The New York Times 2024-03-21 10:20:04

Congress Seeks to Bar Funding for U.N. Agency for Palestinians

The United States would cut off funding for the main U.N. agency that provides aid to Palestinians in Gaza under a spending agreement on track to soon become law, according to two people familiar with the plan.

The ban, part of a massive spending bill negotiated by lawmakers and the White House that is expected to clear Congress by this weekend, would create a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars for the agency, known as UNRWA. That could have disastrous consequences for Gazans, who are facing an acute hunger crisis and displacement in crowded shelters and tent encampments.

The move would also put Washington at odds with its Western allies over how to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza amid accusations that Hamas fighters have infiltrated the agency.

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The War in Gaza Has Left a Power Vacuum, and Scant Planning to Fill It

Since the start of the war in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has repeatedly spoken of the need to topple Hamas but has done little to address the power vacuum that would leave — especially after Israeli forces withdraw.

That is already apparent in Gaza City, where a deadly battle at the territory’s largest hospital complex stretched into a third day on Wednesday, after the Israeli military said the re-emergence of Hamas fighters had forced it to return to a site it first stormed in November.

The military said on Wednesday that it had killed dozens of militants in the operation at Al-Shifa Hospital and questioned or arrested hundreds of people, while Hamas has said that it caused “deaths and injuries” to Israeli forces; neither account could be independently confirmed. The crossfire has endangered displaced people seeking shelter on the grounds, along with medical teams, patients and nearby residents.

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Why Isn’t More Aid Getting to Gazans?

Even as international governments and aid agencies try to find air and sea routes for delivering food and supplies to Gaza, experts say land deliveries are still, in theory, the most efficient and cost-effective route.

But the aid getting into Gaza is not meeting the needs of an increasingly desperate and hungry population. As many as 1.1 million people could face deadly levels of hunger by mid-July, according to a new report from a global authority on food crises.

Humanitarian organizations have said that the problem is not a lack of available aid: The United Nations said it has enough food at or near Gaza’s border to feed the enclave’s 2.2 million people. Instead, humanitarian workers say they face challenges at every point in the process of delivering aid, through Israel’s security checkpoints and into an active war zone.

Here are some of the reasons why aid to Gaza has not helped people meet their basic needs so far.

The land delivery route is complex

Just two entry points into the territory are regularly operating, both in the south. Typically, aid must travel dozens of miles and make multiple stops, a process that can take three weeks.

Most of Gaza’s international aid is inventoried at warehouses near El Arish, after being flown into El Arish airport or trucked in from Port Sa’id or elsewhere in Egypt. Some aid is also delivered through a different route from Jordan.

One arrow on a map points from Port Sa’id east to El Arish airport and another arrow points toward El Arish over the Mediterranean Sea. Another arrow indicates trucks carrying aid overland to El Arish.

From El Arish, the trucks carrying aid typically undergo security checks in Rafah, Egypt, shortly before reaching the border with Gaza.

The map shifts to center the Gaza Strip, and an arrow points from El Arish to an area near Rafah crossing, on the border between Egypt and Gaza.

Still on trucks loaded in Egypt, the aid then heads toward Israeli inspection at Kerem Shalom crossing or Nitzana crossing some 25 miles southeast. The inspection process is often lengthy.

One arrow points from near Rafah crossing to Kerem Shalom crossing, and a second arrow points from near Rafah crossing to Nitzana crossing.

After clearing Israeli inspections, trucks in Nitzana might make their way to the Rafah crossing or to Kerem Shalom.

One arrow points from Nitzana crossing to Rafah crossing, and another points from Nitzana to Kerem Shalom crossing.

Those trucks unload their cargo at the crossings, where it is loaded up on different trucks and taken to storage facilities on the Gazan side. Aid is stored at a warehouse, then sometimes another, before being distributed throughout southern and central Gaza.

Arrows now point from Rafah crossing to another part of Rafah and Khan Younis.

Aid headed into northern Gaza has to pass through one of two other Israeli checkpoints. Aid agencies, citing Israeli restrictions, security issues and poor road conditions, have largely stopped deliveries to the north.

Arrows now point from Rafah crossing to the Salah Al Din and Al Rashid checkpoints in northern Gaza.

Gaza has long been reliant on humanitarian aid, as the territory has been under a yearslong blockade by Israel and Egypt. Before the war began in October, two-thirds of Gazans were supported by food assistance. Now, nearly the entire population is dependent on aid to eat.

Over the past four weeks, an average of about 140 trucks carrying food and other aid have arrived in Gaza each day, according to a database maintained by UNRWA, the U.N. agency that supports Palestinians. But the World Food Program estimates that 300 trucks of food are needed daily to begin to meet people’s basic food needs.

As of Tuesday, about 1,200 trucks were waiting at El Arish in Egypt, including more than 800 containing food supplies.

UNRWA has been responsible for a majority of aid coordination in Gaza since the war began. In January, Israel accused a dozen of the agency’s employees of being involved in the Hamas-led Oct. 7 assault on Israel. The U.N. said it fired several employees after being briefed on the allegations, which it and the United States are investigating.

Inspections have been onerous

UNRWA has said that convoluted Israeli inspections hold up aid. Trucks sit in miles-long lines at every checkpoint and are forced to start over if even one item inside is rejected.

Some aid workers have said it is not clear why a shipment might not pass inspection. Inspectors do not usually say why an item is refused, aid officials have said, and if a single one is rejected, the truck must be sent back to El Arish with its cargo and repacked.

U.N. and British officials have said that critical goods, such as water filters and scissors included in medical kits for treating children, are being rejected because they could be used for military purposes. COGAT, the Israeli unit that supervises aid deliveries into Gaza, denied this and said that only 1.5 percent of trucks are turned away.

Scott Anderson, deputy Gaza director of UNRWA, said Israel needs to improve the efficiency of its inspections by adding more scanning equipment and should extend working hours at the crossings, which close on Friday afternoon through Saturday for Sabbath.

Israel has said it is not preventing the flow of aid. Shimon Freedman, a spokesman for COGAT, said the bottlenecks are concentrated on the Gazan side of the border, after aid is inspected but before it is distributed.

Mr. Freedman said the unit has improved the efficiency of its inspections by providing more scanning equipment, adding more staff members and increasing working hours at both inspection points.

“The amount of aid that we are able to inspect is much higher than the amount that the organizations are able to distribute,” Mr. Freedman said. He added that the unit has the capability to inspect 44 trucks an hour.

Mr. Anderson, of UNRWA, rejected the idea that his agency does not have the logistical capacity to pick up or distribute as much aid as Israel is able to scan, adding that the organization has worked out many of the hurdles in its process.

But even so, he described a slew of security challenges aid convoys have faced, and extensive coordination they have required, after entering Gaza.

Destroyed roads and strained resources make distributing aid inside Gaza a challenge

Distribution can be difficult and hazardous, especially in the north. Trucks driven by contractors and U.N. staffers headed north must pass through an additional checkpoint and travel across rubble and ruined roads. Ongoing military operations also hinder the movement of aid.

Aid agencies have largely suspended deliveries in the north, and there has been little opportunity for organizations to distribute aid to people there. Instead, hungry Gazans who are willing to take the risk must travel long distances to the few trucks and air-dropped supplies that arrive.

“It’s very hard to reach all people,” said Naser Qadous, who coordinates food assistance in Gaza’s north for Anera, an aid organization. “This is why there are many people that are starving.”

In Rafah, where aid is somewhat more available, UNRWA’s distribution infrastructure is strained as more than half of Gaza’s population has sought shelter there. Some Gazans are even trading or selling their aid, and the prices have become prohibitive for most people, exacerbating the unequal distribution of food supplies.

Aid convoys are frequently beset by violence

The threats of desperate crowds and Israeli gunfire make the transfer of food to people dangerous.

More than a hundred Gazans died near a convoy on Feb. 29, after thousands massed around aid trucks. Israel said most victims were trampled by crowds, but witnesses described shooting by Israeli forces and hospital doctors said most casualties were from gunfire. At least 20 people were killed at another convoy on March 14. Gazan health officials accused Israel of a targeted attack, but the Israeli military blamed Palestinian gunmen.

UNRWA and U.S. officials have said it is extremely difficult to distribute aid without the help of police escorts, and their security is needed to protect convoys from swarms of people. Israel has struck Palestinian officers escorting U.N. aid convoys. The absence of security officers has enabled organized criminal gangs to steal aid or attack convoys, U.S. officials and Palestinians in central and northern Gaza have also said.

Israel has said that members of Hamas have been seizing aid, though U.S. and UNRWA officials have said there is no evidence for the claim. Israel has vowed to dismantle Hamas’s operations in Gaza.

After the World Food Program said its trucks encountered gunfire and looting while distributing food in northern Gaza, the organization suspended its deliveries there in late February. But Israel recently allowed the aid group to bring small amounts of aid directly through a northern border crossing: six trucks last week and an additional 18 over the weekend.

“This cannot be a one-off, but this needs to be sustained, regular and at scale to support those in need,” said Carl Skau, the World Food Program’s deputy executive director.

COGAT said it has taken measures to improve security in distribution by setting up “humanitarian corridors” and declaring daily tactical pauses for aid trucks to move through Gaza.

Air and sea efforts are ‘not going to solve the problem’

The U.S. and other countries have announced measures to provide aid by air and sea, including thousands of ready-to-eat meals and humanitarian aid packages that have been airdropped into Gaza by the United States, France, Jordan, and other countries in the region.

But aid officials and experts say that such efforts are costly and slow, emphasizing that delivering aid by trucks remains the most efficient way to distribute desperately needed food in Gaza. Sarah Schiffling, an expert in humanitarian aid supply chains and logistics at the Hanken School of Economics in Finland, described airdrops as “an absolute last resort.”

At worst, they can be deadly: Gazan authorities reported this month that at least five people were killed and several others were wounded by humanitarian aid packages that fell on them in Gaza City.

Recently announced plans by the United States and aid groups to deliver aid by installing temporary ports off the coast of Gaza have the potential to bring much more aid into the enclave. The Biden administration said its operations could bring as many as two million meals a day to Gazan residents.

The first ship organized by the nonprofit World Central Kitchen arrived in Gaza on Friday loaded with 200 tons of food, including rice, flour and canned meat — the equivalent of about 10 trucks’ worth.

Shipborne aid into Gaza is a “good step, but it’s not going to solve the problem,” said Dr. Schiffling.

Since Gaza does not have a functioning port, such an operation requires an entirely new infrastructure to efficiently offload aid from barges. And once the aid arrives on land, humanitarian groups will most likely face the same challenges they have already been contending with on the distribution side.

The only solution to increase the amount of aid that enters and is distributed in Gaza is a cease-fire, Dr. Schiffling added.

Juliette Touma, the director of communications at UNRWA, has also raised concerns that building a pier, which the United States has said it can do in about two months, would take too long, especially for northern Gazans who are severely hungry and facing starvation. According to the report on hunger in Gaza, nearly two-thirds of households in the north had nothing to eat for at least 10 days and nights over the past month.

“The people of Gaza cannot afford to wait for 30 to 60 days,” Ms. Touma said.

E.U. Finds a Way to Make Russia Pay for Weapons for Ukraine

Under tremendous pressure to come up with billions of dollars to support Ukraine’s military and backfill its members’ own dwindling arsenals, the European Union said Wednesday that it had devised a legal way to use frozen Russian assets to help arm Ukraine, just as it was considering other mechanisms to bolster its defense industries.

The developments are an important milestone, with U.S. funding for Ukraine remaining stuck in Congress and Ukraine’s defenses sagging as shortages of ammunition, artillery shells and missiles force battlefield rationing.

Though the European Union is looking at a number of different ways to find cash for defense purchases, they all face hurdles.

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Belching Volcano and Flowing Lava: Who Wants to Go to Iceland?

The Blue Lagoon resort in the south of Iceland is a scenic network of steaming azure pools surrounded by dark rocks, where tourists dip in the geothermal water, have spa treatments and enjoy what the resort advertises as “a universe of radiant well-being.”

But last week, a stream of radiant lava burst from a crater a few miles from the resort, forcing it to evacuate hundreds of guests, in yet another eruption of a volcano system in the Reykjanes Peninsula that had been dormant for 800 years.

The outbursts began in 2021, and the eruptions and earthquakes in the peninsula have destroyed some houses and forced villagers from their homes. One construction worker went missing in the town of Grindavik after falling down a crack caused by an earthquake.

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Ireland’s Prime Minister Resigns in Surprise Announcement

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s barrier-breaking leader, said on Wednesday that he would resign, days after a double referendum in which voters rejected constitutional changes his government had championed, and after years of waning public support for his political party, Fine Gael.

Mr. Varadkar, the son of an Irish nurse and a doctor who was born in Mumbai, became the country’s youngest-ever leader when he was named prime minister in 2017 at the age of 38. He was also the country’s first gay taoiseach, or Irish prime minister, and the first person of South Asian heritage to hold the position. In many ways, he personified the rapidly changing identity of the modern Irish state.

But Fine Gael, which is ruling in coalition with two other parties, has struggled in recent years, and, before local and European elections in June, polls suggest public support for the party has flatlined.

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House of Lords Stalls U.K. Bill to Send Asylum Seekers to Rwanda

Britain’s House of Lords dealt a sharp setback to the government on Wednesday, voting to amend the Conservative Party’s flagship immigration legislation and potentially delay a contentious plan to put asylum seekers on one-way flights to Rwanda.

It was an unusual display of defiance by the Lords, many of whom object to the policy on legal and constitutional grounds. While the Conservative government, with a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, can ultimately get the bill passed, the back-and-forth with the House of Lords, the unelected upper house of Parliament, could thwart the government’s hopes for a quick start to a plan it views as critical to its fortunes in an election year.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak argues that the flights to Rwanda, a small country in East Africa, would be a vital deterrent that could stem the flow of tens of thousands of people who make dangerous crossings from France to Britain each year on small, often unseaworthy boats.

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Middle East Crisis: Battle at Hospital Points to Power Vacuum in Northern Gaza

Israel’s return to Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza stretches into a third day.

Since the start of the war in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has repeatedly spoken of the need to topple Hamas but has done little to address the power vacuum left behind by withdrawing Israeli forces.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in northern Gaza, where an Israeli military raid on a major hospital complex entered a third day on Wednesday, as Israel said the re-emergence of Hamas fighters had forced it to return to a site they first stormed in November.

Since Monday, the Israeli military said, troops have engaged in deadly gun battles with militants at the complex, Al-Shifa, leaving displaced people, medical teams and nearby residents caught in the crossfire. On Wednesday, the army said that it had killed dozens of militants in the operation and questioned or arrested hundreds of people. Its account of the operation could not be independently confirmed.

Israeli military analysts say that a coherent plan for governing Gaza could take months or years to put in place, and that troops would likely have had to return to Al-Shifa in the interim. But critics of Mr. Netanyahu say that he has failed to advance even an initial realistic proposal, leaving Palestinian civilians to bear the highest cost of the disorder.

“Lives have been transformed into hell,” said Talal Okal, a political analyst from Gaza City who fled northern Gaza in October and is now in the United Arab Emirates.

“Netanyahu and his partners don’t want to answer the question of the day after the war,” he said. “Complete chaos has taken hold and the people are paying the price. But what can they do? All they can do is raise their hands and pray to God.”

Following the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, the Israeli forces launched a wide-scale invasion of northern Gaza, killing Hamas militants and causing immense civilian death and devastation. Its soldiers first raided Al-Shifa Hospital in November after accusing Hamas of using the hospital for military purposes.

That raid on Shifa revealed a stone-and-concrete tunnel shaft below the hospital. At the time, the Gaza Health Ministry said the incursion had put the hospital out of service.

Soldiers withdrew from the hospital in mid-November, but returned to the surrounding area in late January and pulled back again in February.

As Israeli forces have shifted the focus of their invasion to southern Gaza — and Mr. Netanyahu says they will soon invade the southernmost city of Rafah — the north of the enclave has been all but cut off from humanitarian aid. Lawlessness, damaged roads and attacks on convoys have led aid groups to suspend deliveries there, and the United Nations has said many of its relief missions have been blocked by Israel. Israeli officials say there are no limits on how much aid can enter Gaza.

Palestinians in the north are struggling to obtain basic services and food.

“We’re living but we’re dead,” said Rajab Tafish, 37, a resident of Gaza City. “We’re exhausted from all of this misery.”

Mr. Tafish, a telephone repairman, said he and his family could hear “terrifying” explosions and gunfire emanating from the Shifa Hospital area, where a family member had been receiving treatment but was no longer reachable.

He said his family had sent his brother to nearby schools on Wednesday in hopes of acquiring flour.

The U.N.-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification initiative said this week that 1.1 million people, half the population of Gaza, would most likely face catastrophic food insecurity and predicted an imminent rise in hunger-related deaths. In the northern areas, it said, 300,000 people faced “imminent” famine.

Twice in the past month, attempts to distribute food ended in bloodshed as Palestinians seeking aid were killed.

More than 100 people were killed in Gaza City on Feb. 29, according to local health authorities, who said Israeli troops had opened fire on a crowd that massed around aid trucks. The Israeli military acknowledged opening fire, but said most of the deaths had occurred when people stampeded or were run over by truck drivers.

Last week, at least 20 people were killed while awaiting aid at a traffic circle in northern Gaza. Gazan officials said Israeli forces had “targeted” the crowds, a claim that Israel’s military has denied.

There are few easy options for Israel in northern Gaza, analysts say.

Former Israeli security officials are split on how to address growing anarchy in the northern Gaza Strip, but many agree that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lack of a workable plan for how the enclave will be governed makes it impossible to chart a path toward a more stable future.

Mr. Netanyahu has brought forward a vague plan that calls for Israeli security control over Gaza after the war. He has also outright rejected U.S. calls for an overhauled Palestinian Authority — which now has limited governing powers in the West Bank — to govern the enclave.

But there are no simple options. Many Palestinians see the Palestinian Authority as tainted by corruption and mismanagement, and it is mistrusted by many in Mr. Netanyahu’s government. Some politicians and retired Israeli military officials have called for Israel to occupy Gaza — at least temporarily — but that is widely opposed by the international community and would put enormous limits on Palestinian freedoms. How Hamas and other factions confront an occupation would also pose a significant challenge.

Some former Israeli officials say that Mr. Netanyahu must introduce a governing body now in areas where the army has pulled out in order to block Hamas from reconstituting itself and to prevent chaos from proliferating. They argue that Israel will likely have to continue returning to parts of Gaza that it has left to fight resurgent Hamas militants in the near term, but they said that without a more comprehensive plan Israeli soldiers would be left fighting a protracted war of attrition.

“It’s a huge mistake” not to have a governing plan now, said Gen. Gadi Shamni, a retired commander of the army’s Gaza division. “It might take months or even years to create a successful alternative, but we need to start moving things in that direction.”

“We will continue doing these back and forth operations much longer than necessary,” he said.

In February, Mr. Netanyahu called for Israeli military control over Gaza and for the “administration of civilian affairs and the enforcement of public order” to be based on “local stakeholders with managerial experience.” Many experts interpreted the plan as an effort to procrastinate on serious action.

General Shamni said that Mr. Netanyahu’s stance reflected his unwillingness to let the Palestinian Authority take over governance in Gaza. His government depends on hard-line coalition partners who are opposed to the authority’s aspirations for Palestinian statehood.

“What’s most important to him is his political survival,” General Shamni said.

Other retired Israeli officials have argued that the Palestinian Authority is too weak to govern Gaza but have agreed that the status quo of leaving areas ungoverned is untenable.

Instead, Israel should fully occupy Gaza first and then try to introduce an alternative governing body, they argue. Michael Milshtein, a former Israeli military intelligence officer, said that a new Israeli military raid on Al Shifa this week, a hospital complex Israel had first stormed in November, showed the need for a bigger Israeli security presence in the north.

“People are asking: Didn’t we already clean Shifa? We very much didn’t,” Mr. Milshtein said. “If you don’t remain there, within five minutes, they come back,” he said, referring to Hamas.

The Gazan Health Ministry has condemned the Israeli raid as a “crime against health institutions,” and humanitarian organizations expressed alarm over the situation at the complex, which, along with the surrounding area, had been sheltering 30,000 patients, medical workers and displaced civilians. Witnesses described a terrifying scene during the raid.

Israel said it had detained scores of people and killed dozens of militants, while Hamas has claimed that it caused “deaths and injuries” to Israeli forces.

Fully occupying Gaza would require Israel to increase its forces in Gaza and dedicate more resources to providing services to Palestinians. It would also defy international calls on Israel, including by President Biden, not to take such action.

For Palestinians, it would mean that the Israeli military would remain in full control of Gaza’s cities and entry and exit points.

Hamas would likely suffer under such a scenario with less room to maneuver because Israeli soldiers would be able to clamp down on the group more easily, but it is likely Hamas would mount an insurgency.

Mr. Milshtein argued that extending full Israeli control over Gaza was the only way to set the stage for another entity to take over.

“We don’t need more and more limited operations in Gaza, we need to occupy the whole area, and only after that, we can build a new arrangement,” he said.

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

Blinken is in Saudi Arabia before heading to Egypt on Thursday.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, the first stop of a Mideast trip amid efforts to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas for a pause in Israel’s offensive in Gaza, the release of Israeli hostages and a flow of more humanitarian aid into the Palestinian territory.

The visit to the city of Jeddah came as the Biden administration was hoping it could convince Saudi Arabia to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, a long-term objective that the United States considers important to stabilizing the broader Middle East.

The State Department said that Mr. Blinken met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister. Mr. Blinken is scheduled to be in Egypt on Thursday to meet with the country’s “leadership” there, the department said. It did not name specific officials.

The department said separately that Mr. Blinken would be traveling to Israel, as well, for talks about efforts to secure the release of hostages held in Gaza and to “dramatically increase” humanitarian aid deliveries to the enclave. It is Mr. Blinken’s sixth trip to the region since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel set off the war in Gaza.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Israeli government. Nor were there details on whom Mr. Blinken would meet with.

Mr. Blinken told reporters in Manila on Tuesday that his discussions in the Middle East would include postwar plans for Gaza and the wider region.

He also said he would address “the right architecture for lasting regional peace,” an apparent reference to diplomacy among the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia to broker a joint agreement.

Such a pact would likely require Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians in return for its first-ever formal diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. In turn, the Saudis want the United States and Israel to support the creation of a civil nuclear program on Saudi soil, as well as greater military support from Washington.

After a period of deeply strained relations, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and President Biden found common ground earlier this year over exploring a potential deal in which Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel and establish diplomatic ties.

Many Arab governments, including Saudi Arabia, have long refused to establish a diplomatic link with Israel before the creation of a Palestinian state. Over the past decade, though, that calculus has shifted as the region’s authoritarian leaders have weighed negative public opinion toward a relationship with Israel against the economic and security benefits it could offer — and what they might obtain from the United States in return.

Framing the prospect of building ties with Israel as a way to obtain greater rights for the Palestinians could allow Prince Mohammed to limit popular backlash in his own country, where hostility toward Israel and support for the Palestinians is widespread.

Mr. Blinken’s trip comes as negotiators from Israel have joined officials from Egypt and Qatar to hold meetings in the Qatari capital, Doha, aimed at achieving a temporary cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and the release of hostages held by Palestinian militants.

The visit to Israel by Mr. Blinken will come as American and Israeli leaders are increasingly at odds over Israel’s approach to the war. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has brushed aside President Biden’s opposition to a planned ground invasion of Rafah, in southern Gaza, saying on Tuesday that his government would press ahead despite pleas for restraint from the United States and other allies.

In a phone call with Mr. Netanyahu this week, Mr. Biden argued that a ground invasion could be disastrous for those sheltering in Rafah, and that Israel had other ways of achieving its objective of defeating Hamas.

The White House is expected to host an Israeli delegation early next week to discuss Israel’s plans for the invasion, and the issue will also be on Mr. Blinken’s agenda when he is in Israel.

The State Department said that on his visit Mr. Blinken would “discuss the need to ensure the defeat of Hamas, including in Rafah, in a way that protects the civilian population, does not hinder the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and advances Israel’s overall security.”

Israel says it detained a Hamas leader during the Al-Shifa raid.

The Israeli military said Wednesday that it had detained a senior Hamas leader in Gaza who it says was involved in the 2014 kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens, a case that convulsed the nation and set off a wave of violence that led to a 50-day war.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military said that its forces had arrested Mahmoud Qawasmeh, the senior Hamas leader, during a raid on the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and transferred him to Israel for interrogation.

The Israeli military’s claims about Mr. Qawasmeh’s arrest could not be independently verified, and there was no immediate comment from Hamas.

The kidnapped Israelis — Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, both 16 — became national symbols when they disappeared near Gush Etzion in the occupied West Bank. After their bodies were discovered, a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped and killed in an apparent revenge attack, according to the Israeli authorities. Violent Palestinian protests and rocket attacks on Israel by militants in Gaza followed, all of which led to a war that killed nearly 2,200 people in the Gaza Strip and more than 70 in Israel.

Mr. Qawasmeh’s brother was sentenced to three life terms for his role as logistics commander in the abductions. Sentencing documents from the time accused Mr. Qawasmeh of helping transmit the funds for the abductions and killings. Mr. Qawasmeh, confined to Gaza, was not arrested.

A former Israeli prisoner, he had been sent back to Gaza in 2011 as part of a mass prisoner swap for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas.

The Israeli military’s statement about Mr. Qawasmeh’s arrest comes amid a diplomatic push to broker a cease-fire along with the release of hostages held by Hamas and other armed groups in the enclave. Those negotiations involve proposals for a pause in the fighting and the exchange of hostages and Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Congress seeks to bar funding for the U.N. agency for Palestinians.

The United States would cut off funding for the main U.N. agency that provides aid to Palestinians in Gaza under a spending agreement on track to soon become law, according to two people familiar with the plan.

The ban, part of a massive spending bill negotiated by lawmakers and the White House that is expected to clear Congress by this weekend, would create a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars for the agency, known as UNRWA. That could have disastrous consequences for Gazans, who are facing an acute hunger crisis and displacement in crowded shelters and tent encampments.

The suspension is planned through March 2025 and extends a pause in funding that the White House and lawmakers from both major U.S. parties supported after Israel accused at least 12 UNRWA employees in January of participating in the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel led by Hamas.

Ex-General Accused of Rights Abuses Is Declared Winner of Indonesia Election

A feared former general won last month’s presidential election in Indonesia, official results released on Wednesday showed, confirming unofficial projections.

That candidate, Prabowo Subianto, who is now Indonesia’s defense minister, garnered 58.6 percent of the vote, according to the final tally by the General Election Commission.

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Here’s What to Know About Vietnam’s Communist Government

Vietnam’s Communist Party has ruled the country for nearly half a century, often priding itself on unity and longevity. It is one of the world’s last remaining Communist dictatorships.

It has also become one of Asia’s fastest growing economies and a pivotal player in the growing U.S.-China rivalry and has been adept at balancing its interests between the two powers. In recent years, many foreign companies and investors have flocked to Vietnam, which has touted its political stability in presenting itself as an alternative to China as a manufacturing hub.

But the announcement Wednesday that President Vo Van Thuong had resigned, the second president to step down in a little over a year amid allegations of corruption, has undercut that message of stability even though the post is largely a ceremonial one. The resignation could spook investors.

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In Hong Kong, China’s Grip Can Feel Like ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’

Once one of Asia’s most high-flying cities, Hong Kong is now grappling with a deep pessimism.

The stock market is in the tank, home values have tumbled and emigration is fueling a brain drain. Some of the hottest restaurants, spas and shopping malls that local residents are flocking to are across the border, in the mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen.

“It pains me to say Hong Kong is over,” Stephen Roach, an economist and a former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia long known for his optimism about the city, wrote in a recent commentary in The Financial Times.

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Extreme Heat Wave Pushes South Sudan to Close Schools

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South Sudan has long been hit by climate change-exacerbated disasters like recurring droughts and floods. Now, extreme heat is forcing the world’s youngest nation to close its schools.

The authorities have ordered schools across the country shuttered since Monday because of a wave of excessive heat that is expected to last at least two weeks. Temperatures are forecast to reach 113 degrees Fahrenheit, far above the 90-degree highs typically experienced in the dry season from December to March.

Officials did not say how long the schools would remain closed. But the health and education ministries said in a joint statement that “any school that will be found opened during this time will have its registration withdrawn.”

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Report of Kate Privacy Breach Is Being Assessed by U.K. Authorities

The British authorities said on Wednesday that they were investigating after a report that an employee had tried to obtain the private medical records of Catherine, Princess of Wales, at the London hospital where she underwent abdominal surgery in January.

The hospital, the London Clinic, a private institution with an elite clientele, has opened an investigation of the alleged breach, according to The Daily Mirror, a British tabloid, which first reported the matter on Tuesday evening.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office, which oversees data protection issues in Britain, said on Wednesday, “We can confirm that we have received a breach report and are assessing the information provided.”

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Snakes in the Grass — and Under the Piano, by the Pool and in the Prison

Natasha Frost spent two days trailing snake catchers on the Sunshine Coast, Australia.

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The phone rings. It’s the local prison. There’s a snake in a cell. Within a few hours, snakes have also been spotted at a school, beneath a piano stored in a private garage and near a lagoon-like swimming pool at a retirement home. Customers want them gone.

Business has never been so good for Stuart McKenzie, who runs a snake-catching service in the Sunshine Coast, a verdant enclave along miles of pristine beach in the vast Australian state of Queensland. On the busiest days, he can receive more than 35 calls about troublesome snakes.

Queensland is home to the largest number of snake species in Australia — about 120. Of those, two-thirds are venomous and a handful are deadly. Throughout Australia, fatalities from snake bites remain extremely rare — about two a year — and in Queensland, the reptiles are simply a part of life.

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

Reporting from Belmopan, Belize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where Hostage Families and Supporters Gather, for Solace and Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An American Who Has Helped Clear 815,000 Bombs From Vietnam

On a visit to the former battlefield of Khe Sanh, scene of one of the bloodiest standoffs of the Vietnam War, the only people Chuck Searcy encountered on the broad, barren field were two young boys who led him to an unexploded rocket lying by a ditch.

One of the youngsters reached out to give the bomb a kick until Mr. Searcy cried out, “No, Stop!”

“It was my first encounter with unexploded ordnance,” Mr. Searcy said of that moment in 1992. “I had no idea that I would be dedicating my life to removing them.”

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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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‘Get Ready to Scream’: How to Be a Baseball Fan in South Korea

In the United States, many Major League Baseball games feature long periods of calm, punctuated by cheering when there’s action on the field or the stadium organ plays a catchy tune.

But in South Korea, a baseball game is a sustained sensory overload. Each player has a fight song, and cheering squads — including drummers and dancers who stand on platforms near the dugouts facing the spectators — ensure that there is near-constant chanting. Imagine being at a ballpark where every player, even a rookie, gets the star treatment.

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Canadian Skaters Demand Bronze Medals in Olympics Dispute

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

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

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

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

Reporting from Mexico City and León, Mexico

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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La falta de agua agravó el incendio forestal más letal de Chile, según denuncias

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A medida que un incendio forestal arrasó con rapidez las ciudades de Viña del Mar y Quilpué en la costa del Pacífico de Chile el mes pasado, las llamas rodearon a los residentes en la calle, destruyeron casas y sobrepasaron la red de servicios públicos. Se cortó la electricidad, se interrumpieron las comunicaciones y no llegó el agua necesaria para una línea de defensa crítica: los hidrantes.

En este reportaje en video, varios bomberos y residentes de Quilpué y Viña del Mar dijeron a los reporteros de The New York Times que la escasez de agua obstaculizó los esfuerzos para salvar casas y detener el avance del fuego, lo que los obligó a tener que salir de algunos sectores de ambas ciudades.

El incendio forestal —el más mortífero de la historia de Chile, con 134 muertos y miles de casas destruidas— ardió fuera de control casi desde el principio, impulsado por unas condiciones climáticas extremas, fuertes vientos y árboles inflamables.

Según los bomberos y los residentes, la falta de agua empeoró las cosas.

Chile, un país inmerso en una prolongada sequía, se enfrenta a continuos problemas de abastecimiento de agua para combatir los incendios forestales en zonas urbanas.

En la región de Valparaíso, que incluye Viña del Mar y Quilpué, los expertos en incendios forestales afirman que el desarrollo desordenado ha hecho que las ciudades y pueblos sean especialmente vulnerables a los incendios forestales.

“Es un problema de oferta y demanda”, dijo Miguel Castillo, profesor del Laboratorio de Incendios Forestales de la Universidad de Chile, quien trabaja con las ciudades en medidas de prevención de incendios forestales.

“Esta agua muchas veces no está disponible para el combate”, dijo y agregó que el problema había persistido durante años en la región. “Ese problema ahora aumentó”.

Esval, la empresa privada que suministra agua a la región de Valparaíso, negó que hubieran problemas con los hidrantes en la zona del incendio y afirmó que el sistema local de agua trabajó a plena capacidad.

Mientras el fuego hacía estragos, Esval dijo que había reducido el suministro de agua fuera de la zona del incendio para reforzar la presión del sistema.

Daniel Garín, un funcionario con experiencia, quien ha trabajado durante 13 años en el cuerpo de bomberos de Quilpué, le dijo al Times que los problemas de presión del agua y los hidrantes fuera de servicio ya existían antes del incendio de febrero.

A principios de enero, después de que un supermercado se incendiara en Viña del Mar, el jefe de bomberos de la ciudad, Patricio Brito, declaró a una estación de televisión local que no había agua en los hidrantes, diciendo: “La verdad es que el agua en este sector es nulo, nulo”.

Un diputado local, Andrés Celis Montt, dijo que era necesario investigar y solucionar el “grave problema” con los hidrantes antes de la temporada alta de incendios forestales, que en Chile suele durar hasta abril.

El 2 de febrero, en el barrio El Olivar de Viña del Mar, Yanet Alarcón dijo que vio con impotencia cómo el fuego se acercaba y la manguera de agua que estaba usando para rociar su casa de dos pisos se secó. Tuvo que huir, y su casa fue consumida por el fuego.

“Cuando yo pasé todavía había una llama aquí. Había llamas adentro, de hecho focos de llamas dentro”, dijo Alarcón entre lágrimas.

En Quilpué, Mauricio Miranda dijo que los bomberos no habían podido encontrar agua en los hidrantes cercanos y se quedaron detenidos esperando a que llegaran suministros mientras su casa ardía.

“Cuando llegamos después del incendio, la casa estaba consumida y no había nada de agua dentro. Eso significaba que los bomberos no tiraron agua”, dijo.

Miranda y una decena de familias del barrio de Canal Chacao dijeron que tenían previsto reunirse con Esval para solicitar una indemnización, alegando que el hecho de que la empresa no suministrara suficiente agua a los hidrantes provocó la destrucción de sus hogares.

Arijeta Lajka y Kristen Williamson colaboraron con este reportaje.

Brent McDonald es corresponsal sénior de video para el Times en Washington. Produce cortos documentales, reportajes en video e investigaciones visuales. Más de Brent McDonald

Serpientes sobre el césped… bajo el piano, por la alberca y en prisión

Natasha Frost pasó dos días siguiendo a cazadores de serpientes en Sunshine Coast, Australia.

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Suena el teléfono. Es la prisión local. Hay una serpiente en una celda. Al cabo de pocas horas, también se han visto serpientes en una escuela, debajo de un piano guardado en un garaje privado y cerca de una piscina parecida a una laguna en una residencia de ancianos. Los clientes no quieren tenerlas.

Los negocios nunca le habían ido tan bien a Stuart McKenzie, quien dirige un servicio de captura de serpientes en Sunshine Coast, un frondoso enclave a lo largo de kilómetros de playa virgen en el vasto estado australiano de Queensland. En los días más ajetreados puede recibir más de 35 llamadas relacionadas con serpientes problemáticas.

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Queensland alberga el mayor número de especies de serpientes de Australia: unas 120. De ellas, dos tercios son venenosas y unas pocas son mortales. En toda Australia, las muertes por mordedura de serpiente siguen siendo muy poco frecuentes —unas dos al año— y se puede decir que en Queensland los reptiles son parte de la vida.

En los meses más fríos del año —que suelen ser de abril a septiembre— las serpientes se vuelven perezosas y pueden pasar semanas sin comer, beber, defecar o incluso moverse. Pero a medida que el mundo se calienta y el clima en el sur de Queensland cambia de subtropical a tropical, este periodo de aletargamiento se reduce, lo que produce más encuentros inesperados entre humanos y animales.

“Las serpientes no solo son más activas a principios de año y permanecen activas durante más tiempo, sino que también van a mantenerse activas durante más tiempo por la noche”, dijo Bryan Fry, profesor de biología de la Universidad de Queensland. Y agregó que en las noches con temperaturas superiores a 28 o 29 grados Celsius, o 82 grados Fahrenheit, las serpientes permanecerán activas toda la noche.

McKenzie, de 35 años, trabaja en Sunshine Coast Snake Catchers las 24 horas de lunes a domingo y dice que sus vacaciones de invierno cada vez son más cortas.

En un trabajo reciente, una serpiente parda de 1,2 metros —la segunda especie de serpiente más venenosa del mundo, a pesar de su discreto nombre— estaba atrapada entre un mosquitero y una ventana y había que sacarla. Mucho más sencillo fue retirar una pitón de alfombra no venenosa, cuyo cuerpo de un intrincado diseño de espirales y remolinos estaba enroscado en el fondo de un cobertizo. (Las tarifas por retirar serpientes van desde 154 dólares australianos, unos 100 dólares estadounidenses).

Los cazadores de serpientes viajan ligeros. En un día de trabajo habitual, sus herramientas se limitan a un gancho de metal, que se usa para sacar con cuidado a una serpiente de debajo de un mueble o empujarla a su sitio, y una gran bolsa de algodón en la que se colocan a estos reptiles. En todos los casos, el objetivo es dañar o molestar lo menos posible a la serpiente y llevarla a un lugar donde sea menos probable que se meta en problemas.

Se estima que la población de Sunshine Coast aumentará más de un 50 por ciento hasta alcanzar el medio millón de habitantes en los 25 años que faltan hasta 2041, por lo que la deforestación está ocurriendo a gran velocidad. Se construyen más viviendas y muchas serpientes que antes vivían en territorios de matorrales nativos están encontrando refugio —y una fuente fiable de comida y agua— en casas destinadas a los humanos.

La mayoría de los encuentros se producen sin incidentes. Pero McKenzie afirma que el miedo y la desinformación siguen proliferando, así como la percepción persistente entre las generaciones más antiguas de australianos de que “la única serpiente buena es la serpiente muerta”.

McKenzie puede atrapar reptiles muy venenosos con las manos y despliega una fluidez propia de un bailarín de ballet. Pero también debe ser así ágil para manejar a los humanos. A veces, los clientes tienen un miedo incontrolable a las serpientes y si los transeúntes lo ven liberar un ejemplar sano en la naturaleza después de haberlo sacado de una casa, pueden responder con miedo, rabia o lágrimas.

Al igual que los canguros, los koalas y otros animales silvestres de Australia, las serpientes están protegidas por la ley y desempeñan un papel fundamental en el ecosistema al mantener a raya las plagas. Unos investigadores de la Universidad Macquarie descubrieron que, al comerse ratones y ratas, los beneficios de las serpientes para los agricultores compensan con creces el posible costo de tener una criatura venenosa en el lugar.

Por cada serpiente que se puede meter sin mayor problema en una bolsa y reubicar en un sitio lejano, hay muchas más que desaparecen antes incluso de que llegue un cazador de serpientes. En uno de esos trabajos infructuosos, McKenzie se adentró entre unos arbustos cerca de una residencia de ancianos, apartando el follaje a un lado y mirando hacia el interior de un baño junto a la alberca. El sol pegaba fuerte y levantó un brazo para secarse la frente.

“Otro día largo y sudoroso”, dijo, “persiguiendo serpientes muy venenosas”.

Las serpientes enfermas reciben cuidados en el cercano zoológico de Australia, fundado por el conservacionista Steve Irwin. Un jueves reciente, McKenzie llevó a la clínica tres pitones heridas. Dos aceptaron ser examinadas con relativa elegancia, pero la tercera se revolvió por el suelo y movió la cabeza como si quisiera morder la rodilla izquierda de McKenzie, quien le sujetaba la cola con la mano.

“Es una gruñona”, dijo Katie Whittle, la veterinaria.

En el video de abajo, una pitón liberada trepando un árbol. Como la deforestación se acelera en la zona, muchas serpientes encuentran refugio en las casas de las personas.

McKenzie, quien lleva siete años en su puesto actual, antes trabajaba como cuidador de reptiles en el zoológico de Australia. Desde niño ha tenido como mascotas lagartos de lengua azul, pero al principio era cauteloso con las serpientes y tenía poco interés en manipularlas. No fue sino hasta que trabajó con ellas todos los días en el zoológico, que pensó: “Caray, estas cosas son bastante interesantes”.

Natasha Frost escribe el boletín del Times The Europe Morning Briefing e informa sobre Australia, Nueva Zelanda y el Pacífico. Reside en Melbourne, Australia.

‘Es un estilo de vida’: las mujeres dejan su huella en el ejército ucraniano

Durante dos semanas, Nicole Tung pasó tiempo con mujeres que servían en el ejército ucraniano en el este del país.

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En el frente, a las afueras de Bajmut, Ucrania, una comandante de 32 años de un pelotón de artillería del país se balanceaba de un lado a otro en el asiento del copiloto de un Lada destartalado, mientras otro soldado conducía el auto a través de un denso bosque, derribando a veces árboles jóvenes. Cuando llegaron a su destino, un pequeño pueblo situado a poco menos de 3 kilómetros del frente ruso, solo quedaban casas destruidas, con los tejados destrozados visibles a la luz de la luna.

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La comandante, una mujer soldado cuyo nombre en clave es Witch, solía ser una abogada que, junto a dos de sus hermanos y su madre, se enlistó en el ejército al día siguiente de la invasión rusa en febrero de 2022. Su primera experiencia en combate fue en las afueras de Kiev ese año y gran parte de lo que ha aprendido sobre sistemas de armas desde entonces ha sido de manera autodidacta y sobre la marcha.

Desde principios de 2023, Witch ha estado con su pelotón en la Brigada 241 en la zona alrededor de Bajmut, supervisando todos los sistemas de artillería. Está decidida a seguir en el ejército aunque termine la guerra. “La gente que quiere unirse a las fuerzas armadas debe entender que es un estilo de vida”, dijo.

A medida que Ucrania lucha contra los feroces ataques rusos y sus pérdidas aumentan, el número de mujeres que se unen a las fuerzas armadas ha incrementado y cada vez son más las que se presentan como voluntarias para desempeñar funciones de combate. El ejército ucraniano también ha emprendido una labor concertada para reclutar a más mujeres y así llenar sus filas.

En este momento, alrededor de 65.000 mujeres prestan servicio en las fuerzas armadas ucranianas, lo que representa un aumento del 30 por ciento desde el comienzo de la guerra. Unas 45.000 son militares y el resto ocupan puestos civiles, según el Ministerio de Defensa. Un poco más de 4000 están en puestos de combate.

A diferencia de lo que ocurre con los hombres ucranianos, no existe un servicio militar obligatorio para las mujeres; sin embargo, las que estudian medicina o farmacéutica deben registrarse para prestar servicio militar.

Estas mujeres ocupan un número cada vez mayor de puestos en el ejército: médicos de combate en unidades de asalto; artilleras superiores; francotiradoras; comandantes de unidades de tanques y brigadas de artillería y al menos una copiloto en un equipo de evacuación médica que sueña con convertirse en la primera piloto de helicópteros de combate de Ucrania. Decenas de ellas han sido heridas en combate, algunas han muerto o han sido capturadas.

A lo largo del frente de batalla, operan bajo el mismo manto de miedo y penurias que los soldados varones. En el húmedo fuerte donde Witch y uno de sus equipos de morteros pasaban la mayor parte del día, esperaban casi a oscuras en el sótano. Encender las luces significaría que la cuadrilla no podría ajustar la vista a la oscuridad con rapidez si tuviesen que salir a abrir fuego.

Más al norte, una comandante con el nombre en clave Tesla, antes cantante folclórica ucraniana, estaba sentada encorvada en un taburete en la casa vacía que servía de cuartel general de la Brigada Mecanizada 32. Las fuerzas rusas de la región de Kúpiansk lanzaban descargas de artillería sobre las líneas ucranianas.

Tesla enviaba mensajes de texto y notas de voz a los soldados de su unidad mientras hablaba con el segundo al mando sobre el plan de batalla. Llevaba los pantalones arremangados, lo que dejaba ver unos calcetines naranja neón con caricaturas de aguacates.

Trataba de redirigir el fuego ruso sobre otro batallón hacia la posición de sus propios soldados, para que la otra unidad pudiera evacuar a un camarada gravemente herido. “Tres torniquetes en tres extremidades”, llegó la información en un mensaje de voz, dijo Tesla.

“Envíen uno más”, ordenó Tesla con un mensaje de voz, dando la orden a sus soldados de disparar de nuevo. “Cuando terminen, infórmenme”.

Hasta 2018, las mujeres tenían prohibido ocupar puestos de combate en el ejército ucraniano, aunque algunas hacían caso omiso de las normas. Las restricciones se han moderado desde la invasión rusa. El reclutamiento de miles de mujeres más en el ejército se ha visto como un paso en buena dirección del país, cuyas candidaturas para unirse a la OTAN y la Unión Europea aún están en revisión.

El inconveniente es que el ejército no ha sido capaz de adaptarse con la suficiente rapidez para darles cabida. Las soldados afirman que sigue habiendo una gran escasez de uniformes y botas para mujeres, chalecos antibalas correctamente ajustados y productos de higiene femenina. Esto las obliga a adquirir muchos artículos por su cuenta.

Por ello, organizaciones como Veteranka y Zemliachky han contribuido a subsanar esta brecha mediante la recaudación de fondos para proporcionar artículos adaptados a las mujeres.

Pero los problemas van más allá, hacia cuestiones de desigualdad y discriminación por razón de género.

Muchas mujeres que prestan servicio en funciones de combate afirmaron que los soldados varones y sus superiores directos en gran medida no discriminan por razón de género, aunque siguen existiendo insinuaciones sexuales y comentarios inapropiados.

En cambio, son los mandos superiores, a menudo remanentes de la era soviética, quienes subestiman a las mujeres en el ejército, en especial en funciones de combate. En algunos casos, las mujeres optan por alistarse en brigadas de nueva creación con mandos más jóvenes y dinámicos.

“No quise unirme a una brigada creada hace muchos años porque sabía que no me harían caso como joven oficial y como mujer”, afirmó Tesla.

En una ocasión, un comandante de brigada estaba tan indignado con una mujer al mando de una tropa de artillería que la atacó de manera directa. “Te arrastrarás de rodillas hasta mí y suplicarás para irte cuando te des cuenta de que el trabajo es demasiado difícil y no te permitiré abandonar tu puesto”, recordó que le dijo, solicitando el anonimato para hablar con franqueza sobre un tema delicado.

También han surgido denuncias de acoso sexual. Según algunas mujeres, no ha habido canales oficiales para denunciar el acoso excepto los comandantes de batallón, que luego tienen que decidir si dan curso a la denuncia. En algunos casos, según las soldados, los testigos pueden negarse a declarar por miedo a las repercusiones.

Las soldados afirman que estos impedimentos, así como la posibilidad de perjudicar sus carreras militares, disuaden a las mujeres de denunciar el acoso.

Diana Davitian, vocera del Ministerio de Defensa, dijo que el 1 de enero el ejército puso en marcha una línea directa donde los soldados pueden denunciar el acoso sexual. Las denuncias se investigarán, dijo, y se tomarán medidas si las acusaciones resultan ser ciertas.

El ministerio también declaró que planeaba crear una unidad aparte dedicada a garantizar la igualdad de género y ofrecer programas educativos, incluido uno centrado en la lucha contra la violencia sexual relacionada con la guerra.

De vuelta al sótano, Witch recibió una llamada del puesto de mando: era hora de disparar. El equipo se apresuró a salir a un patio semicubierto situado a pocos metros, donde había un cañón de mortero preparado.

Se hizo el silencio mientras Kuzya, de 20 años, artillera principal del pelotón de morteros, observaba por la mirilla y leía las coordenadas en su teléfono. “¡Fuego!”, gritó alguien. Se dispararon varias ráfagas más antes de que el equipo volviera al sótano, a la espera de un posible regreso de los rusos.

Apenas unos meses antes, el novio de Kuzya murió en combate. Ella y Witch, quien tiene un hijo de 7 años al que vio pocas veces el año pasado, parecían encontrar consuelo en su mutua compañía. Las dos mujeres entrenaban en el mismo club de judo de Kiev, la capital, y al día siguiente de la invasión fueron juntas a la oficina de registro para enlistarse.

Para muchas mujeres, la guerra y el deseo de estar en combate es algo para lo que se han preparado durante años. Foxy, de 24 años, una exbarista convertida en artillera y médica, se ofreció como voluntaria para hacer redes de camuflaje después de la escuela durante toda su adolescencia, antes de trabajar con veteranos heridos. El año pasado, se enlistó en el ejército tras semanas de entrenamiento.

Su comandante anterior le dio dos opciones: “Eres mujer. Puedes trabajar con documentos o cocinar ‘borsch’”, recordó Foxy. “No tuve otra opción que hacerme cargo del papeleo hasta que me cambié de batallón”.

Entonces, pasó a formar parte de un equipo de morteros en algunos de los combates más intensos del frente en Bajmut, donde su equipo la trató como a una igual. “Aunque al principio me enfrenté a cierto grado de sexismo”, dijo, “siento que no necesito demostrar nada ni convencer a nadie de lo que puedo hacer”.

Evelina Riabenko colaboró con la reportería.

Por qué cambió todo en Haití: las bandas criminales se unieron

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

Incluso cuando las bandas delictivas aterrorizaban a Haití, secuestraban civiles en masa y mataban a discreción, el primer ministro del país se aferró al poder durante años.

Luego, en cuestión de días, todo cambió.

En medio de una agitación política inédita desde el asesinato del presidente del país en 2021, el primer ministro de Haití, Ariel Henry, aceptó renunciar. Ahora, los países vecinos se apresuran a crear un consejo de transición para dirigir el país y trazar el camino hacia las elecciones, que antes parecían una posibilidad lejana.

Según los expertos, este momento es distinto debido a que las pandillas se unieron, obligando al líder del país a renunciar al poder.

“El primer ministro Ariel no dimitió por política, ni por las manifestaciones callejeras masivas en su contra a lo largo de los años, sino por la violencia que han ejercido las bandas”, dijo Judes Jonathas, un consultor haitiano que ha trabajado durante años en el suministro de ayuda humanitaria. “Ahora, la situación ha cambiado totalmente, porque ahora las bandas trabajan juntas”.

No está claro cuán sólida es la alianza, ni si va a durar. Lo que es evidente es que las bandas delictivas están tratando de capitalizar su control de Puerto Príncipe, la capital, para convertirse en una fuerza política legítima en las negociaciones en las que están mediando gobiernos extranjeros, entre ellos Estados Unidos, Francia y países del Caribe.

A principios de marzo, Henry viajó a Nairobi a fin de ultimar un acuerdo para el despliegue en Haití de una fuerza de seguridad dirigida por Kenia. Los grupos delictivos aprovecharon la ausencia de Henry, que es muy impopular. En pocos días, las pandillas cerraron el aeropuerto, saquearon puertos marítimos, atacaron una decena de comisarías de policía y liberaron a unos 4600 presos.

Exigieron la renuncia de Henry, amenazando con agravar la violencia si se negaba. Según los analistas, desde que aceptó dimitir, las pandillas parecen centrarse principalmente en obtener inmunidad penal y evitar ir a la cárcel.

“Su mayor objetivo es la amnistía”, afirmó Jonathas.

El aliado político más destacado de los delincuentes es Guy Philippe, antiguo comandante de policía y líder golpista que cumplió seis años en una prisión federal estadounidense por lavado de dinero procedente del narcotráfico antes de ser deportado a Haití a finales del año pasado. Philippe ha liderado las presiones para que Henry dimita.

Ahora pide abiertamente que se otorgue amnistía a las bandas.

“Tenemos que decirles: ‘Dejen las armas o van a tener que enfrentarse a graves consecuencias’”, dijo Philippe a The New York Times en una entrevista en enero, refiriéndose a las pandillas. “Si dejan las armas, van a tener una segunda oportunidad. Tendrán una especie de amnistía”.

Philippe no forma parte del consejo de transición designado para dirigir Haití. Pero está utilizando sus conexiones con el partido político Pitit Desalin para llevar esas demandas a la mesa de negociaciones en Jamaica, donde funcionarios caribeños e internacionales se reúnen para forjar una solución a la crisis en Haití, según tres personas familiarizadas con las discusiones.

Lo más probable es que la decisión de los líderes de las bandas de unirse estuviera motivada por el deseo de consolidar su poder después de que Henry firmó el acuerdo con Kenia para llevar 1000 agentes de policía a Puerto Príncipe, según William O’Neill, experto de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas en derechos humanos en Haití.

Muchos miembros de pandillas en Haití son adolescentes, dijo, que buscan que se les pague pero que probablemente tienen poco interés en entrar en una guerra con una fuerza policial bien armada.

Las bandas respetan “el miedo y la fuerza”, dijo O’Neill. “Temen a una fuerza más fuerte que ellos”.

Aunque muchos dudan de que la fuerza keniana aporte una estabilidad duradera, su llegada representaría el mayor desafío al control territorial de las pandillas en años.

“Las bandas llevan años oyendo hablar de esta fuerza dirigida por Kenia”, dijo Louis-Henri Mars, director ejecutivo de Lakou Lapè, una organización que trabaja con pandillas haitianas. “Entonces vieron que por fin llegaba, así que lanzaron un ataque preventivo”.

La violencia desatada por las bandas cerró gran parte de la capital e impidió que Henry pudiera regresar a su país.

Este fue el punto de inflexión: Estados Unidos y los líderes caribeños consideraron que la situación de Haití era “insostenible”. Las autoridades estadounidenses llegaron a la conclusión de que Henry ya no era un socio viable y redoblaron sus llamados para que avanzara rápidamente hacia una transición de poder, según afirmaron funcionarios implicados en las negociaciones políticas.

Desde entonces, los líderes de las pandillas han estado hablando con periodistas, celebrando conferencias de prensa, prometiendo la paz y exigiendo un asiento en la mesa.

Jimmy Chérizier, un poderoso líder de la banda también conocido como Barbecue, se ha convertido en uno de los rostros más conocidos de la nueva alianza de bandas, conocida como Living Together.

La G-9, la banda de Chérizier, un exagente de policía conocido por su crueldad, controla el centro de Puerto Príncipe y ha sido acusada de atacar barrios aliados con partidos políticos de la oposición, saquear casas, violar mujeres y matar gente al azar.

Sin embargo, en sus conferencias de prensa, Chérizier ha pedido disculpas por la violencia y ha culpado a los sistemas económico y político de Haití de la miseria y la desigualdad del país. Philippe se ha hecho eco de este pensamiento.

“Esas chicas jóvenes, esos chicos jóvenes, no tienen otra oportunidad: morir de hambre o tomar las armas”, dijo Philippe al Times. “Eligieron tomar las armas”.

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

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

Frances Robles es una reportera de investigación que cubre Estados Unidos y América Latina. Es periodista desde hace más de 30 años. Más de Frances Robles

Los objetivos contradictorios de Brasil: ser potencia ecológica y petrolera

Desde la ventana de su oficina, el director de la petrolera estatal de Brasil observaba el paisaje abarrotado de Río de Janeiro. Del otro lado de los desgastados rascacielos de la ciudad, la estatua del Cristo Redentor también fijaba su mirada en él. Un grupo de halcones revoloteaba en círculos sobre un enorme montón de basura. Unas columnas de humo se desprendían de una hoguera en una favela situada en una colina.

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

Su empresa, Petrobras, planea un aumento tan acelerado en la producción petrolera que Brasil podría convertirse en el tercer mayor productor del mundo para 2030, una transformación que, en su opinión, podría contribuir a reducir la pobreza evidente frente a sus ojos. Su país tiene este plan a pesar de que se ha posicionado como uno de los líderes en el combate contra el cambio climático, un fenómeno que, por supuesto, se debe principalmente a la quema de petróleo y otros combustibles fósiles.

Petrobras ya extrae casi la misma cantidad de petróleo crudo al año que ExxonMobil, según Rystad Energy, una firma de investigación de mercados. En los próximos años, de acuerdo con las proyecciones, rebasará a las petroleras nacionales de China, Rusia y Kuwait, con lo que solo las de Arabia Saudita e Irán extraerán más que Petrobras para 2030.

Se trata de un dilema colosal para el presidente brasileño, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, mejor conocido como Lula, quien se ha forjado una imagen como el líder mundial más notable en temas ambientales. Según el consenso general, Lula se ha convencido en años recientes de que el cambio climático es un factor importante que genera pobreza y desigualdad, situaciones que ha prometido erradicar a lo largo de su carrera política de varias décadas.

Desde que fue electo en 2022, Lula ha logrado reducir drásticamente la desforestación en la Amazonía y ha liderado un desarrollo considerable de las energías renovables. Pero también dirigirá el auge petrolero de Petrobras y un periodo de crecientes importaciones de gas, con lo que podría lograr que Brasil satisfaga su creciente ambición de tener vuelos más baratos, dietas más sustanciosas y hogares con aire acondicionado.

Por más contradictorio que parezca, es lo justo, señaló Jean Paul Prates, director ejecutivo de Petrobras, desde las relucientes oficinas centrales de su empresa que le ofrecen una vista panorámica.

“No renunciaremos a esa prerrogativa”, afirmó, “porque otros no están haciendo ningún sacrificio”.

Este es un argumento que preocupa a quienes encabezan proyectos globales con el objetivo de reducir la dependencia de combustibles fósiles. Los países industrializados como Estados Unidos, que se convirtieron en superpotencias económicas gracias a actividades que emitían cantidades gigantescas de gases de efecto invernadero, todavía son los mayores productores per cápita y consumidores de combustibles fósiles.

Y si ellos no paran, ¿por qué debería hacerlo Brasil?

La principal asesora de Lula en temas de cambio climático, Ana Toni, que cuenta con una larga trayectoria al frente de distintas organizaciones sin fines de lucro, indicó que, en el caso ideal, Petrobras debería reducir su producción de petróleo e invertir mucho más en opciones renovables, lo que, de hecho, la transformaría en un nuevo tipo de empresa. Sin embargo, concordó con Prates y subrayó que, en tanto no se consiga que todo el mundo colabore para lograr la misma meta y los países más ricos lideren esas acciones, los países en desarrollo se seguirán oponiendo a hacer sacrificios.

Durante años, esa tensión ha dominado las negociaciones en el tema del cambio climático y volverá a ser uno de los temas centrales en la cumbre de noviembre de este año patrocinada por las Naciones Unidas en Azerbaiyán. En esa reunión, los negociadores de casi todas las naciones del mundo esperan abordar el espinoso tema de qué podrían hacer los países más ricos para hacerles llegar más dinero a los países más pobres y así ayudarlos a adoptar fuentes de energía más limpias y adaptarse a los efectos del cambio climático.

Después de Azerbaiyán, el próximo anfitrión de la cumbre del clima de las Naciones Unidas será Brasil. Esa cumbre se celebrará en Belém, una ciudad que colinda con la Amazonía, cerca de un lugar donde Petrobras propuso realizar exploraciones petroleras. Pero en una de las contadas instancias en las que el gobierno de Brasil le ha puesto límites a la industria petrolera, la idea fue bloqueada. Prates comentó que Petrobras está apelando la decisión.

Entre tanto, Petrobras planea invertir más de 7000 millones de dólares en los siguientes cinco años para explorar posibles sitios de perforación marítimos en otros tramos costeros de Brasil con el fin de aumentar su producción, que ya va en ascenso.

Según las proyecciones internas de Petrobras, al igual que las de muchas otras empresas petroleras y de gas, la demanda de sus productos se mantendrá firme a niveles altos. Por lo tanto, la empresa opera con base en un conjunto de hipótesis muy distinto al de la Agencia Internacional de Energía y otras que insisten en que la demanda de petróleo ya alcanzó su punto más alto o está a punto de hacerlo.

Eso deja a países como Brasil en una especie de área gris en la que se hace todo, aseveró Mercedes Bustamante, profesora y ecóloga de la Universidad de Brasilia e integrante del grupo independiente de científicos llamado Climate Crisis Advisory Group.

Brasil trabaja para desarrollar tanto las energías renovables como los combustibles fósiles. Este año se incorporó como observador a la OPEP, la organización petrolera global, con todo y que el año próximo planea ser anfitrión de las negociaciones globales para el clima de las Naciones Unidas. Para 2030, la nación será la quinta mayor productora de petróleo del mundo, según los datos de Rystad.

Esta dinámica también se refleja en los bosques, señaló Bustamante. Se restringió la conversión a tierra agrícola en la Amazonía, pero al mismo tiempo va en aumento en el Cerrado, una amplia sabana que cubre la mayor parte del centro de Brasil.

“Tener ambas cosas forma parte del ADN de las políticas de Brasil”, explicó Oliver Stuenkel, profesor de la Escuela de Relaciones Internacionales de la Fundación Getulio Vargas en Sao Paulo. “Vamos a ser una superpotencia ecológica, claro, pero no vamos a aceptar riesgos innecesarios. Eso implica que debemos prepararnos para un mundo en el que el petróleo desempeñe un papel importante por mucho tiempo y la transición tarde más de lo esperado”.

Prates indicó que habla con Lula cada dos semanas y ha tratado de convencerlo de que una transición hacia la eliminación de los combustibles fósiles debe ser “juiciosamente lenta”.

“Es decir, no debe ser lenta porque no queramos hacer la transición, sino porque necesitamos actuar en correspondencia con las expectativas del mercado del petróleo, el gas y sus derivados”, añadió. “Petrobras aprovechará hasta la última gota de petróleo, justo como Arabia Saudita o los Emiratos harán lo mismo”.

Max Bearak es un reportero del Times que escribe sobre políticas climáticas y energéticas globales y nuevos enfoques para reducir las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero. Más de Max Bearak