The New York Times 2024-03-08 10:24:50


Middle East Crisis: U.S. to Build Pier to Allow Aid Into Gaza by Sea

Questions remain about how aid delivered by sea would make its way to desperate Gazans.

President Biden will announce in his State of the Union on Thursday that he is ordering the U.S. military to build a floating pier off Gaza, in what the White House called an “emergency mission” that would allow hundreds of truckloads of additional aid to be delivered by sea to Gazans who are on the brink of starvation.

Based on the description provided by White House and military officials, the temporary port for aid delivery would be built from U.S. ships, and then moved close to shore, attached to some kind of temporary causeway.

The project could take more than 30 to 60 days, according to officials, and would involve hundreds or thousands of U.S. troops on ships just off shore, in keeping with Mr. Biden’s mandate that no American soldiers be on the ground in Gaza as the conflict rages. Briefing reporters, administration officials said that the port would be constructed in cooperation with other countries in the region.

American officials said that they “worked closely” with Israelis as they developed the seaport initiative, but they did not specify whether Israel would provide direct assistance or support for its construction or operation.

One U.S. official said that Israel had worked for months with the U.S. and other nations to develop an inspection process at a port in Cyprus from which humanitarian aid could be examined and then delivered — a key requirement for the new American port in Gaza.

Israel’s government did not immediately confirm that it had agreed to allow aid to enter Gaza from the sea, but Israeli approval would be needed since the country controls the waters off Gaza and security within most of the enclave.

Shani Sasson, a spokeswoman for COGAT, the Israeli agency which regulates aid to Palestinians in Gaza, did not respond to a request for comment.

One Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic negotiations, said that under the latest plan, aid donated by the United Arab Emirates would be sent to Cyprus, where it would eventually be inspected, then transported by ship to the coast of Gaza.

Israel would be involved in the inspection process, and the World Central Kitchen, Chef José Andrés’s organization, would bring the aid to shore using smaller boats, the official said. World Central Kitchen already has volunteers on the ground in Gaza.

Two diplomats briefed on the plans said the latest plans would see the port erected on Gaza’s shoreline slightly north of the Wadi Gaza crossing, where Israeli forces have erected a major checkpoint.

The Army Corps of Engineers has long experience in the rapid construction of floating docks to accommodate U.S. military operations. One of the main military units involved in the construction will be the Army’s 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), out of Joint Base Eustis-Langley, Va., near Norfolk, according to U.S. Defense Department officials.

The ships, which are large, lumbering vessels, will need armed escorts, particularly as they get within range of the Gaza coast, the officials said, so the Defense Department is working through how to ensure their protection as they build the pier. Assuring them that armed protection could take weeks to a few months, and the White House put no firm timeline on the construction effort.

The new facility, if opened as scheduled, could provide another way to get truckloads of aid into the region. But officials did not go into detail about how aid delivered by sea would be transferred from the coast further into Gaza, where humanitarian groups say hundreds of thousands of people are facing a famine. One option is to keep the platform at sea and transfer the goods by smaller boats; another would be to build a temporary causeway that would enable trucks to pick up the goods directly.

Yet simply delivering aid by sea does not directly solve the central problem that the trucks have been unable to deliver their goods amid intense Israeli shelling and ground fighting, which remains fierce in the South. Nor would it address the chaos that has accompanied the deliveries.

A convoy of aid trucks last week was overrun by Gazans desperate for food and water, leading to more than 100 deaths when Israeli soldiers opened fire and many people were trampled in the chaos.

The announcement came just hours before Mr. Biden was scheduled to deliver the State of the Union address, which family members of some of the hostages being held by Hamas since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel are expected to attend. The new project gives Mr. Biden a concrete project to point to at a time that he is under sharp criticism for not reining in Israel’s attacks, and for moving too slowly to address the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza.

The new seaport, when completed, would be an additional route for humanitarian aid, which is currently limited to two land crossings into the southern part of Gaza. Officials said Thursday that a third land crossing, into the northern part of Gaza, could open to limited deliveries within a week.

Mr. Biden also recently ordered the U.S. military to drop aid into Gaza by air. American pilots dropped their fourth load into the territory on Thursday.

Jamie McGoldrick, the top U.N. relief official in Jerusalem, said a maritime corridor could help the hunger crisis in Gaza but would not be a replacement for opening more overland routes for trucks.

“We support all means of getting supplies into Gaza — maritime, airdrops — but the priority is road convoys,” said Mr. McGoldrick, adding that it would take time to set up the infrastructure for the sea passage.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington. Adam Sella and Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

Hamas negotiators leave Cairo with no breakthrough in cease-fire talks.

Hamas negotiators left Cairo on Thursday without a breakthrough in talks over a cease-fire in Gaza, the group said, as hopes for an imminent truce in its five-month-long war with Israel continued to dim.

International mediators have sought to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas that would see the release of some hostages held in Gaza and Palestinians detained in Israeli jails, but weeks of indirect negotiations appear to have stalled. Hamas wants Israel to commit to a permanent cease-fire during or after hostage releases, a demand that Israel has rejected.

“The Hamas delegation left Cairo today to consult with the movement’s leadership, as negotiations and efforts continue to stop the aggression, return the displaced, and bring in aid for the Palestinian people,” Hamas said on Telegram, reiterating its demands in the talks.

Egypt and Qatar, along with the United States, are trying to secure a cease-fire before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins around March 10, worried that there could be flare-ups during the month of fasting.

But despite cautious optimism after Israeli officials met with mediators in Paris in mid-February, the hoped-for deal has yet to materialize. Under a proposed framework for a deal, roughly 40 of the more than 100 remaining hostages in Gaza and some Palestinian prisoners would be released during a six-week truce, according to officials familiar with the matter.

U.S. officials have said that Israel has more or less accepted the framework deal. President Biden said earlier this week that “the Israelis have been cooperating” and that the onus was now on Hamas to accept the proposal.

“There’s an offer out there that’s rational,” Mr. Biden told reporters. He added that if a cease-fire was not reached before Ramadan, “it could be very, very dangerous.”

The Israeli prime minister’s office declined to comment on the state of the talks.

Mahmoud Mardawi, a Hamas official, said in a televised interview on Wednesday night that the negotiations had “come to a standstill.” He blamed Israel for “clearly undermining any horizon for an agreement” and demanded a full withdrawal of Israeli troops under any truce. Israeli leaders have said they want to maintain control of security in Gaza after the war.

“The ball is not in our court,” Mr. Mardawi told the Arabic-language broadcaster Al-Ghad on Wednesday. “Whoever agrees to our people’s fundamental demands, that is what will pave the way for an agreement.”

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

The Indian Navy releases images of its rescue mission after a lethal Houthi attack on a vessel off Yemen.

When the Iran-backed Houthi militia launched an attack on a vessel off the coast of Yemen that killed three seafarers and injured several more on Wednesday, the Indian Navy deployed one of its warships to rescue the crew.

The Indian destroyer Kolkata reached the crew members from the True Confidence, the vessel that was hit in the Gulf of Aden, according to the Indian Navy’s social media account and videos it posted online. Some seafarers appear to have been picked up by helicopters from lifeboats and taken aboard the Kolkata, according to videos posted by the Indian Navy.

The crew, according to the Indian Navy, was evacuated to Djibouti, which lies on the east coast of Africa, across the narrow Bab el-Mandeb strait from Yemen’s coast. Djibouti’s port authority posted on social media pictures of the arrival of the crew, some with visible injuries.

The three sailors killed on Wednesday were the first fatalities from Houthi attacks since the group began targeting transiting ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The Houthis have said their campaign is an expression of solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza under attack by Israel and retaliation for counterstrikes against them, which they label “American-British aggression.”

The Houthi attacks have recently grown more severe. Last week, the Rubymar, a British-owned commercial vessel attacked by the Houthis, became the first of their targets to sink.

The Houthi attacks threaten a fragile global economy still recovering from the pandemic and suffering disruptions from the war in Ukraine.

The Red Sea and Gulf of Aden serve as a major shipping route for India and dozens of other exporters. And the Suez Canal, which lies at the northwestern end of the Red Sea, handles some 12 percent of global trade. Many ships have also been rerouted to the Suez because the Panama Canal, another major access point for global trade, is able to handle fewer ships than usual because of low water levels caused by drought.

Egypt’s revenue from Suez Canal transits dropped by half after Houthi attacks began, contributing to the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.

There are also crucial communications cables that connect Asia to the West running through the Red Sea, some of which have recently suffered damage from an undetermined cause. The Houthis, who have fallen under suspicion, have denied responsibility, but concerns that the attacks could disrupt the global internet have grown.

The United States has created an international task force to protect commercial ships in the region and has with its allies, including Britain, carried out missile strikes on Houthi targets inside Yemen. Last month, the State Department designated the Houthis as a terrorist organization.

On Wednesday, the Treasury Department issued sanctions intended to disrupt the flow of money from Iran to the Houthis, and a spokesman for the State Department, Matthew Miller, said the United States would continue to work with its allies to deter further attacks. It was unclear what actions that might entail.

While India, which maintains friendly ties with Iran, has not joined the U.S.-led task force in the Red Sea, its navy has responded to several ships threatened by Houthi attacks in the Red Sea or Gulf of Aden. It has also increased its presence in the region by sending more warships there, according to The Wall Street Journal.

What is the World Central Kitchen, the group to be involved in the new U.S. aid plan for Gaza?

Since October, organizers and Palestinian cooks working with the World Central Kitchen — the aid organization founded by the renowned Spanish chef José Andrés — have served more than 32 million meals in Gaza, the group has said. Plans for the U.S. military to build a floating pier to bring aid into the enclave would give the group critical access to a steady supply of food they’d need to more than double the meals they’re serving daily and further aid people in the northern portion of Gaza, Mr. Andrés said in an interview on Thursday.

“We’re trying to do the impossible,” he said. “It’s worth trying the impossible to feed the people of Gaza.”

The organization has established 65 community kitchens in Gaza that are managed by local Palestinians, with plans to add at least 35 more, Mr. Andrés said. About 350,000 meals are being served every day, but Mr. Andrés said he would like to distribute more than a million meals.

Getting food and aid into Gaza has been daunting, he said. The World Central Kitchen has resorted to providing some aid through airdrops with the Royal Jordanian Air Force.

Mr. Andrés founded the organization in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which killed some 300,000 people. Since then, he has responded to numerous natural disasters and wars in the United States and abroad. The association served millions of meals in 2017 to Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria, to Ukrainians affected by the war against Russia, and most recently to people dealing with fires in Chile and Texas, among other places.

“We need to shoot for the moon because anywhere we fall is worth the effort,” he said.

The association is the largest emergency feeding program ever set up by a group of chefs, serving more than 350 million meals since it was founded. Its impact is immediate because he and his staff can network quickly, organize kitchens in harsh conditions and source ingredients and equipment.

The kitchens, like those in Gaza, are often managed by locals, who cook their cuisine. Many of those recipes were compiled into a World Central Kitchen cookbook that was published in September.

The war in Gaza has created several crises for President Biden.

Nearly five months since Hamas militants attacked and killed about 1,200 people in Israel, President Biden has been swept into the resulting upheaval in the region. As he prepares to address the nation, he finds himself navigating a wider Middle East emergency with profound moral, political and security implications for his presidency.

Early sympathy for Israel after the Oct. 7 attacks has given way to domestic and international anger over the suffering in Gaza. Israel’s subsequent military campaign to crush Hamas has now killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to officials in Gaza, with dire shortages of food, water and medicine creating a humanitarian crisis.

Because Israel’s military heavily depends on American-supplied weapons and munitions, Mr. Biden is under pressure at home and abroad to rein in Israel and alleviate the suffering in Gaza. But despite increasingly adamant calls for Israel to do more to protect civilians and provide them with aid, U.S. officials say that is not happening.

Even so, Mr. Biden has restrained his criticism of Israel’s right-wing government and resisted demands for restricting American aid to Israel, often reminding the world that Israel was brutally attacked and has a right to self-defense. He has ordered airdrops of aid into Gaza to supplement the limited truck convoys that enter the territory from Israel. But aid workers say those aerial supplies will make little difference.

Seeking to do more, Mr. Biden will announce a plan for the United States to build a floating pier off Gaza that can receive more supplies.

U.S. officials say their best hope is to help broker a deal between Israel and Hamas to pause the fighting for several weeks, allow for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, and enable a surge of humanitarian supplies into the territory. Some U.S. officials think that such a pause in combat could evolve into a longer-term cease-fire. Talks among several nations to strike a deal have been underway for weeks, and U.S. officials say that Israel has signed off on an offer. But Hamas has yet to agree.

Looming in the background is the threat that the violence poses to Mr. Biden’s re-election campaign. Many progressive voters are outraged that Mr. Biden has not done more to rebuke Israel or moved to cut off weapons shipments to the country.

At the same time, many analysts say that Mr. Biden’s defense of an Israeli military campaign that he has called “indiscriminate” has undermined America’s moral high ground as it denounces Russia for brutality in Ukraine. (Israeli officials call such criticism unwarranted, saying that they take unusual steps to warn civilians of coming attacks and that Hamas invites civilian casualties by operating in crowded areas.)

Compounding the problem for Mr. Biden are the regional shock waves of Oct. 7 and Israel’s response. Israel is also trading fire with Iran-allied Hezbollah militants along its border with southern Lebanon, where some Israeli officials warn they could launch a major attack on Hezbollah strongholds. That would risk drawing Iran into the conflict — an escalation that might, in turn, draw in the United States.

But Mr. Biden has already resorted to military action: Since Oct. 7 Iran-backed militias have repeatedly attacked U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, killing three American soldiers in January. Those attacks have prompted several U.S. airstrikes against those groups.

Mr. Biden has also ordered dozens of strikes against Yemen’s insurgent Houthi militia, which has shown solidarity with Gaza by attacking international shipping vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, disrupting global commerce and, on Wednesday, killing at least two civilian sailors.

Even as Mr. Biden’s diplomats work frantically to bring calm to the region, his political advisers are struggling to limit any damage to his re-election campaign. His State of the Union address could include an attempt to do some of both.

More aid trucks reached Gaza this week, but nowhere near prewar figures, U.N. data shows.

The number of trucks entering Gaza with food and other aid rose in early March compared with February, according to data from the United Nations. But the flow is still far weaker than it was before the conflict between Israel and Hamas began on Oct. 7, even as world leaders call for a vast increase in aid deliveries amid warnings of starvation in the territory.

The cause of the increase was not immediately clear, but it began days after President Biden put pressure on the Israeli authorities to step up aid deliveries.

“Aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough now,” Mr. Biden said last week, adding that innocent lives were on the line. He planned to announce in his State of the Union on Thursday that he was also ordering the U.S. military to build a floating pier off Gaza, in what the White House called an “emergency mission” that would allow hundreds of truckloads of additional aid to be delivered by sea.

In the first six days of March, an average of 155 trucks a day entered Gaza, compared with 99 in February and 141 in January, according to UNRWA, the U.N. aid agency for Palestinians. A spokeswoman for the agency, Juliette Touma, said it was too soon to draw conclusions from the March figures, and she noted that the amount of aid on each truck could vary, making it difficult to tell precisely how much was going in.

Before Oct. 7, around 500 trucks of food and other aid were entering Gaza each day, in addition to commercial traffic. Israel, which controls Gaza’s frontier along with Egypt, closed the border immediately following the attacks and began a siege.

Since then, it has tightened security controls on aid convoys, saying it wants to prevent aid or hidden contraband going to Hamas. Between Oct. 21 and March 6, an average of 108 trucks of aid entered Gaza per day, according to the UNRWA figures, a decrease of around 80 percent from prewar numbers.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council and a former United Nations aid chief, has said that tens of thousands of trucks have been denied access to Gaza. He blamed Israel and called for more border crossings to be opened.

Israeli officials say that they do not impose restrictions on the amount of aid going into the territory. COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for coordinating aid deliveries into Gaza, suggested on Thursday that the fault lay with the aid agencies.

“Israel is always happy to facilitate large amounts of aid,” Shimon Freedman, a COGAT spokesman, said. “The amount that is inspected by Israel is dependent, among other things, on the amount sent and that can be distributed.”

The United Nations has warned that more than 570,000 Gazans are facing “catastrophic levels of deprivation and starvation” and that northern Gaza is a particular concern. It is not clear how much of the aid delivered in recent days has reached that part of the territory, which was the first target of Israel’s ground invasion in October and has been devastated by airstrikes and fighting. Delivering aid in the north is particularly difficult and dangerous, aid groups say.

Israel has been trying to get more aid to the north by organizing convoys in collaboration with local Gazan businessmen. But the effort backfired last week when one such convoy ended in disaster. Over 100 Palestinians were killed, many by gunfire, when Israeli forces opened fire on people approaching the aid trucks, according to Palestinian health officials. The Israeli military said the troops had fired on members of the crowd who threatened them, and attributed most of the deaths to a stampede around the convoy.

On Tuesday the Israeli military turned back a convoy trying to take 200 tons of food into northern Gaza, a U.N. agency said. The military referred questions about the incident to COGAT, whose spokesman said it was “an operational decision by the forces on the ground.”

One factor that may have cut into the amount of aid entering in February was protests at one of the two aid crossing points into Gaza, Kerem Shalom, by Israeli supporters of the roughly 100 hostages being held by Hamas and other groups in Gaza. The other aid crossing point is at Rafah, which borders Egypt.

On Thursday, Israel’s public radio broadcaster reported that border police were deployed to Kerem Shalom to remove protesters who were blocking aid convoys. One protester, Tzurit Fenigstein, told Israel’s public radio that the government needed to focus on pursuing the war, rather than providing aid.

“On the one hand we’re sending our soldiers to fight and my son to die, and on the other hand we’re caressing them and sending food and prolonging the war, and this is costing us in our children’s blood,” Ms. Fenigstein said.

The United States, Jordan and France have also dropped aid into Gaza from planes in recent days. The U.S. Central Command said on Thursday that it had worked with Jordan to drop more than 38,000 meals over Gaza. Aid officials say that airdrops are expensive and imprecise and on their own are unlikely to relieve hunger in the territory.

Adam Sella contributed reporting

South Africa asks the U.N.’s highest court to intervene to avert ‘genocidal starvation’ in Gaza.

South Africa has asked the United Nations’ highest court to issue emergency orders for Israel to stop what it called the “genocidal starvation” of the Palestinian people, citing U.N. warnings that Gaza was at risk of imminent famine.

The request on Wednesday to the International Court of Justice in The Hague was part of a case that South Africa filed in December charging Israel with genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has strenuously denied the genocide allegation, and on Thursday its foreign ministry called on the court to reject South Africa’s latest request.

“South Africa continues to act as the legal arm of Hamas in an attempt to undermine Israel’s inherent right to defend itself and its citizens, and to release all of the hostages,” Lior Haiat, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said on social media.

It was not immediately clear when the court would respond to the request. In January, in an initial ruling in the broader genocide case, the court ordered that Israel should act to prevent its troops from committing genocide in Gaza and to increase the amount of humanitarian aid reaching the territory’s civilians.

Last month, South Africa asked the court to issue an emergency order to stop Israel from sending troops into the southern Gaza city of Rafah. The court did not do so, but said Israel must abide by its initial order to prevent genocide.

The judges of the World Court, as it is also known, have not ruled on the core question of whether a genocide is taking place in Gaza, a complex charge that they are likely to take months or years to decide. For now, they have ordered a series of measures, which amount to temporary injunctions, aimed at protecting Palestinian civilians because they found the dangers of genocide “plausible.”

The genocide case has thrust the usually slow-moving court into the global spotlight, setting it up as a platform for tense arguments and disputes over Israel’s war in Gaza. Despite the symbolic weight of the allegations before it, the court, which settles disputes between U.N. member states, does not have any means of forcing Israel to comply with its orders.

In its request on Wednesday, South Africa accused Israel of causing widespread hunger and near-famine conditions across Gaza. Health authorities there say that children are dying daily of malnutrition and dehydration, and aid groups say people are hungry enough to resort to eating leaves, donkey feed and food scraps.

“Palestinian children are starving to death as a direct result of the deliberate acts and omissions of Israel — in violation of the Genocide Convention and of the court’s order,” lawyers for South Africa wrote in the filing.

For months, international observers and aid groups have been warning that Gaza’s 2.2 million civilians are facing starvation amid acute shortages of food and water. Distributing the limited supplies inside the territory has become more challenging, with the destruction of infrastructure and increasing lawlessness as desperate people loot aid convoys.

In asking the court to intervene, South Africa pointed to last week’s aid delivery in northern Gaza that turned deadly, and Israel’s efforts to discredit UNRWA, the main U.N. agency providing assistance for Palestinian refugees. South Africa said that the humanitarian situation in Gaza had rapidly deteriorated in the weeks since the court declined to issue an emergency order to stop a possible Israeli advance into Rafah. At that time, the court said the “perilous situation” across Gaza required Israel to comply with its order to avert genocide.

“The situation then ‘perilous’ is now so terrifying as to be unspeakable,” South Africa said in the filing.

Adam Sella contributed reporting.

The I.M.F. agrees to a large bailout for Egypt, whose economy has been hit by the war.

The International Monetary Fund has agreed to more than double a bailout package for Egypt, which is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, exacerbated by war in the neighboring Gaza Strip and in Ukraine.

The fund now plans to provide Egypt $8 billion, up from an initial $3 billion announced in October 2022.

The I.M.F.’s mission chief to Egypt, Ivanna Vladkova Hollar, noted at a news conference that the already-struggling Egyptian economy had been further hurt by the conflict between Israel and Hamas, which has cut into the country’s vital tourism trade.

At the same time, revenue from the Suez Canal dropped by half after Houthi militants, who say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, began attacking cargo ships using Red Sea shipping routes.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly of Egypt said that the deal would enable the government to secure an additional $1.2 billion, above the $8 billion, from the I.M.F.’s environmental suitability fund and would encourage development partners like the World Bank and the European Union to also give Egypt more loans to help it reach financial stability.

Last week, Egypt secured a deal worth $35 billion with the United Arab Emirates to develop parts of its Mediterranean coast. Egyptian officials celebrated it as the largest foreign direct investment in Egypt’s history.

Hours before the I.M.F. deal was announced, in an attempt to rein in soaring inflation, Egypt’s Central Bank devalued the currency by more than 35 percent — it was the fourth devaluation in two years — and raised interest rates by 600 basis points.

Mr. Madbouly said his government and the I.M.F. had reached consensus on the targets of Egypt’s structural reform plan.

“The aim is to raise foreign currency reserves, lower the debt burden, guarantee the flow of foreign direct investments and work towards high growth rates for the Egyptian economy,” he said.

The government and the monetary fund are committed to social protection measures for vulnerable people who will be affected by the reform plans, Mr. Madbouly said.

Over the past 18 months, a severe foreign currency shortage in Egypt, which overwhelmingly relies on imports, has sent prices — and anxiety about the future — off the charts. The cost of some basic food items quadrupled, debt burden reached an all-time high, and the currency lost a huge portion of its value, decimating the purchasing power of people’s incomes and the value of their life savings.

The Central Bank Governor, Hassan Abdalla, said the government’s medium-term plan aimed to bring down inflation, which hit a record-high of nearly 40 percent last summer, to a single digit.

Before the I.M.F. deal, growing economic pressure had forced the government to shift tactics, including freezing some costly megaprojects ordered up by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, including a lavish new capital in the desert.

Additional pressure came from the I.M.F., which refused to hand over much of the initial loan until Egypt made good on some economic policy conditions. Among them was encouraging private-sector growth by eliminating the competitive advantages enjoyed by Egypt’s military-owned businesses.

Over the past decade, Egypt’s economy has been struggling for stability. Many observers say mismanagement, including overspending on megaprojects and the longstanding overreliance on imports, left Egypt vulnerable to successive external shocks. Apart from the war in Gaza, there was the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which affected both tourism and essential wheat imports.

Mr. el-Sisi has repeatedly defended his government’s policies, saying that the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak set off lasting economic precarity.

In daily interactions on the streets of Cairo, however, and on social media, many blame the president, whom they accuse of spending on vanity projects and weakening the economy to the point of undermining Egypt’s influence in the region.

Some experts say the I.M.F., which has lent Egypt billions of dollars since 2016, is part of the problem.

“They don’t go deep enough into what’s happening in the machine,” said Mohamed Fouad, a financial consultant and former Egyptian lawmaker.

Mr. Fouad expects that the international lender will now be making more calculated decisions.

“Their biggest mistake,” he said, “came between 2016 and 2020, when everyone was cheering along, only focusing on the macroeconomic aspect. But the foundation was shaky.”

Vivian Yee contributed reporting.

Crowdfunding, Auctions and Raffles: How Ukrainians Are Aiding the Army

Earlier this year, Daria Chervona, a photo retoucher from Kyiv, was busy trying to raise 78 million Ukrainian hryvnia, about $2 million, for Ukraine’s army, posting daily on social media to urge friends and acquaintances to chip in. That was a high bar, but after a few weeks she announced she had cleared it, reaching her target.

“You did it,” she told her followers on Instagram in late January, in a post displaying the eight-figure sum raised in large black characters.

Ms. Chervona attributes her success to a system she adopted last summer: dividing the work among dozens of people, each tasked with collecting money from friends, in a process that she said can yield large sums. Each fund-raiser is then highlighted in a social media post with their picture, tapping into civilians’ desire to be recognized as active participants in the war effort.

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Haiti Engulfed by Crisis as Gangs Press Prime Minister to Step Down

Haiti’s security crisis is reaching a breaking point. An alliance of armed gangs is pressing the country’s prime minister to resign, placing the United States in the middle of a power struggle gripping the country. Aiming to ease the standoff, the Biden administration is increasing pressure on Prime Minister Ariel Henry to enable a transfer of power.

The United States was not actively “calling on him or pushing for him to resign,” Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the State Department, said. But, he added, “we are urging him to expedite the transition to an empowered and inclusive governance structure.”

The impasse points to a major inflection point in Haiti, which has been plagued by nearly perpetual crises over the last several years, as tempers flare in the country of 11.5 million people over spreading unrest, food shortages and a lack of progress in moving toward democratic elections and restoring a sense of security.

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Sweden Enters NATO, a Blow to Moscow and a Boost to the Baltic Nations

Sweden formally joined NATO on Thursday, becoming its 32nd member two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sharply bolstering, with Finland, the military alliance’s deterrent in the Baltic and North Seas.

With the addition of the new Nordic member states — Finland joined last year — the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, now finds himself faced with an enlarged and motivated NATO, one that is no longer dreaming of a permanent peace but instead facing years of trying to contain a newly aggressive, imperial Russia.

On Thursday, after months of uncertainty caused by the hesitations of Turkey and Hungary, Sweden officially became a member by depositing its legal paperwork — its instrument of accession to the North Atlantic Treaty — with the U.S. State Department in Washington.

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Hundreds Are Feared Seized in Nigeria, as Kidnapping Epidemic Worsens

Theirs were already lives of great hardship, in camps for displaced people, after they had fled their homes in Nigeria’s embattled northeast. One recent day, they risked a foray into the countryside to collect firewood — and around 200 of them, some officials said, were kidnapped.

Just days later, dozens of children — if not more — were reported abducted on Thursday from a primary school some 500 miles away in central Nigeria.

Who was responsible was unclear, and the security services have made no statements. The first incident took place in the region terrorized by Boko Haram, the brutal Islamist group with a history of mass abductions. Residents told the local news media that bandits had carried out the second.


Map locates the Nigerian states of Borno and Kaduna. It also locates the towns of Ngala, Maiduguri, and Chibok in Borno, and the town of Kuriga in Kaduna.

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Opposition Blasts Macron for Risking Escalation in Ukraine

Attacked at home and abroad for his statement last month that sending troops to Ukraine “should not be ruled out,” President Emmanuel Macron faced a torrent of outrage from the left and right on Thursday when he met with leaders of major political parties to hammer home his new position.

Mr. Macron’s remark startled his NATO allies and broke a taboo by threatening a direct confrontation with Russia, which they hoped to avoid. But it also caught the public and political parties by surprise and has since provoked intense debate in France.

With the meeting Thursday, Mr. Macron hoped to find some unity on bolstering support for Ukraine or, short of that, to expose opponents who in his view remain too weak-kneed or servile to Moscow. He told the party leaders that “Faced by an enemy that imposes no limit on itself, we cannot allow ourselves to impose our own.”

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A Popular Israeli Minister’s Meeting in London Sends a Message to Netanyahu

When Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, met David Cameron, Britain’s foreign secretary, in London on Wednesday, he got a sharp message that Israel must do more to allow humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza.

It was the kind of minister-level meeting that would normally draw modest attention amid the flurry of high-level diplomacy that has enveloped the Israel-Hamas war. But Mr. Gantz and Mr. Cameron are no mere functionaries.

Mr. Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, is a popular political rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Mr. Netanyahu expressed deep displeasure at what he viewed as an unsanctioned trip by a would-be Israeli leader.

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How ‘MagaBabe’ and a Fake Investor Targeted Critics of Viktor Orban

Kati Marton, a Hungarian-born American writer, thought she was talking with a friend of Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO’s former commander in Europe. The man, who had sent her a résumé describing himself as a “results-oriented wealth and investment manager” living in Switzerland, said he was exploring green energy opportunities in Eastern Europe.

Ms. Marton didn’t mind when he steered the conversation to Hungary, something she knew about, having written three books about the country, including “Enemies of the People,” an account of her parents’ 1955 jailing in and subsequent flight from Budapest.

Today, more than half a year after what she thought would be a private Zoom call, Ms. Marton thinks she has figured out what was really going on: an elaborate dirty-tricks operation aimed at entrapping and smearing critics of Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban.

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4 Children and 2 Adults Are Killed in Ottawa Home

A woman from Sri Lanka and her four children were stabbed to death in a home in Ottawa by a student who is also from Sri Lanka, the police said on Thursday. Another man living in the home was also killed, and the children’s father was hospitalized with injuries.

Investigators charged Febrio De-Zoysa, 19, a student who also lived in the home, with six counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. He was arrested shortly after the police received two emergency calls around 11 p.m. Wednesday requesting they come to the home, which is in a residential neighborhood, police officers said.

Ottawa’s police chief, Eric Stubbs, said at a news conference that the stabbings were the largest mass killing in the city, Canada’s capital, in at least three decades.

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Israel-Hamas Talks Over Hostage Releases and a Cease-Fire Stall

Israel-Hamas Talks Over Hostage Releases and a Cease-Fire Stall

Officials say Hamas has continued to press Israel for a commitment to a permanent cease-fire after a multistage release of all hostages, but Israel has refused.

Ronen BergmanEdward Wong and

Ronen Bergman and Edward Wong reported from Istanbul, and Julian Barnes from Washington.

Talks between Israel and Hamas over the release of dozens of Israeli hostages held in Gaza have stalled, dimming hopes that a deal could be reached before Ramadan begins in a few days, according to several people briefed on the conversations.

Negotiators had been discussing a proposal for an initial six-week cease-fire during which Hamas would release about 40 people — including women, elderly and ill hostages, and five female Israeli soldiers — for a substantial number of Palestinian prisoners.

The discussions included terms for releasing at least 15 prisoners convicted of serious acts of terrorism who would be exchanged for the female soldiers. The terms also said Israel would release hundreds of other detainees or prisoners, at an average of 10 Palestinians for every Israeli civilian freed, officials said.

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Canadian Jailed by China in Tit-for-Tat Dispute Gets a Settlement

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The government of Canada has reached a financial settlement with one of two Canadian men it contends were arbitrarily detained for nearly three years by China in a retaliatory move, the man’s lawyer said.

John K. Phillips, who represents Michael Spavor, told The Associated Press Wednesday evening that “I am only able to say that the matter between Mr. Spavor and the government of Canada has been resolved.”

Mr. Spavor, a businessman who had extensive dealings in North Korea, and Michael Kovrig, then a Canadian diplomat who was on leave and working for a Belgium-based foreign policy analysis group, were arrested in China in December 2018. They were charged with spying.

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Israel Must Let More Aid Into Gaza, U.K. Tells Israeli Official

Israel Must Let More Aid Into Gaza, U.K. Tells Israeli Official

After meeting with Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, the British foreign secretary, David Cameron, had strong words about conditions in Gaza that “must change.”

Meeting with a member of Israel’s war cabinet on Wednesday, Britain’s foreign secretary said Israel must help get far more food and other supplies into the Gaza Strip to address the humanitarian crisis there, the secretary said after they spoke.

“I once again pressed Israel to increase the flow of aid,” the foreign secretary, David Cameron, said in a statement. “We are still not seeing improvements on the ground. This must change.”

The Israeli cabinet member, Benny Gantz, a former army chief, visited London after hearing similar messages in Washington from U.S. officials. Mr. Gantz’s office said that he also met Wednesday with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Mr. Sunak’s national security adviser, Tim Barrow.

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Too Little Ammunition, Too Many Russians: The Harrowing Retreat From Avdiivka

The fighting had become increasingly ferocious last month at the Zenith air-defense base a mile south of Avdiivka, where for years a company of Ukrainian soldiers had defended the southern approaches to the city.

Russian troops had moved up on their flanks and were pounding them from all sides with tank, artillery and mortar fire, smashing their defenses and wounding men.

“Every day we tried to repel enemy attacks,” said Senior Soldier Viktor Biliak, a 26-year-old with the 110th Mechanized Brigade, who had spent 620 days defending the base. “All the fortifications were being destroyed and there was no possibility to build new ones.”

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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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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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‘Decolonizing’ Ukrainian Art, One Name-and-Shame Post at a Time

Hiding for days in the basement of a kindergarten in Bucha, the Kyiv suburb that became synonymous with Russian war crimes, Oksana Semenik had time to think.

Outside, Russian troops were rampaging through the town, killing civilians who ventured into the streets. Knowing she might not make it out, Ms. Semenik, an art historian, mulled over the Ukrainian artworks she had long wanted to write about — and which were now in danger of disappearing.

That time spent holed up in Bucha was during the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion, but even then, two years ago, she had already seen reports of destroyed museums. Precious folk paintings by her favorite artist, Maria Primachenko, had gone up in flames. Moscow, she realized, was waging a war on Ukrainian culture.

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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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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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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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Una foto borrosa y un dilema: la cobertura mediática a la princesa de Gales

Tras una semana de especulaciones a menudo alarmistas sobre su bienestar, de pronto aparecieron dos pruebas plausibles de que Catalina, princesa de Gales, se estaba recuperando: una foto suya en un automóvil conducido por su madre y la confirmación por parte del ejército británico de que asistiría a una ceremonia militar en junio.

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Pero, como ha ocurrido en las últimas semanas con casi todo lo que ha rodeado a la salud de la esposa del príncipe Guillermo, de 42 años, cualquier sensación de certeza se desvaneció rápidamente.

Un funcionario de palacio dijo el martes que el ejército se había precipitado al anunciar la participación de Catalina en Trooping the Color, un ritual anual que celebra el cumpleaños del soberano. Y aunque los periódicos británicos informaron de la existencia de fotos de paparazzi, supuestamente de Catalina, que se difundieron en las redes sociales el lunes, ninguno de ellos publicó las imágenes.

Al final de otro ciclo informativo, los consumidores de noticias de la realeza volvieron a la casilla de inicio: sin información sobre la princesa, que se sometió a cirugía abdominal en enero y a quien no se ha visto durante su larga convalecencia.

La única certeza en la saga de Catalina es la participación, desenfadada y sin filtro, de su tío Gary Goldsmith, en un programa de telerrealidad británico, Celebrity Big Brother, que se emitió el lunes por la noche. En cualquier otro momento, la aparición de Goldsmith podría haber sido una vergüenza para Catalina, quien ha intentado cultivar una imagen digna y disciplinada como miembro principal de la familia real.

Sin embargo, en el vacío de noticias sobre ella, los expertos dicen que las travesuras televisivas de Goldsmith pueden ser una distracción bienvenida para los periódicos sensacionalistas británicos. Los editores se han esforzado por equilibrar su afán por informar sobre la realeza —un entusiasmo casi ilimitado, en el caso de la futura reina, antes conocida como Kate Middleton— con el reconocimiento de que, en el Reino Unido, incluso la mayoría de los personajes públicos tienen derecho a la intimidad en cuestiones de salud.

“Los medios de comunicación van, inusualmente, rezagados”, dijo Sarah Sands, ex editora sénior de la BBC y exeditora de The Sunday Telegraph. “Están confundidos: ¿La quisieron demasiado y la presionaron demasiado? ¿Es el nuevo papel de los medios de comunicación brindar tranquilidad?

“Acude en ayuda de los tabloides la simpática figura de pantomima del malvado tío de Kate, Gary Goldsmith”, continuó Sands. Goldsmith, dijo, “será probablemente el único comentario desde dentro que recibiremos durante las próximas semanas”.

De ser cierto, esto podría evitar que los periódicos y las cadenas de televisión tengan que tomar decisiones como la que debieron afrontar el lunes, cuando el sitio estadounidense de chismes sobre famosos TMZ publicó lo que afirmaba, eran las primeras imágenes de Catalina luego de que fuera hospitalizada. Las fotos, tomadas con teleobjetivo, granuladas y en las que aparece una mujer con gafas de sol que se parece a Catalina, fueron tomadas cerca del castillo de Windsor, según el sitio.

El Daily Mail dijo que las fotos no se publicaron en el Reino Unido porque el palacio de Kensington, donde Guillermo y Catalina tienen sus oficinas, “pidió que ella pudiera recuperarse en privado”. Pero la publicación luego pasó a especular que habrían sido captadas el lunes por la mañana, poco después de que Catalina dejara a sus hijos en el colegio, ayudada por su madre, Carole Middleton.

Chris Ship, editor sobre la realeza de ITV News, se refirió a las imágenes en las redes sociales, pero declaró: “No las publicamos por respeto a su intimidad mientras se recupera de la operación en el plazo que nos dieron”.

El palacio de Kensington ha declarado que Catalina no volverá a sus obligaciones reales hasta después de Pascua. La semana pasada, envuelto en un remolino de conjeturas y teorías conspirativas después de que Guillermo se retirara abruptamente de un acto, reiteró esa declaración y dijo que solo proporcionaría “actualizaciones significativas”. Según un funcionario, la princesa seguía evolucionando favorablemente.

El martes, el palacio se negó a comentar las fotos, diciendo que no quería dar publicidad a TMZ. Los periódicos británicos han tratado con cautela las fotos de los paparazzi desde la muerte de la princesa Diana, madre de Guillermo, en un accidente automovilístico en París en 1997, tras una persecución a gran velocidad por parte de los fotógrafos.

“El recuerdo para la prensa británica sigue siendo nítido”, dijo Sands, quien era editora adjunta de The Daily Telegraph en el momento de la muerte de Diana. “Estaba llena de remordimientos. Las normas sobre privacidad y deber de protección cambiaron profundamente”.

Los tribunales británicos han dictaminado que el derecho a la intimidad se extiende a los miembros de la familia real, y el Código de Buenas Prácticas de los Editores, con el cual opera gran parte de la prensa británica, protege a todas las personas contra la intromisión injustificada en asuntos de salud física y mental.

Algunos críticos se mostraron menos generosos sobre los motivos de los medios de comunicación, sobre todo teniendo en cuenta que las imágenes son fácilmente accesibles para cualquiera con solo unos cuantos clics en un iPhone.

“Lo fascinante es cómo las tonterías sobre Kate en las redes sociales dan a los periódicos la oportunidad de escribir sobre algo sobre lo que no hay nada que escribir, mientras critican lo que hay en la red”, dijo Peter Hunt, antiguo corresponsal para la realeza de la BBC.

Es la segunda vez en cuatro meses que los medios de comunicación británicos se niegan a publicar detalles sobre la familia real, incluso después de que hayan circulado por las redes sociales. En noviembre, los periódicos no publicaron los nombres de Catalina y el rey Carlos III tras ser identificados, en la edición holandesa de un nuevo libro, como miembros de la familia que supuestamente habían preguntado por el color de la piel del hijo no nacido del príncipe Enrique y su esposa, Meghan.

Las compuertas se abrieron solo después de que Piers Morgan, un destacado presentador de televisión, revelara los nombres en su programa. El palacio de Buckingham dijo entonces que estudiaría la posibilidad de emprender acciones legales, pero no actuó.

Los mensajes contradictorios sobre la asistencia de Catalina a Trooping the Color pueden acabar siendo un simple caso de torpeza burocrática. El ejército dijo en su página web que Catalina, en su calidad de coronela de los guardias irlandeses, pasaría revista a los soldados que van a desfilar en la ceremonia del 8 de junio.

Pero un funcionario del palacio de Kensington dijo que era tarea del palacio confirmar la agenda de la princesa, y aún no lo ha hecho. Tampoco ha comentado la decisión de Goldsmith, hermano menor de Carole Middleton, de unirse al reparto de Celebrity Big Brother.

Goldsmith, de 58 años, antiguo empresario tecnológico, se declaró culpable en 2017 de agredir a su esposa, Julie-Ann Goldsmith.

En un video promocional del programa, un alegre Goldsmith decía: “Dar cuerda a la gente es probablemente mi pasatiempo favorito. Cada parte de mí está plagada de travesuras y peligros”.

Luego añadió: “Es una auténtica pesadilla vivir conmigo. Por algo he tenido cuatro esposas”.

Mark Landler es el jefe de la corresponsalía en Londres del Times. Cubre el Reino Unido así como la política exterior estadounidense en Europa, Asia y Medio Oriente. Es periodista desde hace más de tres décadas. Más de Mark Landler


El calentamiento global afecta en particular a las familias lideradas por mujeres, según la ONU

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El calor extremo está empobreciendo a algunas de las mujeres más pobres del mundo.

Esta es la cruda conclusión de un informe, publicado el martes, por la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y la Agricultura (FAO, por su sigla en inglés), basado en datos meteorológicos y de ingresos en 24 países de ingresos bajos y medianos.

El informe se suma a un conjunto de trabajos que muestran cómo el calentamiento global, impulsado por la quema de combustibles fósiles, puede magnificar y empeorar las disparidades sociales existentes.

El informe concluye que, aunque el estrés térmico es costoso para todos los hogares rurales, es significativamente más costoso para los hogares liderados por una mujer: los hogares encabezados por mujeres pierden un 8 por ciento más de sus ingresos anuales en comparación con otros hogares.

Es decir, el calor extremo aumenta la disparidad entre los hogares liderados por mujeres y los demás. Eso se debe a que están en juego disparidades subyacentes.

Por ejemplo, aunque las mujeres dependen de los ingresos agrícolas, solo representan el 12,6 por ciento de los propietarios de tierras en todo el mundo, según estimaciones del Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo. Esto significa que los hogares encabezados por mujeres probablemente carezcan de acceso a servicios esenciales como préstamos, seguros de cosechas y servicios de extensión agraria que les ayuden a adaptarse al cambio climático.

El informe se basa en datos de encuestas de hogares entre 2010 y 2020, superpuestos con datos de temperatura y precipitaciones a lo largo de 70 años.

El efecto a largo plazo del calentamiento global también es patente. Los hogares liderados por mujeres pierden un 34 por ciento más de ingresos, en comparación con los demás, cuando la temperatura media a largo plazo aumenta 1 grado Celsius.

La temperatura media mundial ya ha aumentado aproximadamente 1,2 grados Celsius desde el inicio de la era industrial.

Según el informe, las inundaciones también reducen los ingresos de los hogares liderados por mujeres más que los de otros tipos de hogares, pero en menor medida que el calor.

“A medida que estos fenómenos sean más frecuentes, también se agravarán las repercusiones en la vida de las personas”, afirma Nicholas Sitko, autor principal del informe y economista de la FAO.

En los últimos años se ha prestado cada vez más atención a los daños desproporcionados de las condiciones meteorológicas extremas, a veces agravadas por el cambio climático, en los países de renta baja que producen muchas menos emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero, por persona, que los países más ricos e industrializados.

Lo que se discute con menos frecuencia son las desigualdades dentro de los países. Las disparidades de género suelen ser las más difíciles de cuantificar.

“Las mujeres y las niñas se ven afectadas de manera desproporcionada por las catástrofes relacionadas con el clima, no solo por las disparidades socioeconómicas, sino también por las arraigadas normas culturales y la falta de acceso a los recursos y a los procesos de toma de decisiones”, afirma Ritu Bharadwaj, investigadora del Instituto Internacional de Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo, quien no participó en el informe de la FAO, pero ha estudiado los efectos del género y el clima.

En algunos lugares, las condiciones meteorológicas extremas, como el calor y la sequía, pueden hacer que mujeres y niñas tengan que recorrer distancias más largas para conseguir agua, alimentos y combustible para cocinar. En otros lugares, la disminución de los ingresos puede llevar a las familias a sacar a las niñas de la escuela antes que a los niños. Cuando los hombres emigran a las ciudades en busca de trabajo, las mujeres se quedan cuidando la tierra.

Cuando los expertos en clima hablan sobre la necesidad de adaptarse al aumento de las temperaturas y a los fenómenos meteorológicos extremos, suelen referirse a la siembra de árboles para reducir los riesgos térmicos, la plantación de manglares costeros para reducir las mareas de tempestad o el desarrollo de variedades de cultivos que sean resistentes a la sequía.

Estos esfuerzos no abordan necesariamente las disparidades sociales subyacentes que hacen que el calentamiento global sea más difícil para las personas más vulnerables de una sociedad, como los hogares rurales encabezados por mujeres que destaca el informe del martes.

Se están probando otras estrategias, aunque todavía a pequeña escala.

En algunos lugares, las organizaciones humanitarias realizan transferencias de efectivo antes de que se produzcan fenómenos meteorológicos extremos, brindando a la gente dinero que puede utilizar —antes de que se produzca la catástrofe— con el fin de prepararse mejor para resistirla. En otros lugares, los seguros se activan cuando la temperatura alcanza un determinado umbral.

El nuevo informe también hace referencia a las escuelas de campo, donde los pequeños agricultores experimentan con técnicas y cultivos adaptados al clima. Cita un experimento realizado en Mozambique, donde el aumento del número de mujeres como agentes de extensión agraria animó a más mujeres para que adoptaran nuevas técnicas agrícolas.

En Malaui, añade el informe, los programas de comidas escolares redujeron la presión de las familias para sacar a las niñas de la escuela durante las malas sequías. El acceso al capital es crucial para quien carece de títulos de propiedad de la tierra. Y cuando la agricultura no proporciona los ingresos necesarios, el acceso al cuidado infantil puede ayudar a las mujeres a encontrar trabajo en otra parte.

“Las pruebas son claras: si no se abordan los efectos desiguales del cambio climático en la población rural, se intensificará la gran brecha entre los que tienen y los que no tienen y entre hombres y mujeres”, afirma el informe.

Somini Sengupta es la reportera de clima internacional del Times. Más de Somini Sengupta

Juicio contra Juan Orlando Hernández: los hondureños siguen el caso con atención

El caso penal contra el expresidente de Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández, que se está desarrollando en el Bajo Manhattan, apenas se registra en el vertiginoso ciclo de noticias de Nueva York.

Para los hondureños, es una oportunidad inusual de lograr justicia nacional.

El juicio a Hernández en el Tribunal Federal del Distrito de Manhattan, acusado de conspiración de importación de estupefacientes, ha conmocionado al pequeño país centroamericano y a sus expatriados, y ha atraído a una muestra representativa de los 40.000 hondureños que viven en la ciudad de Nueva York, así como a otros que se encuentran fuera del estado e incluso en la propia Honduras.

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

“Llevó a nuestro país al infierno”, dijo Flavio Ulises Yuja, de 62 años, quien viajó de Honduras a Florida para pasar unas vacaciones, pero cambió de planes de manera abrupta y voló a Nueva York para asistir al juicio.

El juicio evidencia los problemas de un país asolado por la corrupción, la pobreza y la anarquía. Mientras los estadounidenses debaten sobre las deficiencias de su propia democracia y su sistema judicial, los hondureños ven en los tribunales estadounidenses una instancia para algo que no está disponible en su país: un juicio justo y una medida de justicia.

Los hondureños son una presencia cotidiana afuera del tribunal. Durante la primera semana del juicio, decenas de ellos se reunieron a pesar del frío, gritando consignas con megáfonos y marchando con banderas hondureñas y pancartas que denunciaban a Hernández. Una mujer de Brooklyn vendía sándwiches caseros de atún y pavo a 7 dólares que llevaba en una hielera.

Cada día, Hernández es trasladado a un juzgado abarrotado ante un escuadrón de reporteros hondureños que toman notas. Hernández dirigió al país por ocho años, hasta principios de 2022, cuando fue extraditado a Estados Unidos poco después de dejar el cargo.

En los numerosos juicios de alto perfil celebrados en este tribunal del Bajo Manhattan —incluidos los del expresidente Donald Trump y el de exempresario de criptomonedas Sam Bankman-Fried, quien fue condenado por fraude—, los equipos de grabación de las cadenas de televisión se reúnen en la entrada con camionetas de última generación equipadas con unidades de iluminación. En el juicio de Hernández, los reporteros han grabado los acontecimientos diarios en sus iPhone y han transmitido las noticias a través de las redes sociales.

El juicio que están cubriendo detalla una cultura de corrupción en Honduras, que permitió la entrada de enormes cantidades de cocaína en Estados Unidos. Hernández, quien ha negado haber cometido algún delito, fue acusado de dirigir un “narco-Estado” desde la capital de Honduras, Tegucigalpa, recibiendo millones de dólares de los cárteles violentos.

Es posible que Honduras sea conocida por los estadounidenses por su historia plagada de pobreza, inestabilidad política e intervención estadounidense. Eso incluye las guerras bananeras, que comenzaron a fines del siglo XIX para reforzar el poder político de las empresas fruteras, y la presencia del ejército estadounidense que en la década de 1980 fue desplegado para apoyar a la guerrilla de la Contra, que combatía a los dirigentes nicaragüenses.

En la década de 2000, los narcotraficantes que gozaban de protección política contribuyeron para convertir a Honduras en una privilegiada vía de llegada para los cargamentos de cocaína procedentes de Sudamérica, gran parte de la cual se dirigía a Estados Unidos para satisfacer su voraz apetito por la droga.

Shannon K. O’Neil, experta en América Latina del Consejo de Relaciones Exteriores, afirmó que era improbable que el juicio lograra cambiar la corrupción en Honduras de la noche a la mañana, pero un proceso judicial estadounidense podría ser disuasorio.

“Es importante que alguien poderoso comparezca ante la justicia”, dijo. “Ver cómo un presidente es confrontado y posiblemente acabe en una prisión de máxima seguridad en Estados Unidos puede tener un efecto amedrentador en otros dirigentes y élites, ya sea en Honduras o en otros países latinoamericanos”.

Muchos hondureños culpan a Hernández de impulsar el declive de su país, y cuando fue extraditado se hicieron celebraciones.

En la primera fila en el tribunal, sentadas junto a los periodistas, las hermanas Eugenia Brown, de 69 años, y Aurora Martinez, de 64, asentían con la cabeza ante las historias de asesinatos, narcotráfico y corrupción. Resoplaron durante el testimonio de que Hernández le ordenó a su jefe de policía que asesinara a rivales.

Las hermanas, migrantes hondureñas, dijeron que habían viajado desde Nueva Jersey y el Bronx para ver cómo por fin se hacía justicia.

“Es vergonzoso para Honduras, pero a la misma vez es bueno para nosotros porque queremos justicia”, dijo Brown.

Martha Rochez, de 60 años, otra migrante hondureña que ahora vive cerca, en Chinatown, salió de la corte visiblemente alterada y se apoyó contra una pared.

“Quiero verlo en la cárcel. Nos ha hecho sufrir. Hizo sufrir a mi familia”, dijo.

A unos 3200 kilómetros de distancia, en Honduras, cuya población de 10 millones de habitantes apenas supera a la de la ciudad de Nueva York, el caso causa conmoción desde la región de la costa de Mosquitos hasta Tegucigalpa. Se estima que la mitad de la población vive en la pobreza, la violencia de las bandas es endémica y el producto interno bruto per cápita del país es de solo unos 3400 dólares, frente a los 83.000 de Estados Unidos.

Suyapa Mendez, de 63 años, quien vende verduras en un mercado de Tegucigalpa, dijo que aunque el expresidente sea encontrado culpable en Estados Unidos, “el daño al país” ya estaba hecho.

Algunos residentes de la capital hacían apuestas sobre qué figuras de los mundos del crimen y el gobierno del país podrían ser llamadas a declarar. Algunos aliados políticos de Hernández calificaron el caso de venganza por su falta de cooperación con las autoridades de EE. UU. y expresaron su escepticismo ante la posibilidad de que pudiera tener un juicio justo.

Pero Mario Sierra, un carpintero de 69 años que ha seguido el juicio por televisión en su taller, dijo que los hondureños estaban “agradecidos” de su extradición y su juicio, porque en Honduras no pasaría “nada”.

La ciudad de Nueva York es aproximadamente un tercio hispana, pero los hondureños —dispersos por zonas del Bronx, Queens y Brooklyn— solo representan aproximadamente el 0,5 por ciento de la población total, una cifra que palidece en comparación con otros grupos como los puertorriqueños y los dominicanos y, en años más recientes, los mexicanos y ecuatorianos.

Décadas de corrupción, delincuencia y desempleo también han hecho que numerosos hondureños lleguen a Estados Unidos, lo que ayuda a explicar el afiche que llevaba un manifestante frente al tribunal recientemente: los narcogobiernos obligan al pueblo a emigrar.

Victor Velasquez, de 47 años, se quedó observando y fotografiando todo. Dijo que manejó toda la noche con su esposa y su hijo adolescente desde Virginia para llevar a un amigo, que también es un migrante hondureño, a una audiencia de asilo en el Bajo Manhattan.

“Son juicios que no podemos tener en nuestros países; demuestra el nivel de corrupción que tenemos ahí, que otros países deben intervenir”, dijo Velasquez, quien añadió que la corrupción del gobierno hondureño había ahuyentado a la organización sin ánimo de lucro en la que trabajaba, lo que le costó su trabajo.

Afuera, Alex Laboriel, de 41 años, de Brooklyn, calificó de difícil —incluso vergonzoso— presenciar el juicio al expresidente de su país natal.

“Es indignante, lamentable”, dijo. “Es un dolor”, añadió, que “se vive”.

“Sería mejor que esto estuviese pasando en nuestro país”, añadió.

Rommel Gómez, de 40 años, periodista de Radio Progreso, calificó el juicio como una prueba para todos los hondureños.

“No únicamente Juan Orlando Hernandez está en juicio”, dijo. “El Estado también”.

Joan Suazo colaboró con reportería desde Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Corey Kilgannon es un periodista del Times que escribe sobre la delincuencia y la justicia penal en Nueva York y sus alrededores, así como sobre noticias de última hora y otros reportajes. Más de Corey Kilgannon

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

Por qué algunos colombianos llaman a sus madres ‘sumercé’

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Cuando Altair Jaspe se mudó de Venezuela a Bogotá, la capital colombiana, le sorprendió la manera en que se dirigían a ella al entrar en cualquier tienda, cafetería o consulta médica.

Aunque ambos lugares formaron parte del Imperio español, la ciudad colombiana parecía más en sintonía con su pasado imperial. Jaspe ya no era una “señora”, como la habrían llamado en Caracas o quizá, en su juventud, “muchacha” o “chama”.

En cambio, le otorgaban un tratamiento honorífico que parecía más propio de una mujer con capa y corona: “su merced”.

¿Sumercé le gustaría un café?

¿Sumercé va a tomar la cita de las 3:00 p. m.?

Permiso, sumercé, le decía la gente con la que se cruzaba en una puerta o en un ascensor.

“Me llevó a la época colonial, automático”, dijo Jaspe, de 63 años, directora de logística jubilada, expresando su incomodidad inicial con la frase. “A la carreta, los caballos”, continuó, “a lo mejor un poco a la esclavitud”.

“Pero después de vivirlo”, continuó, “entendí”.

En la mayor parte del mundo hispanohablante, los pronombres más usados son el informal “tú” y el formal “usted”. Pero en Colombia existe una variante: “su merced”, que significa “su misericordia”, “su gracia” o incluso “su excelencia”, y que ahora se contrae como “sumercé”.

(En algunas regiones del mundo hispanohablante también se emplea el “vos”).

En Bogotá, ciudad de 8 millones de habitantes enclavada en la cordillera de los Andes, el “sumercé” es omnipresente, no solo entre taxistas y tenderos para atender a los clientes (con frases como: “¿En qué puedo ayudar a ‘sumercé’?”), sino también entre niños para referirse a sus padres o cuando los padres hablan de sus hijos (a veces con tierna ironía) e incluso entre maridos, esposas y amantes para referirse el uno al otro (“¿’Sumercé’ me pasa la sal?” o “‘Sumercé’, ¿qué dice, hoy me pongo este pantalón?”).

Lo usan jóvenes y mayores, urbanitas y campesinos. Claudia López, la última alcaldesa de Bogotá, fue captada en cámara cuando le gritó a una vendedora ambulante: “¡Trabaje juiciosa, ‘sumercé’!”, e incluso la vocalista de uno de los grupos de rock más conocidos del país, Andrea Echeverri, de Aterciopelados, suele utilizarlo.

Los españoles fundaron Bogotá en 1538 tras una brutal conquista del pueblo indígena muisca, y pronto la ciudad se convirtió en un centro de poder colonial.

“Sumercé” es, en efecto, una reliquia de esa época, y los estudiosos han documentado su uso como una muestra de cortesía en las relaciones institucionales (fue utilizado en una carta del gobernador de Cuba al conquistador Hernán Cortés en 1518); también era una señal de respeto en las familias (de un cuñado a otro en 1574); y, en particular, como un signo de servidumbre en las relaciones de los esclavos o en las comunicaciones de los siervos con sus amos.

Pero los defensores modernos del “sumercé” afirman que su popularidad actual radica en el hecho de que ha perdido esa connotación jerárquica y hoy en día significa respecto y afecto, no reverencia o una distinción de clase social.

Jaspe afirmó que con el tiempo terminó considerando al “sumercé” una expresión casual de cariño, como en “‘sumercé’, qué bonito le queda ese sombrero”.

Luego de que Colombia se independizara de los españoles a principios del siglo XIX, la expresión “sumercé” permaneció vigente en el departamento de Boyacá, una exuberante región agrícola en el centro de Colombia, al norte de Bogotá.

Jorge Velosa, un cantautor y famosa voz de Boyacá (en una ocasión se presentó en el Madison Square Garden vestido con la tradicional ruana de la región), recordó que en la casa de su infancia, “sumercé” era la manera en que él y sus hermanos se referían a su madre, y su madre a ellos.

“‘Sumercé’”, contó, servía como una especie de término medio entre el rígido “usted” —utilizado en casa solo como preámbulo a una reprimenda— y el casi demasiado informal “tú”.

Con el tiempo, “sumercé” migró al sur junto con muchos boyacenses, a Bogotá, convirtiéndose en una parte tan importante del léxico del centro de Colombia como “bacano”, “chévere”, “parce”, “paila”, “qué pena” y “dar papaya”. (Como cuando se dice: “Sumercé, no dé papaya en la calle, le van a robar”).

En mayor parte, “sumercé” sigue siendo una característica del centro de Colombia, y rara vez se utiliza en la costa del país, donde el “tú” es más común, o en ciudades como Cali (“vos”) y Medellín (“tú”, “usted” y a veces “vos”).

Pero en la capital y sus alrededores, el “sumercé” aparece estampado en gorros, broches y camisetas y está incorporado en los nombres de restaurantes y mercados. Es el título de un nuevo documental sobre activistas ambientales colombianos. Es celebrado en canciones, pódcast, y lecciones de español colombiano en Spotify y YouTube.

“En este momento no marca ninguna clase social”, afirmó Andrea Rendón, de 40 años, de Bogotá. “Todos somos ‘sumercé’”.

Un video musical estrenado recientemente, “Sumercé”, del rapero Wikama Mc, refleja el estatus folclórico y genial que la frase ha alcanzado.

En una escena de una fiesta casera que podría estar ambientada en cualquier lugar de los Andes colombianos, el artista viste una ruana mientras celebra el “flow colombiano” de la mujer objeto de su afecto, quien, se jacta, “baila carranga” —música folclórica popularizada por Velosa— y también reguetón, ritmo fiestero moderno popularizado por celebridades internacionales como J. Balvin.

“Hábleme claro ‘sumercé’”, rapea, antes de saludar cordialmente a su novia quitándose su tradicional sombrero de fieltro.

La canción ha recopilado más de 18.000 vistas desde que fue subido a YouTube en diciembre. Una cifra admirable, considerando que el artista tiene 500 seguidores en la plataforma.

Echeverri, la estrella de rock, vinculó su uso de la frase con una estética punk, la cual busca una relación “horizontal” con la gente cotidiana. (En una entrevista en video reciente, la utilizó para conectar con la presentadora del programa, cuando habló de una nueva versión de una de “esas canciones que tan pronto ‘sumercé’ las ha oído tantas veces”).

La palabra sumercé, explicó en otra entrevista, “es cariñosa, pero a la vez es respetuosa y a la vez es como cercana, pero tampoco tanto”.

Por supuesto, no todos lo perciben de esa manera. Carolina Sanín, una escritora reconocida, ha criticado a quienes alegan que “sumercé” es tan omnipresente en Colombia que debería ser aceptado, sin ninguna crítica, como norma cultural.

Incluso en una región conocida por su pronunciada desigualdad, las divisiones de clases en Colombia siguen particularmente arraigadas. Al colombiano pobre promedio le toma 11 generaciones llegar al ingreso nacional promedio, según la Organización para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo Económicos, dos más que en Brasil, tres más que en Chile y cinco más que en Argentina.

Décadas de violencia han reforzado estas barreras, permitiéndole a un pequeño grupo acumular capital y territorio. Para algunos, “sumercé” puede sentirse como una perpetuación o incluso una celebración de estas relaciones jerárquicas.

“También no pagar prestaciones sociales o la acumulación de la tierra es ‘vuestra costumbre’”, escribió Sanín en Twitter.

“Las palabras importan”, continuó. “Con las palabras se hacen los caminos a la justicia”.

Javier Guerrero-Rivera, un lingüista de Bogotá, encuestó recientemente a 40 estudiantes universitarios colombianos, y encontró que el 85 por ciento afirmó que no les molestaba el término, y sentían respeto y cariño cuando se les dirigía a ellos. Otro 10 por ciento se sentía indiferente ante la frase. Solo el 5 por ciento dijo que el término era despectivo o los incomodaba.

Juan Manuel Espinosa, subdirector del Instituto Caro y Cuervo, el cual se dedica a estudiar las particularidades del español colombiano, afirmó que creía que la división social descrita por personas como Sanín era precisamente lo que atraía a tantos colombianos hacia la palabra.

“El ‘sumercé’ es una manera de crear una conexión en una sociedad muy fragmentada”, dijo.

Jhowani Hernández, de 42 años, que opera máquinas de limpieza de oficinas, describió usar “sumercé” con su esposa, Beatriz Méndez, una ama de casa de 50 años, “cuando me saca la piedra” (expresión para denotar molestia), pero en su mayoría “para dar cariño”.

Aún así, Daniel Sánchez, un documentalista de 31 años en Bogotá, afirmó que había dejado de utilizar “sumercé” luego de que comenzó a pensar en “todo el trasfondo de la frase”, es decir, “esa cosa servil y colonialista que no es tan chévere”.

Ahora, cuando quiere transmitir respeto y cariño, utiliza un colombianismo diferente y menos cargado: “Veci”, diminutivo de “vecino”:

“Veci, no dé papaya en la calle, le van a robar”.

Simón Posada colaboró con reportería desde Bogotá.