The New York Times 2024-03-02 05:03:32

Witnesses of Aid Convoy Violence Describe Shooting, Panic and Desperation

They went out by the thousands, camping overnight along a coastal road in the cold Gaza night, huddled together by small fires, waiting for supplies to come so they could feed their families.

What they encountered was death and injury by the hundreds, according to witnesses and a doctor who treated the wounded, as Israeli forces opened fire toward desperate Palestinians who surged forward when aid trucks finally arrived before dawn on Thursday.

“I saw things I never, ever thought I would see,” said Mohammed Al-Sholi, who had camped out overnight for a chance to get food for his family. “I saw people falling to the ground after being shot, and others simply took the food items that were with them and continued running for their lives.”

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Thousands Turn Out for Navalny’s Funeral in Moscow

Thousands of people crowded a neighborhood on Moscow’s outskirts on Friday — some bearing flowers and chanting, “No to war!” — as they tried to catch a glimpse of the funeral for Aleksei A. Navalny. The outpouring turned the opposition leader’s last rites into a striking display of dissent in Russia at a time of deep repression.

The service took place under tight monitoring from the Russian authorities, who have arrested hundreds of mourners at memorial sites since Mr. Navalny died. The police presence was heavy around the church where funeral services began shortly after 2 p.m. local time.

After a procession to the cemetery, Mr. Navalny’s coffin was placed next to his freshly dug grave. Video live streamed from the site showed his family members and then other mourners kissing him goodbye for the last time. Then his face was covered with a white cloth and the coffin was lowered to the Frank Sinatra song “My Way” and then the final song from “Terminator 2,” which Mr. Navalny considered “the best film on Earth.” Mourners slowly passed by, each taking a handful of dirt and tossing it into the grave.

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Murder and Magic Realism: A Rising Literary Star Mines China’s Rust Belt

For a long time during Shuang Xuetao’s early teenage years, he wondered what hidden disaster had befallen his family.

His parents, proud workers at a tractor factory in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, stopped going to work, and the family moved into an empty factory storage room to save money on rent.

But they rarely talked about what had happened, and Mr. Shuang worried that some special shame had struck his family alone.

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Middle East Crisis: Biden Says U.S. Will Airdrop Aid Into Gaza

‘You saw the response when they tried to get aid in,’ Biden says.

President Biden said on Friday that the United States would begin airdropping humanitarian relief supplies into Gaza, a decision prompted by the dozens of Palestinians who were killed as Israeli forces opened fire near an aid convoy in Gaza City a day earlier.

“Innocent people got caught in a terrible war unable to feed their families, and you saw the response when they tried to get aid in,” Mr. Biden said before meeting with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy. “And we need to do more, and the United States will do more.”

Mr. Biden said that the United States would work with Jordan, which has been at the forefront of airdrop efforts to Gaza, as well as other allies to deliver aid by air and that supplies could, eventually, also be delivered by sea.

“Aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough now,” Mr. Biden said. “Innocent lives are on the line, and children’s lives are on the line.”

Mr. Biden and Ms. Meloni discussed efforts to prevent the war in Gaza from becoming a larger conflict, as well as support for Ukraine and steps to address human trafficking and global migration.

John F. Kirby, a senior National Security Council official, said that the first airdrops would focus on food, followed by water and medicine. A U.S. military official said the Air Force plans to drop 50,000 meal rations.

The Biden administration has been considering airdrops for some time, but so far has chosen not to in part because of the logistical challenges of dropping aid into a dense war zone. But Mr. Kirby said that the chaos on Thursday had underscored the need to “find more creative ways of getting assistance in faster and at a greater scale.”

The deaths around the convoy have brought the humanitarian crisis in Gaza into a sharper focus for administration officials, they say. Officials have said they do not know what precisely happened at the convoy, but that they believe the disastrous events on Thursday show the lack of security in Gaza, throwing in sharp relief a failure of Israel’s war and the increasingly desperate situation for Palestinians there.

The deaths may prove to be something of an inflection point, prodding the White House to put greater pressure on Israel to allow more humanitarian aid in.

Mr. Kirby said that the deaths show the need for Hamas and Israel to agree to a cease-fire and release the hostages held in Gaza. A pause in Israel’s military operations would allow more humanitarian aid to move into the territory more quickly, he said.

Many questions remain unanswered about the killings around the aid convoy on Thursday, for which the Israeli military and Gazan officials offered divergent accounts.

Gazan health officials say that more than 100 Palestinians were killed and more than 700 injured on Thursday when Israeli forces opened fire on crowds gathered near an aid convoy in Gaza City. Witnesses said they saw people shot as they ran toward the aid trucks.

The Israeli military said a large crowd rushed the convoy and Israeli forces fired on a mob that “moved in a manner which endangered them.” The Israeli military said that most of the deaths had been caused by trampling and that people had also been run over by the aid trucks.

Mr. Kirby said the Biden administration believed that Israel was conducting a fair investigation into the violence.

“The indications are they’re taking this seriously,” Mr. Kirby said, adding that the United States wants answers as soon as possible. “Let’s see what they come up with and see what they learn.”

In addition to airdrops, the United States has asked Israel to open more border crossings in eastern Gaza and is examining ways to create a temporary port that would allow aid to be brought in by sea. Creating a temporary port could bring in more aid, but setting up such a facility in a secure way presents a challenge, officials said. The United States would not use American troops to build the temporary facility, or use American amphibious landing craft.

U.S. officials said that while the Pentagon was still working on the details of the airdrops, they should begin in the coming days. Mr. Kirby said that planning for the airdrops was far more developed, and that the operation could speed aid more quickly than by bringing in supplies via the Gaza coastline. The operation would likely involve military aircraft, one U.S. official said.

While multiple airdrops are being planned, Mr. Kirby stressed there are limits to what can be brought in by military cargo planes.

“It will be a supplement to, not a replacement for, moving things in by ground,” he said. “This isn’t about replacing trucks.”

Egypt, Jordan, France and the United Arab Emirates have already participated in aid airdrops to Gaza, a demonstration that such operations are possible. The United States regularly dropped supplies by air in Afghanistan and used airdrops for humanitarian relief operations elsewhere in the past.

Airdrops are, however, an imperfect and expensive way to deliver food and medicine. Even big military cargo planes can carry only a fraction of the supplies that a truck convoy can carry. In addition, aid dropped on the ground is difficult to secure and distribute in an orderly way.

Mr. Kirby said it was important to ensure when dropping the supplies that no one on the ground was injured by the falling pallets.

U.S. officials have said they believe that almost all of the aid that has been delivered so far has gone to civilians, with very little siphoned off by Hamas. The United States is hoping to conduct the airdrops so that U.N. relief agency workers can distribute the aid to civilians.

In 2014, American military aircraft dropped food and water to tens of thousands of Iraqis trapped on a barren mountain range in northwestern Iraq, after they fled Islamic State militants who were threatening them with what President Barack Obama called “genocide.” An American military C-17 and two C-130 aircrafts, escorted by F-18 fighter jets, participated in the drops over Mount Sinjar in Iraq, flying at a relatively low altitude.

Helene Cooper contributed reporting.

Questions still surround the convoy disaster as clamor grows for a cease-fire.

World leaders on Friday intensified their demands on Israel to get more aid into Gaza and provide more answers about the deaths of scores of Palestinians in a scene of chaos surrounding a humanitarian convoy its forces were securing.

Many questions remained unanswered as the Israeli military and Gazan officials offered divergent accounts of one of the deadliest known disasters involving civilians in the nearly five-month war. Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, called on the Israeli military to “fully explain” the killings in northern Gaza on Thursday and joined the calls for a cease-fire that would allow for the release of Israeli hostages and for more aid to enter the territory.

“People in Gaza are closer to death than to life,” she said on social media. “More humanitarian aid must come in. Immediately.”

France’s foreign minister, Stéphane Séjourné, called for an independent investigation and said the deadly chaos surrounding the convoy was the result of a humanitarian catastrophe that has left Gazans “fighting for food.”

“What is happening is indefensible and unjustifiable,” Mr. Séjourné told France Inter on Friday. “Israel must be able to hear it and it must stop.”

The disaster unfolded Thursday morning as thousands of hungry people gathered near a food convoy in Gaza City, with Israeli troops and tanks nearby. It was a scene increasingly common in Gaza, where Palestinians fighting starvation amid Israel’s war against Hamas are regularly massing around the relatively small number of aid trucks being allowed into the territory.

What happened next is still unclear. Gazan health officials say that Israeli troops fired on the crowd, killing more than 100 people and injuring 700 others in what they called “a massacre.” An Israeli military spokesman said that soldiers had opened fire “when the mob moved in a manner which endangered them.” The military said most of the deaths had been caused by trampling and that people had also been run over by the aid trucks.

Neither account could be independently verified, and partial drone video footage released by the Israeli military, along with social media videos of the scene analyzed by The New York Times, do not fully explain the sequence of events. Videos show people crawling and ducking for cover. A hospital in Gaza City said it had received bodies of at least a dozen people who had been shot and had treated more than 100 people with gunshot wounds.

An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, told Britain’s Channel 4 that soldiers had been providing security for the convoy, which involved private vehicles distributing food supplies from international donors. Israel has come under growing international pressure to facilitate more aid deliveries as groups including the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians — the main group distributing humanitarian supplies in Gaza — say it has become too lawless and chaotic to operate in much of the territory, especially the north.

Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said that regardless of how they had died, it was clear that people were killed or injured while trying to get food for their families.

“That cannot happen,” she said. “Desperate civilians trying to feed their starving families should not be shot at.”

She urged Israel to open more border crossings to facilitate aid reaching northern Gaza and to ease customs restrictions that she said leave flour sitting in ports while people near starvation.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry called on world leaders to impose sanctions on Israel to force it to protect civilians and ensure their humanitarian needs, arguing that it was obligated to do so under international law as an occupying power.

“They completely denied the truth of the massacre that they committed against unarmed civilians exhausted by hunger and thirst as a result of racist policies,” the ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Refugees International, an advocacy group, demanded an immediate independent investigation into the disaster and called on the United States to pause military aid to Israel until those responsible are held accountable.

“There is nothing that can justify the killing of civilians desperate to receive lifesaving relief for their families,” the group said in a statement.

Witnesses describe seeing people shot as Israeli soldiers fired toward crowds surging around aid convoy.

They went out in the thousands, camping overnight along the coastal road in the cold Gaza night — making small fires to keep warm — huddled together waiting for supplies to come so they could feed their families.

What they encountered was death and injury, as Israeli forces opened fire toward hungry, desperate Palestinians who surged forward when aid trucks finally arrived in the predawn dark on Thursday, according to three eyewitnesses and a doctor who treated the wounded.

“I saw things I never ever thought I would see,” said Mohammed Al-Sholi, who had camped out overnight for a chance at getting food for his family. “I saw people falling to the ground after being shot and others simply took the food items that were with them and continued running for their lives.”

More than 100 Palestinians were killed Thursday morning, Gazan health officials said, when Israeli forces opened fire as huge crowds of people thronged around the aid trucks.

An Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, acknowledged that Israeli troops had opened fire “when a mob moved in a manner which endangered them” without giving details. But he denied the soldiers had fired at people who were trying to get food. “We did not fire on those seeking aid, despite the accusations,” he said. Most of the deaths were caused by trampling in a stampede, Admiral Hagari said, and some people were hit by aid trucks.

The truck convoy was long and it was difficult to determine what occurred in the darkness at different locations. But Mr. Al-Sholi and two other witnesses said in telephone interviews that they saw Israeli forces firing directly at people as they tried to reach the convoy. Mr. Al-Sholi said he also saw some people hit by the trucks in the chaos. A doctor at a nearby hospital described seeing scores of people with gunshot wounds.

Enormous groups of people have camped out for aid or raced to convoys in recent weeks, hoping for some deliverance from the severe hunger that has gripped northern Gaza through nearly five months of an Israeli offensive that has included intense bombardment, a siege and a ground invasion.

Mr. Al-Sholi, a 34-year-old taxi driver, said he was compelled to join the thousands of people gathered near the Nabulsi roundabout in Gaza City because he and his family, including three young children, are surviving off little but the spices, minced wheat and wild greens that they can find.

On Wednesday, he had heard that people had received bags of flour from aid trucks, and there were rumors that another convoy was coming. So on around 7 p.m., he went to the Nabulsi roundabout with friends to wait.

He said he had never seen so many people gathered in one place. Others described tens of thousands of people waiting.

“Right before the trucks arrived, a tank started to move toward us, it was around 3:30 a.m. and fired few shots in the air,” Mr. Al-Sholi said in a phone interview. “That tank fired at least one shell. It was dark and I ran back toward a destroyed building and took shelter there.”

When the aid trucks arrived soon after, people ran toward them in desperation, and the gunfire started, the witnesses said.

“As usual, when the aid trucks arrived, people ran toward them to get food and drink and whatever else they could get,” said Mohammad Hamoudeh, a photographer in Gaza City. But when people reached the trucks, he said, “the tanks started firing directly at the people.”

He added, “I saw them firing direct machine gun fire.”

Mr. Hamoudeh said that, despite the fear and panic at the scene, many still rushed to the supplies. “People were terrified but not everyone, there were those who risked death just so they could get food,” he said. “They just want to live.”

The witnesses said that the tanks fired shells toward people even after they began to run away. They said tanks arrived between 3 and 4 a.m. and started firing regularly toward the Gazans, stopping at around 7 a.m.

The Israeli military did not respond to questions about whether Israeli tanks opened fire before or after the aid trucks arrived. Admiral Hagari said the trucks had neared Gaza City around 4:45 a.m.

Partial drone video footage released by the Israeli military, along with social media videos of the scene analyzed by The New York Times, do not fully explain the sequence of events. Videos show panic, including people ducking for cover and taking food from trucks.

Mr. Al-Sholi described chaos as he ran from the aid trucks and people around him were hit.

“I saw people falling to the ground,” Mr. Al-Sholi said. “The man next to me was shot in the arm with a bullet and lost his finger immediately.”

As he fled, he said, he saw about 30 people on the ground, either killed or wounded. One of those killed was his cousin, who was shot while running with a bag of flour, he said. About 150 meters away from one of the tanks, he recalled seeing a boy, about 12 years old, lying on the ground with his face covered with blood.

A third witness, a journalist who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from the Israeli military, said the Israeli fire was so intense it was difficult to get to the wounded.

None of the witnesses reported seeing people who had been trampled to death. Mr. Al-Sholi said he saw some people who had been hit by trucks. On Thursday, a doctor who went to the scene, Yehia Al Masri, said he saw dozens of people with gunshot wounds but also people who appeared to have died in a stampede or to have been hit by aid trucks.

The tanks stopped firing around 7 a.m., but they did not pull back. People started dragging or carrying the dead and wounded, saying the Muslim declaration of faith as they did so fearing the tanks would start firing again, said Mr. Hamoudeh.

About a mile away ambulances had gathered, unable to get any closer, for fear of being fired on by Israeli forces. Some people carried or brought the wounded to them on donkey carts, or took them to hospitals on their own.

Around 150 wounded people and 12 of those killed arrived at the Kamal Adwan Hospital, said Dr. Eid Sabbah, the head of nursing there. He said about 95 percent of the injuries were gunshot wounds in the chest and abdomen.

Many of the wounded were in critical condition and required surgery. But the hospital, like the few others still functioning in Gaza, suffered from a lack of electricity, fuel, medical equipment and medicine.

Medical staff were only able to perform 20 operations, with painkillers but without anesthesia, in their three equipped operating rooms, Dr. Sabbah said. Like food supplies, medical aid has become scarce over the last four months, leaving the few hospitals still operating struggling to treat patients beyond first aid.

Dr. Sabbah warned that many of the wounded from Thursday’s shooting could not be properly treated in their hospital.

“In the I.C.U. there are patients who need specializations and medicines and need complicated surgeries,” he said. “Their only hope is to be transferred outside of Gaza to be treated.”

Nader Ibrahim contributed reporting.

News leaders around the world pledge support for journalists covering the war in Gaza.

Nearly 60 leaders from international and regional news outlets signed a letter on Thursday and Friday committing their support for journalists covering the war in Gaza and calling for their safety and the freedom to do their work amid intense personal risk.

The letter, coordinated by the Committee to Protect Journalists with the support of the World Association of News Publishers, also called on Israeli authorities to protect journalists as noncombatants, as required by international law, adding that those responsible for violations of that protection should be held accountable.

“These journalists — on whom the international news media and the international community rely for information about the situation inside Gaza — continue to report despite grave personal risk,” the letter says of the Palestinian media workers doing the on-the-ground reporting. “They continue despite the loss of family, friends and colleagues, the destruction of homes and offices, constant displacement, communications blackouts and shortages of food and fuel.”

The signatories include leaders of The Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times and regional outlets across Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

Palestinian journalists have faced grave risks or personal loss while trying to report on the war: Some have been injured while reporting; others have lost family members and colleagues. Several have quit amid the challenges. Since Oct. 7, at least 94 journalists have been killed in the war, making it the deadliest period for journalists since the Committee to Protect Journalists started collecting data in 1992, according to the organization. Israeli and Egyptian authorities have prohibited international media from entering Gaza, and journalists from other major news outlets have evacuated, making the true scale of the war impossible to grasp.

According to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists, most of the media workers killed in the war were Palestinian, and many of them were killed along with their families in airstrikes. Some human rights groups have said that Israel has targeted journalists, though Israel has repeatedly denied that accusation.

The letter prompted backlash from some journalists who said they or their colleagues were punished by their news organizations for affirming their support for Palestinian journalists and civilians in letters highly critical of Israel’s war tactics in Gaza.

When journalists have resigned or been fired for protesting the Israel-Hamas war, news organizations have said that voicing opinions that take sides violates their newsroom policies.

The E.U. says it is sending more funding to U.N. agency for Gaza in the face of ‘terrible conditions.’

The European Union said on Friday that it planned to substantially increase its funding this year for UNRWA, the main U.N. agency providing aid to Palestinians in Gaza, and would disburse 50 million euros, or about $54 million, next week. The agency is fighting for its survival following Israel’s allegations that some members of the agency’s staff were involved in the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks.

“Innocent Palestinians should not have to pay the price for the crimes of terrorist group Hamas,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, said on Friday. “They face terrible conditions putting their lives at risk because of lack of access to sufficient food and other basic needs.”

Israeli accusations that emerged in January claimed that a dozen employees of the agency, formally the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, played an active role in the attacks on Israel or its aftermath, a number that Israeli officials later upped to 30. The accusations prompted nearly 20 countries and institutions to suspend their financing for the agency.

In total, around $450 million in this year’s funding has been withheld from the agency, Philippe Lazzarini, the leader of the agency said earlier this month. At the time, UNRWA, the largest aid agency on the ground in Gaza, said that, absent new funds, its reserves would be gone by March.

The 50 million euros from the E.U. will allow UNRWA to continue its operations until the end of March, the agency said.

The European Union, one of UNRWA’s largest donors, had been expected to provide 82 million euros, or $88 million, to the agency this year. The announcement on Friday said the financial support would be increased by 68 million euros, or about $73 million, with the first tranche to be paid out next week. The funds are to be channeled through international partners like the International Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent, the commission added.

After the Israeli allegations emerged in January, the European Commission called for an independent audit at UNRWA, which would focus on screening and monitoring “the possible involvement of its staff in terrorist activities.” The United Nations began an internal investigation and has commissioned an outside review, which is being led by a former French foreign minister.

UNRWA also agreed to conduct an audit of its control systems to ensure that no staff members or assets would be involved in terrorist activities, the commission said, and to strengthen its department of internal investigations and its governance.

The decision of the commission “comes at a critical time,” Mr. Lazzarini said on X, the social media platform. “It will support the agency’s efforts to maintain lifesaving and essential services” for Palestinians across the region.

He added, “The full disbursement of the E.U. contribution is key to the agency’s ability to maintain its operations in a very volatile area.”

Condemnations of the aid convoy killings continue to pour in.

More governments issued condemnations on Friday after the deadly melee surrounding an aid convoy in northern Gaza, where scores of Palestinians were killed as Israeli forces opened fire in an incident whose precise details remain unclear.

The British foreign secretary, David Cameron, called the deaths “horrific” and called for an urgent investigation. “This must not happen again,” he said in a statement that stressed the inadequate quantities of aid reaching civilians and demanded that Israel open more aid crossings, speed up deliveries and increase protections for ordinary Palestinians, NGOs, medics and others providing help.

Mr. Cameron also called for an immediate pause in the fighting. “A sustained pause in the fighting is the only way to get lifesaving aid in at the scale needed and free the hostages cruelly held by Hamas,” he said.

The Indian government said in a statement that it was “deeply shocked at the loss of lives in northern Gaza yesterday during delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

“Such loss of civilian lives and the larger humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to be a cause for extreme concern,” it said. “We reiterate our call for safe and timely delivery of humanitarian aid and assistance.”

South Africa, whose government has been extremely critical of Israel’s military offensive against Hamas in Gaza, said it “condemns the massacre” of people “as they sought lifesaving aid.” The people who came under fire, South Africa said in a statement issued by its Department of International Relations and Cooperation, were “already vulnerable due to the onslaught on Palestinians over the last four months.”

The International Court of Justice, the U.N.’s highest court, heard arguments in January in a case brought by South Africa that accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, a charge Israel has strenuously denied. The court ordered Israel to take steps to prevent genocide and increase aid into Gaza, and last week Israel submitted a report to the judges on the steps it was taking to do so. The report has not been made public.

An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said that the convoy on Thursday was part of several days of humanitarian operations to distribute food supplies in Gaza that Israeli troops were overseeing.

On Thursday, other countries and organizations condemned the killings, including Saudi Arabia, the U.N. secretary general, Oxfam and the Israeli rights organization B’Tselem. A spokesman for the State Department said that the United States would be “pressing for answers” from Israel about the killings.

South Africa’s statement on Friday said that the killings showed that “legal remedies are not sufficient” to end what it says are atrocities against Palestinians in Gaza, and the country called on the international community to “consider other measures to end the unlawful actions of the Israeli government.”

“An immediate and unconditional call for a cease-fire is now a moral and lifesaving necessity,” the statement concluded.

Brazil’s government said that the shootings underscored that Israel’s “military action in Gaza has no ethical or legal limits. “It is up to the international community to stop it, and only then will we avoid new atrocities,” it said in a statement. “Every day we hesitate, more innocent people will die.”

Esther Bintliff and Jack Nicas contributed reporting.

Israeli military videos provide a limited view of what happened at a deadly scene in Gaza.

Israeli forces opened fire on Thursday as a crowd gathered near a convoy of aid trucks in Gaza City in a chaotic scene in which scores were killed and injured, according to Gazan officials and the Israeli military, which attributed most of the deaths to a stampede.

The military released fragments of drone video and declined to provide unedited footage, adding to the confusion around the series of events that killed and wounded many Gazans hoping to find food.

Aid into Gaza declined sharply in February.

The number of aid trucks entering Gaza dropped significantly in February, data shows, even as humanitarian leaders warned of famine and demanded that Israel and others increase aid to civilians trapped in the enclave.

The deaths of dozens of people amid a rush for food aid on Thursday underlined the degree of desperation in the territory.

​​An average of 96 trucks a day entered Gaza through Feb. 27, a 30 percent drop from the January average and the lowest monthly average since before a cease-fire in late November, according to data from UNRWA, the U.N. aid agency for Gaza.

“It has been stop and go,” said Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for UNRWA. “It’s been far from regular and far from enough. We should have seen an increase, but there’s been a significant decrease.”

Aid trucks carry food, medicine and other necessities, and while a reduction in the numbers suggests a reduction in overall volume, the measure is not exact. A relatively small quantity of aid has also been dropped by plane to people in Gaza.

The decline reflects, in part, the stringency of inspection measures at the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Israel, which has acted as the main gateway since it was reopened in December. Goods also pass into Gaza from Egypt through a crossing at the city of Rafah after undergoing Israeli inspection at a separate site.

The chief economist at the U.N. World Food Program, Arif Husain, said that other factors also impeded deliveries, including insecurity in Gaza and the fact that there are currently only two border crossing points through which aid is allowed to pass.

Israeli checks on goods entering Gaza aim to weed out items that could potentially be used by Hamas. Aid officials said in interviews that, while necessary, the inspection system caused significant delays that resulted in less overall aid. Before the war, around 500 trucks carrying aid entered Gaza each day.

In addition, Israeli protesters demanding the release of the roughly 100 hostages believed to be still alive in Gaza have impeded the flow of aid at Kerem Shalom.

The U.S. special envoy for humanitarian aid, David Satterfield, said last month that Israeli military strikes on Palestinian police officers were making it nearly impossible to distribute aid once it entered Gaza because security forces normally protect aid from desperate populations.

“Very little aid has been arriving,” said Alaa Fayad, a veterinarian who has been displaced to the central city of Deir al Balah. He said that an absence of Palestinian security forces had enabled gangs to steal some of the food that arrived.

Jan Egeland, a former U.N. humanitarian coordinator who leads the Norwegian Refugee Council humanitarian agency indicated that Israel could allow an increase in the amount of aid entering the territory.

“The system is broken, and Israel could fix it for the sake of the innocent,” he said on Wednesday in a post in the X social media network following a visit to the border area.

Israel’s agency overseeing policy for the Palestinian territories, known as COGAT, pointed a finger at those distributing aid. As an example, the agency said that there were more than 200 trucks waiting to be picked up at Kerem Shalom and that Israel has placed no limit on the amount of aid that can enter.

The decline in aid suggests that calls by the United States and other governments for a rapid increase in help for civilians have not immediately borne fruit. It could also have wider repercussions. In an interim ruling in January, the world’s top court, the International Court of Justice, ordered Israel to enable humanitarian assistance and basic services in Gaza.

Some aid officials said that they hoped that a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas would prompt an increase in aid. Some 300 aid trucks — a peak since Oct. 7 — entered Gaza during one day of the weeklong cease-fire in late November.

Gaza was dependent on aid deliveries even before the war, when two-thirds of its people were supported with food assistance. Today, food aid is required by almost the entire population of 2.2 million people.

“The risk of famine is being fueled by the inability to bring critical food supplies into Gaza in sufficient quantities, and the almost impossible operating conditions faced by our staff on the ground,” Carl Skau, the deputy executive director at the World Food Program, a United Nations agency, told the Security Council this week.

Gaya Gupta, Adam Sella and Nader Ibrahim contributed reporting.

For Navalny’s Followers, a ‘Surge of Inspiration’ at a Sad Event

Elena Milashina, a daring Russian reporter beaten unconscious and doused in liquid iodine last year, said she has bid farewell to far too many journalists, activists and opposition figures who died an untimely death.

But never, she said in a phone interview from Moscow, had she seen anything like the scene on Friday on the streets of the sleepy Maryino neighborhood on the outskirts of the Russian capital.

“This was the most optimistic funeral I can remember,” said Ms. Milashina, 47, citing the large crowds and a palpable sense of unity. “There was no grief. There was this surge of inspiration that we are all together, and that there are many of us.”

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‘This Is for Gaza’: George Galloway, Leftist Firebrand, Wins U.K. Seat

As he celebrated victory early Friday after winning a parliamentary election, George Galloway, a veteran left-wing firebrand, directed his attack squarely at the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party.

“Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza,” Mr. Galloway said, wearing the fedora hat that has become his trademark. “You have paid, and you will pay, a high price for the role you have played in enabling, encouraging and covering for the catastrophe presently going on.”

Mr. Galloway won the election — for a seat in Rochdale, north of Manchester, that had previously been held by Labour — after a chaotic campaign that became emblematic of the anger that has swept through British politics over the war in Gaza.

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Why More American Weapons Will Soon Be Made Outside America

On the grassy plains of Australia’s vast interior, an industrial evolution in the American war machine is gathering momentum. In munitions factories with room to grow, Australia is on the verge of producing heaps of artillery shells and thousands of guided missiles in partnership with American companies.

Made to Pentagon specifications, the weapons will be no different from those built in the United States, and only some of what rolls off the line will stay in Australia. The rest are intended to help replenish U.S. stockpiles or be sold to American partners in an era of grinding ground wars and threats from major powers.

It is all part of an Australian push to essentially become the 51st state for defense production, an ambitious vision that is now taking shape with a giant yellow mixer for explosives and a lightning-protected workshop for assembling missiles known as GMLRS — or “gimmlers.”

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Many Iranians Boycott Vote, Despite Officials’ Pleas and Roses at Polls

Iran held parliamentary elections on Friday, but despite officials’ last-minute attempts to increase voter turnout with pleas on social media and roses at polling stations, many people stayed away from the ballot in an act of protest against the government, according to witnesses, interviews and news reports.

In the capital, Tehran, the turnout was estimated at 11 percent, the hard-line parliamentary candidate Ali Akbar Raefipour said in a post on social media, and across the country, turnout was around 40 percent, according to IRNA, the official Iranian news agency — even with polls extending their opening hours to 10 p.m. from 8 p.m.

The current speaker of the Parliament, Gen. Mohammad Ghalibaf, a commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps who is running for re-election on the conservative ticket, took to the social media platform X on Friday to plead with people to call at least 10 others and urge them to vote.

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The Funeral of Aleksei Navalny, in Photos

Russians traveled from far and wide to bear witness as Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who died in an Arctic prison at 47, was buried in Moscow on Friday amid a heavy police presence.

Some mourners chanted his name. Others said, “Thank you for your son!” to Mr. Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, who had fought for days to reclaim his body. Eventually, the authorities relented, but Mr. Navalny’s team described having to overcome a gantlet to persuade a church, a cemetery and a hearse to take part in the burial.

Thousands turned out for the service, Mr. Navalny’s supporters estimated. Foreign diplomats were among the crowd. Some Russians shouted, “No to war,” risking arrest. In the end, Mr. Navalny’s coffin was lowered into the cemetery grounds to the strains of the Sinatra song “My Way” and one from the movie “Terminator 2,” video showed.

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Kenya Signs Deal With Haiti to Send 1,000 Police to Caribbean

Kenya and Haiti signed a security deal on Friday intended to remove the last major obstacle to the deployment of 1,000 Kenyan police officers to the gang-ravaged Caribbean nation.

President William Ruto of Kenya said that after months of delays the agreement would “enable the fast-tracking” of a security mission that has stirred cautious hopes in Haiti, where violence is escalating, but has drawn sharp criticism from Kenyan rights groups.

The mission, backed by the United Nations and largely financed by the United States, has been on hold since January when a Kenyan court ruled the deployment illegal because Kenya and Haiti had not signed a formal reciprocal agreement.

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Judge Awards $6.2 Million to New Zealand Volcano Victims

More than four years after dozens of people were injured or killed in a devastating volcanic eruption on White Island, off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island, victims and their families have been awarded a total of about 10.2 million New Zealand dollars, or roughly $6.2 million.

Speaking at the Auckland District Court on Friday, Judge Evangelos Thomas ordered that reparations be paid to victims by three New Zealand tourism companies: White Island Tours, the helicopter company Volcanic Air Safaris and Whakaari Management Limited, which owns the island.

“I adopt an individual general sum of 250,000 New Zealand dollars,” or around $150,000 per person, Judge Thomas said. That figure could be adjusted for those who had experienced particular hardship, he added, including children who had lost their parents.

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How Germany’s Most Wanted Criminal Hid in Plain Sight

It took authorities more than 30 years to hunt down one of Germany’s most wanted fugitives. For Michael Colborne, an investigative journalist running old photographs through a facial recognition service, it took about 30 minutes.

At the request of a German podcasting duo, he’d been asked to search for matches to the decades-old wanted photographs of Daniela Klette, a member of the leftist militant group Red Army Faction, Germany’s most infamous postwar terrorist group, originally known as the Baader-Meinhof gang.

Instead, the facial recognition software he used lighted upon a woman called Claudia Ivone. In one image, she posed with her local capoeira troupe as they waved their arms exuberantly. Another showed her in a white headdress, tossing flower petals with an Afro-Brazilian society at a local street festival.

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A Boring Capital for a Young Democracy. Just the Way Residents Like It.

Reporting from Belmopan, Belize

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Mention Belmopan, Belize’s capital that sits deep in the country’s interior, and many Belizeans will belittle the city as a bastion of pencil-pushing bureaucrats that’s not just dull, but also devoid of nightlife.

“I was warned, ‘Belmopan is for the newlyweds or the nearly deads,’” said Raquel Rodriguez, 45, owner of an art school, about the reactions when she moved to Belmopan from coastal, bustling Belize City.

Not exactly known as an Eden for young urbanites, Belmopan figures among the smallest capital cities anywhere in the Americas. It has only about 25,000 residents and a cluster of hurricane-proof, heavy-on-the-concrete, Maya-inspired Brutalist buildings.

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For Car Thieves, Toronto Is a ‘Candy Store,’ and Drivers Are Fed Up

Vjosa Isai drove around Toronto in a Volkswagen Passat with 290,000 miles on it, a vehicle not coveted by car thieves, to report this article.

Whenever Dennis Wilson wants to take a drive in his new SUV, he has to set aside an extra 15 minutes. That’s about how long it takes to remove the car’s steering wheel club, undo four tire locks and lower a yellow bollard before backing out of his driveway.

His Honda CR-V is also fitted with two alarm systems, a vehicle tracking device and, for good measure, four Apple AirTags. Its remote-access key fob rests in a Faraday bag, to jam illicit unlocking signals.

As a final touch, he mounted two motion-sensitive floodlights on his house and aimed them at the driveway in his modest neighborhood in Toronto.

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Where Hostage Families and Supporters Gather, for Solace and Protest

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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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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Cleaning Latrines by Hand: ‘How Could Any Human Do That?’

When he came to fully realize exactly what his parents and older brother did for a living, and what it likely meant for his own future, Bezwada Wilson says he was so angry he contemplated suicide.

His family members, and his broader community, were manual scavengers, tasked with cleaning by hand human excrement from dry latrines at a government-run gold mine in southern India.

While his parents had tried hard to hide from their youngest child the nature of their work as long as they could — telling Mr. Bezwada they were sweepers — as a student Mr. Bezwada knew his classmates viewed him with cruel condescension. He just didn’t know the reason.

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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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Canadian Skaters Demand Bronze Medals in Olympics Dispute

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Nearly a month after international figure skating’s governing body revised the results of a marquee competition at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, stripping Russia of the gold medal and giving the United States team a long-delayed victory, a new fight about the outcome erupted on Monday.

Eight members of the Canadian squad that competed in the team competition in Beijing have filed a case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport demanding that they be awarded bronze medals in the team event. The court announced the filing but revealed no details.

The Canadians, whose case was joined by their country’s skating federation and national Olympic committee, are expected to argue that figure skating’s global governing body erred when it revised the results of the competition in January after a Russian skater who had taken part, the teenage prodigy Kamila Valieva, was given a four-year ban for doping.

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In Latin America, a New Frontier for Women: Professional Softball in Mexico

Reporting from Mexico City and León, Mexico

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In many parts of Latin America, baseball is a popular and well-established sport with men’s professional leagues in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, among others. But women wanting to play baseball’s cousin — softball — professionally had only one option: to leave. They had to go to the United States or Japan.

Until now.

In what is believed to be a first in Latin America — a region where men often have more opportunities than women, particularly in sports — a professional women’s softball league has started in Mexico. On Jan. 25, when the inaugural season began, 120 women on six teams got to call themselves professional softball players, many for the first time.

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Why the Cost of Success in English Soccer’s Lower Leagues Keeps Going Up

Geoff Thompson knows there are plenty of people who want to buy what he has to sell. The phone calls and emails over the last few weeks have left no doubt. And really, that is no surprise. Few industries are quite as appealing or as prestigious as English soccer, and Mr. Thompson has a piece of it.

It is, admittedly, a comparatively small piece: South Shields F.C., the team he has owned for almost a decade, operates in English soccer’s sixth tier, several levels below, and a number of worlds away, from the dazzling light and international allure of the Premier League. But while his team might be small, Mr. Thompson is of the view that it is, at least, as perfectly poised for profitability as any minor-league English soccer club could hope to be.

South Shields has earned four promotions to higher leagues in his nine years as chairman. The team owns its stadium. Mr. Thompson has spent considerable sums of money modernizing the bathrooms, the club shop and the private boxes. There is a thriving youth academy and an active charitable foundation. “We have done most of the hard yards,” Mr. Thompson said.

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

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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En México, la contienda presidencial se perfila hacia una victoria aplastante

Simon Romero y

Reportando desde Ciudad de México

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Con las elecciones presidenciales de México a realizarse en apenas tres meses, hay algo claro: la candidata del partido gobernante parece ser la clara ganadora.

Claudia Sheinbaum, física y protegida política del presidente actual, mantiene una amplia ventaja de cerca de 30 puntos porcentuales en las encuestas sobre la candidata de la oposición, Xóchitl Gálvez, empresaria del sector tecnológico. Este viernes es el inicio oficial de la campaña.

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Jugando a lo seguro en un momento en el que el presidente saliente, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, sigue teniendo altos niveles de popularidad, Sheinbaum se ha mantenido tan cerca de sus políticas y su personalidad que no solo se ha comprometido a adoptar las prioridades del presidente, sino que en ocasiones imita su pausada manera de hablar en las apariciones que ha tenido por todo el país.

Pero si bien la campaña excepcionalmente disciplinada de Sheinbaum la ha consolidado como la amplia favorita, la candidata que podría ser la primera presidenta de México sigue siendo un misterio para muchos mexicanos.

“Claudia Sheinbaum sigue siendo el gran misterio de esta elección”, dijo Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez, politólogo del Tecnológico de Monterrey. “Tiene la cabeza muy distinta a la de López Obrador. Es una científica. Tarde o temprano tiene que quitarse esa máscara de ser la repetidora de López Obrador”.

Por ahora, la contienda subraya cómo López Obrador, un político combativo que mezcla retórica nacionalista y de izquierda con políticas que son social, ambiental y fiscalmente conservadoras, ha dominado tanto la política mexicana desde que asumió el cargo en 2018 que la oposición fragmentada está teniendo problemas para hacerle frente a su posible sucesora.

Gálvez, una senadora con raíces indígenas que representa a una coalición de partidos en su mayor parte conservadores, causó revuelo el año pasado, cuando entró a la contienda. Pero no ha logrado obtener mucho impulso en un momento en el que la economía de México se está beneficiando de una transición en la manufactura, históricamente de China, lo que ha hecho que México sea el principal socio comercial de Estados Unidos.

Sheinbaum, quien forma parte de Morena, el partido gobernante, y fue jefa de gobierno de Ciudad de México, ha enfatizado constantemente su cercanía con el presidente, conocido por sus iniciales, AMLO.

Hija de padres judíos y nacida en Ciudad de México, Sheinbaum se convirtió en experta en temas energéticos tras estudiar física e ingeniería energética en México y realizar trabajos de investigación para su doctorado en el Laboratorio Nacional Lawrence Berkeley, en California.

A pesar de la ventaja de Sheinbaum, los expertos afirman que las encuestas podrían tergiversar el sentimiento de los votantes y que la contienda, que culminará con las elecciones del 2 de junio, está lejos de definirse mientras las candidatas discuten sus planes para el país de habla hispana más grande del mundo.

“Hay un buen porcentaje que apenas va a empezar a tomar decisiones sobre qué candidato le convence”, dijo Lorena Becerra, analista política y encuestadora.

Gálvez no pudo ser contactada el jueves, y un portavoz de Sheinbaum declaró que, por ahora, no realizarán comentarios sobre las tendencias de votación.

Pero en el inicio de marzo, Sheinbaum está respaldada por el 63 por ciento de las personas registradas para votar, según una tabulación de encuestas realizada por Oraculus, una organización que estandariza y agrupa las encuestas de votación del país. Gálvez, su principal oponente, cuenta con el 31 por ciento, una diferencia del equivalente de casi 20 millones de votos.

Un tercer candidato presidencial, el político progresista Jorge Álvarez Máynez, perteneciente al partido Movimiento Ciudadano, se ha quedado rezagado con el 5 por ciento.

“Morena llega en condiciones inmejorables”, afirmó Carlos Pérez Ricart, politólogo del Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, en Ciudad de México. Reflexionando sobre los ciclos electorales recientes de México, agregó: “Nunca tuvo tanto viento a favor la candidatura oficialista como ahora”.

Hay varios factores que favorecen a Sheinbaum y su partido; por encima de todo, quizás, están los altos niveles de popularidad de López Obrador, los cuales superan los de cualquier otro presidente en los cuatro gobiernos más recientes del país.

Forjando una conexión visceral con muchos votantes que se habían sentido abandonados por otros presidentes, López Obrador le ha dado prioridad a populares programas antipobreza durante su sexenio (la reelección presidencial está prohibida por ley en México).

Alrededor de unas 25 millones de familias se han beneficiado de las transferencias directas de dinero. El gobierno ha incrementado los subsidios para reducir los precios del combustible y las facturas de electricidad. Además, ha desarrollado grandes proyectos de infraestructura, como una ambiciosa línea ferroviaria en la península de Yucatán, como una forma para desarrollar regiones históricamente empobrecidas.

Si bien Sheinbaum no ha jugado un papel en la creación de estas políticas, se ha comprometido a seguir los pasos de López Obrador, en gran parte consolidando sus proyectos de infraestructura, ejecutando sus medidas de austeridad y manteniendo sus populares programas de bienestar social.

Pero a diferencia de su mentor, afirmó Pérez Ricart, el politólogo, “podemos, con toda seguridad, esperar una candidata mucho más detallista en la ejecución. Si fue el carisma de López Obrador lo que lo mantuvo con números altos, ella va a tener que reemplazar eso por eficacia”.

Ya existen algunas evidencias de que un gobierno de Sheinbaum podría diferir del de su predecesor en algunas maneras cruciales.

Cuando fue jefa de gobierno en Ciudad de México, su gestión de la pandemia difirió drásticamente de la respuesta del gobierno federal. Sheinbaum intentó seguir la ciencia mientras López Obrador minimizaba los riesgos. También ha dicho que se enfocará en la energía renovable, en contraste con la prioridad que le dio López Obrador a los combustibles fósiles.

Luego está el persistente tema de la seguridad. López Obrador ha confiado en las fuerzas armadas para que lidien con la creciente violencia; Sheinbaum se comprometió a mejorar la capacitación de la policía, mejorar sus salarios e invertir en órganos de inteligencia, medidas que implementó durante su tiempo como jefa de gobierno de Ciudad de México.

Los resultados de cada estrategia están a la vista. Si bien los reportes de extorsión y desapariciones se han disparado por todo el país, los homicidios, robos y otros crímenes en Ciudad de México se han desplomado en un 60 por ciento.

“Las diferencias están frente a nosotros”, añadió Pérez Ricart. “Claramente tiene una forma de gobernar distinta y lo ha demostrado en los últimos años”.

Gálvez también ha dejado entrever algunas propuestas, como permitir que la inversión privada modernice la endeudada petrolera del país y promover las fuentes de energía renovable.

También crearía una fuerza policial de investigación nacional y reduciría el poder de los militares.

Las preocupaciones sobre la seguridad forman parte de la conversación de la campaña mientras México se prepara para su elección más grande alguna vez organizada, en la que los votantes elegirán desde cargos nacionales hasta cargos en niveles municipales.

Desde junio, Laboratorio Electoral, un instituto de investigación independiente enfocado en la democracia y las elecciones, ha documentado al menos 67 ataques, amenazas, secuestros y asesinatos relacionados con las elecciones. Al menos 39 personas han sido asesinadas, 19 de ellas candidatos a cargos locales. Una porción significativa de la violencia está vinculada a los cárteles y a otros grupos criminales que buscan influir en los resultados.

Sobre la contienda se cierne la campaña presidencial que se desarrolla actualmente en Estados Unidos. Si bien la reelección del presidente Biden sería una señal de continuidad, una victoria de Donald Trump, el favorito republicano, podría alterar la política de México al convertir la dependencia del país del comercio con Estados Unidos en una fuente de vulnerabilidad.

La campaña de Trump está impulsando una propuesta para un arancel universal del 10 por ciento sobre los bienes importados. Un arancel así “presentaría al próximo presidente de México, quienquiera que sea, un reto que AMLO y sus predecesores no enfrentaron”, dijo Andrew Rudman, director del Instituto México del Centro Internacional para Académicos Woodrow Wilson, con sede en Washington.

El propio López Obrador podría ser otro factor desestabilizador si su protegida gana la presidencia. Su plan, como ya ha mencionado en diversas ocasiones, es desentenderse de la política y mudarse a una finca en Palenque, en el sureño estado de Chiapas, que sus padres le dejaron a él y a sus hermanos.

A muchos en México les cuesta creer que López Obrador pueda simplemente desaparecer en el ocaso.

“Un personaje del tamaño de Andrés Manuel López Obrador, la capacidad que tenía de movilizar emociones y, con eso, suplir muchas de las carencias de su gobierno; pues eso no lo va a tener Claudia Sheinbaum”, dijo la politóloga Blanca Heredia. “Y va a ser difícil que no se le esté, sobre todo al principio, comparando con él”.

Simon Romero es corresponsal en Ciudad de México, y cubre México, Centroamérica y el Caribe. Se ha desempeñado como jefe del buró del Times en Brasil, jefe del buró andino y corresponsal internacional de energía. Más de Simon Romero

Emiliano Rodríguez Mega es investigador-reportero del Times radicado en Ciudad de México. Cubre México, Centroamérica y el Caribe. Más de Emiliano Rodríguez Mega

¿Qué pasó con el convoy de alimentos en Gaza? Hay versiones encontradas

El viernes, los líderes mundiales intensificaron sus exigencias a Israel para que deje entrar más ayuda en Gaza y dé más respuestas sobre la muerte de decenas de palestinos en una escena de caos en torno a un convoy humanitario que sus fuerzas estaban protegiendo.

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Muchas preguntas quedaron sin respuesta cuando el ejército israelí y funcionarios gazatíes ofrecieron versiones distintas sobre una de las catástrofes más mortíferas, en la que hubo civiles implicados, conocidas en los casi cinco meses de guerra. Annalena Baerbock, ministra de Relaciones Exteriores de Alemania, pidió al ejército israelí que “explicara plenamente” las matanzas del norte de Gaza y se sumó a los llamamientos en favor de un alto el fuego que permitiera la liberación de los rehenes israelíes y la entrada de más ayuda en el territorio.

“La gente en Gaza está más cerca de la muerte que de la vida”, dijo en las redes sociales. “Debe llegar más ayuda humanitaria. Inmediatamente”.

El ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Francia, Stéphane Séjourné, pidió una investigación independiente y afirmó que el caos mortal que rodeaba al convoy era consecuencia de una catástrofe humanitaria que ha hecho que los gazatíes estén “peleando por comida”.

“Lo que está ocurriendo es indefendible e injustificable”, declaró Séjourné a France Inter el viernes. “Israel debe poder oírlo y debe detenerse”.

El desastre se desencadenó el jueves por la mañana, cuando miles de personas hambrientas se congregaron cerca de un convoy de alimentos en la ciudad de Gaza, con soldados y tanques israelíes en las inmediaciones. Era una escena cada vez más habitual en Gaza: palestinos que enfrentan el hambre, en medio de la guerra de Israel contra Hamás, se congregan regularmente en torno al número relativamente pequeño de camiones de ayuda que pueden entrar en el territorio.

Lo que ocurrió después sigue sin estar claro. Funcionarios de salud gazatíes afirman que los soldados israelíes dispararon contra la multitud, matando a más de 100 personas e hiriendo a otras 700 en lo que calificaron de “masacre”. Un portavoz militar israelí dijo que los soldados habían hecho disparos de advertencia al aire antes de abrir fuego “cuando la muchedumbre se movió de forma que los puso en peligro”. Los militares afirmaron que la mayoría de las personas habían muerto pisoteadas y que los camiones de ayuda también habían atropellado a personas.

Ninguna de las dos versiones ha podido verificarse de forma independiente, y las imágenes parciales de video de drones publicadas por el ejército israelí, junto con los videos de la escena en las redes sociales analizados por The New York Times, no explican del todo la secuencia de los hechos. Los videos muestran a personas arrastrándose y agachándose para ponerse a cubierto. Un hospital de la ciudad de Gaza señaló que había recibido los cadáveres de al menos una decena de personas que habían recibido disparos y que había atendido a más de 100 personas con heridas de bala.

Un portavoz militar israelí, el teniente coronel Peter Lerner, declaró al Canal 4 británico que los soldados se habían encargado de la seguridad del convoy, en el que viajaban vehículos privados que distribuían alimentos de donantes internacionales. Israel ha estado sometida a una creciente presión internacional para que facilite más entregas de ayuda, ya que grupos como la agencia de ayuda de las Naciones Unidas para los palestinos —el principal grupo que distribuye suministros humanitarios en Gaza— afirman que se ha vuelto demasiado anárquico y caótico operar en gran parte del territorio, especialmente en el norte.

Samantha Power, administradora de la Agencia de EE. UU. para el Desarrollo Internacional, dijo que, independientemente de cómo hubieran muerto, estaba claro que la gente había muerto o resultado herida al intentar conseguir alimentos para sus familias.

“Eso no puede ocurrir”, dijo. “No se debe disparar contra civiles desesperados que intentan alimentar a sus familias hambrientas”.

Power instó a Israel a abrir más pasos fronterizos para facilitar que la ayuda llegue al norte de Gaza y a flexibilizar las restricciones aduaneras que, afirmó, dejan la harina en los puertos mientras la gente está al borde de la inanición.

El Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores palestino pidió a los líderes del mundo que impusieran sanciones a Israel para obligarlo a proteger a los civiles y garantizar sus necesidades humanitarias, argumentando que estaba obligado a hacerlo en virtud del derecho internacional como potencia ocupante.

“Negaron completamente la verdad de la masacre que cometieron contra civiles desarmados agotados por el hambre y la sed como consecuencia de políticas racistas”, afirmó el ministerio en un comunicado el viernes.

Refugees International, grupo de defensa de los refugiados, exigió una investigación independiente inmediata sobre el desastre y pidió a Estados Unidos que suspendiera la ayuda militar a Israel hasta que los responsables rindieran cuentas.

“No hay nada que pueda justificar el asesinato de civiles desesperados por recibir ayuda vital para sus familias”, afirmó el grupo en un comunicado.

Entre el ajedrez y el chantaje: las nuevas amenazas nucleares de Vladimir Putin

El presidente Vladimir Putin ha amenazado con recurrir al arsenal de armas nucleares de Rusia en tres ocasiones durante los últimos dos años: una vez al comienzo de la guerra contra Ucrania hace dos años, otra cuando estaba perdiendo terreno y de nuevo el jueves, cuando percibe que está mermando las defensas de Ucrania y la determinación estadounidense.

En todos los casos, la beligerancia ha servido para el mismo propósito. Putin sabe que sus oponentes, liderados por el presidente Joe Biden, son los que más temen una escalada del conflicto. Incluso las bravatas nucleares sirven para recordarles a sus numerosos adversarios sobre los riesgos de presionarlo demasiado.

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Perot el discurso, equivalente al Estado de la Unión de EE. UU., que Putin pronunció el jueves también contenía algunos elementos nuevos. No solo señaló que redoblaba su “operación militar especial” en Ucrania. También dejó claro que no tenía intención de renegociar el último gran tratado de control de armamentos en vigor con Estados Unidos —que expira en menos de dos años—, a menos que el nuevo acuerdo decida el destino de Ucrania, presumiblemente con gran parte del mismo en manos de Rusia.

Algunos lo llamarían ajedrez nuclear, otros chantaje nuclear. En la insistencia de Putin acerca de que los controles nucleares, y la existencia continuada del Estado ucraniano deben decidirse de manera conjunta, está implícita la amenaza de que el líder ruso estaría encantado de dejar expirar todos los límites actuales sobre las armas estratégicas desplegadas. Eso lo liberaría para usar tantas armas nucleares como quisiera.

Y aunque Putin dijo que no tenía interés en emprender otra carrera armamentística, algo que contribuyó a la bancarrota de la Unión Soviética, la implicación era que Estados Unidos y Rusia, que ya se encuentran en un constante estado de confrontación, volverían a la peor competencia de la Guerra Fría.

“Estamos tratando con un Estado —dijo, refiriéndose a Estados Unidos— cuyos círculos dirigentes están emprendiendo acciones abiertamente hostiles contra nosotros. ¿Y qué?”.

“¿Van a discutir seriamente con nosotros temas de estabilidad estratégica”, añadió, utilizando el término para referirse a los acuerdos sobre controles nucleares, “mientras que al mismo tiempo intentan infligir, como ellos mismos dicen, una ‘derrota estratégica’ a Rusia en el campo de batalla?”.

Con esos comentarios, Putin subrayó uno de los aspectos distintivos y más inquietantes de la guerra en Ucrania. Una y otra vez, sus altos mandos militares y estrategas han hablado del uso de armas nucleares como el próximo paso lógico si sus fuerzas convencionales resultan insuficientes en el campo de batalla, o si necesitan ahuyentar una intervención occidental.

Esa estrategia es coherente con la doctrina militar rusa. Y en los primeros días de la guerra en Ucrania, asustó claramente al gobierno de Joe Biden y a los aliados de la OTAN en Europa, quienes dudaron en proporcionar misiles de largo alcance, tanques y aviones de combate a Ucrania por temor a que esto desencadenara una respuesta nuclear o hiciera que Rusia atacara más allá de las fronteras de Ucrania, en territorio de la OTAN.

En octubre de 2022, surgió un segundo aspecto sobre el posible uso de armas nucleares por parte de Rusia, no solo por las declaraciones de Putin, sino por informes de los servicios de inteligencia estadounidenses que sugerían que podrían utilizarse armas nucleares en el campo de batalla contra bases militares ucranianas. Tras unas semanas de tensión, la crisis disminuyó.

En el año y medio transcurrido desde entonces, Biden y sus aliados han ido confiando cada vez más en que, a pesar de todas las fanfarronadas de Putin, no quería enfrentarse a la OTAN y sus fuerzas. Pero cada vez que el dirigente ruso invoca sus poderes nucleares, se desencadena una oleada de temor de que, si se le lleva demasiado lejos, podría demostrar su voluntad de hacer estallar un arma, tal vez en un lugar remoto, para hacer retroceder a sus adversarios.

“En este entorno, Putin podría volver a agitar el sable nuclear, y sería una tontería descartar por completo los riesgos de escalada”, escribió recientemente en Foreign Affairs William J. Burns, director de la CIA y exembajador de EE. UU. en Rusia cuando Putin asumió inicialmente el cargo. “Pero sería igualmente insensato dejarse intimidar innecesariamente por ellos”.

En su discurso, Putin presentó a Rusia como el Estado agredido y no como el agresor. “Ellos mismos eligen los objetivos para atacar nuestro territorio”, dijo. “Empezaron a hablar de la posibilidad de enviar contingentes militares de la OTAN a Ucrania”.

Esa posibilidad fue planteada por el presidente de Francia, Emmanuel Macron, esta semana. Mientras la mayoría de los aliados de la OTAN hablan de ayudar a Ucrania a defenderse, dijo, “la derrota de Rusia es indispensable para la seguridad y la estabilidad de Europa”. Pero la posibilidad de enviar soldados a Ucrania fue descartada de inmediato por Estados Unidos, Alemania y otros países (Macron le hizo el juego a Putin, según algunos analistas, al exponer las divisiones entre los aliados).

Sin embargo, Putin puede haber intuido que era un momento especialmente propicio para sondear cuán profundos eran los temores de Occidente. La reciente declaración del expresidente Donald Trump de que Rusia podía hacer “lo que le diera la gana” a un país de la OTAN que no contribuyera con los recursos necesarios para la defensa colectiva de la alianza, y de que él no respondería, se hizo sentir profundamente en toda Europa. También lo ha hecho la negativa del Congreso, hasta ahora, para proporcionar más armas a Ucrania.

Es posible que el dirigente ruso también estuviera respondiendo a las especulaciones de que Estados Unidos, preocupado porque Ucrania parece encaminada a la derrota, podría proporcionar misiles de mayor alcance a Kiev o confiscar los 300.000 millones de dólares de activos rusos congelados desde hace tiempo que ahora se encuentran en bancos occidentales y entregárselos al presidente de Ucrania, Volodímir Zelenski, para que compre más armas.

Cualquiera que haya sido el detonante, el mensaje de Putin fue claro: considera la victoria en Ucrania como una lucha existencial, fundamental para su gran plan de restaurar la gloria de los días en que Pedro el Grande gobernó en el apogeo del Imperio ruso. Y cuando una lucha se considera una guerra de supervivencia y no una guerra de elección, el salto a discutir el uso de armas nucleares es pequeño.

Su apuesta es que Estados Unidos se dirige en la otra dirección, volviéndose más aislacionista, más reacio a enfrentarse a las amenazas de Rusia y, desde luego, sin mostrar interés frente a las amenazas nucleares rusas como hicieron los presidentes John F. Kennedy en 1962 o Ronald Reagan en los últimos días de la Unión Soviética.

El hecho de que los actuales dirigentes republicanos, que habían suministrado armas a Ucrania con entusiasmo durante el primer año y medio de guerra, hayan atendido ahora los llamados de Trump para cortar ese flujo puede ser la mejor noticia que Putin ha recibido en dos años.

“Cada vez que los rusos recurren a la beligerancia nuclear, es señal de que reconocen que aún no tienen la capacidad militar convencional que creían tener”, declaró el jueves en una entrevista Ernest J. Moniz, ex secretario de Energía del gobierno de Obama y actual director ejecutivo de la Iniciativa contra la Amenaza Nuclear, una organización que trabaja para reducir las amenazas nucleares y biológicas.

“Pero eso significa que su postura nuclear es algo en lo que confían cada vez más”, dijo. Y “eso amplifica el riesgo”.

David E. Sanger cubre el gobierno de Biden y la seguridad nacional. Ha sido periodista del Times durante más de cuatro décadas y ha escrito varios libros sobre los desafíos a la seguridad nacional estadounidense. Más de David E. Sanger

La tortuosa trayectoria de Aaron Bushnell, el aviador que se inmoló en protesta contra Israel

Una tarde de esta semana, vestido con su uniforme de la Fuerza Aérea de Estados Unidos, Aaron Bushnell caminó hasta la embajada de Israel en Washington y con tranquilidad manifestó su intención de “participar en un acto extremo de protesta” contra la ofensiva del ejército israelí en la Franja de Gaza.

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Procedió a vaciar un líquido inflamable sobre su cabeza rapada, se ajustó su gorra de camuflaje sobre la frente y se prendió fuego. “¡Palestina libre!”, gritó varias veces antes de desplomarse sobre el pavimento.

En los días que han pasado desde este impactante acto, que Bushnell plasmó en una transmisión en directo, sus amigos y familiares han estado tratando de entender cómo un joven al que conocían como un chico tímido y reflexivo de una aislada comunidad cristiana de Massachusetts, que llegó a convertirse en un alto funcionario militar que trabajaba en la defensa cibernética en el estado de Texas, llegó a escenificar una protesta tan fatal y definitiva.

“Me cuesta trabajo asimilarlo”, comentó Ashley Schuman, de 26 años, quien conocía a Bushnell desde la infancia. “Dije: ‘¿Pero cómo? ¿Cómo es posible que hayas llegado hasta este punto?’”.

La inmolación de Bushnell ha provocado una serie de vigilias en su honor, además impulsó nuevas manifestaciones contra los ataques de Israel y originó críticas por parte de algunas personas que consideran esta protesta como un acto suicida que no se debería celebrar.

Algunas cosas que Bushnell, de 25 años, escribió en fechas recientes indicaron que había planeado esta acción de manera detallada con el fin de enfocar la atención en el ataque de Israel a los palestinos en Gaza, donde el ministerio de salud local afirmó que casi 30.000 palestinos han sido asesinados. Israel lanzó su campaña en el mes de octubre tras el ataque de Hamás en el cual, según las autoridades de Israel, murieron cerca de 1200 israelíes y casi 250 personas más fueron tomadas como rehenes.

En las horas que antecedieron a su protesta, Bushnell envió un correo electrónico a varios medios de comunicación independientes con el título: “Contra el genocidio”, en el que incluyó un enlace al sitio web en el que después apareció un video de su inmolación. “Les pido que se aseguren de conservar las imágenes e informar sobre ellas”, escribió. En días recientes, Bushnell también había enviado su testamento a un amigo, en el cual adjudicaba sus posesiones.

Según quienes lo conocieron, en los últimos años, Bushnell había tomado cada vez más distancia de su educación conservadora y de su carrera en el ejército, para dedicarse al activismo anarquista y de izquierda y hablar con frecuencia de reducir la pobreza y oponerse al capitalismo. Sus amigos comentaron que llegó a repudiar al pequeño enclave profundamente religioso ubicado a lo largo de la bahía de Cabo Cod, donde fue criado.

Algunos antiguos miembros del vecindario, conocido como Comunidad de Jesús, han afirmado que sufrieron maltratos psicológicos. Los familiares de Bushnell no han hecho comentarios públicos y una mujer que contestó el teléfono del número asignado a la Comunidad de Jesús se negó a responder o a tomar el mensaje.

Al igual que Bushnell, Schuman también nació dentro de esa comunidad y comentó que en su adolescencia ambos sufrieron de ansiedad por las altas expectativas y las fuertes restricciones que les imponían los maestros y los líderes comunitarios. Ahí asistieron a una escuela de una casa comunal, aunque Bushnell también pasó un año en el bachillerato público.

En el verano de 2016, después de graduarse del bachillerato, fue a Israel y a Cisjordania en un viaje organizado por la Comunidad de Jesús que llevó a sus integrantes a sitios históricos de la Biblia, explicó Schuman, quien no recordó ningún comentario importante relacionado con el conflicto israelí-palestino durante el viaje, pero mencionó que los estudiantes pasaron un día en la ciudad cisjordana de Belén y hablaron con varios estudiantes de la Universidad de Belén, una institución educativa católica.

“Sé que ese viaje fue muy importante para todos los que formamos parte del grupo”, afirmó Schuman.

En los años posteriores a que Schuman y Bushnell se graduaran del bachillerato, cada uno comenzó a considerar si debía quedarse en la comunidad. La constitución de la comunidad, llamada “Las reglas de la vida”, describe un sistema de ascensos en el que sus partidarios pueden, al paso de varios años, alcanzar un nivel en el que hay que tomar votos de membresía “de por vida”. Pero, en el otoño de 2019, Bushnell le dijo a Schuman que se iría.

Se fue de la comunidad, donde había vivido con sus padres y su hermano menor, y trabajó durante poco tiempo en una casa de empeño en otra parte de Massachusetts antes de comenzar su servicio activo en la Fuerza Aérea en la ciudad de San Antonio, en mayo de 2020.

Schuman, quien también se marchó de la comunidad, mencionó que hablaban por teléfono con regularidad acerca de cómo gestionar la transición; Bushnell le dijo que había estado hablando con un terapeuta y le aconsejó consultar a uno, comentó.

Fuera del trabajo, parecía cada vez más empeñado en resolver el problema de la indigencia. Schuman contó que empezó a preocuparse cuando Bushnell le dijo que le había estado enviando una cantidad importante de dinero a una mujer de otro estado que decía que era una madre sin hogar. Schuman creía que ellos nunca se habían conocido.

“En realidad no me contó mucho al respeto, más allá de querer que yo siguiera rezando por ella”, recordó Schuman. “Yo le decía: ‘Caramba, Aaron, ni siquiera conoces a esa persona’. Pero creo que lo que lo impulsaba era estar ayudando a alguien menos afortunado que él”.

Ya entrado el año 2021, Bushnell todavía hablaba de la posibilidad de regresar algún día a la comunidad de Cabo Cod, algo que a Schuman le costaba escuchar puesto que ella estaba buscando una nueva vida lejos de ahí. Con el tiempo dejaron de comunicarse.

Otro amigo comentó que Bushnell se quejaba un poco sobre su trabajo en la Fuerza Aérea —los horarios irregulares, la falta de sueño— y en ocasiones hablaba de sus desacuerdos con el ejército estadounidense por conflictos anteriores, como las invasiones de Irak y Afganistán.

En noviembre de 2022, recién llegado de unas vacaciones en Hawái con su hermano menor, Bushnell se presentó solo en un evento que organizó el Partido por el Socialismo y la Liberación en San Antonio, donde hizo un nuevo grupo de amigos.

Lupe Barboza, de 32 años, contó que ella y sus amigos lo invitaron a participar en las visitas semanales de su grupo de ayuda a campamentos de personas sin hogar. Barboza comentó que Bushnell le dijo al grupo, conocido como San Antonio Collective Care, que sus ideas políticas habían cambiado radicalmente poco después de haberse unido al ejército.

“Afirmó que había pasado de un extremo —las creencias conservadoras con las que había sido educado— al otro, en el que formó sus ideas anarquistas y antiimperialistas”, comentó Barboza. “También dijo que había sido un cambio muy rápido y solo comentó que había pasado de un extremo al otro”.

Pero poco después les dijo que tenía que tomar distancia del grupo porque estaba lidiando con un trauma de su pasado que había reaparecido, afirmó Barboza. No obstante, se mantuvo en contacto con muchos de sus amigos de la organización.

Les dijo que esperaba dejar el ejército cuando terminara su servicio militar en la primavera de este año, comentó Barboza. En su perfil de LinkedIn escribió: “Mi verdadera pasión es la programación de software y no veo la hora de colaborar para impulsar la innovación en el ámbito civil”.

Susan Wilkins, de 59 años, quien abandonó la Comunidad de Jesús después de haber vivido ahí desde 1970 hasta 2005, mencionó que no era cercana a Bushnell ni a su familia, pero los conocía y le preocupaba que Bushnell no contara con el apoyo necesario para hacer la transición a un mundo menos estructurado.

“Comprendo que cuando creces en un entorno restrictivo, la anarquía tenga su atractivo”, comentó.

A Schuman, al igual que a otros miembros de la comunidad, le ha costado mucho trabajo entender la protesta fatal de Bushnell.

“Nunca apoyaré las medidas extremas”, aseveró. “Pero a juzgar por el lugar donde crecimos, en el que no podíamos decir lo que en realidad queríamos ni en lo que creíamos, es admirable lo que él hizo por personas que en estos momentos no tienen voz”.

Eric Schmitt colaboró con este reportaje. Kirsten Noyes colaboró con la investigación.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs es reportero de noticias nacionales en Estados Unidos y se enfoca en la justicia penal. Es de Nueva York. Más de Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

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‘Belmopán es un experimento social’: así es la capital multicultural de Belice

Reportando desde Belmopán, Belice

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Cuando se menciona Belmopán, la capital de Belice, situada en lo profundo del interior del país, muchos beliceños la tachan como un bastión de burócratas que no solo es aburrida, sino que carece de vida nocturna.

“Me advirtieron: ‘Belmopán es para los recién casados o los casi muertos’”, dijo Raquel Rodriguez, de 45 años y propietaria de una escuela de arte, sobre los comentarios que le hicieron cuando dejó la costera y bulliciosa Ciudad de Belice para mudarse a Belmopán.

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Belmopán, que no es precisamente un edén para jóvenes urbanitas, es una de las capitales más pequeñas de América. Tiene apenas unos 25.000 habitantes y un conjunto de edificios brutalistas de inspiración maya, muy pesados y de hormigón, a prueba de huracanes.

La capital de la única nación anglófona de Centroamérica puede parecer muy diferente de las frenéticas capitales de los países vecinos. En cuanto a sus orígenes y diseño, Belmopán tiene más en común con las capitales de otras antiguas colonias británicas, especialmente en África.

Pero Belmopán quizá sea un prisma para ver el desarrollo de Belice, que ha surgido como una especie de excepción en Centroamérica. En una región donde los gobernantes adoptan tácticas autoritarias, Belice se ha convertido en una democracia parlamentaria relativamente estable (aunque joven), con un historial de transiciones pacíficas en el poder.

La capital, que en general se caracteriza por una serena tranquilidad, presume de su reputación de seguridad y calidad de vida. En un país escasamente poblado, con menos de medio millón de habitantes, el ambiente acogedor de Belmopán también evidencia la extraordinaria diversidad étnica de Belice y su propensión a recibir migrantes de otras regiones de Centroamérica.

No hay más que ver el mercado al aire libre en el que muchos residentes compran sus alimentos. Los vendedores ambulantes saludan a los clientes en la lengua oficial de Belice, el inglés, o en criollo beliceño, la lengua que se formó hace siglos cuando los británicos trajeron africanos esclavizados a lo que hoy es Belice.

Otros vendedores hablan lenguas mayas como el quekchí, el mopán y el yucateco, muestra de los pueblos indígenas que desde hace mucho tiempo han vivido en Belice o que se trasladaron al país desde Guatemala o México. Otros realizan sus oficios y comercian en español, chino o plautdietsch, una lengua germánica arcaica influida por el neerlandés.

Como muchas otras personas en Belmopán, Johan Guenther, agricultor menonita de 71 años, vino de otra parte. Nació en el estado mexicano de Chihuahua, donde hay grandes comunidades menonitas, y llegó a Belice a los 16 años.

Después probó suerte en Bolivia durante un tiempo, pero decidió que prefería el estilo de vida más apacible de Belice. Vive con su esposa en un pequeño asentamiento agrícola a las afueras de Belmopán, y viene a la capital a vender queso, mantequilla, crema y miel en el mercado.

“No soy un hombre de ciudad, pero me gusta Belmopán”, dice Guenther en una mezcla de inglés, plautdietsch y español. “Es tranquilo, bueno para vender mi producción, fácil de entrar y fácil de salir”.

Convertir a Belmopán en el eje del desarrollo agrícola del interior de Belice y en un refugio frente a las catástrofes naturales era una prioridad cuando los colonialistas británicos desarrollaron los planes para construir la ciudad después de que, en 1961, el huracán Hattie arrasara Ciudad de Belice, la antigua capital, dejando cientos de muertos.

En esa época, las ciudades planificadas estaban surgiendo en diversas partes del mundo, una tendencia que se aceleró con la inauguración de la futurista capital brasileña, Brasilia, en 1960. En el imperio británico que se estaba desintegrando, especialmente en África, entre las nuevas capitales destacaban Dodoma, en Tanzania; Gaborone, en Botsuana; y Lilongüe, en Malaui. Los diseñadores las concibieron, al igual que Belmopán, como “ciudades jardín” con amplios espacios abiertos, parques y paseos peatonales.

Las tensiones políticas determinaron los planes de la ciudad. George Price, el arquitecto de la independencia de Belice, veía la construcción de Belmopán como una manera de forjar un sentimiento de identidad nacional que trascendiera las diferencias étnicas. Y como Guatemala reclamaba Belice en una disputa territorial que persiste hasta hoy, los gobernantes coloniales del país eligieron un emplazamiento a medio camino entre Ciudad de Belice y la frontera guatemalteca, en un intento de poblar hacia el interior.

Los robustos edificios gubernamentales de hormigón, como la Asamblea Nacional, evocan el diseño piramidal de un templo maya ubicado sobre un montículo artificial donde la brisa ayuda a refrescar la estructura. Se diseñaron para que fueran a prueba de huracanes y económicos, evitando la necesidad de instalar sistemas de aire acondicionado en aquel momento.

Al mismo tiempo, las autoridades trataron de atraer a los empleados públicos a Belmopán ofreciéndoles viviendas, esencialmente en forma de cascarones de hormigón, en calles donde se pretendía que vivieran personas de distintos estratos económicos.

“Belmopán es un experimento social”, dijo John Milton Arana, arquitecto beliceño de 51 años cuya familia se mudó a la capital en 1975. Observando los senderos que aún conectan las zonas residenciales con el núcleo de Belmopán, lleno de hormigón, añadió: “El peatón era la prioridad de esta visión”.

No obstante, Arana afirma que la ciudad, de ritmo notablemente lento, también puede desorientar con sus rotondas, su carretera de circunvalación y la escasez de zonas comerciales abarrotadas. “La gente me visita y me pregunta: ‘¿Dónde está el centro?’”, dice Arana. “Yo les digo: ‘Acabas de pasarlo’”.

Belmopán no le gusta a todo el mundo. Los turistas tienden a saltarse la ciudad, prefiriendo las actividades de buceo cerca de islas remotas o los impresionantes yacimientos arqueológicos mayas. Cuando se inauguró en 1970, se preveía que Belmopán crecería de manera rápida hasta albergar 30.000 habitantes, una cifra que, más de cinco décadas después, aún no se ha alcanzado.

Algunos atribuyen ese lento crecimiento a las perennes restricciones presupuestarias que han hecho que Belmopán tenga un aspecto inacabado. Los edificios con aspecto de fortaleza en los que trabajan muchos funcionarios están envejeciendo, adornados con ruidosos aparatos de aire acondicionado; edificios nuevos y luminosos como el Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, un regalo del gobierno de Taiwán repleto de jardines colgantes, muestran cómo las autoridades han dejado atrás los espartanos orígenes de Belmopán.

Arana dijo que las desviaciones de los diseños originales de Belmopán estaban cambiando la ciudad para peor. Explicó que el desarrollo descontrolado afuera de las zonas céntricas, sobre todo donde se han asentado los migrantes hispanohablantes de países vecinos como El Salvador y Guatemala, pone de relieve problemas como la falta de vivienda y las aguas residuales sin tratar.

Entre los diplomáticos, las opiniones sobre Belmopán están divididas. Países como Panamá y Guatemala, así como la isla autónoma de Taiwán, mantienen sus embajadas en Ciudad de Belice, que tiene más del doble de habitantes que Belmopán. Incluso después de que Belice logró la plena independencia en 1981, Estados Unidos tardó 25 años en trasladar su embajada a Belmopán.

Michelle Kwan, embajadora de Estados Unidos en Belice y patinadora olímpica galardonada, dijo que se había encariñado con Belmopán tras mudarse desde Los Ángeles. Comparó la vida en la capital centroamericana con sus días de entrenamiento en Lake Arrowhead, una pequeña comunidad turística ubicada en las montañas californianas de San Bernardino, donde podía enfocarse “realmente en lo que tenía que hacer”.

“Esto no es distinto”, dijo Kwan. “Aquí es donde nos enfocamos y donde trabajamos”.

Otros beliceños sugieren que la ciudad ha contribuido a forjar una identidad beliceña multicultural que incorpora a los pueblos mayas y a los inmigrantes latinoamericanos más recientes, distinto a los que se percibe en Ciudad de Belice, mejor conocida como un bastión de los criollos, que son las personas de ascendencia africana y británica.

“Belmopán hizo que nuestras diferencias culturales fueran menos pronunciadas”, afirmó Kimberly Stuart, de 49 años y profesora de educación en la Universidad de Belice, cuyo campus principal está en la capital.

Otros lamentan ciertos aspectos de la vida en Belmopán. Mientras que las nuevas y llamativas viviendas y los nuevos edificios de oficinas están alterando el ambiente pueblerino de la capital, los restaurantes y bares siguen siendo escasos y suelen cerrar temprano.

Algunos habitantes de Belmopán dicen que es francamente aburrido, pero a ellos les gusta que sea así. A Raj Karki, un inmigrante nepalí de 52 años que se trasladó a Belice para trabajar en un proyecto hidroeléctrico, le gustó tanto la tranquila ciudad que decidió quedarse y abrir un restaurante de comida sudasiática cerca de los edificios gubernamentales.

“Puedes venir a Belmopán desde cualquier lugar del mundo”, dijo Karki. “En poco tiempo te dan la bienvenida y te dicen: ‘Ayúdanos a construir el futuro’”.

Simon Romero es corresponsal en Ciudad de México, y cubre México, Centroamérica y el Caribe. Se ha desempeñado como jefe del buró del Times en Brasil, jefe del buró andino y corresponsal internacional de energía. Más de Simon Romero