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Mexican Truckers Travel in Fear as Highway Robberies Bleed Economy

Glancing constantly at his rear view mirror, truck driver “El Flaco” journeys the highways of Mexico haunted by the memory of when he was kidnapped with his security detail by bandits disguised as police officers two years ago.

Back then, El Flaco, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, was beaten, blindfolded and taken to a house near Mexico City where his captors threatened to kill him. Three days later he managed to escape and flee.

Today he travels with a machete and a satellite tracking device in his cab that can pinpoint him in emergencies.

Truckers covering Mexico’s vast territory often move in convoys to reduce the risk of robberies, which in 2017 almost doubled to nearly 3,000. Some drive with armed escorts traveling alongside them. Others remove the logos from their trucks.

Companies like brewer Grupo Modelo, a unit of AB InBev, and the Mexican subsidiary of South Korea’s LG Electronics have stepped up efforts to protect their drivers, deploying sophisticated geo-location technology and increasing communication with authorities.

The problem is part of a wider Latin American scourge of highway robbery that acts as a further drag on a region long held back by sub-par infrastructure.

“Roads are getting more and more dangerous, you try not to stop,” the 50-year-old El Flaco said, as he drove in the central state of Puebla, the epicenter of highway freight theft.

“Since I was kidnapped, I’ve gotten into the habit of looking in the mirror, checking car number plates, looking at who’s gone past me,” he added. “I look at everything.”

On the most dangerous roads, like those connecting Mexico City with major ports on the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, it is almost certain that one in every two truckers will be held up, a study by U.S.-based security firm Sensitech showed.

While no official data on losses exist, insurers paid out almost $100 million in 2016 to crime-hit cargo operators, up 4.5 percent on 2015, Mexican insurance association AMIS says.

The true sum is likely far higher: only one in three loads is insured due to the cost, according to industry estimates.

More than 80 percent of goods are transported by road and rail in Mexico, and the thefts are hurting competitiveness at a time the country is seeking to diversify trade and tap new sources of business.

Fuels, food and beverages, building materials, chemicals, electronic goods, auto parts and clothing are all top targets, Sensitech said.

Competition squeeze

Upon taking office in December 2012, President Enrique Pena Nieto promised to get a grip on gang violence and lawlessness.

But after some initial progress, the situation deteriorated and murders hit their highest level on record last year.

Highway robberies of trucks fell through 2014. But they almost doubled in 2015 to 985, hit 1,587 in 2016 and reached 2,944 last year.

The government has responded by stepping up police patrols in affected areas and lengthening prison sentences for freight robbery to 15 years. But robberies are still rising and most are not even reported due to the arduous bureaucratic process involved, Sensitech says.

“It’s hurting productivity and competitiveness,” said Leonardo Gomez, who heads a transportation national industry body.

Some drivers are armoring cabs in trucks made by companies like U.S. firm Kenworth, an expensive move that still only covers a tiny fraction of the almost 11 million trucks crisscrossing Latin America’s second-largest economy.

Last year, 53 trucks were armored against high-caliber weapons, up 40 percent from 2016, according to the Mexican Association of Automotive Armorers.

Attacks are not confined to roads. Some 1,752 robberies were recorded on railways last year, official data show. Criminals have also become more sophisticated.

They are turning to high-caliber weapons and employ devices to block Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to prevent trucks communicating their whereabouts, experts say.

Previously, companies that suffered robberies were generally able to recover their vehicles. Not any more.

“It’s not just the goods they want, it’s the trucks too,” said Carlos Jimenez of Mexican insurance association AMIS.

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Mexican Truckers Travel in Fear as Highway Robberies Bleed Economy

Glancing constantly at his rear view mirror, truck driver “El Flaco” journeys the highways of Mexico haunted by the memory of when he was kidnapped with his security detail by bandits disguised as police officers two years ago.

Back then, El Flaco, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, was beaten, blindfolded and taken to a house near Mexico City where his captors threatened to kill him. Three days later he managed to escape and flee.

Today he travels with a machete and a satellite tracking device in his cab that can pinpoint him in emergencies.

Truckers covering Mexico’s vast territory often move in convoys to reduce the risk of robberies, which in 2017 almost doubled to nearly 3,000. Some drive with armed escorts traveling alongside them. Others remove the logos from their trucks.

Companies like brewer Grupo Modelo, a unit of AB InBev, and the Mexican subsidiary of South Korea’s LG Electronics have stepped up efforts to protect their drivers, deploying sophisticated geo-location technology and increasing communication with authorities.

The problem is part of a wider Latin American scourge of highway robbery that acts as a further drag on a region long held back by sub-par infrastructure.

“Roads are getting more and more dangerous, you try not to stop,” the 50-year-old El Flaco said, as he drove in the central state of Puebla, the epicenter of highway freight theft.

“Since I was kidnapped, I’ve gotten into the habit of looking in the mirror, checking car number plates, looking at who’s gone past me,” he added. “I look at everything.”

On the most dangerous roads, like those connecting Mexico City with major ports on the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, it is almost certain that one in every two truckers will be held up, a study by U.S.-based security firm Sensitech showed.

While no official data on losses exist, insurers paid out almost $100 million in 2016 to crime-hit cargo operators, up 4.5 percent on 2015, Mexican insurance association AMIS says.

The true sum is likely far higher: only one in three loads is insured due to the cost, according to industry estimates.

More than 80 percent of goods are transported by road and rail in Mexico, and the thefts are hurting competitiveness at a time the country is seeking to diversify trade and tap new sources of business.

Fuels, food and beverages, building materials, chemicals, electronic goods, auto parts and clothing are all top targets, Sensitech said.

Competition squeeze

Upon taking office in December 2012, President Enrique Pena Nieto promised to get a grip on gang violence and lawlessness.

But after some initial progress, the situation deteriorated and murders hit their highest level on record last year.

Highway robberies of trucks fell through 2014. But they almost doubled in 2015 to 985, hit 1,587 in 2016 and reached 2,944 last year.

The government has responded by stepping up police patrols in affected areas and lengthening prison sentences for freight robbery to 15 years. But robberies are still rising and most are not even reported due to the arduous bureaucratic process involved, Sensitech says.

“It’s hurting productivity and competitiveness,” said Leonardo Gomez, who heads a transportation national industry body.

Some drivers are armoring cabs in trucks made by companies like U.S. firm Kenworth, an expensive move that still only covers a tiny fraction of the almost 11 million trucks crisscrossing Latin America’s second-largest economy.

Last year, 53 trucks were armored against high-caliber weapons, up 40 percent from 2016, according to the Mexican Association of Automotive Armorers.

Attacks are not confined to roads. Some 1,752 robberies were recorded on railways last year, official data show. Criminals have also become more sophisticated.

They are turning to high-caliber weapons and employ devices to block Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to prevent trucks communicating their whereabouts, experts say.

Previously, companies that suffered robberies were generally able to recover their vehicles. Not any more.

“It’s not just the goods they want, it’s the trucks too,” said Carlos Jimenez of Mexican insurance association AMIS.

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Indian Innovators Convert Diesel Exhaust Into Ink To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink. 

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest. 

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye. 

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up. 

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using. 

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems. 

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink. 

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon. 

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says. 

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere. 

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms. 

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. 

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Indian Innovators Convert Diesel Exhaust Into Ink To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink. 

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest. 

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye. 

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up. 

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using. 

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems. 

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink. 

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon. 

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says. 

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere. 

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms. 

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. 

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Trump Praises New, Berates Former CIA Director

Former CIA officer Gina Haspel has become the first woman to head the U.S. spy agency after a swearing-in ceremony Monday. Haspel has overcome the criticism by lawmakers of both parties for her involvement in the torture of terror suspects after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump praised her ability to overcome what he called “a lot of very negative politics” and said no one was more qualified the job. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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Trump Praises New, Berates Former CIA Director

Former CIA officer Gina Haspel has become the first woman to head the U.S. spy agency after a swearing-in ceremony Monday. Haspel has overcome the criticism by lawmakers of both parties for her involvement in the torture of terror suspects after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump praised her ability to overcome what he called “a lot of very negative politics” and said no one was more qualified the job. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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Commemorative Coin Struck for Trump-Kim Summit

A commemorative coin featuring U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has been struck by the White House Communications Agency ahead of their planned summit next month.

In a statement, deputy spokesman Raj Shah insisted that “the White House did not have any input into the design and manufacture of the coin.”

The coin depicts Trump and Kim, described as North Korea’s “Supreme Leader,” in profile facing each other in front of a background of U.S. and North Korean flags.

At the top of the front, the words “Peace Talks” are emblazoned, with the date “2018” beneath.

The back of the coin features a picture of the White House, Air Force One and the presidential seal.

Trump is scheduled to hold a landmark summit with the North Korean leader in Singapore on June 12, but Pyongyang has recently threatened to pull out over U.S. demands for “unilateral nuclear abandonment.”

The White House Communications Agency regularly issues commemorative or challenge coins to present to foreign guests, diplomats and members of the military.

A number of the coins are available for sale through the White House Gift Office.

“Since 2003, White House Communications Agency members have ordered a limited number of commercially designed and manufactured souvenir travel coins for purchase,” Shah explained.

“These coins are designed, manufactured and made by an American coin manufacturer. These souvenir coins are only ordered after a trip has been publicly announced.”

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Commemorative Coin Struck for Trump-Kim Summit

A commemorative coin featuring U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has been struck by the White House Communications Agency ahead of their planned summit next month.

In a statement, deputy spokesman Raj Shah insisted that “the White House did not have any input into the design and manufacture of the coin.”

The coin depicts Trump and Kim, described as North Korea’s “Supreme Leader,” in profile facing each other in front of a background of U.S. and North Korean flags.

At the top of the front, the words “Peace Talks” are emblazoned, with the date “2018” beneath.

The back of the coin features a picture of the White House, Air Force One and the presidential seal.

Trump is scheduled to hold a landmark summit with the North Korean leader in Singapore on June 12, but Pyongyang has recently threatened to pull out over U.S. demands for “unilateral nuclear abandonment.”

The White House Communications Agency regularly issues commemorative or challenge coins to present to foreign guests, diplomats and members of the military.

A number of the coins are available for sale through the White House Gift Office.

“Since 2003, White House Communications Agency members have ordered a limited number of commercially designed and manufactured souvenir travel coins for purchase,” Shah explained.

“These coins are designed, manufactured and made by an American coin manufacturer. These souvenir coins are only ordered after a trip has been publicly announced.”

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Robots Taking Over Grocery Warehouses

Grocery stores in the U.S. are locked in a fierce battle for customers who often demand the convenience of home deliveries. Automation is increasingly becoming part of the competitive equation. When U.S. mail-order retail giant Amazon shook up the supermarket industry with its purchase of Whole Foods, America’s second biggest food retailer, Kroger, responded by partnering with a British online supermarket known for its advanced warehouse technology. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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Watchdog Report to Fault FBI for Clinton Probe Delay

An upcoming report from the Justice Department’s internal watchdog is expected to criticize senior FBI leaders for not moving quickly enough to review a trove of Hillary Clinton emails discovered late in the 2016 campaign, according to people familiar with the findings.

The FBI’s timing has been a sore point for Clinton supporters, who say then-director James Comey’s announcement of the new review less than two weeks before the Nov. 8, 2016, election contributed to her loss. The agency’s findings affirming its decision not to pursue criminal charges against Clinton were disclosed two days before the vote — too late, her supporters say, to undo the damage.

Some FBI officials knew in September 2016 of the emails on former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s laptop but the bureau did not obtain a warrant to review them until the following month. Clinton allies say the candidate’s name could have been cleared much faster if the FBI acted on the emails as soon as they knew of their existence.

An inspector general report examining a broad range of FBI actions during the Clinton email investigation will criticize officials, including Comey, for not moving fast enough to examine the email trove and for a weekslong delay in getting a warrant, according to people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press.

A lawyer for Comey and spokespeople for the inspector general and the FBI all declined to comment Monday.

The report will likely revive scrutiny of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton case and the extent to which it helped shape the outcome of the presidential election. Its conclusions may cut against President Donald Trump’s repeated assertions that the FBI was working against him during the campaign and instead revive allegations that the bureau broke from protocol in ways that ultimately harmed Clinton.

The nonpolitical watchdog has been repeatedly pulled into the partisan arena amid demands to investigate FBI actions in the early stages of its probe of possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. 

On Sunday, the Justice Department asked the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, to expand his existing investigation to look into whether Trump associates were improperly monitored during the campaign for political reasons.

The report dealing with the Clinton emails arises from a wide-ranging investigation launched in January 2017. It has been examining actions including Comey’s decision to announce his recommendation against criminal charges at an FBI headquarters news conference and his decision months later to alert Congress that the probe had been reopened because of the discovery of email messages on Weiner’s laptop.

The report is also expected to criticize two FBI officials who exchanged derogatory text messages about Trump during the course of the Clinton investigation.

A draft of the report has been completed, and officials whose actions are scrutinized in it have been permitted with their lawyers to review it and respond to the findings. The final version is expected out next month.

A separate inspector general report from last month faulted former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for misleading investigators about his role in a 2016 news media disclosure about an investigation into the Clinton Foundation. 

McCabe, who has denied wrongdoing, was fired because of those findings, and the inspector general has referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington for possible criminal prosecution.

Weiner is the former husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. His laptop was being analyzed by FBI investigators as part of a separate sexting investigation involving a teenage girl. Weiner, a former Democratic congressman from New York, is serving a 21-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to sending obscene material to a 15-year-old girl.

In his book released last month, “A Higher Loyalty,” Comey writes that he learned in early October — probably from McCabe — that Weiner’s laptop might hold a connection to the Clinton email investigation. He said he did not recall the conversation clearly and that it seemed like a “passing comment and the notion that Anthony Weiner’s computer might connect to … Hillary Clinton made no sense to me.”

Comey said it wasn’t until the morning of Oct. 27 when FBI officials asked his permission to seek a warrant for the Clinton emails, having determined that “hundreds of thousands of emails” from Clinton’s personal email domain existed on the computer and that there was no way Weiner would consent to a search of his entire laptop given the legal trouble he was in.

Some of the emails on the laptop had been forwarded by Abedin to Weiner to be printed out while others had been stored there after being backed up from personal electronic devices.

The FBI subsequently obtained a warrant, and though Comey said he was told there was no chance the email review would be done before the election, he announced on Nov. 6 that, “Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton.”

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