The New York Times 2024-02-23 04:49:32

Middle East Crisis: Hostage Talks Set for Paris on Friday

News of the talks in Paris emerges after a U.S. envoy meets with top officials in Israel.

Senior Israeli, Qatari, U.S. and Egyptian officials will meet in Paris on Friday to attempt to advance a deal for a cease-fire and the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, an Israeli official and a person briefed on the talks said on Thursday.

The news came after President Biden’s Mideast envoy met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials in Israel, part of a flurry of efforts to negotiate the release of hostages held in Gaza and a pause in the fighting. According to Israeli officials, about 100 hostages are still being held in Gaza. At least 30 others there are dead, officials believe.

The Mossad chief, David Barnea; the C.I.A. director, William Burns; the Qatari prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani; and Abbas Kamel, the head of Egyptian intelligence, are among the expected attendees, the Israeli official and the person briefed on the talks said, both speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the diplomatic developments.

Qatar and Egypt have been acting as intermediaries between Israel and Hamas, which do not negotiate directly.

On Tuesday, Hamas said that a delegation led by Ismail Haniyeh was in Cairo to discuss efforts to end the war with Egyptian officials. On Thursday, Hamas issued a statement saying that Mr. Haniyeh had met with the Egyptian intelligence chief and aides, and had concluded his visit. The statement said that among the topics those talks addressed were ending the war, the return of displaced people to their homes, humanitarian aid, swapping hostages for Palestinian prisoners, and “what the occupation is planning at al-Aqsa Mosque” during Ramadan.

Efforts to secure a cease-fire deal have taken on greater urgency as the death toll from four months of war in the Gaza Strip nears 30,000 Palestinians, according to health officials there, and as Israel’s stated plan to invade Gaza’s southernmost city, Rafah, raises international alarm.

The talks had appeared to stall last week, after discussions held in Cairo failed to reach a breakthrough. Mr. Netanyahu withdrew his negotiators, accusing Hamas of refusing to budge on what he called “ludicrous” demands and pledged to press on with Israel’s offensive.

But on Wednesday night, Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, said that there had been momentum on a new draft of a deal that indicated a “possibility to advance.”

And on Thursday, a White House official said that President Biden’s Middle East coordinator, Brett McGurk, had held “constructive” meetings in Israel with Mr. Netanyahu; Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister; and other members of Israel’s war cabinet.

“The initial indications we’re getting from Brett is these discussions are going well,” said the official, John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council. He also said that Mr. McGurk had spent a “good couple of hours” with Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. McGurk was focused on whether negotiators could “cement a hostage deal for an extended pause to get all of those hostages home where they belong and get a reduction in the violence so that we can get more humanitarian assistance,” Mr. Kirby said.

Mr. Gallant, after meeting with Mr. McGurk on Thursday in Tel Aviv, said that Israel’s government would “expand the authority given to our hostage negotiators.”

One person briefed on the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were indications that both Hamas and Israel were willing to negotiate over an interim deal that could exchange 35 Israeli hostages who are either medically frail or older for an undetermined number of Palestinian prisoners.

Mr. Kirby said Mr. McGurk intended to press the Israeli war cabinet for its plans for its military operation in Rafah.

“Nothing has changed about our view that any operation in Rafah without due consideration and a credible executive plan for the safety and security of the more than a million Palestinians seeking refuge in Rafah would be a disaster,” Mr. Kirby said. “We would not support that.”

Earlier this week, the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, saying it feared it could disrupt hostage negotiations.

Israeli and U.S. officials have argued that an immediate cease-fire would allow Hamas to regroup and fortify in Gaza, and reduce the pressure for making a deal to release hostages held in the territory.

The United States has drafted a rival resolution, which is still in early stages of negotiations, that calls for a temporary humanitarian cease-fire “as soon as practicable,” and the release of hostages.

Adam Sella and Cassandra Vinograd contributed reporting.

More patients have died at a hospital under Israeli siege in southern Gaza, officials report.

The Gaza Health Ministry said that conditions were deteriorating rapidly at the largest hospital in Khan Younis on Thursday and that Israeli forces had once again invaded the complex after a brief withdrawal earlier in the day.

The ministry said 13 patients who had died from the lack of power and oxygen in recent days had been buried within the hospital complex. Sewage had flooded its ground floor, the ministry said, and the hospital was out of drinking water and food.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on their operations or conditions at the hospital.

Nasser was the largest functioning hospital left in Gaza before Israeli forces stormed it last week in what the military said was a search for Hamas fighters, arms and the bodies of Israeli hostages. Before that, fighting had raged around the sprawling hospital for weeks, devastating the surrounding neighborhoods. Israeli troops had ordered thousands of displaced Palestinians who were sheltering at the hospital to leave, and doctors said some were shot at as they tried to flee.

The W.H.O. said on Sunday that Nasser could no longer function, and aid groups have been scrambling over the past week to transport patients from what the facility to other sites in southern Gaza, including field hospitals.

Dr. Ayadil Saparbekov, a W.H.O. official whose responsibilities cover Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory, said at a news conference on Thursday that 51 patients had been evacuated from Nasser over the course of three missions earlier in the week, but that 140 patients still remained. The W.H.O. and its partners would continue trying to move them, he said, but the situation remained “very difficult.”

Footage of the evacuation missions shared by the W.H.O. showed aid workers comforting patients in the dark and lifting them from hospital beds as explosions boomed nearby. W.H.O. personnel witnessed four doctors and nurses and about a dozen volunteers who were still at the hospital trying to keep patients alive, Dr. Saparbekov said. The hospital has no food, no medical supplies, no oxygen and no electricity, he said.

Gaza’s health ministry reported on Thursday evening that Israeli forces had withdrawn from the hospital but were still surrounding it and were blocking movement. Less than two hours later, however, the ministry said that soldiers had raided the facility again.

Maps: Tracking the Attacks in Israel and GazaSee where Israel has bulldozed vast areas of Gaza, as its invasion continues to advance south.

Strikes destroy a mosque in Rafah in a heavy night of bombardment.

Deadly strikes hit several homes and flattened a mosque in Rafah, residents and the Palestinian Authority’s official news agency said on Thursday, delivering more misery to Gaza’s southernmost city, which Israel has said is the next target of its ground invasion.

“It was a very hard night,” said Akram al-Satri, who is sheltering in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population has sought refuge amid heavy fighting elsewhere. “They destroyed Al-Farouk mosque, which is one of the largest mosques in the area,” he added in a voice message on Thursday.

Video published by the Reuters news agency shows a large pile of debris at the site of the mosque and extensive damage to several surrounding buildings. A New York Times analysis of the video indicates that the mosque was brought down in a structural collapse that is consistent with an airstrike. Only Israel carries out airstrikes in Gaza; the Israeli military did not respond to a request for comment on the strikes in Rafah.

The bombardment heightened fears among residents who said it was the heaviest since 10 days ago, when Israeli forces raided Rafah to free two hostages and launched a wave of attacks that health authorities said had killed dozens of Palestinians.

Wafa, the Palestinian news agency, reported that at least seven Palestinians were killed overnight in Rafah and dozens more wounded.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has described the city as a Hamas stronghold and says the goal of Israel’s campaign is to eliminate the militant group.

International alarm has grown over the fate of civilians in Rafah if Israel presses on with its ground invasion there. Dr. Richard Brennan, the regional emergencies director for the World Health Organization, said the agency foresaw a “massive, further degradation of the humanitarian situation if the ground offensive into Rafah proceeds in the coming weeks.”

Since the Rafah raid and Mr. Netanyahu’s announcement of the planned ground advance, some people there — many of whom had already been displaced several times — have begun packing up and moving north.

On Thursday morning, after a night of fear as drones buzzed and airstrikes boomed, more displaced families from Rafah began arriving at Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah, a city in central Gaza, said Beirut Hana, a lawyer who is sheltering there. They set up tents in and around the hospital and on empty plots of land, she said.

“Since the Israeli army announced their plans for a ground invasion of Rafah, people became scared and started moving,” Ms. Hana said in a phone interview. “Every day since then, large crowds of people have been arriving in Deir al Balah and Nuseirat,” another city in central Gaza.

Ms. Hana said that although some people were returning to their homes in Deir al Balah, others who were not from the city came in search of safety. But heavy bombardment has also continued in central Gaza, residents said.

“So many people are fleeing Rafah and coming here thinking they would be safer, only to get killed here,” said Ms. Hana, referring to the central strip.

People are also fleeing to Al-Mawasi, a coastal area Israel has unilaterally designated as a humanitarian zone, Jamie McGoldrick, a senior U.N. humanitarian official who recently returned from a visit to the enclave, told reporters. But there is little space left there as well, and neither Al-Mawasi nor Deir al Balah is truly safe, he said.

“If there was to be a massive exodus from Rafah to flee the incursion, I’m not sure where people would go,” Mr. McGoldrick said. “Some people have gone back to Deir al-Balah and Khan Younis, areas where there’s demolished buildings and unexploded ordnance.”

“There’s a keen sense of desperation,” he added. Lawlessness is rampant in southern Gaza, he said, and aid convoys ferrying vital supplies for Palestinians have been attacked by organized gangs who have stripped the trucks and threatened drivers. Some appear to lie in wait to ambush convoys after coordinating on social media, he said.

Gazan health authorities say that more than 29,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel’s bombardment and invasion began on Oct. 7, after the Hamas-led attacks that killed 1,200 people in Israel.

Adam Sella, Aaron Boxerman and Nader Ibrahim contributed reporting.

At least one person is killed in a shooting near a West Bank checkpoint.

A shooting near a checkpoint in the Israeli-occupied West Bank killed at least one person and injured several others Thursday morning.

Three Palestinians used automatic weapons to fire from a car toward a traffic jam in front of the A Za’im checkpoint, which leads to Jerusalem, the Israeli police said. All three attackers were killed, Eli Levy, a police spokesman, said in a video statement.

Hamas praised the shooting in a statement, calling it a “natural response” to what it described as Israeli crimes in Gaza and the West Bank.

The checkpoint is on a main highway between Ma’ale Adumim, one of Israel’s largest settlements in the West Bank, and Jerusalem.

Israel’s emergency medical service said that a man in his twenties had been killed by the attackers. It said five others were being treated at hospitals for gunshot wounds, and one was in serious condition. The emergency medical service received a call reporting a shooting at about 7:30 a.m.

Mr. Levy called the attack terrorism.

Last week, a shooting that Israeli authorities also labeled terrorism killed two people and wounded four others at a bus station in central Israel. The country has been on high alert since the Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7.

Adam Rasgon contributed reporting.

Israel’s planned Eurovision entry causes a storm.

A song called “October Rain” might simply be a ballad about dreary fall weather. But in the charged atmosphere following the Hamas-led attacks on Israel of Oct. 7, the title could also signal a lament about that tragedy, or a rallying call to stand firm against terrorism.

This week, the meaning of “October Rain” — a song that very few people have heard — became a contested question when newspapers in Israel reported that a song with that name had been chosen to represent the country in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Although initial reports gave few details of the song, they sparked a furor on social media. Some Eurovision fans complained that the track was clearly referring to Oct. 7 and should not be allowed in the nonpolitical event in which pop stars, representing countries, compete against each other each May.

Since Eurovision began in 1956, the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the contest, has forbidden songs that make political statements, insisting that the competition should unify, rather than divide. Every year, the union vets proposed lyrics to ensure they do not undermine that principle. Although Israel is not in Europe, its broadcaster is a member of the European Broadcasting Union, making the country eligible to compete in Eurovision.

On Wednesday, the news division of Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, reported that the organization had begun discussions with the European Broadcasting Union over the suitability of “October Rain.” If the union refused to approve the track, the report speculated, Israel would not submit an alternative and would therefore be barred from the contest.

Miki Zohar, the country’s culture minister, said in a post on X on Wednesday that it would be “scandalous” if the song wasn’t allowed to compete.

In a letter sent to the European Broadcasting Union on Thursday, seen by The New York Times, Zohar put the case for “October Rain.” It was “an emotional song, discussing regeneration and rebirth,” he wrote. And while it reflected “the current public sentiment in Israel these days,” he said, that doesn’t make it “a political song.” (A spokesman for the minister said that Zohar hadn’t heard the “confidential” song, but had seen “a large part” of its lyrics.)

A European Broadcasting Union spokeswoman said in an email on Thursday that it was “currently in the process of scrutinizing the lyrics,” as it does for all proposed Eurovision tracks. “If a song is deemed unacceptable for any reason, broadcasters are then given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics,” the spokeswoman added.

Even before this week’s uproar, Israel’s participation in this year’s Eurovision, which will be held in Malmo, Sweden, had cast a shadow over the event. As the death toll from Israel’s military offensive in Gaza has mounted, hundreds of musicians in countries including Sweden, Denmark and Iceland have signed petitions urging the European Broadcasting Union to ban Israel, following a similar decision in 2022 to ban Russia after it invaded Ukraine.

The European Broadcasting Union has repeatedly dismissed the comparison between Israel and Russia. “We understand the concerns and deeply held views around the current conflict in the Middle East,” the union said in a statement this month, but Eurovision was “not a contest between governments.”

At this year’s Eurovision, Israel will be represented by Eden Golan, a 20-year-old pop singer who was selected earlier this month when she won a TV talent show called “Rising Star,” singing an Aerosmith cover. During that show’s final, Golan referred to the roughly 130 hostages Israel believes Hamas is holding in Gaza. “We won’t truly be OK until everyone returns home,” she said.

Which song Golan will sing at Eurovision, however, is not only up to her. Kan has been evaluating potential tracks, and although it submitted “October Rain” for approval, the broadcaster is not scheduled to officially announce Israel’s song until March 10, allowing time for it to be changed, if necessary.

Throughout Eurovision’s history, the European Broadcasting Union has occasionally intervened when it detected political overtones in proposed entries, said Chris West, the author of a history of Eurovision. In 2009, he said, Georgia pulled out of the contest because the organizers objected to a song called “We Don’t Wanna Put In.” The song was seen as a statement against President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, West said.

And in 2015, Armenia changed the title of its entry “Don’t Deny,” because it was widely interpreted as a reference to Turkey’s denial of the Ottoman Empire’s genocide of Armenians. The song was renamed “Face the Shadow,” West said.

“October Rain” seemed political from its title, West said, but Israel might claim it has nothing to do with last year’s attacks, or even that the country has a right to sing about the impact of Hamas’s atrocities.

“Eurovision’s organizers have a really difficult job of deciding where the line is,” West said.

U.S. Examined Allegations of Cartel Ties to Allies of Mexico’s President

American law enforcement officials spent years looking into allegations that allies of Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, met with and took millions of dollars from drug cartels after he took office, according to U.S. records and three people familiar with the matter.

The inquiry, which has not been previously reported, uncovered information pointing to potential links between powerful cartel operatives and Mexican advisers and officials close to the president while he governed the country.

But the United States never opened a formal investigation into Mr. López Obrador, and the officials involved ultimately shelved the inquiry. They concluded that the U.S. government had little appetite to pursue allegations against the leader of one of America’s top allies, said the three people familiar with the case, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

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Navalny’s Mother Says Authorities Are ‘Blackmailing’ Her Over Son’s Remains

Russian authorities have declared that the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny died of natural causes but are refusing to release his remains until his family agrees to a “secret funeral,” Mr. Navalny’s mother and his spokeswoman said on Thursday.

Lyudmila Navalnaya, Mr. Navalny’s mother, said she had been “secretly” taken to a morgue Wednesday night, “where they showed me Aleksei.” She was shown a medical report on Mr. Navalny’s death that said he died of natural causes, according to the Navalny team’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh.

But Ms. Navalnaya, 69, said she now was locked in a grim battle with local authorities in the northern Russian city of Salekhard who, taking orders from Moscow, were not releasing custody of the remains. She said the authorities warned that if she did not “agree to a secret funeral,” then “they will do something with my son’s body.”

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As Gaza Death Toll Mounts, Israel’s Isolation Grows

When David Ben-Gurion, one of Israel’s founding fathers, was warned in 1955 that his plan to seize the Gaza Strip from Egypt would provoke a backlash in the United Nations, he famously derided the U.N., playing off its Hebrew acronym, as “Um-Shmum.”

The phrase came to symbolize Israel’s willingness to defy international organizations when it believes its core interests are at stake.

Nearly 70 years later, Israel faces another wave of condemnation in the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, and from dozens of countries over its military operation in Gaza, which has killed an estimated 29,000 Palestinians, many of them women and children, and left much of the territory in ruins.

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Leaked Files Show the Secret World of China’s Hackers for Hire

The hackers offered a menu of services, at a variety of prices.

A local government in southwest China paid less than $15,000 for access to the private website of traffic police in Vietnam. Software that helped run disinformation campaigns and hack accounts on X cost $100,000. For $278,000 Chinese customers could get a trove of personal information behind social media accounts on platforms like Telegram and Facebook.

The offerings, detailed in leaked documents, were a portion of the hacking tools and data caches sold by a Chinese security firm called I-Soon, one of the hundreds of enterprising companies that support China’s aggressive state-sponsored hacking efforts. The work is part of a campaign to break into the websites of foreign governments and telecommunications firms.

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Bosnia’s Dysfunction Snarls Efforts to Curb Moscow’s Reach in the Balkans

Already struggling to contain intractable crises in the Middle East and Ukraine, the United States is also grappling with an impasse in the Balkans over a gas pipeline into Bosnia, an issue that is freighted with big geopolitical stakes.

The project, backed by both the United States and the European Union but blocked by the ethnic feuds that have long hobbled Bosnia, aims to break Moscow’s stranglehold on gas supplies to a fragile nation tugged between East and West.

The proposed pipeline, which would bring in natural gas from neighboring Croatia, a member of NATO and of the European Union, would be only 100 miles long and cost roughly $110 million, a pittance next to the $15 billion it took to build the Nord Stream gas connector between Russia and Germany.

Map locates existing and proposed pipelines in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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In Taiwan, Visiting Lawmakers Say U.S. Support Is Firm

Visiting American lawmakers sought to assure Taiwan on Thursday that the United States would stand by it in the face of pressure from China, while warning that uncertainty over proposed new military aid for Ukraine could weaken U.S. efforts to deter Beijing from moving aggressively against the island democracy.

“America stands with Taiwan, and you can draw upon a deep reservoir of friendship and support from the United States Congress,” Representative Mike Gallagher, the Wisconsin Republican leading the bipartisan House delegation, told Taiwan’s president-elect, Lai Ching-te, who takes office in May.

The lawmakers also met with Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen. Journalists in Taipei, the capital, were allowed to watch initial remarks in both meetings before being ushered out.

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U.S. Warns Allies Russia Could Put a Nuclear Weapon Into Orbit This Year

American intelligence agencies have told their closest European allies that if Russia is going to launch a nuclear weapon into orbit, it will probably do so this year — but that it might instead launch a harmless “dummy” warhead into orbit to leave the West guessing about its capabilities.

The assessment came as American intelligence officials conducted a series of rushed, classified briefings for their NATO and Asian allies, as details of the American assessment of Russia’s intentions began to leak out.

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A Russian Military Blogger Dies After Criticizing Army Losses

A pro-war Russian military blogger died on Wednesday, his lawyer said, after the blogger wrote the country’s military pressured him to remove a post exposing the scale of its losses in a recent battle in Ukraine.

The blogger, Andrei Morozov, claimed in his post that Russia had lost 16,000 men and 300 armored vehicles in its assault on the Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, which the Russians captured last week. He deleted the post on Tuesday after what he said was a campaign of intimidation against him.

The following morning, Mr. Morozov published a series of posts on Telegram outlining the complaints he had received from Russian military command and Kremlin propagandists about his exposé. In the posts, he threatened to end his life.

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Russian Forces Press On With Attacks in Southern Ukraine

Russian forces in recent days have launched multiple attacks around the southern Ukrainian village of Robotyne, military officials and experts said, targeting land hard-won by Ukraine in a rare success of its counteroffensive last summer.

The Ukrainian Army said it had repelled four consecutive days of assaults from Saturday to Tuesday involving armored vehicles and large numbers of troops that had massed in the area.

Open-source maps of the battlefield compiled by independent groups analyzing combat footage suggest that Russia has made marginal gains to the west and south of Robotyne. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research group, said on Monday that Russian forces had advanced to the western outskirts of the village.

Russian gains since Dec. 1
Russian-controlled area

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An Election Shatters the Image of Pakistan’s Mightiest Force

The intimidating myth of an all-powerful military in Pakistan has been smashed in public view.

The first cracks began to appear two years ago, when thousands of Pakistanis rallied alongside an ousted prime minister who had railed against the generals’ iron grip on politics. A year later, angry mobs stormed military installations and set them aflame.

Now comes another searing rebuke: Voters turned out in droves this month for candidates aligned with the expelled leader, Imran Khan, despite a military crackdown on his party. His supporters then returned to the streets to accuse the military of rigging the results to deny Mr. Khan’s allies a majority and allow the generals’ favored party to form a government.

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A Billionaire Bought a Chunk of Manchester United. Now He Has to Fix It.

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The process was six months old and already starting to wear on Jim Ratcliffe, the British billionaire, the first time he brought out the Champagne to toast his purchase of Manchester United. But even that celebration, at the Monaco Grand Prix in May, proved premature.

There was no deal. Not yet.

Doing one was never going to be easy. Mostly, that was because any potential sale for United offered a tantalizing marriage of money, power and history: Mr. Ratcliffe, the wealthy chairman of INEOS, the petrochemicals giant, had supported Manchester United since he was a boy. United, the most decorated club in English soccer, was one of the most iconic brands in global sports. And the Premier League, to which it belonged, was the richest soccer league in the world.

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Eiffel Tower Is Closed for 4th Day as Its Workers Strike

Anthony Aranda, a 23-year-old tourist from Peru, had only two days to visit Paris with his cousin, so getting to the top of the Eiffel Tower featured prominently on his to-do list. But on Thursday, he had to cross it off that list without even stepping foot on the famed Iron Lady.

A labor strike, now in its fourth day, was keeping the tower closed.

“We are traveling to London next, so this was our last chance,” Mr. Aranda said in the drizzling rain as he looked up at the wrought-iron monument. “That was the idea, at least.”

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Where Hostage Families and Supporters Gather, for Solace and Protest

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A week after Hamas-led terrorists stormed his kibbutz and kidnapped his wife and three young children, Avihai Brodutch planted himself on the sidewalk in front of army headquarters in Tel Aviv holding a sign scrawled with the words “My family’s in Gaza,” and said he would not budge until they were brought home.

Passers-by stopped to commiserate with him and to try to lift his spirits. They brought him coffee, platters of food and changes of clothing, and welcomed him to their homes to wash up and get some sleep.

“They were so kind, and they just couldn’t do enough,” said Mr. Brodutch, 42, an agronomist who grew pineapples on Kibbutz Kfar Azza before the attacks on Oct. 7. “It was Israel at its finest,” he said. “There was a feeling of a common destiny.”

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An English City Gave Soccer to the World. Now It Wants Credit.

As far as the man in the food truck is concerned, the patch of land he occupies in Sheffield, England, is about as humdrum as they come. To him, the spot — in the drab parking lot of a sprawling home improvement superstore, its facade plastered in lurid orange — is not exactly a place where history comes alive.

John Wilson, an academic at the University of Sheffield’s management school, looks at the same site and can barely contain his excitement. This, he said, is one of the places where the world’s most popular sport was born. He does not see a parking lot. He can see the history: the verdant grass, the sweating players, the cheering crowds.

His passion is sincere, absolute and shared by a small band of amateur historians and volunteer detectives devoted to restoring Sheffield — best known for steel, coal and as the setting for the film “The Full Monty” — to its rightful place as the undisputed birthplace of codified, organized, recognizable soccer.

Map locates Sheffield, Manchester and London in England. It also shows where Wembley Stadium is in northwest London.

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How John Travolta Became the Star of Carnival

Jack Nicas and Dado Galdieri reported this article among the giant puppets of the Carnival celebrations in Olinda, Brazil

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It was near the start of one of Brazil’s most famous Carnival celebrations, in the northern seaside city of Olinda, and the town plaza was jammed with thousands of revelers. They were all awaiting their idol.

Just before 9 p.m., the doors to a dance hall swung open, a brass band pushed into the crowd and the star everyone had been waiting for stepped out: a 12-foot puppet of John Travolta.

Confetti sprayed, the band began playing a catchy tune and the crowd sang along: “John Travolta is really cool. Throwing a great party. And in Olinda, the best carnival.” (It rhymes in Portuguese.)

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‘This Is Where I Want to Be’

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When Ayelet Khon moved back to the Kfar Azza kibbutz with her husband two months after the brutal Hamas-led attack of Oct. 7, the first thing she did was hang a string of rainbow-colored lights up on the front patio.

At night, when darkness drenches this community, the twinkling colors are the only lights visible.

“We are going to keep these lights on and never turn them off — even if we’re out for the evening — they are lights of hope,” Ms. Khon said she told her husband, Shar Shnurman.

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Manhattan or Pulau Rhun? In 1667, Nutmeg Made the Choice a No-Brainer.

Richard C. Paddock and

Richard C. Paddock and Muktita Suhartono, along with the photographer Nyimas Laula, spent three days on Pulau Rhun to document life on the remote island.

The isles of Manhattan and Pulau Rhun could hardly be farther apart, not just in geography, but also in culture, economy and global prominence.

Rhun, in the Banda Sea in Indonesia, has no cars or roads and only about 20 motorbikes. Most people get around by walking along its paved footpaths or up steep stairways, often toting plastic jugs of water from the numerous village wells or sometimes lugging a freshly caught tuna.

But in the 17th century, in what might now seem one of the most lopsided trades in history, the Netherlands believed it got the better part of a bargain with the British when it swapped Manhattan, then known as New Amsterdam, for this tiny speck of land.

Map locates the Maluku Islands in eastern Indonesia. It also locates Pulau Rhan, an island in the Banda Island group, which is part of the Maluku Islands.

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Discontent and Defiance on the Road to Pakistan’s Election

Christina Goldbaum and

The reporters traveled along a famed highway in Pakistan’s most heated political battleground to understand how Pakistanis are feeling before a national election on Thursday.

The highway is the most politically charged slice of a politically turbulent country. It winds 180 miles from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, through the fertile plains of Punjab Province to Lahore, the nation’s cultural and political heart.

For centuries, it was known only as a sliver of the Grand Trunk Road, Asia’s longest and oldest thoroughfare, linking traders in Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent. But in Pakistan, this stretch of the smog-drenched highway has become the stage for major rallies and protests led by nearly every famed civilian leader the country has had.

As Pakistan heads into national elections on Thursday, the road is buzzing. Politics dominates the chatter between its vendors and rickshaw drivers, their conversations seeped in a culture of conspiracy, cults of political personality and the problems of entrenched military control.

The map highlights the Grand Trunk Road from Islamabad to Lahore in Pakistan . The towns of Gujar Khan, Jhelum, Wazirabad and Gujranwala along the road are also located.

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Architect Embraces Indigenous Worldview in Australian Designs

Jefa Greenaway will never forget the first time he heard his father’s voice. It was in 2017, when he was watching a documentary about Indigenous Australians’ fight to be recognized in the country’s Constitution.

“It was poignant, surreal,” Mr. Greenaway recalled. “In one word: emotional.”

In the film, his father, Bert Groves, an Indigenous man and a civil rights activist born in 1907, recounts how he was prevented from pursuing an education because of the size of his skull, a victim of phrenology, the pseudoscience that lingered in Australia into the 20th century.

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The Friar Who Became the Vatican’s Go-To Guy on A.I.

Before dawn, Paolo Benanti climbed to the bell tower of his 16th-century monastery, admired the sunrise over the ruins of the Roman forum and reflected on a world in flux.

“It was a wonderful meditation on what is going on inside,” he said, stepping onto the street in his friar robe. “And outside too.”

There is a lot going on for Father Benanti, who, as both the Vatican’s and the Italian government’s go-to artificial intelligence ethicist, spends his days thinking about the Holy Ghost and the ghosts in the machines.

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A Child of Another War Who Makes Music for Ukrainians

When the owner of an underground club in Kyiv reached out to Western musicians to play in Ukraine, long before the war, there were not so many takers.

But an American from Boston, Mirza Ramic, accepted the invitation, spawning a lasting friendship with the club’s owner, Taras Khimchak.

“I kept coming back,” Mr. Ramic, 40, said in an interview at the club, Mezzanine, where he was preparing for a performance during a recent tour of Ukraine.

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A Woman Who Shows Age Is No Barrier to Talk Show Stardom

Pushing a walker through a television studio in central Tokyo earlier this week, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi slowly climbed three steps onto a sound stage with the help of an assistant who settled her into a creamy beige Empire armchair.

A stylist removed the custom-made sturdy boots on her feet and slipped on a pair of high-heeled mules. A makeup artist brushed her cheeks and touched up her blazing red lipstick. A hairdresser tamed a few stray wisps from her trademark onion-shaped hairstyle as another assistant ran a lint roller over her embroidered black jacket. With that, Ms. Kuroyanagi, 90, was ready to record the 12,193rd episode of her show.

As one of Japan’s best-known entertainers for seven decades, Ms. Kuroyanagi has interviewed guests on her talk show, “Tetsuko’s Room,” since 1976, earning a Guinness World Record last fall for most episodes hosted by the same presenter. Generations of Japanese celebrities across film, television, music, theater and sports have visited Ms. Kuroyanagi’s couch, along with American stars like Meryl Streep and Lady Gaga; Prince Philip of England; and Mikhail Gorbachev, the former leader of the Soviet Union. Ms. Kuroyanagi said Gorbachev remains one of her all-time favorite guests.

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Playing Soccer in $1.50 Sandals That Even Gucci Wants to Copy

The wealthy pros of Ivory Coast’s national soccer team were resting in their luxury hotel last week, preparing for a match in Africa’s biggest tournament, when Yaya Camara sprinted onto a dusty lot and began fizzing one pass after another to his friends.

Over and over, he corralled the game’s underinflated ball and then sent it away again with his favorite soccer shoes: worn plastic sandals long derided as the sneaker of the poor, but which he and his friends wear as a badge of honor.

Shiny soccer cleats like his idols’? No thanks, said Mr. Camara, a lean 18-year-old midfielder, as he wiped sweat from his brow.

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Russian Skaters Stripped of Olympic Gold, Setting Up New Fight for Medals

International skating’s governing body on Tuesday sought to put an end to a two-year-old controversy by revising the disputed results of a marquee figure skating competition at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. But in stripping Russia of its victory in the team event, awarding the gold medal to the United States and denying Canada the bronze it had been expecting, the sport may have only set the stage for yet another protracted legal fight.

The revised finishes were announced by the skating body, the International Skating Union, one day after the teenage Russian star Kamila Valieva was banned for four years for doping. Disqualifying Valieva, a 15-year-old prodigy who had led Russia to an apparent victory, had the most immediate effect on the Olympic team standings: elevating the U.S. to gold and Japan to silver, while, surprisingly, dropping Russia just enough that it could still claim the bronze.

Within hours, Russia’s Olympic committee, already furious about Valieva’s ban, announced that it would appeal any outcome that denied it the team gold. Canadian officials quickly threatened to appeal the ruling as well. That left skating officials and the International Olympic Committee, which had chosen not to award medals in the team event until Valieva’s doping case was resolved, wondering how they could at last arrange a “dignified Olympic medal ceremony” for an ugly dispute that appeared nowhere near its end.

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FIFA Convictions Are Imperiled by Questions of U.S. Overreach

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Nearly a decade after police officers marched world soccer officials out of a luxury hotel in Zurich at dawn, revealing a corruption scandal that shook the world’s most popular sport, the case is at risk of falling apart.

The dramatic turnabout comes over questions of whether American prosecutors overreached by applying U.S. law to a group of people, many of them foreign nationals, who defrauded foreign organizations as they carried out bribery schemes across the world.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year limited a law that was key to the case. Then in September, a federal judge, citing that, threw out the convictions of two defendants linked to soccer corruption. Now, several former soccer officials, including some who paid millions of dollars in penalties and served time in prison, are arguing that the bribery schemes for which they were convicted are no longer considered a crime in the United States.

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Depardieu Sexual Assault Suit Dropped Over Statute of Limitations

A sexual assault lawsuit filed against Gérard Depardieu by a French actress has been dropped because it was past the statute of limitations, prosecutors in Paris said on Monday, but the French actor is still under investigation in a separate case.

In the lawsuit that was dropped, the actress Hélène Darras had accused Depardieu of groping her on the set of “Disco,” a comedy released in 2008. Her suit had been filed in September but was made public only last month, shortly before she appeared in a France 2 television documentary alongside three other women who also accused Depardieu of inappropriate comments or sexual misconduct.

The documentary, which showed Depardieu making crude sexual and sexist comments during a 2018 trip to North Korea, set off a fierce debate in France that prompted President Emmanuel Macron and dozens of actors, directors and other celebrities to defend Depardieu, splitting the French movie industry.

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EE. UU. indagó acusaciones de vínculos del narco con aliados del presidente de México

Funcionarios de la ley estadounidenses indagaron durante años afirmaciones de que aliados del presidente de México, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, se habían reunido con cárteles del narcotráfico y recibido millones de dólares luego de que asumió el cargo, según consta en registros de EE. UU. y de acuerdo con tres personas con conocimiento del tema.

La indagatoria, de la que hasta ahora no se había informado, descubrió información que señalaba posibles vínculos entre operadores poderosos de los cárteles y funcionarios y asesores mexicanos cercanos a López Obrador cuando ya gobernaba el país.

Pero Estados Unidos nunca abrió una investigación formal a López Obrador y los funcionarios que estaban haciendo la indagatoria al final la archivaron. Concluyeron que había poca disposición en el gobierno estadounidense para rastrear acusaciones que pudieran implicar al líder de uno de los principales aliados del país, dijeron las tres personas con conocimiento del caso, quienes no tenían autorización de ofrecer declaraciones públicamente.

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López Obrador dijo que lo anterior era “completamente falso”, al responder a las preguntas de The New York Times el jueves. Afirmó que la noticia de la indagatoria no afectaría “de ninguna manera” la relación de México con Estados Unidos, pero que esperaba una respuesta del gobierno estadounidense.

“¿Disminuye eso la confianza que el gobierno mexicano tiene en Estados Unidos?”, dijo López Obrador en su conferencia de prensa habitual. “Eso el corrido lo dirá”.

El Estado mexicano ha sido infiltrado por los cárteles de la droga desde hace mucho tiempo, desde los niveles más bajos hasta las altas esferas del gobierno. Sobornan a la policía, manipulan alcaldes, reclutan a altos funcionarios y dominan amplias zonas del país.

No obstante, aunque los esfuerzos recientes de los funcionarios estadounidenses identificaron posibles vínculos entre los cárteles y los asociados de López Obrador, no hallaron conexiones directas entre el presidente en sí y organizaciones delictivas.

Las autoridades estadounidenses declinaron hacer comentarios.

Buena parte de la información recolectada por los funcionarios estadounidenses provenía de informantes cuyos testimonios pueden ser difíciles de corroborar y en ocasiones resultan ser incorrectos. Los investigadores de EE. UU. obtuvieron la información mientras seguían las actividades de los cárteles del narcotráfico, y no está claro qué tanto de lo que los informantes les dijeron fue corroborado de manera independiente.

Por ejemplo, los registros muestran que un informante le relató a los investigadores estadounidenses que uno de los confidentes más cercanos a López Obrador se había reunido con Ismael Zambada García, uno de los altos líderes del Cártel de Sinaloa, previo a su victoria en las elecciones de 2018.

Otra fuente les dijo que, luego de que el presidente fue elegido, uno de los fundadores del conocido y violento grupo de los Zetas pagó 4 millones de dólares a dos de los aliados de López Obrador con la esperanza de que lo liberaran de prisión.

Los investigadores consiguieron información de una tercera fuente que sugería que los cárteles del narcotráfico tenían videos de los hijos del presidente recibiendo lo que se describió como dinero del narco, según consta en los documentos.

López Obrador negó todas las acusaciones hechas por los informantes.

Los agentes de la ley estadounidenses también lograron rastrear por su cuenta pagos de dinero de personas que se creía eran operadores del cártel a intermediarios de López Obrador, dijeron dos personas con conocimiento de la investigación.

Al menos uno de esos pagos, dijeron, se efectuó más o menos al mismo tiempo que López Obrador se trasladó al estado de Sinaloa en marzo de 2020 y se reunió con la madre del narcotraficante Joaquín Guzmán Loera, conocido como el Chapo, quien ahora cumple con una sentencia de cadena perpetua en una prisión federal estadounidense.

Hace más de una década, una investigación distinta dirigida por la Administración de Control de Drogas (DEA por su sigla en inglés) descubrió denuncias de que el narco había donado millones de dólares a la primera e infructuosa campaña presidencial de López Obrador en 2006. Esta investigación previa, que fue dada a conocer el mes pasado por tres medios de comunicación, se cerró y no derivó en presentar cargos.

Para Estados Unidos, perseguir cargos penales contra altos funcionarios extranjeros, es algo inusual y complejo. Sería especialmente complicado armar un caso legal contra López Obrador. La última vez que Estados Unidos presentó cargos penales contra un alto funcionario mexicano terminó por retirarlos luego de que la detención causara una desavenencia diplomática con México.

El gobierno de Joe Biden tiene un enorme interés en el manejo de su relación con López Obrador, quien es considerado una figura indispensable para contener el aumento del flujo migratorio que se ha convertido en uno de los temas más contenciosos de la política estadounidense. Es una de las principales preocupaciones de los votantes de cara a las elecciones presidenciales estadounidenses de este otoño.

México también es un importante socio comercial de Estados Unidos y el colaborador más importante en los esfuerzos del país para ralentizar el cruce de drogas ilícitas como el fentanilo por la frontera sur.

Las agencias de aplicación de la ley de EE. UU. tienen competencia para investigar y presentar cargos contra funcionarios de otros países si es que logran mostrar una conexión con los estupefacientes que cruzan la frontera hacia Estados Unidos.

Si bien es poco común que los agentes estadounidenses vayan tras altos funcionarios extranjeros, no es inédito que lo hagan: esta semana comenzó en el Tribunal Federal del Distrito de Manhattan el juicio por narcotráfico contra Juan Orlando Hernández, expresidente de Honduras.

Fiscales federales en Nueva York también lograron que Genaro García Luna, exsecretario de Seguridad Pública de México, fuera declarado culpable el año pasado por un caso de corrupción. Los fiscales convencieron al jurado de que García Luna había aceptado millones de dólares en sobornos de los violentos cárteles de la droga a los que debía perseguir.

Aunque los esfuerzos para indagar a López Obrador ya no están activos, la revelación de que agentes estadounidenses examinaran en secreto denuncias de corrupción contra él y sus ayudantes en sí misma podría ser dañina.

El mes pasado, reportes periodísticos, entre ellos uno de ProPublica, sobre una indagatoria estadounidense de 2006 al financiamiento de campaña —en unas elecciones que no ganó— suscitaron revuelo en México.

López Orador condenó públicamente los reportajes e insinuó que intentaban influenciar las elecciones presidenciales del país de junio, en las que su protegida, la exjefa de gobierno de Ciudad de México Claudia Sheinbaum, lidera las encuestas para sucederlo. Insinuó que dichos artículos podrían complicar las conversaciones en materia de migración y fentanilo con el gobierno de EE. UU. y dijo que estaba considerando no recibir al asesor de seguridad nacional de Biden para un encuentro planeado en la capital mexicana.

“¿Cómo vamos a estar sentados en la mesa hablando del combate a la droga si ellos, o una institución de ellos, está filtrando información y dañándome?”, dijo López Obrador en su conferencia de prensa matutina días después de la publicación de los reportajes.

Luego de que Biden llamó a López Obrador y calmara la tensión, la secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores de México dijo que el asesor de seguridad nacional de EE. UU. le había asegurado a México que “este es un tema cerrado para ellos”.

El gobierno de Biden ha manejado con mucho cuidado a López Obrador y ha evitado criticarlo en público, prefiriendo, en cambio, enviar en repetidas ocasiones a altos funcionarios a Ciudad de México para que se reúnan con él e insistan en privado que continúe con el control migratorio.

La decisión de dar carpetazo a la indagatoria reciente , según las personas familiarizadas con ella, fue en gran medida causada por el desmoronamiento de otro caso distinto y muy contencioso. En los últimos meses del gobierno de Donald Trump en 2020, autoridades de EE. UU. presentaron cargos contra el general Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, quien fungió de 2012 a 2018 como secretario de la Defensa Nacional de México.

En una acusación federal, hecha pública en Nueva York luego de una investigación de varios años denominada “Operación Padrino”, los fiscales señalaron a Cienfuegos de emplear la influencia de su oficina para brindar ayuda a un violento grupo delictivo llamado el cártel H-2 en la realización de operaciones de narcotráfico.

Su detención en el aeropuerto de Los Ángeles causó indignación al interior del gobierno mexicano, en especial entre los líderes de las fuerzas armadas, que durante el mandato de López Obrador han asumido mayores responsabilidades y más poder.

El presidente de México dijo que la acusación se “fabricó” en EE. UU., y su gobierno dio a conocer más de 700 páginas de comunicaciones interceptadas por agentes estadounidenses que presuntamente indicaban actividades delictivas pero que fueron descalificadas como no concluyentes.

La DEA, que ya tenía un historial accidentado como protagonista de una guerra contra las drogas considerada inútil y sangrienta, sufrió un tremendo golpe en su relación con el gobierno mexicano.

Apenas unas semanas después de la detención, el Departamento de Justicia de EE. UU., muy presionado por López Obrador, dio marcha atrás y desestimó la acusación para enviar a Cienfuegos de regreso a México.

El episodio no solo afectó acuerdos de seguridad de larga data entre ambos países, sino que también dejó una profunda impresión en los funcionarios de la ley al norte de la frontera, muchos de los cuales vieron el caso fallido como un relato aleccionador sobre esfuerzos similares contra otros funcionarios mexicanos de alto rango.

Emiliano Rodríguez Mega colaboró con reportería.

Alan Feuer cubre extremismo y violencia política para el Times, centrándose en los casos penales relacionados con el atentado del 6 de enero en el Capitolio y contra el expresidente Donald Trump. Más de Alan Feuer

Natalie Kitroeff es corresponsal en el extranjero y cubre México, Centroamérica y el Caribe. Más de Natalie Kitroeff

EE. UU. defiende a Israel ante la Corte Internacional de Justicia

El miércoles, un día después de vetar los llamados a un alto al fuego inmediato en Gaza, Estados Unidos defendió la ocupación israelí de Cisjordania y Jerusalén Oriente, ocurrida a lo largo de décadas, argumentando ante el más alto tribunal de las Naciones Unidas que Israel se enfrentaba a “necesidades muy reales en materia de seguridad”.

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La más reciente defensa estadounidense de Israel en la escena internacional se produjo en la Corte Internacional de Justicia de La Haya, donde Richard Visek, asesor jurídico en funciones del Departamento de Estado de EE. UU., instó a un panel de 15 jueces a no exigir la retirada inmediata de Israel de los territorios palestinos ocupados.

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¿Quién controla las prisiones de Latinoamérica? ¿El hampa o los guardias?

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El ejército de Ecuador fue enviado a recuperar el control de las prisiones el mes pasado, luego de que dos cabecillas importantes se fugaron y bandas criminales organizaron con rapidez una serie de disturbios que paralizaron el país.

La semana pasada, dos reclusos en Brasil con conexiones a una pandilla importante se convirtieron en los primeros en escapar de una de las cinco prisiones de máxima seguridad del país, según las autoridades.

Las autoridades en Colombia declararon una emergencia carcelaria después de que dos guardias fueron asesinados y varios más han sido blanco de lo que el gobierno calificó de represalias por su mano dura contra las principales organizaciones delictivas.

Al interior de las prisiones de toda Latinoamérica, grupos criminales ejercen una autoridad irrestricta sobre los presos, a quienes brindan protección o artículos básicos, como comida, a cambio de dinero.

Las prisiones también sirven como una suerte de refugio seguro para los líderes criminales encarcelados para que puedan dirigir a distancia y desde la reclusión sus grupos delictivos y ordenan asesinatos, organizan contrabando de drogas a Estados Unidos y Europa y coordinan secuestros y extorsiones a negocios locales.

A menudo, cuando las autoridades intentan restringir el poder que los grupos delincuenciales ejercen tras las rejas, sus líderes mandan a sus secuaces en el exterior de las prisiones a contraatacar.

“El principal centro de gravedad, el control que tiene el crimen organizado, está dentro de los centros carcelarios”, dijo Mario Pazmiño, coronel retirado y exdirector de inteligencia del ejército ecuatoriano que funge como analista en temas de seguridad.

“Ahí funcionan, digamos, los puestos de dirección, los puestos de mando”, añadió. Es “donde se dan las órdenes y disposiciones para que convulsionen el país”.

La población carcelaria de Latinoamérica se ha disparado en las últimas dos décadas, un crecimiento impulsado por medidas más severas como la prisión preventiva. Sin embargo, los gobiernos de la región no han destinado suficientes recursos para manejar este aumento y, más bien, a menudo han cedido el control a los reclusos, según expertos penalistas.

Quienes son enviados a prisión con frecuencia enfrentan una decisión: unirse a un grupo criminal o sufrir su ira.

Como resultado, los centros penitenciarios se han tornado en una pieza clave en el reclutamiento para los carteles y las pandillas más violentos de América Latina, con lo que refuerzan, y no pierden, su control de la sociedad.

En su mayoría, las autoridades carcelarias —mal financiadas, sobrepasadas en número, saturadas y que a menudo reciben sobornos— se han rendido ante los líderes criminales en muchas prisiones a cambio de una paz frágil.

Las bandas delictivas controlan total o parcialmente mucho más de la mitad de las 285 prisiones de México, según los expertos. En Brasil, el gobierno a menudo distribuye la población penitenciaria según su afiliación criminal para evitar la agitación. En Ecuador, los analistas dicen que la mayoría de las 36 prisiones del país tienen algún grado de control criminal.

“La pandilla está resolviéndole un problema al gobierno”, dijo Benjamin Lessing, profesor de ciencia política de la Universidad de Chicago que estudia bandas y prisiones latinoamericanas. “Esto le da a las bandas un tipo de poder que es muy difícil de medir pero también difícil de sobreestimar”.

La población de las prisiones latinoamericanas aumentó en un 76 por ciento de 2010 a 2020, según el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, lo que excede por mucho el aumento poblacional del 10 por ciento que experimentó la región en el mismo periodo.

Muchos países han impuesto políticas de aplicación de la ley más estrictas, entre ellas sentencias más prolongadas y más condenas por delitos menores relacionados con las drogas, lo que ha llevado a la mayoría de las cárceles de la región a sobrepasar su máxima capacidad.

Al mismo tiempo, los gobiernos han priorizado la inversión en las fuerzas de seguridad como una forma de atacar la delincuencia y mostrar al público que hacen algo, en lugar de invertir en las cárceles, que son menos visibles.

Brasil y México, los países latinoamericanos más poblados y con las mayores poblaciones carcelarias, invierten poco en las prisiones: el gobierno de Brasil gasta unos 14 dólares diarios por preso mientras que México gasta unos 20 dólares. Estados Unidos gastaba unos 117 dólares diarios por recluso en 2022. Los guardias penitenciarios de América Latina también reciben salarios ínfimos, lo que los vuelve susceptibles a los sobornos de las bandas que buscan ingresar contrabando o ayuda para que los detenidos de alto perfil puedan escapar.

Las autoridades federales de Brasil y Ecuador no respondieron a los pedidos de comentarios, mientras que las autoridades federales de México rechazaron hacer comentarios. En general, las prisiones federales en México y Brasil cuentan con mejor financiamiento y condiciones que sus prisiones estatales.

El estado de Río de Janeiro, que gestiona algunas de las prisiones más mala fama de Brasil, afirmó en una declaración que por décadas ha separado a los presos según su afiliación para “garantizar su seguridad física” y que la práctica está permitida por la legislación brasileña.

Algunos líderes criminales viven con relativa comodidad tras las rejas, lo que refleja el poder que tienen las bandas de las prisiones, donde operan tiendas de comestibles, clubes nocturnos y áreas de peleas de gallos, y a donde en ocasiones llevan de contrabando a sus familiares para que vivan con ellos.

Los expertos aseguran que las prisiones ecuatorianas son un ejemplo modélico de los problemas que aquejan a los sistemas penitenciarios en Latinoamérica y de la dificultad de atenderlos.

Los disturbios de enero estallaron después de que el presidente recientemente electo de Ecuador intentara aumentar la seguridad en las prisiones luego de que una investigación realizada por la fiscala general del país mostró que un cabecilla encarcelado, que se enriqueció con el tráfico de cocaína, había corrompido a jueces, oficiales de policía, guardias e incluso al exdirigente del sistema penitenciario.

El presidente de Ecuador, Daniel Noboa, planeaba transferir a varios líderes delictivos a una prisión de máxima seguridad, dificultando así la operación de sus negocios ilícitos.

Pero dichos planes se filtraron a los líderes de las bandas y uno desapareció de un centro penitenciario.

La búsqueda subsiguiente dentro de la prisión ocasionó disturbios en las cárceles del país, tras los cuales escaparon decenas de presos, entre ellos el líder de otra poderosa banda.

Las bandas también ordenaron a sus miembros que atacaran en el exterior, dijeron los expertos. Secuestraron oficiales de policía, quemaron vehículos, detonaron explosivos y tomaron brevemente el control de una gran cadena de televisión.

Noboa respondió con el decreto de un conflicto armado interno, autorizando al ejército a actuar contra las bandas en las calles e intervenir en las prisiones. En al menos una prisión se despojó a las personas privadas de su libertad de la ropa interior y se confiscaron y quemaron sus pertenencias, según el ejército y videos en las redes sociales.

Las escenas recordaban a algunas en El Salvador, en donde el presidente Nayib Bukele declaró un estado de excepción en 2022 para abordar la violencia de las pandillas. Unas 75.000 personas han sido encarceladas en ese país, muchas de ellas sin el debido proceso, de acuerdo con grupos de derechos humanos.

El dos por ciento de todos los salvadoreños están encarcelados, la proporción más alta del mundo, según World Prison Brief, una base de datos recopilados por Birkbeck, Universidad de Londres.

Las tácticas de Bukele han diezmado a las pandillas callejeras del país, revertido años de violencia terrible y ayudado a asegurarle un segundo mandato.

Pero los expertos aseguran que miles de personas inocentes han sido encarceladas.

“¿Qué consecuencias tiene esto?”, dijo Carlos Ponce, experto en El Salvador y profesor asistente en la Universidad del Fraser Valley en Canadá. “Esto los va a marcar a ellos y sus familias de por vida”.

El frecuente uso de la prisión preventiva por toda la región para combatir la delincuencia ha ocasionado que muchas personas desfallezcan durante meses e incluso años en prisión a la espera de ser enjuiciados, aseguran grupos de defensa de derechos humanos. La práctica afecta especialmente a los más pobres, quienes no pueden pagar abogados y a menudo se enfrentan a un sistema judicial que avanza con lentitud y está saturado.

En los primeros siete meses del estado de excepción de El Salvador, el 84 por ciento de los arrestados se encontraba en prisión preventiva y casi la mitad de la población penitenciaria de México sigue a la espera de un juicio.

“Las cárceles pueden definirse como centros de explotación para los pobres”, dijo Elena Azaola, una académica que ha estudiado el sistema penitenciario de México durante 30 años.

“Algunas personas han estado encarceladas por 10 o 20 años sin proceso”, añadió. “Muchas salen peor de lo que estaban al ingresar”.

De hecho, las prisiones de algunos países latinoamericanos son hasta cierto punto un carrusel.

Alrededor del 40 por ciento de los prisioneros en Argentina, Brasil, Chile y México son liberados solo para volver a ser puestos tras las rejas. Si bien la tasa de reincidencia es mucho más elevada en Estados Unidos, en América Latina muchas personas son encerradas por delitos menores y a menudo no violentos y luego pasan a cometer crímenes más graves, dicen los expertos, en parte porque los delincuentes del fuero común comparten el encierro con los criminales serios.

De hecho, las dos pandillas más grandes de Brasil —el Primer Comando Capital y el Comando Vermelho— se fundaron en prisiones que siguen siendo bastiones de su poder.

Jefferson Quirino, otrora integrante de una pandilla que completó cinco detenciones distintas en las cárceles de Río, dijo que las bandas controlaban todas las prisiones donde estuvo recluido. En algunas, los presos a menudo se dedicaban a llevar a cabo operaciones de las pandillas a través de los numerosos celulares que lograban ingresar de contrabando, con frecuencia con la ayuda de guardias a los que habían comprado.

En Brasil, donde las autoridades mismas a menudo dividen a los centros de detención por su afiliación criminal, la influencia de las pandillas en las prisiones es tan grande que los guardias obligan a los nuevos reclusos a elegir un bando a fin de limitar la violencia.

“Lo primero que te preguntan es: ‘¿A qué pandilla perteneces?’”, dijo Quirino, quien lidera un programa para evitar que los niños pobres se unan a las pandillas. “En otras palabras, necesitan comprender dónde ubicarte en el sistema porque de otro modo te mueres”.

Esto ha contribuido a que los grupos delictivos aumenten sus filas.

“La cárcel funciona como un espacio de reclutamiento de personal”, dijo Jacqueline Muniz, quien fue líder de Seguridad de Río de Janeiro.

“Y para crear lealtad entre tu fuerza de trabajo criminal”.

Colaboraron con reportería Emiliano Rodríguez Mega desde Ciudad de México; José María León Cabrera desde Quito, Ecuador; Thalíe Ponce desde Guayaquil, Ecuador; Genevieve Glatsky desde Bogotá, Colombia; y Laurence Blair desde Asunción, Paraguay.

Annie Correal reporta desde Estados Unidos y América Latina para el Times. Más de Annie Correal

Maria Abi-Habib es corresponsal de investigación con sede en Ciudad de México y cubre América Latina. Anteriormente ha reportado desde Afganistán, todo Medio Oriente e India, donde cubrió el sur de Asia. Más de Maria Abi-Habib

Jack Nicas es el jefe de la corresponsalía en Brasil, con sede en Río de Janeiro, desde donde lidera la cobertura de gran parte de América del Sur. Más de Jack Nicas

4 Ways Autocrats Have Used Interpol to Harass Faraway Enemies

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Interpol is the world’s largest police organization. It serves as a powerful bulletin board that governments and law enforcement agencies use to team up to pursue fugitives across the globe. At its best, it helps track down killers and terrorists.

But it is also a novel weapon for strongmen and autocrats in the hunt for political enemies, giving them the power to reach across borders and grab their targets — even in democracies.

Here are some of the ways countries can exploit Interpol:

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La salud de Navalny se vio perjudicada por las condiciones carcelarias

Alexéi Navalny se presentaba a sí mismo como invencible, utilizando constantemente su característico humor para dar a entender que el presidente Vladimir Putin no podría doblegarlo, por terribles que fueran sus condiciones en prisión.

El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

Pero detrás de esa cara valiente, la realidad era evidente. Desde su encarcelamiento a principios de 2021, Navalny, la figura más formidable de la oposición rusa, y sus colaboradores indicaron constantemente que sus condiciones eran tan sombrías que lo estaban matando a cámara lenta.

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