e.g. sovereign default by one of the bigger euro zone countries;
§         rising food and commodity prices leading to domestic pressures;
§         a policy misstep;
§         or a loss of confidence.  

Any of these or a combination of these have the potential to derail the fragile economic recovery.  Deleveraging and the overhang of debt take time to work their way through an economy.

As the policy stimulus of the last year wears off, and as some of the Western banks that received aid face the need to roll over borrowings, it is important to be aware of downside risks.  
In the US, big corporates’ appear to be in far better shape than smaller ones, and although credit conditions for small firms appear to be past the worst, they are tough. The situation is the same in the UK. Hence, there is a need for both the Fed and the Bank of England not only to keep rates low, but to do more through quantitative easing. This is particularly so in the UK, where fiscal policy is to be tightened. The UK Comprehensive Spending Review is another reminder to the world of the challenges of unsustainable fiscal deficits facing governments in the West.

Europe has its own set of complexities. Should the European Central Bank (ECB)  tighten in response to the stronger growth in northern Europe – particularly Germany – or ease or stay accommodative to ease the pain in the south and the fringes. Any action will add to tensions. The likely concession may be that the ECB withdraw stimulus but hold off from interest rate hikes. None of this will prevent southern Europe, plus Ireland, from suffering a recession.  But in Germany, rising house prices are seen as an inflationary concern. This is the downside of a one-size-fits-all monetary policy.

Challenges faced by the emerging economies

The consequences of continued low US interest rates have taken its toll on some of the Middle East economies.  Due to the exchange rate peg to the USD in the Middle East, interest rates stayed far lower than where they needed to be for domestic reasons. This fed the boom there. Yet many emerging markets are not pegged to the USD and have chosen to intervene in their currencies.

The Asian economies have the ability to change set monetary and fiscal policy to suit domestic needs.  The lethal combination of cheap money, access to debt or ability to leverage, and one-way expectations is bad news. It fed asset bubbles in parts of the West. It now threatens to do likewise across emerging countries. Bubbles, of course, take time to develop.  The house prices in Tier 1 cities across Asia have all the hallmarks of a bubble. These countries have to act now before it is too late, as experience has shown that the bigger the bubble, the louder the thud!

Currencies do matter

This brings us the biggest topic currently in discussion – Currency Wars. China has started to allow its currency to appreciate gradually.  Yet from a domestic perspective, there may still be some unease about the possible impact on low-value-added exporters, many of which fear increased competition.  Within China, this will add to pressure for industry to move inland to take advantage of lower costs. But it still does not erase the fact that China's currency is cheaper than it should be.

China will, if not already, commence its diversification away from the dollar through its reserves management actions. They are investing increasing proportion of their new reserves into non-dollar assets.

Many countries would like to diversify into the Chinese yuan (CNY) itself. The growth of the offshore CNY (or CNH) market this summer in Hong Kong is perhaps a prelude to China paving the way for internationalisation of its currency in the future – not just for trade, but for more active use in investment and other decisions.

While it is necessary to view the issue of currency adjustment from all sides, the overwhelming view is that the Chinese currency needs to appreciate. Not only does this seem justified on domestic grounds for China, but it is also needed as part of global rebalancing. It would also take the pressure off of others who are intervening to keep their currencies competitive versus China’s.

But such arguments are not helped when the West engages in actively devaluing its currencies by pursuing policies such as “Quantitative Easing” (read printing money)! The latest is the Fed announcing a USD 600bn for QE2.

This crisis was triggered by a combination of factors: a failure to heed warning signs, particularly those associated with large deficits or cheap money; a systemic failure in the financial system itself; and an imbalanced global economy.

Restoring global balance requires a change in the behaviour of how countries operate.  The West (with the exception of Germany) needs to save more; East and Germany needs to spend more and the currencies be allowed to adjust to its NEER co-oefficient of 1 (Nominal effective exchange rate).

Germany manages to export considerably and has done so for some time because of the quality, not the price, of its goods. It should also recognised that China has made a huge contribution to the post-crisis recovery through its domestic policy boost, and through its impact on world trade.

Currency wars are a reflection of uncertain economic times. The fear is that unemployment in the West will remain stubbornly high. Protectionism is always a risk. There have been signs of this in the financial sector over the last couple of years, and the threat of trade protectionism is now resurfacing. How the currency war evolves will have a huge bearing on the global economic recovery.

QE2 is likely to raise the hackles for China and it is giving a legitimate concern for them as the impact this will be felt on the Chinese economy.

Overall, currency is needed not just to prevent a move towards a trade war, but also as part of the process of preventing bubbles across the emerging world. That is why domestic monetary policy such as appropriate interest rates, macro-prudential measures to curb domestic asset prices, and targeted exchange controls to curb speculative inflows may all be needed.

The imminent G20 summit in Seoul next week may not be the forum at which this issue will come to a head. France has put currencies, commodities and even capitalism itself, amongst the topics to be addressed in the G20 next year, when it holds the presidency.  

It remains to be seen whether this may yet blow out into an all out trade war and protectionist actions.  I hope not, as in that scenario every one would be a loser! Will wise heads agree to coordinated action in the coming weeks? Watch this space!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Order of Fenix

The rescue mission capsule was aptly named as "Phoenix" (albeit with a Spanish slant - "Fenix"). The Chilean Miners’ saga captured the attention of almost the entire world as it unfolded culminating with the final rescue mission after 69 days of confinement.  It was probably the best reality TV one could have witnessed with most of the major news channels covering the rescue effort 24X7.  

In the end, it was a triumph of courage, unflinching faith and above all unwavering hope. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said "We have done what the entire world was waiting for.” The president told Urzua, the shift Supervisor (No. 33rd to emerge):  "You are not the same, and the country is not the same after this. You were an inspiration. Go hug your wife and your daughter."  With Urzua by his side, he led the crowd in singing the national anthem. U.S. President Barack Obama said the rescue had "inspired the world."

It is very hard to even imagine how the 33 men survived the initial 17 days when they had no interaction with the external world and had only 2 days of food supply. They only had 10 cans of tuna to share, and that the only water they could drink tasted of oil. And when they were eventually contacted they were informed that it could take several months to get them out.
The miners said it felt like an earthquake when the shaft finally collapsed above them, filling the lower reaches of the mine with suffocating dust. It took hours before they could even begin to see.
Just getting trapped in an elevator for a few hours can be daunting for many of us and here we are talking of getting trapped 650 mts. below the ground in a humid environment with no communication to the outside world for 17 days!.
Once their news of survival reached, even NASA was called upon to offer advice on how to best care for the miners in their state of isolation and confinement, their mental health is obviously being the main concern.

Knowing that a huge rescue effort is underway must offer a certain degree of comfort but how will the men come to terms with the fact they will not see daylight for weeks to come? And what mental resilience will they require?
There are a lot of parallels with space missions, which can sometimes leave astronauts stranded for unexpectedly long periods of time, says Dr Kevin Fong from the Centre for Altitude, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine at University College London. "This is as extreme as it gets and actually far more austere than for astronauts - I can't even begin to imagine it. They are isolated in a hazardous environment and the psychological stress will be quite impressive."

I am eager to find out about their mental state when they were trapped and staring almost a certain death in its face on what their thoughts were during those dark days when they little survival prospect, if any.  It makes one to contemplate the extremes - whether they would have turned into cannibals to extend their life?  Or would they have gracefully accepted death?

The question keeps coming back - What kept them going? How did they draw their strength? It will be a fascinating read when their memoirs are eventually published.

Mining industry is prone with accidents and the previous record of longest period of ordeal before their eventual rescue was 25 days.
Among the most compelling stories from the ordeal will be Urzua's (33rd to exit - a true leader!!). He was the shift foreman when 700,000 tons of rock sealed them in. It was his strict rationing of the 48-hour food supply that helped them stay alive until help arrived. He was a fundamental pillar that enabled them to keep discipline.
There were critical moments, but at the end they never lost their hope because they had very positive leaders who kept the group unified. None of the miners are suffering from shock despite their harrowing entrapment, a reflection of the daily care and feeding sent through a narrow bore hole by a team of hundreds, and the team of psychologists that helped keep them sane. The men certainly have an extraordinary story to tell. No one before them had been trapped so long and survived.

The rescue exceeded expectations every step of the way. Officials first said it might be four months before they could get the men out; it turned out to be 69 days and about 8 hours. That got faster as the operation went along, and all the miners were safely above ground in 22 hours, 37 minutes.
The miners made the smooth ascent inside a capsule called Fenix 2– 13 feet tall, barely wider than their shoulders and painted in the white, blue and red of the Chilean flag. It had a door that stuck occasionally, and some wheels had to be replaced, but it worked exactly as planned.

"We were completely surprised," added Health Minister Jaime Manalich. "Any effort we could have made doesn't explain the health condition these people have today."
If this is not miracle, then what is it? Miracles are experienced by those who keep an unwavering faith and belief. Their triumph was cheered right through the world and rightfully so.

Unity helped the men, known as "los 33," survive for 69 days underground, including more than two weeks when no one knew whether they were alive.  Pictures of the miners as they emerged from the Fenix Capsule shows it all.

The Chilean miners’ story has all the elements of Drama, Love, Betrayal, Hope, Courage, Despair et al.  the ingredients for the making of an epic Hollywood / Bollywood movie…

Let’s take a peek at some of the key characters as compiled from the various press reports (and it is indeed fascinating):

THE YOUNGSTER – Jimmy Sanchez [No. 5]
Jimmy Sanchez, the youngest at 19, proposed to his 17-year-old girlfriend while he was trapped below, though his father urged him to reconsider. The couple have a 4-month-old baby girl,.  "You are just 19, and have so much life ahead of you, to enjoy, to know people," read the letter Eugenio Sanchez sent to his son. "It cannot be that because you are now closed up in the mine that you are going to throw away all your plans."
"It's fine that you want to be with Helencita and everything... but get married? Well, marriage is a really serious thing." But girlfriend Helen Avalos said she was sure they would be wed.  "He has to keep his word," she said. But first, "We'll have an enormous party. I think we'll have almost 500 people."

THE MEDIC or “Dil ka Rogi (a.k.a Love Rat)” – Johnny Barrios Rojas [No. 21]
Dubbed "el enfermero" – the nurse – Barrios, 50, served as the miners' medic during the ordeal, dispensing medication sent in by health officials, passing out nicotine patches and photographing wounds. He reportedly ended all his letters this way: "Get me out of this hole, dead or alive."
Johnny Barrios Rojas' rescue was among the most anticipated – if only to see who would be there to greet him.  Order No. 21 of the men pulled from the collapsed mine, Barrios gained notoriety as the man who had two women at Camp Hope – his wife of 28 years, Marta Salinas, and his mistress of four, Susana Valenzuela.
Salinas apparently knew nothing of the affair until the two women ran into each other amid the tents pitched by family members anxiously holding vigil – and a very public spat ensued. The 50-year-old Barrios looked around sheepishly Wednesday as he emerged from the rescue tube that elevated him to the Earth's surface, peering through dark glasses as mining officials in red shirts applauded loudly.
Behind him, smiling widely and waiting for him to notice her stood Valenzuela. When he didn't, the round-faced strawberry blonde walked around to face Barrios and gave him a long kiss and hug, weeping into the shoulder of his jumpsuit as he whispered into her ear.
Salinas was nowhere to be seen and had indicated that she would not be present to greet him. Weeks earlier, Barrios' wife had ripped down a poster of her husband put up by his mistress. Defiant, the mistress taped the poster back up, and beneath several poems and prayers she had dedicated to him, she signed it, "Your Wife."

THE ORGANIZER – Omar Reygadas [No. 17]
Omar Reygadas became a great-grandfather – for the fourth time – while trapped underground. The 56-year-old electrician had survived other mine collapses and was said to have exclaimed "Not again!" when he and the others were trapped by the Aug. 5 collapse. Reygadas later helped organize life below the surface, calming others when they got nervous and helping them get what they needed from authorities outside.
"He is in charge of ensuring that we are well," one miner wrote to his wife.

THE EVANGELIST – Jose Henriquez [No. 24]
Jose Henriquez turned to his Christian faith while he was underground, forming a prayer group that met several times a day, and asking to have 33 Bibles sent down the narrow supply passage.
Nevertheless, the 56-year-old father of twin daughters had one vice he hoped the time underground would cure.  Herniquez' wife Hettiz Berrios was said to be happy when her husband asked authorities to send him food rather than cigarettes. "He's trying to stop puffing. ... Hopefully he'll do it," she said.

THE FOOTBALLER – Franklin Lobos [No. 27]
Former Chilean national soccer player Franklin Lobos has never seen a bigger victory. Lobos briefly bounced a soccer ball on his foot and knee as he stepped from the capsule that carried him from the mine where he was trapped with 32 other men. Then he embraced relatives and President Pinera.
The 53-year-old is the only rescued man whose name was widely known in Chile before the disaster. He played for the Chilean team that qualified for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He was the driver of a truck that takes miners to and from the mine. He was in the mine with the group he drives when the collapse occurred – leaving them alive but cut off from the outside world.

THE LEADER – Luiz Urzua [No 33]
Luis Urzua, 54 The shift foreman, known as Don Lucho by other miners, took a leading role while they were trapped and made maps of their cave.
Speaking from a hospital bed at the San José mine, shift foreman Luis Urzúa – the man who kept the Chilean miners alive for two months – said his secret for keeping the men bonded and focused on survival was majority decision-making.
"You just have to speak the truth and believe in democracy," said Urzúa, his eyes hidden behind black glasses. President Sebastián Piñera greeted him with tears in his eyes. "You're not the same after this and neither are we,"  President Piñera told him. "We will never forget this."


Finally, the order of Fenix was determined by the psychologists and the Ministry of Health officials based on an assessment of physical and mental strength of the miners.  The initial few were chosen for their physical and mental strength and also to provide a morale booster for the rest – providing them with the belief that “It can be done”!

1. Florencio Avalos, 2. Mario Sepulveda, 3. Juan Illanes, 4. Carlos Mamani, 5. Jimmy Sanchez, 6. Osman Araya, 7. Jose Ojeda, 8. Claudio Yanez, 9. Mario Gomez, 10. Alex Vega, 11. Jorge Galleguillos, 12. Edison Pena, 13. Carlos Barrios, 14. Victor Zamora, 15. Víctor Segovia, 16. Daniel Herrera, 17. Omar Reygadas, 18. Esteban Rojas, 19. Pablo Rojas, 20.Dario Segovia, 21. Yonni Barrios, 22. Samuel Avalos, 23.Carlos Bugueno, 24. Jose Henriquez, 25. Renan Avalos, 26. Claudio Acuna, 27. Franklin Lobos, 28. Richard Villarroel, 29. Juan Aguilar, 30. Raul Bustos, 31. Pedro Cortez, 32. Ariel Ticona, 33. Luis Urzua.

What Next?
  • A Greek mining company wants to bring them to the sunny Aegean islands, competing with rainy Chiloe in the country's southern archipelago, whose tourism bureau wants them to stay for a week.
  • Soccer teams in Madrid, Manchester and Buenos Aires want them in their stadiums. Bolivia's president wants them at his palace. TV host Don Francisco wants them all on his popular "Sabado Gigante" show in Miami.
  • Hearing that miner Edison Pena jogged regularly in the tunnels below the collapsed rock, the New York City marathon invited him to participate in next month's race.
  • The rescue team even asked Guinness World Records to honor all 33 with the record for longest time trapped underground, rather than the last miner out, Luis Urzua. Guinness spokeswoman Jamie Panas said the organization was studying the question.
Mining is Chile's lifeblood, providing 40 percent of state earnings, and Pinera put his mining minister and the operations chief of state-owned Codelco, the country's biggest company, in charge of the rescue.

Psychiatrists and other experts in surviving extreme situations predict their lives will be anything but normal. Rejoining a world intensely curious about their ordeal, they have been invited to presidential palaces, to take all-expenses-paid vacations and to appear on countless TV shows. Book and movie deals are pending, along with job offers. Their life is guaranteed to be anything but normal for many reasons!!!

The fascinating story of the Chilean Miners will continue to interest social psychologists and the entertainment industry.  This has many more twists and turns and this is just the beginning!!!.

Ultimately, I end this story with this thought:

“Faith is a sounder guide than reason. Reason can only go so far, but faith has no limits”.    ~Blaise Pascal~