The New York Times 2024-03-04 22:54:20

Middle East Crisis: Harris Calls for ‘Immediate Cease-Fire,’ Urging Hamas to Agree

Harris calls for an ‘immediate cease-fire’ in her most forceful comments on the conflict in Gaza.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday called for an “immediate cease-fire” in Gaza, saying that Hamas should agree to the six-week pause currently on the table and that Israel should increase the flow of aid into the besieged enclave amid a humanitarian crisis.

Ms. Harris’s remarks, delivered in Selma, Ala., bolstered a recent push by President Joe Biden for an agreement and came a day before she was to meet with a top Israeli cabinet official involved in war planning, Benny Gantz. Her tone echoed a sharper and more urgent tone coming from the White House as its frustration with Israel grows. Last month, the president called Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack “over the top.”

Ms. Harris assailed the dire conditions in Gaza, calling the situation a “humanitarian catastrophe.” It was her most forceful assessment to date of the Middle East conflict, which has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to Gazan health authorities, and put the enclave on the brink of famine.

“What we are seeing every day in Gaza is devastating,” Ms. Harris said. “We have seen reports of families eating leaves or animal feed. Women giving birth to malnourished babies with little or no medical care. And children dying from malnutrition and dehydration. As I have said many times, too many innocent Palestinians have been killed.”

“The threat Hamas poses to the people of Israel must be eliminated,” Ms. Harris added. “And given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate cease-fire, for at least the next six weeks.”

Mr. Biden has been pushing for a deal between Hamas and Israel that would allow for the release of hostages and a temporary cease-fire by Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that starts around March 10. U.S. officials said that Israel had “more or less accepted” terms of the deal, but Hamas has yet to agree to it.

Ms. Harris reiterated the United States’ support for Israel’s right to defend itself against the ongoing threat from Hamas, which she said had no regard for innocent life in Israel or in Gaza. Ms. Harris called Hamas a “brutal terrorist organization” that poses a threat to Israel and should be eliminated.

“Hamas claims it wants a cease-fire,” she said. “Well, there is a deal on the table.”

Ms. Harris spoke at a time when the political consequences of the Biden administration’s unwavering support for Israel are beginning to come into sharper focus. While Mr. Biden has increasingly criticized Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attack, his rejection of calls for a permanent cease-fire and a series of earlier missteps in showing a lack of empathy for Palestinians have divided the Democratic Party. They have also alienated key constituents, including Black, young and Arab American voters.

Opponents of the war and pro-Palestinian protesters have followed Mr. Biden to events across the country to protest his support for Israel in the war. Prominent Black faith leaders have called on the administration to halt financial assistance for Israel, alleging that its military campaign amounts to “mass genocide.”

In perhaps the most glaring warning sign to date, more than 100,000 people, many of them Arab Americans, voted “uncommitted” in Michigan’s primary last week — a preview of what could unfold in other key swing states that helped elect Mr. Biden in 2020.

Ms. Harris also said on Sunday that Israel must do more to allow for the flow of aid into Gaza, including opening new border crossings, lifting unnecessary restrictions on aid deliveries and restoring services to Gaza.

“People in Gaza are starving,” Ms. Harris said. “The conditions are inhumane. And our common humanity compels us to act.”

She condemned a scene that unfolded on Thursday, when more than 100 Gazans desperate for food descended on an aid convoy and were met with what Ms. Harris called “chaos and gunfire,” after Israel opened fire on the crowd.

Israeli and Palestinian officials and witnesses have offered different accounts of the episode, with Israeli officials blaming the crush of the crowd for most of the deaths, while witnesses described extensive gunfire by Israeli forces.

“The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid,” Ms. Harris said. “No excuses.”

Ms. Harris’s remarks, delivered at the Edmund Pettus Bridge during a commemoration of Bloody Sunday, a major civil rights event in 1965, drew applause at points from the crowd.

On March 7, 1965, Black Americans were beaten by white law enforcement officers on the bridge for marching for their right to vote. The event was widely credited with galvanizing support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which passed five months later.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.

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

Most of the aid trucks bound for northern Gaza were stopped along the way.

Days after an aid delivery in Gaza turned into a deadly disaster, another convoy coordinated by the Israeli military failed to deliver most of its aid to desperate people in the north, Izzat Aqel, a Palestinian businessman involved in the initiative, said on Sunday.

Mr. Aqel, who was also involved in the aid delivery operation with the Israeli military that turned bloody last Thursday, said that 16 trucks carrying supplies were sent to the north on Saturday, but that only one made it to Gaza City. The rest, he said, had been swarmed and emptied in the Nuseirat neighborhood in central Gaza.

Fifteen more trucks set out for the north on Sunday evening and were slated to enter the area via an inland north-south road, he said.

The renewed missions — part of a newly hatched partnership with local businessmen — showed that Israel was pressing ahead with efforts to bring aid to northern Gaza, even after scores of hungry Palestinians were killed in the chaotic melee on Thursday.

It was not clear if the army was making significant changes to prevent a repeat of Thursday’s events. Representatives for the Israeli army referred questions about the effort to COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for coordinating aid deliveries into Gaza.

COGAT did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The agency wrote on social media that 277 trucks entered Gaza on Sunday, which it said was the highest single-day total since the start of the war. But it was unclear how many of those trucks reached northern Gaza.

The convoy that arrived in Gaza City before dawn on Thursday ended in devastation. More than 100 Palestinians were killed after many thousands of people massed around trucks laden with food and supplies, Gazan health officials said.

Israeli and Palestinian officials and witnesses offered sharply divergent accounts of the chaos. Witnesses described extensive shooting by Israeli forces, and doctors at Gaza hospitals said that most of the casualties were from gunfire. Israeli officials said most of the victims were trampled in a crush of people trying to seize the cargo, although they acknowledged that troops had opened fire at members of the crowd who, the military said, had approached “in a manner that endangered them.”

The operation came as hunger and starvation continue to stalk the north of Gaza at extreme levels, prompting the United Nations to warn of a looming famine. The World Food Program and other U.N. agencies have said that they were no longer able to deliver aid to the north, citing civilian attempts to rush aid trucks, Israeli restrictions on convoys, and the poor condition of roads damaged during the war. On Saturday, the United States conducted its first airdrop of aid, although U.S. officials have said such operations cannot move supplies at the same scale as convoys.

The Gaza health ministry said on Sunday that 15 children have died in recent days from what it described as malnutrition and dehydration at Kamal Adwan Hospital in the north. The ministry did not provide further details about the deaths, but it said that the hospital had run out of oxygen and fuel to power generators and was barely operating with very limited supplies. The ministry added in a statement that the lives of six other children in the intensive care unit were in danger from malnutrition and dehydration.

Adele Khodr, UNICEF’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement on Sunday that one in six children under the age of 2 in Gaza was acutely malnourished.

“These tragic and horrific deaths are man-made, predictable and entirely preventable,” she said of the reported deaths at Kamal Adwan.

Driven by hunger, desperate Gazans were still gathering at the same spot where many deaths were reported on Thursday, in hopes that more aid would come.

“Even after the massacre people are still going to Al-Rashid Street every day and will continue to until they secure any aid,” Ghada Ikrayyem, a 23-year-old resident of northern Gaza, said. “We expected people to be scared after what happened on Thursday, but we were surprised to see that even more people were going there now.”

Ms. Ikrayyem’s brother Muhammed, 30, who is deaf and mute, slept on the beach for three days awaiting the aid trucks, she said. But after dodging bullets on Thursday, he managed to come home with a 25-kilogram bag of flour that 50 relatives sheltering together were now rationing and mixing with animal feed to make it last as long as possible, she added.

“He came home terrified, he saw dead bodies everywhere,” Ms. Ikrayyem said in a telephone interview on Sunday. But despite narrowly escaping death on Thursday, Muhammed has returned to the same spot every day since, hoping to secure another bag of flour, she added.

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

The Rubymar was carrying fertilizer that the U.S. says threatens the waterway.

A British-owned cargo ship sank in the Red Sea about two weeks after being damaged in a missile attack by the Iran-backed Houthi militia, and the fertilizer it was carrying now posed an environmental risk, the United States military said late Saturday.

The assault last month on the vessel, the Rubymar, involved two antiship ballistic missiles launched from Yemen. The sinking appeared to be the first since the Houthis began targeting ships in an effort to put pressure on Israel to end its military siege in Gaza.

The U.S. military’s Central Command confirmed the Rubymar’s sinking in a statement on social media. It said the ship sank early Saturday while carrying a load of 21,000 metric tons of ammonium phosphate sulfate fertilizer that now presented “an environmental risk in the Red Sea.”

The ship also poses a “subsurface impact risk” to other ships moving through the area, a busy international shipping lane, the Central Command said.

The Rubymar was an “environmental disaster” even before sinking because the attack created an 18-mile oil slick, Central Command warned last month. It said that the disaster could worsen if the fertilizer were to spill into the sea.

No other details about the sinking, or the risks it posed to the environment or to commercial shipping, were immediately available on Sunday morning. The Rubymar sailed with a Belize flag. The ship’s operator, Blue Fleet Group, based in Greece, did not respond to an inquiry.

After the attack last month, the Rubymar’s 24 crew members were taken to Djibouti by a vessel operated by a French shipping company. Djibouti port officials said at the time that the crew members were from Syria, Egypt, India and the Philippines.

A Hamas delegation arrives in Cairo for cease-fire talks, though Israel opts out.

A Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo on Sunday for talks aimed at achieving a cease-fire in the war in Gaza and an exchange of hostages held by militants there for Palestinian prisoners, according to an official in the group, Basem Naim. But a breakthrough in the negotiations did not appear to be imminent, as Israel decided not to attend.

Israel made the decision after Qatar’s prime minister informed David Barnea, the head of Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, on Sunday that Hamas had refused an Israeli request to provide a list of the hostages who were still alive, according to an Israeli official.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said on Thursday that he had requested the names of hostages who would be freed in an agreement.

Another factor that figured into Israel’s decision was that Hamas declined to consent to the terms for swapping hostages for Palestinian prisoners that the United States presented in Paris about 10 days ago, said two Israeli officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized publicly.

The U.S. outline entailed Israel releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 40 hostages, with different numbers of prisoners being traded for different categories of hostages, according to two officials with knowledge of the negotiations.

Mr. Naim declined to respond to the claims about the Hamas refusals.

The United States has been pushing for a cease-fire ahead of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that starts in about a week, but slow progress in the talks has made that challenging.

Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, was leading the delegation in Cairo, Mr. Naim said in a text message.

Sticking points in the negotiations have been the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released, including the number of those serving life sentences, and whether a cease-fire will be permanent or temporary.

On Saturday, a senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic efforts, told reporters that Israel had “more or less accepted” a framework for the deal and that the ball was now in Hamas’s court.

But Mahmoud Mardawi, a Hamas official, suggested on Saturday that the talks were not advancing.

“We haven’t seen any change in the Israeli position at all,” Mr. Mardawi told Al Jazeera in a live interview. “It hasn’t offered us anything.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has said progress in the talks would require Hamas to soften its “ludicrous demands.”

President Biden said on Thursday that the bloodshed in northern Gaza earlier in the day, when scores of Palestinians were killed after Israeli forces opened fire around a convoy of aid trucks, would complicate negotiations for a cease-fire.

“I know it will,” he told reporters in Washington, as he backed away from his earlier prediction that an agreement could be in place by Monday. “Probably not by Monday, but I’m hopeful,” he said.

The Israeli military has said most of those who died in the chaotic scene on Thursday were killed in a crush around the vehicles. Palestinian witnesses and doctors have said Israeli forces fired extensively, wounding and killing many.

U.N. experts warn that Gaza is close to famine. What does that mean?

The aid delivery that ended in bloodshed this week showed the extent of Gazans’ desperation, with dozens killed after many thousands converged on a rare convoy of aid trucks. As the number of aid deliveries into Gaza has rapidly dropped and Palestinians struggle to find food, humanitarians and United Nations officials are warning that famine is imminent in the enclave.

For aid groups and the U.N., officially determining that a famine exists is a technical process. It requires analysis by experts, and only government authorities and top U.N. officials can declare one.

So how is famine defined, and what do experts say about the severity of hunger in Gaza? Here’s a closer look.

What is a famine?

Food insecurity experts working on the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or I.P.C., an initiative controlled by U.N. bodies and major relief agencies, identify a famine in an area on the basis of three conditions:

  • At least 20 percent of households face an extreme lack of food.

  • At least 30 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition.

  • At least two adults or four children for every 10,000 people die each day from starvation or disease linked to malnutrition.

Since the I.P.C. was developed in 2004, it has been used to identify only two famines: in Somalia in 2011, and in South Sudan in 2017. In Somalia, more than 100,000 people died before famine was officially declared.

I.P.C. analysts expressed grave concern about food insecurity in Yemen and Ethiopia, related to the civil wars in those countries, but said not enough information was available from governments to issue a formal assessment.

The classifications of famine in Somalia and South Sudan galvanized global action and spurred large donations. Aid workers and hunger experts point out that the hunger crisis in Gaza is already dire, with or without a famine classification, and aid is needed quickly.

“For me, what is important is to basically say that look, technically we haven’t met the conditions of a famine, and frankly we don’t want to meet those conditions,” said Arif Husain, the chief economist of the World Food Program. “So please help, and please help now.”

What is the situation in Gaza?

Palestinians, particularly in the north, have been fighting starvation and regularly converge on the relatively few aid trucks that enter the territory. Aid groups say people are so hungry they are resorting to eating leaves, donkey feed and food scraps.

The first I.P.C. report on Gaza, released in December, found that the enclave’s entire population was experiencing food insecurity at crisis or worse levels. Though the group said Gaza had not yet crossed the famine threshold, it warned that the risk of famine-level hunger would increase if the war did not stop.

A second food security analysis is now underway, the I.P.C. group said.

What are the complications?

The December I.P.C. analysis relied on publicly available data from international and local aid groups in Gaza that the group said met its methodology standards. But I.P.C. analysts said they lacked recent data on the prevalence of acute malnutrition. Getting that data is very difficult in a war zone and poses a burden on already overwhelmed health care workers, the group added.

The organization’s criteria were originally designed to address weather-related famine, not crises like the one in Gaza, Mr. Husain said. But most severe hunger crises in recent history have been driven by conflict rather than climate, he noted.

And while I.P.C. experts perform the analysis that can classify a famine, it is up to government authorities and the United Nations to formally declare one.

In some cases, countries have hesitated to do so. In 2022, Somalia’s president expressed reluctance to declare a famine during a severe hunger crisis brought on by a drought. And in 2021, Ethiopia blocked the declaration of famine in the Tigray region through heavy lobbying, according to a top U.N. official.

It is unclear exactly what authority could declare a famine in Gaza. The I.P.C. group said the process typically involves the government in a country and its top U.N. official. Determining who that authority would be in Gaza was beyond the organization’s scope, it said.

Stephanie Nolen contributed reporting.

An Israeli strike near a hospital in Rafah killed at least 11 people, Gaza health officials say.

An Israeli strike outside a hospital in Rafah, in southern Gaza, on Saturday killed at least 11 people and injured dozens of other displaced Palestinians, including children, who were sheltering in tents nearby, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

At least two health care workers, including a paramedic, were among those killed after the strike near the gate of the Emirati maternity hospital, the health ministry said.

Photos taken by news agencies showed colleagues of the paramedic, whom the health ministry identified as Abdul Fattah Abu Marai, taking his body to the nearby Kuwaiti hospital, as well as injured children lying on stretchers, as other children looked on and cried.

The Israeli military said later Saturday that, with help from Israel’s domestic security agency, it had carried out a “precision strike” against “Islamic Jihad terrorists” near the hospital. The military declined to respond to reports that the strike had injured children.

The Israeli military had previously declared that Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, would be a safe zone for civilians, and more than half of the enclave’s entire population is now crammed into it, with many living in makeshift tents over nearly every inch of available space.

But airstrikes on Rafah have continued even as the number of people sheltering there has swelled to around 1.5 million. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has vowed that his forces will invade the city whether or not a temporary cease-fire deal is reached, despite dire warnings from humanitarian groups and many of Israel’s allies that any military operation in Rafah would have catastrophic consequences for civilians.

The news of Saturday’s strike was “outrageous and unspeakable,” the leader of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on social media, reiterating calls for a cease-fire and for the protection of health care workers and civilians.

The victims of the strike were sheltering near the Emirati maternity hospital, one of the last hospitals still functioning in Gaza. Despite having only five beds remaining for women giving birth, the hospital is managing more than half of the estimated 180 births happening daily in the enclave, said Dominic Allen, the State of Palestine representative for the United Nations Population Fund, a sexual and reproductive health agency known as U.N.F.P.A.

The Emirati hospital is essentially “the last hope for pregnant women in the whole of Gaza,” Mr. Allen said. A strike so close to the hospital poses a “terrifying” risk to pregnant women, newborns and the overloaded health care workers trying to care for them, he added.

A U.N. team reported on evidence to support multiple claims of sexual assault on Oct. 7.

A United Nations report released on Monday said that it had found grounds to believe that sexual violence occurred against women during the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel and evidence that hostages being held in the Gaza Strip were also assaulted. It called for a full investigation.

The report issued by the U.N. Secretary General’s special envoy on sexual violence in conflict came in response to multiple accounts of sexual violence during the Oct. 7 attack, as well as allegations by Palestinian officials that Palestinian women in detention and in the West Bank had been assaulted. The report asked that Israel grant access to U.N. officials to conduct thorough investigations of the Palestinian accounts.

From late January to early February, the U.N. deployed a team of experts to Israel and the West Bank led by Pramila Patten, the secretary-general’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict. Ms. Patten’s office said at the time that its representatives planned to gather information from survivors, witnesses, freed hostages and Palestinians recently released from detention.

In their report, the experts said they had found “reasonable grounds” to believe that sexual violence occurred during the Hamas-led incursion into Israel, including rape and gang rape in at least three locations: the Nova music festival site and its surroundings, Road 232, and Kibbutz Re’im.

“In most of these incidents, victims first subjected to rape were then killed, and at least two incidents relate to the rape of women’s corpses,” the report said.

The report said it found “a pattern of victims, mostly women, found fully or partially naked, bound, and shot across multiple locations,” and although the evidence was circumstantial the pattern could indicate some of form of sexual violence and torture.

It also said it had found “clear and convincing evidence” that hostages being held in Gaza were assaulted.

The report said that it could not verify the reports of sexual violence in one kibbutz, Kfar Azza, although it said circumstantial information indicated that some violence may have occurred. And it said that two allegations of sexual violence in Kibbutz Be’eri, widely reported by the media, were “unfounded.”

First responders told The New York Times they had found bodies of women with signs of sexual assault at those two kibbutzim, but The Times, in its investigation, did not refer to the specific allegations that the U.N. said were unfounded.

“Overall, the mission team is of the view that the true prevalence of sexual violence during the 7 October attacks and their aftermath may take months or years to emerge and may never be fully known,” said the report.

The U.N. report said that its team also heard allegations of sexual violence against Palestinians that implicated Israeli security forces and settlers.

Palestinian officials and civil society representatives, the report said, told the U.N. team of incidents involving “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of Palestinians in detention, including various forms of sexual violence in the form of invasive body searches, threats of rape, and prolonged forced nudity, as well as sexual harassment and threats of rape, during house raids and at checkpoints.”

The U.N. team asked the government of Israel to allow access to other U.N. bodies, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the occupied Palestinian Territory, so they can conduct thorough independent investigations into these allegations.

Ms. Patten had said that her trip was not intended to be investigative — other U.N. agencies have that mandate, she said — but to “give voices” to victims and survivors and find ways to offer them support, including justice and accountability.

The U.N. team included technical experts that could interpret forensic evidence, analyze open-source digital information and conduct interviews with any victims and witnesses of sexual violence, the report said.

Israel has said that Hamas attacked women sexually during its incursion into southern Israel and had criticized the U.N. for being too slow to condemn the assaults.

Hamas has denied the allegations, calling them “wartime propaganda.” It said its members only had time to “to crush the enemy’s military sites.”

Big-League Dreams

In One Image Big-League Dreams By Atul Loke and Mujib Mashal

Maybe, just maybe, that was their future on the screen.

After a long day of school and cricket practice, two sisters in a Punjab village had their eyes glued on the pros.

India’s new Women’s Premier League was on, and Naina jotted down the highlights.

But nothing mattered more than one player, Harmanpreet Kaur. A village girl like them who had made it big.

The family trophy cabinet bore witness to the early triumphs of Naina and her sister, Sunaina, and hinted at possibility.

Their parents’ work clothes, worn down and fatigued like the wearers, spoke to the present. And to the long odds ahead.

We met the two sisters in a small village a thousand miles away from where the main event was taking place.

India had just launched a new cricket league for women, drawing a whopping $500 million in private investments, and it felt like a big moment. A career in sports for young women was no longer just a pipe dream. Now there could be economic opportunity — even stardom.

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French Lawmakers Enshrine Access to Abortion in Constitution

French legislators on Monday voted to explicitly enshrine access to abortion in the Constitution, making their country the first in the world to do so.

Acutely aware that they were breaking historical ground from the grand assembly room inside Versailles Palace, the politicians delivered impassioned speeches about women’s rights around the world, paid homage to the courageous Frenchwomen who had fought for abortion rights when it was illegal and leaped up time and again to offer standing ovations.

“We are sending the message to all women: Your body belongs to you and no one has the right to control it in your stead,” Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said before the gathered lawmakers voted 780-72 for the amendment.

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Now It’s Germany’s Turn to Frustrate Allies Over Ukraine

First it was France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, who angered his NATO allies by suggesting that soon the West could be forced to send troops to Ukraine, portending a direct confrontation with Russian forces that the rest of the alliance has long rejected.

Then Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany took his own turn exposing new divisions. Trying to justify why Germany was withholding its most powerful missile, the Taurus, from Ukrainian hands, he hinted that Britain, France and the United States may secretly be helping Ukraine target similar weapons, a step he said Germany simply could not take. While neither Britain or France has commented officially — they almost never discuss how their weapons are deployed — Mr. Scholz was immediately accused by former officials of revealing war secrets.

“Scholz’s behavior has showed that as far as the security of Europe goes he is the wrong man in the wrong job at the wrong time,” Ben Wallace, Britain’s former defense minister, told The Evening Standard, a London daily. Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative who once chaired a key defense committee in the House of Commons was widely quoted in the British press calling the statement “a flagrant abuse of intelligence.”

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South Korea Moves to Suspend Licenses of Thousands of Protesting Doctors

The South Korean government on Monday said that it was moving to suspend the licenses of thousands of doctors who walked off the job nearly two weeks ago, threatening to escalate a dispute that has shaken the nation’s health care system.

The announcement came after thousands of physicians, nurses and other medical professionals took to the streets on Sunday, rallying with banners that read: “Doctors are not criminals!”

For more than a month, young doctors have been in a high-stakes dispute with the government over the future of health care in the country. Nearly 10,000 interns and residents, about a tenth of all doctors in the nation, have walked off the job, with most ignoring a Thursday deadline to return to work. On Monday, the government said it would begin to suspend the licenses of around 7,000 of those doctors.

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China Scraps Premier’s Annual News Conference in Surprise Move

China’s premier will no longer hold a news conference after the country’s annual legislative meeting, Beijing announced on Monday, ending a three-decades-long practice that had been an exceedingly rare opportunity for journalists to interact with top Chinese leaders.

The decision, announced a day before the opening of this year’s legislative conclave, was to many observers a sign of the country’s increasing information opacity, even as the government has declared its commitment to transparency and fostering a friendly business environment.

It also reinforced how China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has consolidated power, relegating all other officials, including the premier — the country’s No. 2, who oversees government ministries — to much less visible roles. China’s current premier, Li Qiang, was widely considered to have been elevated to the role last year because of his loyalty to Mr. Xi.

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How a ‘Body Farm’ Might Help Tackle Fentanyl Abuse

Reporting from a body farm in Whitewater, Colo., and a morgue in Denver

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The two women lifted a stiff corpse from the ground, revealing a squirming bug in the dirt.

“That one is a live larva!” said Alex Smith, the lab manager of Colorado Mesa University’s Forensic Investigation Research Station, plucking the larva off the ground and stuffing it into a glass tube. Maggots aren’t just maggots, Mr. Smith explained — they’re potential evidence.

“You can actually test the larvae and pupa casings for drugs,” he said, excitedly.

His audience was a group of Mexican medical examiners who last month traveled to the Colorado facility, known as a “body farm,” where dozens of donated dead bodies are laid out in the sun to be studied as they decompose.

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Migration From South America Through the Perilous Darién Gap Resumes

Migration toward the United States through the perilous jungle known as the Darién Gap returned to normal on Friday, with hundreds of people from Venezuela, Ecuador and beyond entering the jungle following a roughly five-day pause in which migrants could not begin the trek.

The pause in this increasingly large migration flow was the result of an arrest operation led by the Colombian prosecutor’s office, in which two captains driving boats full of migrants headed to the jungle were taken into custody, where they remain, according to the prosecutor’s office. The office said that the captains had been transporting the individuals illegally, in part because the migrants did not carry proper documentation.

The captains worked for two boat companies — Katamaranes and Caribe — that for years have been playing an essential role in carrying migrants from the northern Colombia community of Necoclí about two hours across a gulf to the entrance to the jungle, which they must then cross to get to Central America and eventually the United States. The boat companies have been doing this openly — something documented extensively by The New York Times — and the arrests seemed to signal a shift in policy by Colombian authorities.

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Vaccination Rates Dipped for Years. Now, There’s a Measles Outbreak in Britain.

The 5-year-old looked nervously at her older brothers, scanning their faces for any sign of distress as needles were swiftly stuck into their upper arms, the syringe plungers pushed in and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine administered. Whether it was for her benefit or not, they barely flinched.

Then it was her turn. The girl, Oma Nnagbo, looked wide-eyed at the cheerful nurse, who a moment later declared, “All done, very brave!”

Michael Nnagbo, 40, had brought his three children to this pop-up vaccine clinic in Wolverhampton in England’s West Midlands after receiving a notice from their school about a measles outbreak in the nearby Birmingham area.

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Lack of Plan for Governing Gaza Formed Backdrop to Deadly Convoy Chaos

Israel’s reluctance to fill the current leadership vacuum in northern Gaza formed the backdrop to the chaos that led to the deaths on Thursday of dozens of Palestinians on the Gazan coast, analysts and aid workers have said.

More than 100 were killed and 700 injured, Gazan health officials said, after thousands of hungry civilians rushed at a convoy of aid trucks, leading to a stampede and prompting Israeli soldiers to fire at the crowd.

The immediate causes of the chaos were extreme hunger and desperation: The United Nations has warned of a looming famine in northern Gaza, where the episode occurred. Civilian attempts to ambush aid trucks, Israeli restrictions on convoys and the poor condition of roads damaged in the war have made it extremely difficult for food to reach the roughly 300,000 civilians still stranded in that region, leading the United States and others to airdrop aid instead.

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Lives Ended in Gaza

They served cappuccinos, repaired cars and acted onstage. They raised children and took care of older parents. They treated wounds, made pizza and put too much sugar in their tea. They loved living in Gaza or sought to leave it behind.

They represent a fraction of the more than 30,000 people the local authorities say have been killed in Gaza in four and a half months of war. Their stories offer a snapshot of the vast human loss — one in every 73 of Gaza’s 2.2 million people.

More than two-thirds of the total deaths were women and children, the local authorities say. Often, they were killed with their families in Israeli airstrikes. Many thousands were fighters for Hamas, according to Israel, which says it is trying to eliminate the group that led the Oct. 7 attacks while limiting civilian casualties.

Hamas ruled Gaza and ran a covert military organization, the identity of its fighters unclear, even to other Gazans. Some residents supported it, some opposed it, everyone had to live with it. After decades of conflict, hatred of Israel was common, and many Gazans, including some of those below, cheered the fighters who attacked Israel.

Here are some of the people who have been killed in Gaza, as recalled by friends and relatives and documented in social media posts, news articles and other sources.

Gaza is a youthful place, with nearly half of the population under 18, according to UNICEF. Gaza’s health authorities say that more than 13,000 children have been killed in the war.

Gaza’s isolation and its school system gave it an uncommon mix: an educated population with high poverty and unemployment rates. Many Gazans with strong credentials struggled to find suitable employment.

Gaza has been under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since Hamas seized control in 2007. The blockade has shaped nearly every aspect of life, limiting the movement of goods in and out of the territory and making it difficult, if not impossible, for many Gazans to leave. In that period, there have also been several wars and deadly clashes with Israel.

Many residents had differing views about what Gaza could be.

Gaza is a small place, about six times the size of Manhattan, with a higher population density than Chicago. People forged close ties with large, extended families and their neighbors, often depending on one another.

Surprisingly Weak Ukrainian Defenses Help Russian Advance

Russian forces continue to make small but rapid gains outside of the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, attributable in part to dwindling Ukrainian ammunition and declining Western aid.

But there’s another reason the Kremlin’s troops are advancing in the area: poor Ukrainian defenses.

Sparse, rudimentary trench lines populate the area west of Avdiivka that Ukraine is trying to defend, according to a Times review of imagery by Planet Labs, a commercial satellite company. These trench lines lack many of the additional fortifications that could help slow Russian tanks and help defend major roads and important terrain.

Avdiivka became the site of a fierce standoff over the last nine months, emerging as one of the bloodiest battles of the war. When Russia captured the city on Feb. 17, its first major gain since last May, the Ukrainian Army claimed it had secured defensive lines outside the city.

But Russian troops have captured three villages to the west of Avdiivka in the span of a week, and they are contesting at least one other.

Satellite imagery at the scale shown here is widely available. U.S. officials said privately that it was concerning that Ukraine did not shore up its defensive lines early or well enough, and that it may now face the consequences as Russian units advance slowly but steadily beyond Avdiivka.

British military intelligence said on Thursday that Russian forces had advanced to about four miles from the center of Avdiivka in the past two weeks, a small but unusually rapid advance compared with previous offensive operations.

Ukrainian commanders have had ample time to prepare defenses outside Avdiivka. The area has been under attack since 2014, and Ukraine has had a tenuous hold on it since Russia launched its full-scale invasion two years ago.

But the Ukrainian defenses outside Avdiivka show rudimentary earthen fortifications, often with a connecting trench for infantry troops to reach firing positions closest to the enemy, but little else.

Stronger Russian Defenses

The lack of robust Ukrainian entrenchments in the area is especially glaring when compared with the formidable Russian defenses that thwarted Kyiv’s advances last summer during the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which ultimately failed.

Russian fortifications outside the southern village of Verbove, which Ukraine tried and failed to retake this fall, show a much different picture.

Unlike the poorly fortified villages that Russian forces are trying to capture outside Avdiivka, Verbove has a concentric ring of fortifications. It starts with a trench wide enough to ensnare advancing tanks and armored vehicles, followed by a mesh of cement obstacles known as dragon’s teeth — also used to stop vehicles — and, finally, a sprawling trench for the infantry.

Satellite imagery from February shows the multilayered Russian defenses to the west of Verbove, with thousands of shell craters visible in the surrounding fields.

‘A Very Costly Option’

There are many possible reasons for Ukraine’s apparent lack of defenses.

Ukrainian officials may have been too focused on offensive operations last year to dedicate the necessary resources to building the kind of multiple trenches and tank traps that Russian engineers built since late 2022 in the country’s south, the U.S. officials and military experts said.

“Who cared and who considered it as an option — because it’s a very costly option — the construction of defensive lines? No one,” said Serhiy Hrabskyi, a retired Ukrainian Army colonel, noting that Ukraine had few resources to spare at the time.

There may have also been a psychological element at play, the U.S. officials said. If Ukrainian troops heavily mined certain areas to thwart Russian advances, it would be a tacit acknowledgement that they were unlikely to carry out offensive operations in the same area at a future date. They’d effectively be writing off that territory to the Russian military, the officials said.

While Moscow began building defensive lines in the south more than half a year before Kyiv’s counteroffensive, Ukraine appeared to have begun plans for new fortifications only three months ago, when government officials announced the creation of a working group to coordinate efforts between civilian and military authorities.

Responsibility for building the first line of defense would fall to the military units stationed in the area, the officials said, while the next defensive lines would be built by civilian authorities, with the help of private contractors. Denys Shmyhal, Ukraine’s prime minister, said that some 30 billion Ukrainian hryvnias, about $800 million, had been allocated for fortifications this year.

Areas in the eastern Donetsk region, where Avdiivka is, “will receive maximum attention,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said during a visit near the front line in late November, noting the “need to boost and accelerate the construction of structures.”

But Pasi Paroinen, an analyst from the Black Bird Group, which analyzes satellite imagery and social media content from the battlefield, said that “nothing significant has happened” since Mr. Zelensky’s visit.

Outside of Avdiivka, Mr. Paroinen added, “there are new positions being prepared, but they do not yet constitute a particularly formidable defensive line” and are not comparable in scale to Russia’s fortifications in the south.

The Ukrainian authorities have said they lack people able to carry out the construction work. In mid-January, local officials in the western Ivano-Frankivsk region said they were looking for 300 workers willing to help build fortifications in the Donetsk region, more than 500 miles to the east.

“We have a lack of engineering units. And even the units we have lack equipment,” Mr. Hrabskyi said. By comparison, he and Mr. Paroinen said, Russia had far more equipment, materials and experienced personnel when it built its defensive lines.

The absence of strong defensive lines outside of Avdiivka has been denounced in recent days by several Ukrainian journalists, in a rare show of public criticism of the military.

Delays in the construction of fortifications mean that Ukrainian troops may now be left to reinforce their defensive lines while under fire from the Russian Army, making the task exponentially more difficult.

Mr. Hrabskyi said Russia was currently preventing Ukrainian troops from shoring up their defenses by relentlessly bombarding them, including with powerful glide bombs carrying hundreds of kilograms of explosives that can smash through even well-prepared fortifications.

“The quality of these defensive lines cannot be good enough to resist massive bulldozer tactics by the Russian forces,” Mr. Hrabskyi said.

Oleksandra Mykolyshyn contributed reporting.

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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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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Can Gabriel Attal Win Over France?

Gabriel Attal, 34, is a new kind of French prime minister, more inclined to Diet Coke than a good Burgundy, at home with social media and revelations about his personal life, a natural communicator who reels off one-liners like “France rhymes with power” to assert his “authority,” a favorite word.

Since taking office in early January, the boyish-looking Mr. Attal has waded into the countryside, far from his familiar haunts in the chic quarters of Paris, muddied his dress shoes, propped his notes on a choreographed bale of hay, and calmed protesting farmers through adroit negotiation leavened by multiple concessions.

He has told rail workers threatening a strike that “working is a duty,” not an everyday French admonition. He has shown off his new dog on Instagram and explained that he called the high-energy Chow Chow “Volta” after the inventor of the electric battery. He has told the National Assembly that he is the living proof of a changing France as “a prime minister who assumes his homosexuality.”

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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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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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El papel de una ‘granja de cadáveres’ en el combate al consumo de fentanilo

Reportando desde una granja de cadáveres en Whitewater, Colorado, y una morgue en Denver

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

Las dos mujeres levantaron un cadáver rígido del suelo, lo que dejó a la vista un bicho que se retorcía en la tierra.

“¡Esa es una larva viva!”, dijo Alex Smith, director del laboratorio de la Estación de Investigación Forense de la Universidad de Colorado Mesa, mientras arrancaba la larva del suelo y la metía en un tubo de cristal. Los gusanos no son solo gusanos, explicó Smith: son posibles pruebas.

“De hecho, puedes analizar las carcasas de larvas y pupas en busca de drogas”, dijo con entusiasmo.

Su público era un grupo de forenses mexicanos que el mes pasado viajaron a las instalaciones de Colorado, conocidas como “granja de cadáveres”, donde decenas de cuerpos donados se exponen al sol para ser estudiados mientras se descomponen.

Los especialistas forenses mexicanos estaban ahí para aprender a analizar cuerpos en busca de fentanilo, y así fue como acabaron en un campo de cadáveres, observando cómo un investigador buscaba gusanos en la tierra.

Su viaje fue organizado por el Departamento de Estado de EE. UU., y las autoridades esperaban que contribuyera a lograr un objetivo diplomático clave: lograr que el gobierno de México se enfrentara a su propio problema con el fentanilo.

En el norte de México, grupos de ayuda y centros de rehabilitación han alertado por el aumento del consumo de fentanilo en los últimos años, informando de una oleada de sobredosis de opiáceos a lo largo de las regiones fronterizas con Estados Unidos. El gobierno mexicano afirma que la propagación de la droga está contenida y que el consumo general sigue siendo relativamente bajo.

En realidad, nadie sabe cuán común que es el consumo de fentanilo en México. Existen pocos datos recientes sobre el consumo de drogas a nivel nacional, y la mayoría de los patólogos forenses mexicanos no realizan pruebas sistemáticas en los cadáveres para detectar la presencia de fentanilo, según afirman los médicos forenses y las autoridades estadounidenses.

“En México, no salen casos de muerte por fentanilo, porque no hacemos el estudio, no porque no mueren de fentanilo”, dijo César González Vaca, jefe del servicio forense del estado de Baja California. Y añadió: “No lo estamos buscando”.

México es la fuente principal del fentanilo ilícito que se introduce en EE. UU., según el gobierno estadounidense, y aunque las fuerzas armadas mexicanas informaron de un aumento sustancial de las incautaciones de drogas el año pasado, los opiáceos sintéticos continúan inundando la frontera.

Según las autoridades de EE. UU., una estrategia para lograr que México haga más por frenar el flujo es demostrar que el fentanilo no solo es una adicción estadounidense, sino que también está matando a mexicanos.

El viaje a Colorado “fue un esfuerzo para ayudar a México a reconocer que tiene un problema, por muy inconveniente que sea”, dijo Alex Thurn, funcionario de la oficina de asuntos internacionales de narcóticos y aplicación de la ley de la embajada de EE. UU. en México.

Así pues, en una fresca mañana de febrero, más de una decena de forenses y químicos de los estados del norte de México se reunieron en la Oficina del Médico Forense de Denver para presenciar la autopsia de un hombre de mediana edad que fue encontrado muerto en el suelo de su garaje.

La noche de su fallecimiento le dijo a su novia que había tomado “10 azules”, probablemente en referencia a pastillas de fentanilo, según afirmaron los patólogos.

Ian Puffenberger, patólogo forense, apretó los pulmones del hombre y de ellos salió un chorro de espuma. Eso, según Puffenberger, era “un hallazgo habitual” en las muertes por opiáceos porque la respiración de la persona se ralentiza y los pulmones se llenan de líquido.

Cuando aserraron su cráneo se reveló otro signo de sobredosis: las protuberancias de su cerebro, conocidas como giros, parecían menos abultadas de lo que deberían.

“Si hay inflamación del cerebro”, otro efecto de la sobredosis de opiáceos, según dijo Puffenberger, “los giros empujan contra el cráneo y se aplanan”.

Más allá de sus cuchillos de alta gama y sus relucientes instalaciones —que fueron objeto de varias observaciones entre los forenses mexicanos—, los patólogos estadounidenses también disponían de un arsenal de costosas herramientas para confirmar que el hombre había muerto de sobredosis.

Hicieron análisis de sangre preliminares en una máquina de los Laboratorios Randox que cuesta más de 30.000 dólares, y que ofreció resultados positivos de fentanilo, metanfetamina y anfetaminas. Luego enviaron las muestras para un análisis toxicológico completo en un laboratorio de análisis de drogas de Pensilvania.

“Nos sentíamos en Disneylandia”, dijo Vaca. “Tienen todo”.

Los forenses mexicanos, dijo Vaca, con frecuencia acomodan los cuellos sobre botellas de refresco de dos litros y asierran los cráneos con sierras que suelen ser utilizadas para cortar metal. También explicó que, a menudo, ganan muy poco como para evaluar la causa de los fallecimientos en un país donde los criminales se especializan en lograr que sus víctimas sean irreconocibles.

“Aquí no ven a la gente descuartizada, metida en bolsas, quemada, con 200 heridas de bala”, dijo Vaca.

El médico forense mexicano ilustra lo mucho que se puede hacer con menos.

Tras observar cómo el fentanilo se convertía en un asesino en masa en Estados Unidos, Vaca empezó a presionar para que se hicieran pruebas en cadáveres de Baja California. Ha tenido que recurrir a un método de baja tecnología —sumergir tiras de fentanilo en orina, sangre u otros fluidos corporales— y solo está realizando pruebas en Tijuana y Mexicali, las dos ciudades más grandes del estado. Pero los resultados son asombrosos.

Desde junio de 2022, más de la mitad de todos los cadáveres que llegaron a las morgues de esas ciudades han dado positivo en drogas, y el fentanilo apareció en el 20 por ciento de ellos. “Esto es una crisis de salud pública”, dijo Vaca.

Durante décadas, el voraz apetito estadounidense por los estupefacientes impulsó el surgimiento de vastas redes delictivas en México, aunque históricamente las drogas no se consumían a gran escala en el país. Sin embargo, el consumo de drogas es cada vez más común, según muestran las investigaciones.

La última vez que el gobierno mexicano realizó su encuesta nacional sobre drogas, en 2016, el número de mexicanos que dijeron consumir narcóticos ilegales casi se había duplicado desde 2008. La demanda de tratamiento contra las drogas en México ha crecido rápidamente desde 2018, según otra investigación gubernamental.

Se ha encontrado fentanilo en pastillas falsificadas vendidas en farmacias del norte de México, así como en drogas recreativas como cocaína y MDMA en un festival de música cerca de Ciudad de México.

“Es barato de fabricar y sencillo de distribuir”, dijo Manuel López Santacruz, médico forense del estado de Sonora, al otro lado de la frontera con Arizona. Las pastillas de fentanilo, dijo, cuestan tan solo 3 dólares cada una, lo que hace que sean asequibles para casi cualquiera y eso impulsa las adicciones.

Hace poco, el gobierno reanudó la encuesta nacional sobre el consumo de drogas, tras un paréntesis de años, pero los expertos afirman que es poco probable que capte la verdadera difusión de los opiáceos sintéticos porque es posible que muchos consumidores no admitan que los consumen.

Según los expertos, el seguimiento de las muertes por fentanilo reflejaría de forma más fiable la magnitud del problema, pero requiere una inversión significativa por parte de las autoridades.

En Denver, la jefa de investigaciones, Erin Worrell, ofreció consejos para identificar posibles sobredosis.

Mientras proyectaba fotos de escenas de muertes recientes en una pantalla, Worrell destacó a un hombre que falleció con un cigarrillo a medio encender en la mano, y que más tarde se descubrió que tenía fentanilo y un cóctel de otras drogas en su organismo.

“Si estás sufriendo un ataque al corazón o algo así, vas a tratar de agarrar cosas”, dijo. “Va a ser más caótico, ya sabes”.

Worrell dijo que una pista era la posición del cuerpo. Las personas que cabecean y mueren tras tomar opiáceos suelen encontrarse encorvadas y con las piernas dobladas. Sabe que hay que buscar laxantes, porque los opiáceos provocan estreñimiento.

A veces, las muertes por sobredosis parecen asesinatos, como el caso de un hombre al que encontraron con heridas por toda la espalda y sentado en un cuarto de baño lleno de sangre.

“Esto parecen huellas de defensa”, dijo uno de los especialistas mexicanos, mirando las fotos de la horrible escena. En realidad, se trataba de una sobredosis, y antes de morir, el hombre se había mutilado.

“Muchas veces la gente empieza a tener comezón”, dijo Worrell. “Creen que tienen bichos encima”.

Al concluir la presentación de Worrell, Vaca se acercó y le mostró una foto en su teléfono: un hombre muerto por fentanilo con tanta rapidez que la jeringuilla seguía clavada en su cuello. “Lo vemos todo el tiempo”, dijo Vaca.

Natalie Kitroeff es la jefa de la corresponsalía del Times para México, Centroamérica y el Caribe. Más de Natalie Kitroeff

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