The New York Times 2024-04-11 16:27:02

Middle East Crisis: Famine Has Begun in Northern Gaza, U.S. Official Says

Power cites ‘credible’ assessments that famine has begun in northern Gaza.

The director of the U.S. Agency for International Development told lawmakers this week that a famine is underway in northern Gaza, which has been devastated by six months of Israeli military operations and is the part of the territory most cut off from aid.

The director, Samantha Power, is the first senior American official to say publicly that famine has begun in the Gaza Strip, where aid agencies and global experts have warned for months that nearly all 2.2 million Palestinians would soon face extreme hunger.

Northern Gaza, which was the first part of the territory that Israeli forces invaded last October, has been heavily damaged by the war and is far from the two open border crossings in the south through which nearly all aid is arriving.

Aid agencies say that it has become all but impossible to deliver relief supplies to the north as fighting continues. UNICEF said on Thursday that one of its vehicles waiting to enter northern Gaza this week had been “hit by live ammunition,” and that it had raised the matter with the Israeli authorities. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to questions about the report.

Ms. Power’s comments came during her congressional testimony on Wednesday, when she was asked by Representative Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas, about reports that her agency had sent a cable to the National Security Council saying famine had begun in parts of the Gaza Strip. The cable was first reported by HuffPost.

Ms. Power said a famine appeared to have begun according to an assessment by the global Integrated Food Security Phase Classification initiative, an group of U.N. agencies and relief agencies also known as the I.P.C., whose methodology she described as sound.

“That is their assessment, and we believe that assessment is credible,” Ms. Power said.

“So famine is already occurring there?” Mr. Castro replied.

“That is — yes,” Ms. Power said.

On Thursday, her agency attempted to clarify Ms. Power’s remarks, suggesting that she had made an extrapolation off data from a March I.P.C. report that predicted that northern Gaza would face famine between mid-March and May. “While there has not been a new assessment, conditions remain dire,” U.S.A.I.D said in the statement.

The I.P.C. usually declares a famine when at least 20 percent of households face an extreme lack of food, when at least 30 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition and when at least two adults or four children for every 10,000 people die each day from starvation or disease linked to malnutrition.

Ms. Power said later in her testimony that the rate of severe malnutrition among Gazan children had become “markedly worse” since Oct. 7, when a Hamas-led terrorist attack prompted Israel to launch its military offensive in Gaza.

“In northern Gaza, the rate of malnutrition prior to Oct. 7 was almost zero, and it is now one in three kids,” she said. She added: “In terms of actual severe acute malnutrition for under-5s, that rate was 16 percent in January and became 30 percent in February. We’re awaiting the March numbers, but we expect it to continue.”

In interviews, people in northern Gaza have described severe food shortages. Even in Beit Lahia, once known as Gaza’s breadbasket, people’s diets sometimes amount to little more than boiled bitter weeds, said Yousef Sager, 24, a farmer.

“I never thought we would be talking about famine here,” he said.

In the early months of the war, he said he ate only a small plate of rice each day, with breakfast and dinner replaced by tea or coffee. When rice, tea and coffee ran out, he and many other Gazans turned to khobeza, a leafy green that grows in early spring.

But the khobeza is starting to run out, he said, so he now lives off of a soup of hot water and stinging nettles. Before the war, not even farm animals ate that, he said.

“I had to close my nose and just swallow it to survive,” he said.

Abu Bakr Bashir and Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

A senior Pentagon commander heads to Israel amid fears of an Iranian attack.

A senior U.S. military commander was traveling to Israel on Thursday, officials said, as fears ran high that Iran would soon launch a strike to avenge the killings of several senior commanders.

Iran’s leaders have repeatedly vowed to punish Israel for an April 1 strike in Syria that killed several senior Iranian commanders. U.S. officials have said they are bracing for a possible Iranian response, and Israel has put its military on alert.

A day after President Biden warned that Iran was threatening a “significant” attack, Defense Department officials said that the top American military commander for the Middle East, Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, was traveling to Israel. He will coordinate with Israel on what is expected to be imminent retaliatory action by Iran, as well as discuss the war in Gaza, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. Israel’s military declined to comment on the general’s visit.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged on Thursday that Israel was facing “challenging times,” noting that “in the midst of the war in Gaza” his country was “also prepared for scenarios involving challenges in other sectors.”

“We have determined a simple rule: Whoever harms us, we will harm them,” he said while visiting an air base, using language that in recent days has been used to refer to threats from Iran and its proxies.

While President Biden has become increasingly critical of Mr. Netanyahu’s conduct of the war in Gaza — threatening to withhold U.S. assistance unless Israel does more to protect civilians — he emphasized on Wednesday that American support for Israel in the face of an Iranian threat was unconditional.

“As I told Prime Minister Netanyahu, our commitment to Israel’s security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad,” he said at a news conference.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken also “made clear that the U.S. will stand with Israel against any threats by Iran and its proxies” when he spoke by phone on Wednesday with Israel’s defense minister, the State Department said.

As Iran and Israel have traded fresh threats in recent days, diplomats have been trying to reduce tensions and avert a wider regional war.

The foreign minister of Germany, Annalena Baerbock, spoke to her Iranian counterpart “about the tense situation” in the Middle East on Thursday, according to her office.

“Avoiding further regional escalation must be in everyone’s interest,” it said in a statement. “We urge all actors in the region to act responsibly and exercise maximum restraint.”

Israel announces a new operation against Hamas, a day after killing a top leader’s sons.

The Israeli military announced what it called a precise operation to kill members of Hamas in Gaza on Thursday, a day after a strike there killed relatives of one of the group’s most senior leaders.

Ismail Haniyeh, who leads the political wing of Hamas from exile, said three of his sons had been killed in the Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza on Wednesday. Hamas-affiliated media reported that three of Mr. Haniyeh’s grandchildren also were killed in the attack.

On Thursday, Israel’s military said that its forces had carried out a “precise, intelligence-based operation” in central Gaza overnight with fighter jets and ground troops to “eliminate terrorist operatives and strike terrorist infrastructure.”

It was not immediately clear whether the operation was related to the strike a day earlier against Mr. Haniyeh’s sons, who the Israeli military said had been “on their way to carry out terrorist activities in central Gaza.” It did not provide further details, and the military’s claims could not be verified.

The Israeli military said that the three Haniyeh sons it killed — Amir, Mohammad and Hazem — were active in Hamas’s military operations, Amir as a cell commander and his brothers as lower-level operatives. One of the brothers was also involved in holding hostages, the Israeli military said, without specifying which one.

The strike came as international negotiators worked to broker a cease-fire in Gaza and to secure the release of hostages held in the enclave. Those talks have stalled over disagreements about the details, with a senior Hamas official saying Wednesday that the group did not have 40 living hostages who met the criteria for an exchange under the proposal being discussed.

While Mr. Haniyeh is one of Hamas’s most senior officials, analysts said that his sons were less integral to the operation — and that their killings appeared mainly aimed at sending a message to the group’s leadership amid cease-fire negotiations.

“His son’s names are not usually floated around when you talk about seniority in Hamas, whether it’s the political or military wing,” said Tahani Mustafa, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, a think tank.

Ms. Mustafa said that the timing of the strike made it seem like an effort to derail the talks.

But Bilal Saab, an associate fellow in the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, said the strike may have been intended to placate a domestic audience after six months of war, or to give Israel leverage in the talks.

“It’s a political win for Israel more than anything else,” Mr. Saab said, adding: “This was a hit meant to pressure Hamas to make concessions on the hostage negotiations.”

Mr. Haniyeh said Wednesday that Israel was “delusional if it thinks that by killing my children, we will change our positions” in negotiations.

Active fighting in Gaza has ebbed to its lowest point since November. Israel withdrew troops from southern Gaza over the weekend, but said the military would stay in other parts of Gaza to preserve its “freedom of action and its ability to conduct precise intelligence-based operations.”

The military’s stated emphasis on precision comes as international criticism of the war in Gaza intensifies over the rising Palestinian death toll and warnings of famine.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has said that a date has been set for a ground invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza, an operation U.S. officials have warned would be catastrophic for civilians. Some analysts have suggested that his threats are bluster or attempts at gaining leverage in the cease-fire negotiations.

The Biden administration has urged Mr. Netanyahu to shelve the invasion plans and focus on “alternative approaches that would target the key elements of Hamas.”

Biden says Israel has improved the aid flow to Gaza but must do more.

Israeli authorities have improved aid delivery to Gaza but still “need to do more,” President Biden said on Wednesday, offering a measured assessment of how well Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was living up to promises he made last week.

In a call with Mr. Netanyahu last Thursday, Mr. Biden said that the United States could withhold support for Israel over its conduct of the war against Hamas, unless it did more to protect civilians and ensure adequate supplies for Gaza. On Wednesday, he said he had been “blunt and straightforward” with the Israeli leader.

Since then, Mr. Biden said, Israel has done more to provide access for food, medicine and other critical supplies, but he added that he still expected additional action. Mr. Netanyahu committed to increasing the number of aid trucks entering Gaza and to opening another border crossing into the territory.

The president said Israel had done more to provide access in recent days.

“It’s not enough,” Mr. Biden said. “They need to do more, and there’s one more opening that has to take place in the north. So we’ll see what he does in terms of meeting the commitments he made to me.”

The United Nations says that the number of aid trucks entering Gaza has not changed significantly from last week. Israel says the number of trucks reaching Gaza has increased sharply.

Still, the president has left vague what kind of action he will take if Israel does not satisfy his demands. Speaking at a news conference in the Rose Garden alongside the visiting Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, Mr. Biden did not respond to a question about whether he would explicitly make future U.S. arms shipments to Israel dependent on how Mr. Netanyahu’s government responds.

Mr. Biden made a point of adding that Hamas should agree to a proposal offered over the weekend by the United States to release hostages it seized on Oct. 7 in exchange for a six-week cease-fire and the release of hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons on terrorism and other charges. “They need to move on the proposal that’s been made,” Mr. Biden said.

He emphasized his commitment to winning the freedom of the more than 130 hostages still being held, including a handful of American citizens. Vice President Kamala Harris met privately with family members of some of the hostages on Tuesday.

“We’ll get these hostages home where they belong but also bring back a six week cease-fire that we need now,” Mr. Biden said.

Hamas does not have 40 hostages who meet the terms of a potential swap with Israel, an official says.

A senior Hamas official said on Wednesday that Hamas did not have 40 living hostages in Gaza who met the criteria for an exchange under a proposed cease-fire agreement with Israel being negotiated.

A senior Israeli official said Israel had been relayed Hamas’s claim, and the senior Hamas official said that the group had informed mediators facilitating the negotiations. The Israeli official and the Hamas official requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.

The assertion raised fears that more hostages might be dead than previously believed and came as talks between Hamas and Israel stalled amid disagreements over the permanency of a cease-fire, the return of displaced Palestinians to northern Gaza and other issues.

International negotiators have proposed an initial six-week cease-fire during which Hamas would release a first group of 40 hostages — including women, older people, ill hostages and five female Israeli soldiers — in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons as well as other demands.

Israeli officials believe there are about 130 hostages remaining in Gaza, and Israeli intelligence officers have concluded that at least 30 of those have died in captivity.

It was not immediately clear if Israel would now demand that young men and soldiers be included among the first 40 released captives. Those hostages had been expected to have to wait for a later phase of the deal.

The development came days after the Israeli military said it had recovered the body of an Israeli hostage who, like around 240 others, was abducted during the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack.

The Israeli government and Hamas held a brief cease-fire in Gaza in November to allow for the release of around 100 hostages captured during the assault in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, offering a respite from a devastating bombing campaign.

Can Ukraine Find New Soldiers Without Decimating a Whole Generation?

The roughly one million men who serve in Ukraine’s army are battered and exhausted. Many soldiers have been on combat duty for two years. Tens of thousands have been lost to death or serious injury. New recruits are desperately needed.

But Ukraine is running up against a critical demographic constraint long in the making: It has very few young men.

Healthy men under age 30, the backbone of most militaries, are part of the smallest generation in Ukraine’s modern history. Ukraine must balance the need to counter a relentless Russian offensive by adding more troops against the risk of hollowing out an entire generation.

President Volodymyr Zelensky took the politically painful step earlier this month of lowering the draft age to 25 from 27 — still remarkably old by the standards of most military drafts. In the United States, for instance, men can be drafted beginning at age 18.

Ukraine’s reluctance to lower the age still further reflects the lingering impact of history. The causes of the current demographic problem stretch back more than a century.

Ukraine’s steep decline in birth rates during the first decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union is not unique. Similar drops were seen in many post-Soviet states, including Russia. Economies cratered, and mortality rates rose sharply in an older generation of men, mostly from untreated cardiovascular disease, alcoholism and workplace trauma.

But Ukraine’s wartime demographic challenge is much worse than Russia’s. Russia has nearly four times as many people overall, giving it a larger pool of men to draw from. And the fall in birth rates — the average number of children born to each woman — was steeper in Ukraine, leaving a smaller pool of young men relative to the rest of the population.

In the 1990s, uncertainty about the future loomed over life in Ukraine, as savings vanished and salaries became worthless in an economic crisis. That uncertainty “affected the reproductive behavior of the population,” Oleksandr Gladun, the deputy director of the Ptukha Institute of Demography and Social Studies, said in a telephone interview.

In the year Ukraine gained independence, 1991, Ukrainian women on average had 1.9 children. A decade later, the birth rate had dropped to 1.1 children.

When those children reached their 20s, the effect of their smaller numbers was felt first in the labor force — and then far more consequentially after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.

Mr. Zelensky’s decision to draft men starting at age 25 risks further diminishing this small generation of Ukrainians. And many of the limited pool of 25- and 26-year-old men — about 467,000, according to a 2022 government estimate — are already serving in the military, living in occupied areas or outside Ukraine. Others have jobs or disabilities that exempt them from conscription.

Ukrainian leaders believed they had no choice but to lower the draft age.

Casualty rates in the war against Russia are high. Most men who wanted to volunteer for the military have already done so.

It is unclear how quickly Ukraine will draft and train the additional troops it needs, or whether they will be ready before the broader Russian offensive that is expected in the spring or summer.

“The decision is taken — it’s a good one, but it’s too late,” said Serhiy Hrabsky, a colonel and a commentator on the war for the Ukrainian news media.

Already, the implications of the war for the next generation of Ukrainians are becoming clear. The number of births dropped by nearly half from 2021 to 2023.

One important factor behind the decline, demographers say, is that about 800,000 Ukrainian women between the ages of 18 and 34 fled to countries in the European Union, according to Eurostat. For now, the absence of women is playing a larger role in Ukrainian demographics than the conscription of men.

But the lower draft age risks shrinking a small generation even more. And in occupied areas of the country Russia is conscripting Ukrainian men to fight against Ukraine, starting at age 18.

The outlook for future births, said Mr. Gladun, the demographer, now depends on both factors: how many men die at the front in the war and how many women return from Europe. But Ukraine has little choice, he said, but to call up younger men for the depleted army.

“What can we do?” he said. “It’s war.”

Assange’s Wife Expresses Cautious Hope as Biden Suggests U.S. Might Drop Case

Five years after Julian Assange, theWikiLeaks founder, was first imprisoned in a high-security facility in Britain while fighting a United States extradition request, the Biden administration has given the clearest signal to date that it might drop its prosecution of him.

But Mr. Assange’s wife said on Thursday that her hopes were tempered by the reality that his extradition case had reached a critical moment.

“It’s been five years, and he’s at the closest he’s ever been to extradition now,” his wife, Stella Assange, said in an interview, adding, “Obviously with a comment like this from the president, it’s a good sign and we receive it with hope. But, you know, that doesn’t stop us from dreading the worst.”

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Mexico’s 2024 General Election: What to Know

  • Why does this election matter?

  • Who are the candidates?

  • What are the main issues?

  • Who is expected to win?

  • When will we learn the result?

  • Where can I find out more?

Mexico’s vote on June 2 will be a landmark election in several ways.

It will be the country’s largest election in terms of voters and seats. Nearly 99 million people are expected to cast a ballot for more than 20,000 local, state and congressional posts as well as for the presidency.

And for the first time in the country’s history, Mexico will elect a female president, as the top two candidates running for the office are women.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

‘Waiting for My Time to Come’: Ukraine’s New Draft Law Unsettles the Young

Ukraine desperately needs to replenish its depleted forces in the face of relentless Russian attacks.

So it has lowered the draft age from 27 to 25.

That means that more young people will have to leave their jobs to join the army.

And face an almost certain future of violence and tragedy.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine probably changed the fates of thousands of Ukrainian men when he signed a law lowering the draft age to 25 from 27 this month, more than two years after Russia began its full-scale invasion.

Ukrainian forces are struggling to hold back the far larger Russian Army, and desperately need their ranks replenished. Now many of the young men who remain in Ukraine — thousands of others have illegally fled the country — worry about their future.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Before He Died in Prison, Aleksei Navalny Wrote a Memoir. It’s Coming This Fall.

During the years leading up to his death in a Russian prison, Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, was writing a memoir about his life and work as a pro-democracy activist.

Titled “Patriot,” the memoir will be published in the United States by Knopf on Oct. 22, with a first printing of half a million copies, and a simultaneous release in multiple countries.

Navalny, who rose to global prominence as a fierce critic of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, resisted the Kremlin’s repeated attempts to silence him through physical harm, arrests and imprisonment in a remote Arctic penal colony, where he died in February, at age 47.

The book, telling his story in his own words, comes as a final show of defiance, his widow, Yulia Navalnaya, said in a statement, and could have a galvanizing effect on his followers.

“This book is a testament not only to Aleksei’s life, but to his unwavering commitment to the fight against dictatorship — a fight he gave everything for, including his life,” Navalnaya said. “Through its pages, readers will come to know the man I loved deeply — a man of profound integrity and unyielding courage. Sharing his story will not only honor his memory but also inspire others to stand up for what is right and to never lose sight of the values that truly matter.”

In a news release, Knopf said that the memoir “expresses Navalny’s total conviction that change cannot be resisted and will come.”

Navalny wrote the entire memoir himself, dictating some parts, and Yulia Navalnaya is working with the publisher to edit and finalize the manuscript, according to a Knopf representative. A Russian-language edition of the book will be available, the representative said.

The project is a more sensitive endeavor than most memoirs by high profile political figures. Navalny’s supporters and his team, which has carried on his work, continue to draw the scrutiny of Russian authorities as they direct criticism at the Kremlin against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.

Navalny began working on his memoir in 2020, after surviving a near-fatal poisoning with a nerve agent, an attack that Western intelligence officials believed was a state-sponsored assassination attempt. The book covers his youth, his rise as a political activist, his marriage and family, his political career as an opposition leader, and the attempts on his life and attacks on those close to him, according to the publisher.

Navalny had political aspirations, but was barred from a presidential run following a conviction on fraud charges by a Russian court, widely seen as politically motivated. He exerted his political influence in other ways: organizing protests against Putin and building offices and investigative teams across the country to uncover corruption.

Navalny wrote much of the memoir while he was in Germany and recovering from poisoning. In February 2021, he returned to Russia, knowing that he would likely be detained or attacked again. He was arrested at the airport, and was later charged with embezzlement and fraud in a trial that international observers concluded was also politically motivated. In August 2023, he was charged with “extremism” and given a 19-year sentence. His harsh treatment in Russia’s severe penal colonies included lack of medical care and many stints in solitary confinement.

Addressing why he chose to go back to Russia to face almost certain imprisonment and possible death, Navalny said remaining in exile felt like a betrayal of his cause.

“I don’t want to give up either my country or my beliefs,” Navalny wrote in a Facebook post in January, shortly before his death. “I cannot betray either the first or the second. If your beliefs are worth something, you must be willing to stand up for them. And if necessary, make some sacrifices.”

Navalny’s return to Russia led to weeks of protests around the country, but they were eventually quashed in a fierce crackdown by the Kremlin. Even as Russia has shut down or driven away independent news media outlets and silenced many of its internal critics in an effort to smother political opposition, Navalny remained a vocal and influential figure who came to embody the country’s beleaguered pro-democracy movement.

Navalny maintained a presence on social media even behind bars, and remained a ferocious critic of Putin. His team, which was living and working in exile, continued to release exposés on corruption in Russia. He also kept working on the book, which includes never-before-seen correspondence from prison, according to the publisher.

Within Russia, thousands of his followers gathered for his funeral, despite the risk of being arrested by Russian authorities. Outside the church on the outskirts of Moscow where the service was held, people in the crowd chanted phrases like “Love is stronger than fear” and “Thank you, Aleksei.”

Even after his death, those who seek to carry on Navalny’s work and extend his legacy face threats and attacks. Last month, Leonid Volkov, who served as one of Navalny’s top organizers, was attacked with a hammer and tear gas outside his home in Lithuania’s capital.

Navalny was well aware that his activism put him at risk, but remained cheerfully defiant, with a wry, prankster-like persona that helped drive some of his viral online activism.

“I’m trying not to think about it a lot,” he said in an interview with CBS News in 2017. “If you start to think about what kind of risks I have, you cannot do anything.”

Ukraine’s Parliament Passes a Politically Fraught Mobilization Bill

After months of political wrangling, Ukrainian lawmakers on Thursday passed a mobilization law aimed at replenishing the nation’s exhausted and depleted fighting forces, which are struggling to hold back relentless Russian assaults that are expected to intensify in coming months.

Yulia Paliychuk, a spokeswoman for the party of President Volodymyr Zelensky, confirmed that the law had been adopted by Parliament. It passed overwhelmingly with support from 283 lawmakers, while 49 lawmakers from some opposition parties abstained, according to the official roll call.

The urgent need for fresh troops has been evident since last fall, but Mr. Zelensky has been exceedingly cautious in dealing with the politically fraught topic, which has the potential to undermine the social cohesion that has played a critical role in Ukraine’s ability to wage war against a far larger and better-armed enemy.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

He Wanted to Serve His Community in Gaza. He Paid With His Life.

Saifeddin Abutaha, an aid worker for World Central Kitchen, was on his way home to see his mother when an Israeli missile struck the car he was driving in a humanitarian convoy last week.

Mr. Abutaha, 25, doted on his parents, and he texted them frequently while out delivering aid across the Gaza Strip, which is on the brink of famine after six months of war. In his final hours, he had pivoted between delivering food and making family Ramadan plans, his brother, Abdul Raziq Abutaha, said in an interview.

But since his death on April 1, their mother, Inshirah — who once daydreamed of seeing Saifeddin marry — has been unable to accept that he is gone.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

From Nasty Insults to an Embassy Raid: Latin American Relations Get Personal

Ecuador was once famous for sheltering a man on the lam: For seven years it allowed the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to hole up in its embassy in London, invoking an international treaty that makes diplomatic premises places of refuge.

Then, last week, the South American nation appeared to tear that treaty to shreds, sending the police into the Mexican Embassy in Quito — over Mexico’s protests — where they arrested a former vice president accused of corruption.

President Daniel Noboa of Ecuador defended the decision to detain the former vice president, Jorge Glas, calling him a criminal and citing the country’s growing security crisis to justify the move.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Biden Says U.S. Is Considering Dropping Its Case Against Assange

Sign up for the On Politics newsletter.  Your guide to the 2024 elections.

President Biden said on Wednesday that the United States was considering dropping its prosecution of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who has been jailed in London for years while fighting extradition to face U.S. charges related to his publication of classified documents.

Mr. Biden made the comment on the case of the embattled publisher, who is being detained in a high-security prison, in response to a question about a request from Mr. Assange’s home country of Australia that he be allowed to return there.

“We’re considering it,” Mr. Biden said at the White House, where he was hosting Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s Scandal-Ridden Ex-President, Is Running Again

Jacob Zuma, who resigned as South Africa’s president in shame in 2018, is now staging his biggest comeback act yet by running in next month’s parliamentary elections with an upstart opposition party at the top of its ticket — the slot designated for a party’s presidential contender.

Mr. Zuma’s participation in the race is a blow to a faltering African National Congress — the party he once led — which has governed the country since the end of apartheid three decades ago. The A.N.C. and its leader, the country’s current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, are now struggling to win back the trust of voters disillusioned by a stagnant economy and years of corruption.

Mr. Zuma, who is 81, won a big victory on Tuesday when he was cleared by a court to be on the ballot, despite having served time in prison for refusing to testify in a corruption inquiry. On Wednesday, his party — uMkhonto weSizwe — released its list of national candidates with his name at the top.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

What a Terror Attack in Israel Might Reveal About Psychedelics and Trauma

Natan Odenheimer, Aaron Boxerman and

One Israeli said that being high on LSD during the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7 prompted a spiritual revelation that helped him escape the carnage at a desert rave. Another is certain the drug MDMA made him more decisive and gave him the strength to carry his girlfriend as they fled the scene. A third said that experiencing the assault during a psychedelic trip has helped him more fully process the trauma.

Some 4,000 revelers gathered on the night of Oct. 6 at a field in southern Israel, mere miles from the Gaza border, for the Tribe of Nova music festival. At dawn, thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed Israel’s defenses under the cover of a rocket barrage.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Migration Overhaul in E.U. Clears Final Hurdle

Sign up for Your Places: Global Update.   All the latest news for any part of the world you select.

A landmark bill set to overhaul migration policy across the European Union cleared its final hurdle on Wednesday after it was approved by the European Parliament.

The bill, which had taken the best part of the past decade to negotiate, aims to make it easier for member states to deport failed asylum seekers and to limit the entry of migrants into the bloc. It would also give governments greater control over their borders, while bolstering the bloc’s role in migration management — treating it as a European issue, not one member states have to face alone.

European officials and politicians had been intent on passing the legislation before E.U. elections in early June to counter anti-migrant sentiment that is fueling a rise in the popularity of far-right parties in several European nations. The final step for it to become law is an approval by the European Council, a formality, in coming weeks.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

5-Star Bird Houses for Picky but Precious Guests: Nesting Swiftlets

With no windows, the gloomy, gray building looming four stories above the rice fields in a remote village in Indonesian Borneo resembles nothing more than a prison.

Hundreds of similar concrete structures, riddled with small holes for ventilation, tower over village shops and homes all along Borneo’s northwestern coast.

But these buildings are not for people. They are for the birds. Specifically, the swiftlet, which builds its nests inside.

Map shows the location of Perapakan in the Sambas Regency on Borneo, Indonesia.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Israeli Army Withdraws From Major Gaza Hospital, Leaving Behind a Wasteland

The journalists were among a small group of international reporters brought by the Israeli army to Al-Shifa Hospital on Sunday. To join the tour, they agreed to stay with the Israeli forces at all times and not to photograph the faces of certain commandos.

Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, once the fulcrum of Gaza’s health system and now an emblem of its destruction, stood in ruins on Sunday, as if a tsunami had surged through it followed by a tornado.

The emergency department was a tidy, off-white building until Israeli troops returned there in March. Two weeks later, it was missing most of its facade, scorched with soot, and punctured with hundreds of bullets and shells.

The eastern floors of the surgery department were left open to the breeze, the walls blown off and the equipment buried under mounds of debris. The bridge connecting the two buildings was no longer there, and the plaza between them — formerly a circular driveway wrapping around a gazebo — had been churned by Israeli armored vehicles into a wasteland of uprooted trees, upturned cars and a half-crushed ambulance.

The hospital was the largest in Gaza, one of its biggest employers and a shelter for thousands of Gazans during war. I had visited its wards in calmer times, meeting Palestinians wounded in a previous conflict and doctors battling Covid-19. When I returned this week, the place was disfigured almost beyond recognition after a 12-day battle between Israeli soldiers and Gazan gunmen and an earlier raid by the Israeli military.

During a two-hour visit, I saw no Palestinians, but the Israeli soldiers who brought me there said there were still gunmen inside one building and a group of patients and doctors in another. Occasionally, we heard short bursts of gunfire. When the soldiers brought us to a vantage point overlooking the hospital, they told us not to linger long in the window in case a sniper saw us.

The symbolism of this hellscape differs according to the beholder, amid a deep divergence about how the conflict should be reported and explained.

To the Israelis who brought me to Al-Shifa on Sunday, the carnage is the result of Hamas’s decision to turn a civilian institution into a military stronghold, leaving Israel with no option but to enter it by force: Exhibit A in what they see as a war of necessity that they did not start.

“We had no alternative,” said Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, Israel’s chief military spokesman, who led the visit. “We wanted to leave those places functional, but what happened was Hamas and Islamic Jihad were barricading and firing at our forces from the beginning.”

To the Palestinians who returned to Al-Shifa on Monday, searching for dead bodies after the Israelis withdrew, it was the embodiment of Israel’s perceived disregard for civilian life and infrastructure in its pursuit of Hamas: Exhibit A in what they see as a genocide of Gazans.

Sign up for the Israel-Hamas War Briefing.  The latest news about the conflict.

“As you see, this is Al-Shifa hospital after it was invaded and destroyed by the Israeli occupation forces,” said Motasem Dalloul, a Palestinian journalist, in a self-filmed video he sent from the wreckage on Monday.

“Or what was once Al-Shifa Hospital,” added Mr. Dalloul.

When we met before the war, Mr. Dalloul said that he is not a Hamas member but speaks regularly to its leaders and cadres; he has also acted as an interpreter for its officials.

Walking further through the compound, Mr. Dalloul encountered another man who blamed Israel for the destruction. “This occupation will die, Netanyahu will die, America will die — no matter how much they bomb us,” the unnamed man shouted. “No matter how much they bomb us and destroy Al-Shifa, the occupation will die,” he repeated.

Analysts have said that Israel’s return to Al-Shifa, more than four months after it was first captured, represents a strategic failure: It is the result of Israel’s unwillingness to set in motion any transition of power to forces independent of Hamas, creating a vacuum that has allowed Hamas to regroup.

The Israeli soldiers at Al-Shifa on Sunday portrayed the raid as a success. In one swoop, they said, they had killed about 200 fighters and captured 500 more — the majority, they said, of the remaining militants in northern Gaza. Gazan officials said hundreds of civilians were killed, a charge denied by Israel, and The New York Times could not independently verify either account.

In any case, the soldiers’ departure, hours later, means it will be possible for Hamas to return once again, unimpeded, raising the chances that Israel could return for a third raid in the future.

The Israeli military first captured the hospital site during a raid in November, exposing and destroying a subterranean tunnel network that Israel said was a Hamas command center.

After withdrawing from most of the city in January, the military returned to the hospital in March because it said remnants of Hamas’s military wing had regrouped in Israel’s absence, according to the officers who were escorting the international journalists, including two from The New York Times, to the site on Sunday.

To join the tour, we agreed not to photograph the faces of certain commandos and to stay with the Israeli forces at all times, but otherwise agreed to no other restrictions.

Israel’s naval commando unit, Shayetet 13, swept into the hospital compound early on March 18. By Israel’s account, the destruction began after Hamas gunmen refused to surrender and started shooting at the Israeli forces, prompting them to return fire.

A spokesman for Hamas, Basem Naim, declined to comment on the claim that Hamas was operating inside the hospital but denied that its fighters were there; Hamas’s armed wing has said that it fired on Israeli forces in the vicinity of Al-Shifa, but stopped short of saying that it fought inside the compound.

The Israeli military said that one of the first men killed on March 18 was a security chief, Faiq Mabhouh, whose death was later mourned in a statement from Hamas. A map supplied by the Israeli military said there were at least 13 gunfights that broke out across different parts of the campus over the following two weeks, as the soldiers searched for holdouts hiding throughout the site.

The military said the damage to the emergency and surgery departments was so great because the gunmen had entrenched themselves inside those buildings, one of them inside an elevator shaft, forcing the Israeli commandos to fire repeatedly at their positions. The military said that it found several weapons caches hidden inside the hospital.

The military said the fighting was compounded by Gazan armed groups located outside the compound who also fired at Israeli soldiers, leading to gun battles around its perimeter and the killing of two Israeli soldiers outside the hospital. Hamas said on its social media platforms that its snipers and mortar teams had fired at Israeli forces in the vicinity of the hospital.

To support its claim of Hamas’s presence at the hospital, the Israeli military displayed digital copies of documents, branded with the logo of Hamas’s military wing, that it said were found at the site and which purported to document a meeting of the group’s militants inside the hospital. The Times could not verify the authenticity of the documents.

The Hamas-run authorities in Gaza have accused Israel of killing patients and displaced people sheltering at the hospital, as well as detaining innocent people.

Yahia Al-Kayyali, a 58-year-old doctor, said he was detained by the Israeli Army during the raid while sheltering with his family at a building close to the hospital.

In a phone interview, Dr. Al-Kayyali said the soldiers forced him to strip, a common practice that Israel says is meant to ensure detainees do not conceal weapons, before beating him and his son, interrogating and blindfolding them, taking them to the roof and forcing them to sit on shattered glass for several hours.

They were later released after being made to walk south, he said.

“The soldiers treated us like animals,” he said.

The Israeli soldiers who escorted us on Sunday strongly denied any accusation of wrongdoing. They said they had evacuated more than half of the medics and patients to other health facilities, as well as allowing the vast majority of the 6,000 civilians who had sheltered at the hospital to move south. They said they had detained 900 people, 500 of whom they said were militants and about 400 others who were still being investigated. The numbers could not be independently verified.

“I’ve been here for 14 days,” said the Shayetet 13 commander, who asked to remain anonymous in line with military protocol. “It’s my soldiers. As far as I know, these accusations are a lie.”

According to both Israeli and Palestinian officials, more than 100 patients and medics were moved to a building on the western side of the compound, away from the worst of the fighting.

But there the narratives diverge. The Israeli military says that it did its best to provide food, water and medical care. The Gazan health ministry said in a statement that the remaining patients were left without enough medicine, clean water, food or sanitation, leaving some with septic wounds containing maggots.

“The situation as reported by many of the staff is horrific and inhumane,” the health ministry’s statement said.

Citing Palestinian medics, the World Health Organization said in a statement on Sunday that 21 patients had died since the raid began, and those remaining lacked diapers and bags for urine.

To Taysir al-Tanna, a surgeon who said he had worked for 25 years at Al-Shifa, the destruction of his hospital felt like a national tragedy.

He recounted by phone how the hospital — one of the largest employers in both Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank — had formed “a central place in our country.”

“Now, it’s become a wasteland,” Dr. al-Tanna said. “Try to imagine what that feels like.”

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Iyad Abuheweila from Istanbul.

Enjoy unlimited access to all of The Times.

6-month Welcome Offer
original price:   A$6.25sale price:   A$0.50/week

Learn more

A Stork, a Fisherman and Their Unlikely Bond Enchant Turkey

Ben Hubbard and

Reporting from Eskikaraagac, Turkey

Thirteen years ago, a poor fisherman in a small Turkish village was retrieving his net from a lake when he heard a noise behind him and turned to find a majestic being standing on the bow of his rowboat.

Gleaming white feathers covered its head, neck and chest, yielding to black plumes on its wings. It stood atop skinny orange legs that nearly matched the color of its long, pointy beak.

The fisherman, Adem Yilmaz, recognized it as one of the white storks that had long summered in the village, he recalled, but he had never seen one so close, much less hosted one on his boat.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

The Japanese Sensei Bringing Baseball to Brazil

Reporting from Rio de Janeiro

Leer en español

Yukihiro Shimura always arrives first. He quietly puts on his baseball uniform. He rakes the dirt field meditatively. He picks up the coconut husks and dog poop. And, finally, when he finishes, he bows to Rio de Janeiro’s only baseball field.

Then his misfit team — including a geologist, graphic designer, English teacher, film student, voice actor and motorcycle delivery man — starts to form. Most are in their 20s and 30s, and some are still learning the basics of throwing, catching and swinging a bat.

It was not what Mr. Shimura envisioned when he signed up for this gig. “In my mind, the age range would be 15 to 18,” he said. “I should have asked.”

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

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.

Leer en español

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.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Documentary Filmmaker Explores Japan’s Rigorous Education Rituals

The defining experience of Ema Ryan Yamazaki’s childhood left her with badly scraped knees and her classmates with broken bones.

During sixth grade in Osaka, Japan, Ms. Yamazaki — now a 34-year-old documentary filmmaker — practiced for weeks with classmates to form a human pyramid seven levels high for an annual school sports day. Despite the blood and tears the children shed as they struggled to make the pyramid work, the accomplishment she felt when the group kept it from toppling became “a beacon of why I feel like I am resilient and hard-working.”

Now, Ms. Yamazaki, who is half-British, half-Japanese, is using her documentary eye to chronicle such moments that she believes form the essence of Japanese character, for better or worse.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

From New England to Notre-Dame, a U.S. Carpenter Tends to a French Icon

Notre-Dame Cathedral sat in the pre-dawn chill like a spaceship docked in the heart of Paris, its exoskeleton of scaffolding lit by bright lights. Pink clouds appeared to the east as machinery hummed to life and workers started clambering around.

One of them, Hank Silver, wearing a yellow hard hat, stood on a platform above the Seine River and attached cables to oak trusses shaped like massive wooden triangles. A crane hoisted them onto the nave of the cathedral, which was devastated by fire in 2019.

Mr. Silver — a 41-year-old American-Canadian carpenter — is something of an unlikely candidate to work on the restoration of an 860-year-old Gothic monument and Catholic landmark in France. Born in New York City into an observant Jewish family, he owns a small timber framing business in rural New England and admits that until recently he didn’t even know what a nave was.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Insooni Breaks Racial Barrier to Become Beloved Singer in South Korea

When she took the stage to perform at Carnegie Hall in front of 107 Korean War veterans, the singer Kim Insoon was thinking of her father, an American soldier stationed in South Korea during the postwar decades whom she had never met or even seen.

“You are my fathers,” she told the soldiers in the audience before singing “Father,” one of her Korean-language hits.

“To me, the United States has always been my father’s country,” Ms. Kim said in a recent interview, recalling that 2010 performance. “It was also the first place where I wanted to show how successful I had become — without him and in spite of him.”

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

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.”

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Adidas Stops Customization of Germany Jersey for Fear of Nazi Symbolism

The sports apparel giant Adidas abruptly stopped the sale of German soccer jerseys created with the player number “44” this week because the figure, when depicted in the official lettering of the uniform’s design, too closely resembled a well-known Nazi symbol.

The stylized square font used by Adidas for the jerseys, which will be worn by Germany’s team when it hosts this summer’s European soccer championships, makes the “44” resemble the “SS” emblem used by the Schutzstaffel, the feared Nazi paramilitary group that was instrumental in the murder of six million Jews. The emblem is one of dozens of Nazi symbols, phrases and gestures that are banned in Germany.

The country’s soccer federation, which is responsible for the design, said Monday any similarity to the logo created by the design’s numbering was unintentional.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

‘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.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

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.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

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

Reporting from Mexico City and León, Mexico

Leer en español

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.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

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.

Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Jorge Glas, el exvicepresidente ecuatoriano detenido en la embajada de México, está en coma

Las autoridades encontraron al exvicepresidente ecuatoriano Jorge Glas en un “coma profundo autoinducido” el lunes en la cárcel, unos días después de que fuera detenido por la policía en una captura dramática dentro de la embajada de México en Quito.

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

Glas ingirió antidepresivos y sedantes, según un informe policial, y estaba siendo trasladado a un hospital militar para su observación.

El exvicepresidente, que enfrenta una acusación de malversación de fondos en Ecuador, había buscado refugio en la embajada mexicana en un intento de evitar su detención. La semana pasada protagonizó un episodio de tensión diplomática cuando la policía entró en la embajada en Quito, lo detuvo y lo trasladó a un centro de detención.

Un tratado diplomático de 1961 determina que el gobierno del país anfitrión no puede ingresar a las embajadas extranjeras sin el permiso del jefe de la misión, una limitación que solo se ha transgredido en contadas ocasiones.

El nuevo presidente de Ecuador, Daniel Noboa, ha querido dar una imagen de firmeza frente a la delincuencia en medio de una creciente crisis de seguridad en la región, y ha defendido la decisión de detener a Glas, a quien califica de delincuente y no de preso político.

El lunes, cuando se conoció la noticia de la sobredosis de Glas, Noboa reiteró esta postura al afirmar que tenía la “obligación” de detener a personas como Glas o el país se enfrentaría al “riesgo inminente de su fuga”.

“Ecuador es un país de paz y de justicia”, continuó, “que respeta a todas las naciones y el derecho internacional”.

Los abogados de Glas, aliado del expresidente Rafael Correa, afirman que es objeto de una persecución política. Glas fue vicepresidente de Correa entre 2013 y 2017.

Thalíe Ponce colaboró con reportería desde Guayaquil, Ecuador, y Genevieve Glatsky desde Bogotá, Colombia.

Julie Turkewitz es jefa del buró de los Andes, ubicado en Bogotá, Colombia. Cubre Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador y Perú. Más de Julie Turkewitz

El Vaticano emite un documento que consterna a la comunidad LGBTQ

El Vaticano publicó el lunes un nuevo documento aprobado por el papa Francisco en el que se afirma que la Iglesia cree que las operaciones de cambio de sexo, la fluidez de género y la maternidad subrogada constituyen afrentas a la dignidad humana.

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

El sexo con el que nace una persona, según el documento, es un “don irrevocable” de Dios “de ahí que toda operación de cambio de sexo, por regla general, corra el riesgo de atentar contra la dignidad única que la persona ha recibido desde el momento de la concepción”. Toda persona que desea “disponer de sí mismo, como prescribe la teoría de género”, corre el riesgo de ceder “a la vieja tentación de que el ser humano se convierta en Dios”.

El documento también declara inequívocamente la oposición de la Iglesia católica a la maternidad subrogada, tanto si la mujer que gesta un bebé “se ve obligada a ello o decide libremente someterse”, porque el niño “se convierte en un mero medio al servicio del beneficio o el deseo arbitrario de otros”.

El documento pretendía ser una amplia declaración de la visión de la Iglesia sobre la dignidad humana, que incluía la explotación de los pobres, los inmigrantes, las mujeres y las personas vulnerables. Aunque lleva cinco años elaborándose, llega pocos meses después de que el papa Francisco disgustara a los sectores más conservadores de su Iglesia al permitir explícitamente que los católicos LGBTQ recibieran bendiciones de los sacerdotes y que las personas transgénero fueran bautizadas y actuaran como padrinos.

Si bien las enseñanzas de la Iglesia sobre temas de la guerra cultural, que Francisco ha evitado en gran medida, no son necesariamente nuevas, ahora era probable que su consolidación fuera abrazada por los conservadores por su línea dura contra las ideas liberales sobre el género y la maternidad subrogada.

También es probable que el documento cause profunda consternación entre los defensores de los derechos LGBTQ en la Iglesia, que temen que el documento será utilizado como un garrote para condenar a las personas transgénero, a pesar de que también advirtió de la “discriminación injusta”, especialmente en los países donde son criminalizadas y encarceladas y en algunos casos condenadas a muerte o se enfrentan y la agresión o la violencia.

“El Vaticano vuelve a apoyar y propagar ideas que conducen a un daño físico real a las personas transgénero, no binarias y otras personas LGBTQ+”, afirmó Francis DeBernardo, director ejecutivo de New Ways Ministry, un grupo con sede en Maryland que defiende a los católicos homosexuales. Añadió que la defensa de la dignidad humana por parte del Vaticano excluía “al segmento de la población humana que es transgénero, no binario o de género no conforme”.

DeBernardo dijo que el documento presentaba una teología obsoleta basada solo en la apariencia física y era ciega a “la creciente realidad de que el género de una persona incluye los aspectos psicológicos, sociales y espirituales naturalmente presentes en sus vidas”.

El documento, afirmó, mostraba una “asombrosa falta de conocimiento de la vida real de las personas transgénero y no binarias” y que sus autores ignoraban a las personas transgénero que compartían sus experiencias con la Iglesia y las tachaban “displicente” e incorrectamente de fenómeno puramente occidental.

Aunque el documento representa un claro revés para las personas LGBTQ y quienes las apoyan, el Vaticano se esforzó por encontrar un equilibrio entre la protección de la dignidad humana personal y la exposición clara de las enseñanzas de la Iglesia, lo que refleja la cuerda floja por la que Francisco ha intentado caminar en sus más de 11 años como papa.

Francisco ha convertido en una seña de identidad de su papado el reunirse con católicos homosexuales y transgénero, y ha hecho suya la misión de transmitir un mensaje a favor de una Iglesia más abierta y menos prejuiciosa. Pero se ha negado a ceder en lo que respecta a las normas y la doctrina de la Iglesia que muchos católicos homosexuales y transgénero consideran que les han alienado, lo que revela los límites de su campaña en favor de la inclusividad. La Iglesia enseña que “los actos homosexuales son intrínsecamente desordenados”.

El Vaticano reconoció que estaba tocando temas candentes, pero afirmó que, en una época de gran agitación en torno a estas cuestiones, era esencial, y esperaba beneficioso, que la Iglesia reafirmara sus enseñanzas sobre la centralidad de la dignidad humana.

El cardenal Víctor Manuel Fernández, que dirige el Dicasterio para la Doctrina de la Fe, escribió que algunos temas “serán fácilmente compartidos por distintos sectores de nuestras sociedades, otros no tanto”, en la introducción del documento, “Declaración Dignitas infinita sobre la dignidad humana”, que, según dijo el lunes, era de gran importancia doctrinal, a diferencia de la reciente declaración que permitía las bendiciones para los católicos del mismo sexo, y pretendía aportar claridad.

“Sin embargo, todos nos parecen necesarios”, escribió, “para que, en medio de tantas preocupaciones y angustias, no perdamos el rumbo y nos expongamos a sufrimientos más lacerantes y profundos”.

Aunque receptivo a los seguidores homosexuales y transgénero, el papa también ha expresado constantemente su preocupación por lo que él llama “colonización ideológica”, la noción de que las naciones ricas imponen arrogantemente puntos de vista ―ya sea sobre el género o la maternidad subrogada― a personas y tradiciones religiosas que no están necesariamente de acuerdo con ellos. El documento dice que en esa visión “ocupa un lugar central la teoría de género” y que su “consistencia científica se debate mucho en la comunidad de expertos”.

Utilizando el lenguaje “por un lado” y “por otro lado”, la oficina vaticana para la enseñanza y la doctrina escribe que “hay que denunciar como contrario a la dignidad humana que en algunos lugares se encarcele, torture e incluso prive del bien de la vida a no pocas personas, únicamente por su orientación sexual”.

“Al mismo tiempo”, continuaba, “la Iglesia destaca los decisivos elementos críticos presentes en la teoría de género”.

En su introducción, Fernández describió el largo proceso de redacción de un documento sobre la dignidad humana, que comenzó en marzo de 2019, para tener en cuenta los ”últimos desarrollos del tema en el ámbito académico y sus comprensiones ambivalentes en el contexto actual”.

En 2023, Francisco devolvió el documento con instrucciones para “destacar temas estrechamente relacionados con el tema de la dignidad, como la pobreza, la situación de los migrantes, la violencia contra las mujeres, la trata de personas, la guerra y otros temas”. Francisco firmó el documento el 25 de marzo.

El largo camino, escribió el cardenal Fernández, refleja un “considerable proceso de maduración”.

Jason Horowitz es el jefe del buró en Roma; cubre Italia, Grecia y otros sitios del sur de Europa. Más de Jason Horowitz

Elisabetta Povoledo es una reportera afincada en Roma que lleva más de tres décadas escribiendo sobre Italia. Más de Elisabetta Povoledo

Nicaragua lleva a Alemania a La Haya por proveer armas a Israel

Nicaragua, que apoya desde hace tiempo la causa palestina, está ampliando la batalla legal en torno al conflicto en Gaza en la Corte Internacional de Justicia al presentar una demanda contra Alemania, uno de los principales proveedores de armas a Israel.

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

En las audiencias que comenzaron el lunes en La Haya, Nicaragua argumentó que, al proporcionar ayuda militar y financiera a Israel, Alemania está facilitando que se cometa genocidio en Gaza y violando la Convención para la Prevención y Sanción del Genocidio.

Carlos José Argüello Gómez, embajador de Nicaragua en los Países Bajos, declaró ante el tribunal que “no importa si un proyectil se entrega directamente de Alemania a un tanque israelí que bombardea un hospital” o si se destina a reponer el arsenal de Israel.

“El hecho es que la garantía de suministros y remplazo de armamento es clave para que Israel prosiga con los ataques en Gaza”, dijo al tribunal, y afirmó que Alemania es consciente del “grave riesgo de que se cometa un genocidio”.

Nicaragua pidió al tribunal que emitiera órdenes de emergencia y señaló que, como parte en la Convención sobre el genocidio, Alemania debe suspender inmediatamente la ayuda militar a Israel y garantizar que los suministros que ya tiene en el país no se utilicen de manera ilegal.

Una portavoz de la cancillería alemana, Christine Hoffman, dijo a los periodistas la semana pasada que el gobierno rechazó las acusaciones de Nicaragua. Se espera que Alemania responda al caso el martes por la mañana.

El propio gobierno de Nicaragua se enfrenta a sanciones por sus políticas represivas en el país. Un informe especial de las Naciones Unidas de febrero señaló que los numerosos abusos del gobierno, incluyendo el encarcelamiento y deportación de figuras de la oposición, así como de clérigos católicos, eran “equivalentes a crímenes de lesa humanidad”.

El caso presentado por Nicaragua el lunes en La Haya plantea nuevas interrogantes sobre la responsabilidad de los países que han suministrado armas a Israel para la guerra en Gaza.

Los abogados afirman que Alemania —el segundo mayor proveedor de armas de Israel, después de Estados Unidos— es un objetivo más fácil para una demanda que Estados Unidos. Alemania ha concedido plena jurisdicción a la Corte Internacional de Justicia, el más alto tribunal de las Naciones Unidas. Pero Estados Unidos niega su jurisdicción, salvo en los casos en que Washington da explícitamente su consentimiento.

El caso de Nicaragua es el tercero que se presenta este año ante el tribunal en relación con el conflicto palestino-israelí.

Sudáfrica fue el primero en solicitar medidas de emergencia al tribunal, alegando que Israel corría el riesgo de cometer genocidio, una afirmación que el tribunal consideró plausible pero que Israel ha negado rotundamente. El tribunal ordenó a Israel que garantizara que sus ciudadanos y soldados no violan la Convención sobre el genocidio, que Israel ha firmado. La Convención prohíbe las acciones destinadas a destruir, total o parcialmente, a un grupo nacional, étnico, racial o religioso.

Sudáfrica también ha presentado una petición ante la CIJ por el hambre en Gaza y ha obtenido una nueva sentencia que ordena a Israel permitir la entrega de alimentos, agua y otros suministros vitales “sin demora”. A pesar de la autoridad del tribunal, este no dispone de medios para obligar a Israel a cumplir sus órdenes. Israel ha negado rotundamente las acusaciones de hambruna deliberada en Gaza.

En febrero, el tribunal también se ocupó de un caso solicitado por la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas sobre la legalidad de la ocupación israelí de los territorios palestinos. En esas audiencias, previstas mucho antes de la guerra, participaron más de 50 países, la mayoría de los cuales expresaron su indignación y frustración por los ataques de Israel contra Gaza y el creciente número de víctimas entre la población civil.

El caso presentado por Nicaragua tiene un alcance mucho más amplio que el sudafricano, ya que invoca tanto violaciones a los Convenios de Ginebra como de la Convención sobre el genocidio, y exige la protección de los civiles. También acusa a Israel de otras conductas “ilegales” en los territorios ocupados.

El tribunal aún no ha admitido el caso, pero está obligado a reaccionar con rapidez ante las solicitudes de medidas urgentes, como este.

Israel, que no es parte en el litigio entre Nicaragua y Alemania, no comparecerá ante el tribunal en las audiencias de esta semana, que se prevé duren dos días.

El apoyo a Israel se considera un deber histórico en Alemania a la luz del Holocausto, pero el creciente número de víctimas en Gaza ha llevado a algunos funcionarios alemanes a preguntarse si ese respaldo ha ido demasiado lejos.

La reciente e intensa actividad del tribunal lo ha puesto bajo los reflectores. Los abogados afirman que los países han recurrido al tribunal porque los esfuerzos de las Naciones Unidas y otros negociadores no han logrado hasta ahora detener la guerra en Gaza.

“La CIJ no va a poner fin a la guerra en Gaza, pero es una herramienta diplomática que la política exterior utiliza para ejercer presión adicional sobre Israel”, afirmó Brian Finucane, asesor principal del International Crisis Group, un grupo de expertos en resolución de conflictos. “En el caso de Nicaragua, ejerce una presión adicional sobre Alemania”.

Marlise Simons es corresponsal en la oficina del Times en París, donde se ocupa de la justicia internacional y los tribunales de crímenes de guerra. En sus casi cuatro décadas con The New York Times, ha reportado sobre Europa desde Francia e Italia y anteriormente cubrió América Latina desde Brasil y México. Más de Marlise Simons

La disputa diplomática en Ecuador podría mejorar la suerte política de su presidente

La decisión de Ecuador de enviar agentes de policía a la Embajada de México para detener a un político que se había refugiado allí avivó las tensiones entre dos países que ya estaban enfrentados, pero puede suponer un impulso político para el presidente ecuatoriano.

El presidente Daniel Noboa ha tenido que hacer frente a unos índices de aprobación cada vez más bajos en medio de un aumento de la violencia semanas antes de un referéndum que podría afectar sus perspectivas de reelección para el siguiente año. La disputa con México, que suspendió sus relaciones diplomáticas, puede ser justo lo que necesitaba.

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

El político detenido, Jorge Glas, otrora vicepresidente de Ecuador, había sido condenado a prisión por corrupción y vivía en la embajada de México en Quito desde diciembre. El viernes, México le concedió asilo y la policía ecuatoriana entró en acción.

El despacho de Noboa dijo que la detención se había llevado a cabo porque México había abusado de las inmunidades y privilegios concedidos a la misión diplomática, pero el mensaje que envió también estaba en consonancia con el enfoque de mano dura de Noboa para hacer frente a la violencia y la corrupción en Ecuador.

El líder de centroderecha, de 36 años, llegó al poder en noviembre después de que el presidente Guillermo Lasso, que se enfrentaba a un proceso de destitución por acusaciones de malversación de fondos, convocó elecciones anticipadas. Noboa ocupará el cargo hasta mayo de 2025, fecha en la que finaliza el mandato de Lasso.

La capacidad de Noboa para demostrar que puede restaurar la ley y el orden en esta nación de casi 18 millones de habitantes puede resultar decisiva para su reelección, y eso significa enfrentarse a las pandillas del país, así como a la corrupción dentro del gobierno que ha permitido la existencia de grupos criminales, según los analistas.

Muchos expertos dicen que esas aspiraciones políticas parecen explicar el arresto en la embajada, indicio de que el presidente es estricto con la impunidad.

“Hizo esto para cambiar todos estos temas de conversación negativa que le estaban afectando y tratar de tener una conversación a su favor”, dijo un analista político ecuatoriano, Agustín Burbano de Lara.

Glas ocupó varios cargos ministeriales durante la presidencia del izquierdista Rafael Correa, entre los que destaca el de vicepresidente. En 2017, fue obligado a dejar el cargo y condenado a seis años de prisión por aceptar sobornos. Otra condena por soborno en 2020 lo implicó a él y a Correa, y ambos recibieron una condena de ocho años.

Liberado en 2022, Glas acabó pidiendo asilo en México, una medida que tensó las relaciones entre Ecuador y México. El Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Ecuador dijo en marzo que había solicitado permiso a México para detener a Glas.

Aunque Noboa es muy popular, las encuestas muestran que su índice de aprobación cayó 11 puntos en los últimos meses, del 85 por ciento al 74 por ciento, en medio de la creciente violencia en Ecuador.

Después de que la ciudad costera de Guayaquil fue invadida por la violencia de las pandillas en enero, Noboa declaró un conflicto interno, una medida extraordinaria que se toma cuando el Estado es atacado por un grupo armado. Desplegó al ejército del país, permitiendo a los soldados patrullar las calles y las prisiones para hacer frente a la creciente violencia de las bandas vinculadas al tráfico de drogas.

La agresiva respuesta redujo inicialmente la violencia y aportó una precaria sensación de seguridad a lugares como Guayaquil, pero la estabilidad no duró. Durante las vacaciones de Semana Santa se produjeron 137 asesinatos en Ecuador, y los secuestros y extorsiones han empeorado.

Dentro de dos semanas, los ecuatorianos votarán en un referéndum para permitir al gobierno aumentar las medidas de seguridad endureciendo las penas de prisión para algunos delitos y consagrando por ley el aumento de la presencia militar.

Los expertos dicen que es demasiado pronto para decir si la detención de Glas beneficiará a Noboa en las urnas, pero varios ecuatorianos dijeron el domingo que apoyaban la acción.

“México ha tratado como tontos a los ecuatorianos, dando asilo a todas estas personas sentenciadas”, dijo Danilo Álvarez, un vendedor de 41 años de Guayaquil, una de las ciudades más violentas del país.

El propio Ecuador una vez concedió un asilo muy comentado en una de sus embajadas. En 2012, cuando Correa era presidente, alojó al fundador de WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, en su embajada en Londres durante siete años.

Álvarez dijo que unos ladrones entraron en su casa hace unos años, le ataron las manos y los pies y le apuntaron con una pistola a la cabeza. Pasaron meses antes de que pudiera volver a dormir bien, dijo.

Sin embargo, no todos los ciudadanos estaban de acuerdo con la detención.

“Se trató de un acto de total irrespeto al derecho internacional”, dijo Delfa Mantilla, profesora jubilada de 62 años. “Parece que fue algo que el presidente Noboa hizo producto de su ego de niño rico, sin empatía”.

Algunos se preocuparon por los efectos que la disputa diplomática podría tener para la gente común. Decenas de miles de ecuatorianos emigran a través de México a Estados Unidos cada año, y los dos países se han enfrentado a un aumento de la delincuencia transnacional, con muchos cárteles mexicanos operando desde Ecuador.

“Parte de mí piensa que está bien, porque Glas debe ir preso”, dijo Mario Zalamar, un ingeniero comercial de 34 años. Pero, añadió, “hay miles de ecuatorianos ahora mismo transitando México a pie para migrar a Estados Unidos y no sabemos cuánto les va a afectar esto”.

Aunque muchos ecuatorianos apoyen la detención en la embajada, es probable que Noboa haya ahondado una brecha diplomática que puede debilitar sus relaciones con otros países de la región.

Honduras, Brasil, Colombia y Argentina se han unido a México y han criticado la detención. Y el gobierno de Nicaragua anunció que suspendía sus relaciones diplomáticas con Ecuador, calificando la detención de “barbarie política neofascista” en una declaración compartida por los medios de comunicación estatales.

Matthew Miller, portavoz del Departamento de EE. UU., declaró: “Estados Unidos condena cualquier violación de la Convención de Viena sobre Relaciones Diplomáticas, y se toma muy en serio la obligación de los países anfitriones, en virtud del derecho internacional, de respetar la inviolabilidad de las misiones diplomáticas”.

Miller hizo un llamamiento a ambos países para que resuelvan sus diferencias.

José María León Cabrera y Thalíe Ponce colaboraron con reportería.

El petróleo de Guyana: ¿bendición o maldición?

Read in English

Basjit Mahabir no me deja entrar.

Estoy tratando de convencer a Mahabir de que abra la reja cerrada con candado de la finca Wales, donde vigila los restos desvencijados de una fábrica rodeada de kilómetros de campos de caña de azúcar sin cultivar. El cultivo y la molienda del azúcar de esta plantación, a unos 16 kilómetros de Georgetown, la capital de Guyana, concluyó hace siete años y algunas partes del complejo han sido vendidas como chatarra.

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

Tengo mis argumentos. “Aquí vivía yo cuando era niña”, digo. “Mi padre dirigía el laboratorio de campo”. Mahabir es amigable, pero firme. No lograré entrar.

Estas ruinas son lo que queda de una industria azucarera que, después de enriquecer a los colonizadores británicos durante siglos, fue el indicador de la riqueza del país cuando obtuvo su independencia.

Ahora se prevé que esta finca se convierta en parte del auge más reciente de Guyana: una fiebre de petróleo que está reconfigurando el futuro del país. Esta nación alejada de las rutas más conocidas, con una población de 800.000 habitantes, está en la vanguardia de una paradoja global: aun cuando el mundo se compromete a dejar de emplear combustibles fósiles, los países en desarrollo tienen muchos incentivos a corto plazo para duplicar su uso.

Antes del petróleo, los extranjeros iban a Guyana a hacer ecoturismo atraídos por los bosques tropicales que abarcan el 87 por ciento de su territorio. En 2009, la iniciativa de combatir el calentamiento global convirtió esto en un nuevo tipo de moneda cuando Guyana vendió créditos de carbono por un total de 250 millones de dólares, fundamentalmente con la promesa de mantener ese carbón almacenado en los árboles.

Seis años después, Exxon Mobil descubrió un tesoro de petróleo bajo las aguas costeras de Guyana. De inmediato, esta empresa y sus socios del consorcio, Hess Corporation y China National Offshore Oil Corporation, comenzaron la extracción a una velocidad inaudita. Este petróleo, el mismo que en la actualidad se quema principalmente en Europa, está produciendo más emisiones a nivel global, al igual que una riqueza colosal.

Se prevé que, para fines de esta década, este descubrimiento se convierta en la principal fuente de ingresos de Exxon Mobil. El acuerdo que lo hizo posible —y que le otorgó a Exxon Mobil la mayor parte de las ganancias— ha sido un tema de indignación pública y hasta de una demanda, y el consenso aparente es que Guyana salió perdiendo. No obstante, hasta ahora, el acuerdo le ha generado al país 3500 millones de dólares, más dinero del que haya visto, considerablemente más de lo que obtuvo por conservar árboles. Es suficiente para trazar un nuevo destino.

El gobierno ha decidido ir en pos de ese destino invirtiendo todavía más en los combustibles fósiles. La mayor parte de las ganancias inesperadas por el petróleo disponibles en su erario se usarán en la construcción de carreteras y otro tipo de infraestructura, en especial un gasoducto de más de 240 kilómetros para transportar gas natural y generar electricidad.

El gasoducto pasará por la finca Wales para llevar el gas a una central eléctrica y a una segunda planta que usará los derivados para producir gas para cocinar y fertilizantes. Con un costo de más de 2000 millones de dólares, es el proyecto público de infraestructura más caro en la historia de Guyana. Se alberga la esperanza de que el país pueda desarrollarse a nivel económico con un suministro previsible y abundante de energía barata.

Al mismo tiempo, el cambio climático se cierne sobre las costas de Guyana; se prevé que la mayor parte de Georgetown quede bajo el agua para el año 2030.

El gasoducto atravesará una antigua finca azucarera y terrenos privados. El gobierno espera que el proyecto aporte una fuente de energía fiable para diversificar la economía. Al mismo tiempo, el aumento del nivel del mar amenaza la capital, Georgetown.

Los países como Guyana están atrapados en una lucha entre las consecuencias de la extracción de combustibles fósiles y los incentivos para llevarla a cabo. “Desde luego que estamos hablando de países en desarrollo, y si todavía necesitan desarrollarse mucho a nivel social y económico, entonces es difícil exigirles que prohíban los combustibles fósiles en su totalidad”, señaló Maria Antonia Tigre, directora del Sabin Center for Climate Change Law de la Universidad de Columbia. Aun así, insistió, “estamos en un momento de la crisis climática en que a nadie se le puede otorgar ninguna concesión.

Durante varios siglos, las potencias extranjeras establecieron los términos para esta franja de Sudamérica en el océano Atlántico. Los británicos, quienes fueron los primeros en tomar posesión en 1796, trataron a esta colonia como una enorme fábrica de azúcar. Traficaron esclavos procedentes de África para que trabajaran en las plantaciones y luego, después de la abolición de la esclavitud, hallaron un remplazo despiadadamente eficaz con la contratación de trabajadores no abonados, en su mayoría procedentes de India. Mahabir, quien trabajó cortando caña la mayor parte de su vida, es descendiente de esos trabajadores no abonados, al igual que yo.

Hace 57 años, el país se liberó de sus grilletes imperiales, pero la democracia genuina tardó más tiempo en llegar.

No fue sino hasta la década de 1990 que Guyana celebró sus primeras elecciones libres e imparciales, comenzaron a surgir las instituciones de la democracia, como un sistema judicial independiente, y la legislatura aprobó una serie de leyes ambientales muy sólidas.

Ahora que ha llegado Exxon Mobil para extraer un nuevo recurso, algunos defensores de la democracia y el medioambiente consideran que esas protecciones están amenazadas. Señalan al gigante de los combustibles fósiles, el cual recibe ingresos globales diez veces mayores al producto bruto interno de Guyana, de ser una nueva especie de colonizador, y han demandado a su gobierno con el fin de presionarlo a hacer cumplir sus leyes y disposiciones.

Vickram Bharrat, ministro de Recursos Naturales, defendió la vigilancia que ejerce el gobierno sobre el gas y el petróleo. “No existen pruebas de inclinación a favor de ninguna corporación multinacional”, dijo. En un comunicado, Exxon Mobil señaló que su trabajo en el proyecto de gas natural “ayudaría a ofrecerles a los consumidores guyaneses electricidad confiable y de bajas emisiones a base de gas”.

El mundo se encuentra en una seria coyuntura y Guyana está en la intersección. Este país es un puntito diminuto del planeta, pero el descubrimiento de petróleo ahí ha planteado preguntas de una importancia enorme. ¿Cómo se puede lograr que los países ricos rindan cuentas de sus promesas de dejar de usar los combustibles fósiles? ¿Las instituciones de una democracia débil pueden mantener bajo control a las grandes corporaciones? ¿Y qué clase de futuro les está prometiendo Guyana a sus ciudadanos mientras apuesta por materias primas que la mayor parte del mundo está prometiendo dejar de usar?

Hace un año, un hotel en Georgetown, con el afán de aprovechar el nuevo dinero del petróleo, al igual que muchos otros, organizó un evento de cata de ron y cobró 170 dólares por persona. Yo había estado intentando, sin éxito, entrevistar a los altos directivos de Exxon Mobil en Guyana. Cuando escuché rumores de que asistiría su director nacional, compré un boleto y, aunque él no se presentó, me pude sentar con su círculo más cercano.

Uno de los organizadores del evento pronunció un discurso en el que evocó una época en la que “BG”, la abreviatura de British Guiana (Guyana Británica), el nombre del país en la época colonial, también se usaba para referirse a “Booker’s Guiana” (la Guyana de Booker, la mayor empresa de la industria azucarera en Guyana). Ahora, este orador hablaba con toda naturalidad de “la Guyana de Exxon”.

Booker McConnell era una empresa multinacional británica fundada originalmente por dos hermanos que se enriquecieron gracias al azúcar y a las personas esclavas. En algún momento, la empresa fue propietaria del 80 por ciento de las plantaciones azucareras en la Guyana Británica, entre ellas, la de la finca Wales. El ejecutivo de Exxon Mobil que estaba sentado a mi lado no sabía nada de esto y se ruborizó cuando le dije que el orador acababa de inscribir a su empleador en una larga lista de colonialismo corporativo.

El país obtuvo su independencia en 1966, pero los gobiernos británico y estadounidense manipularon la llegada al poder del primer dirigente guyanés, Forbes Burnham, un abogado negro al que consideraron más manipulable que Cheddi Jagan, el hijo radical de unos trabajadores indios de una plantación, quien era considerado como una amenaza marxista. Pero Burnham se volvió cada vez más dictatorial y, en un giro del destino geopolítico, socialista.

Tras la independencia, Booker seguía siendo propietario de la finca Wales, pero a mediados de la década de 1970, Burnham tomó el control de los recursos del país: nacionalizó la producción azucarera y la explotación de bauxita. Al igual que otras antiguas colonias, Guyana quería romper con el imperialismo tanto económico como político.

Burnham impulsó la idea de la independencia económica hasta el punto de prohibir las importaciones. Sin embargo, Guyana no contaba con las granjas ni las fábricas para satisfacer la demanda, así que el pueblo tuvo que recurrir al mercado negro, hacer filas para recibir alimentos racionados y pasar hambre.

La muerte de Burnham en 1985 desencadenó una serie de acontecimientos que empezaron a transformar el país. En siete años, Guyana celebró sus primeras elecciones libres e imparciales y Jagan, quien entonces ya era un hombre mayor, resultó electo como presidente. Pronto, una generación más joven de su partido asumió el poder y adoptó el capitalismo. Una vez más, las empresas extranjeras pudieron competir por los vastos recursos del país.

Luego llegaron las pruebas de los peligros planteados por la extracción descontrolada. En 1995, se desbordó una presa de una mina de oro canadiense. Los 1500 millones de litros de desechos envenenados con cianuro que había contenido contaminaron dos ríos importantes. Simone Mangal-Joly, quien ahora es una especialista en desarrollo internacional y medioambiente, estuvo entre los científicos de campo que probaron los niveles de cianuro del río. El agua se había vuelto roja y los pobladores indígenas se cubrían con plástico para protegerse la piel. “Es donde se bañaban”, recordó Mangal-Joly. “Era el agua que bebían, con la que cocinaban y su medio de transporte”.

La tragedia suscitó la acción. El año siguiente, el gobierno aprobó su primera ley de protección al medioambiente y, siete años después, se añadió a la Constitución el derecho a un medioambiente sano. Guyana logró consagrar lo que ni Canadá ni Estados Unidos, por ejemplo, han consagrado.

Durante un tiempo, el capital natural de Guyana —los vastos bosques tropicales que hacen que este sea uno de los pocos países que son un sumidero neto de carbono— estaba entre sus activos más preciados. Bharrat Jagdeo, el entonces presidente, vendió a Noruega el carbono almacenado en sus bosques para compensar la contaminación derivada de la propia producción de petróleo de ese país en 2009. Los grupos indígenas recibieron 20 millones de dólares por ese acuerdo para desarrollar sus aldeas y obtener los títulos de propiedad de sus tierras ancestrales, aunque algunos se quejaron de haber tenido poca participación. Jagdeo fue aclamado como un “defensor de la tierra” de las Naciones Unidas.

Pero luego Exxon Mobil descubrió petróleo.

La visión de una Guyana ecológica ahora compite con su meteórico ascenso como una de las nuevas fuentes más grandes de petróleo en el mundo. Jagdeo, quien ahora es vicepresidente de Guyana pero sigue imponiendo gran parte de la política gubernamental, es un ferviente defensor del proyecto Wales.

No obstante, un movimiento multirracial de ciudadanos, pequeño pero inquebrantable, está poniendo a prueba el poder de las leyes ambientales. David Boyd, el relator especial de la ONU sobre derechos humanos y medioambiente, califica al país como un frente de batalla para litigios con argumentos innovadores sobre derechos para combatir el cambio climático. Esto incluye el primer caso constitucional de cambio climático de la región, presentado por un guía de turistas indígena y un profesor universitario.

Liz Deane-Hughes proviene de una familia destacada. Su padre fundó uno de los bufetes de abogados más respetados de Georgetown y en la década de 1980 luchó contra cambios represivos a la Constitución. Deane-Hughes recuerda que sus padres la llevaban a los apasionados mítines dirigidos por un partido multirracial que estaba contra el gobierno de Burnham. Cuando tenía 13 años, un día llegó a su casa y encontró a oficiales de la policía registrando su hogar. “Yo viví en Guyana en la década de 1980”, señaló Deane-Hughes, quien trabajó en el bufete familiar antes de dejar la abogacía. “Así que no deseo volver a eso en ningún sentido”.

Hablé con Deane-Hughes, quien ahora es artista y diseñadora de joyería, en la amplia terraza de una casa estilo colonial construida en un terreno que ha pertenecido a su familia durante cinco generaciones. El gobierno ha reclamado una parte de este para el gasoducto de gas natural, el cual pasa tanto por propiedad privada como por la finca Wales. Pero, según ella, el problema va más allá de su patio trasero.

En febrero, Deane-Hughes se unió virtualmente a otros activistas en una audiencia ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos con el argumento de que las empresas petroleras han afectado la gestión del medioambiente en Guyana. Este grupo de activistas ha alzado la voz y presentado demandas para poner a esa empresa bajo el escrutinio de las normas y las leyes del país.

Mangal-Joly, quien respondió al desastre del cianuro que dio lugar a esas leyes ambientales, comentó que el gobierno no ha logrado cumplir con sus funciones de vigilancia. Como parte de su investigación de doctorado en la University College London, descubrió que la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de Guyana había suspendido las evaluaciones ambientales de todas las instalaciones de tratamiento de desechos tóxicos o que almacenan materiales radiactivos producidos por la producción de petróleo en altamar.

También a la planta de gas le han otorgado carta blanca. En enero, la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA, por su sigla en inglés) suspendió la evaluación ambiental de la planta propuesta de Wales debido a que Exxon Mobil, aunque no está construyendo la planta, ya había realizado una evaluación para el gasoducto.

La Agencia de Protección Ambiental defendió su decisión. “Es una buena práctica común” basarse en evaluaciones ambientales ya existentes “aunque las hayan realizado otros desarrolladores de proyectos”, escribió un vocero de la agencia en representación de su director ejecutivo. La agencia afirmó su derecho a suspender las evaluaciones cuando lo considere oportuno y señaló que los tribunales no habían revocado sus exenciones: “Sin duda, esto habla del alto grado de competencia técnica y de la cultura de cumplimiento de la Agencia de Protección Ambiental con las leyes de Guyana”.

Mangal-Joly afirma que la central eléctrica está sobre un manto freático que suministra agua potable a la mayor parte del país. “Nuestra capa freática es poco profunda”, explicó. “Hay una generación, así como generaciones por venir, que no heredarán agua limpia. Estamos echando a perder un recurso mucho más valioso que el petróleo”.

La suspensión enfureció a Deane-Hughes y le pareció una farsa la independencia de la junta que atiende las inquietudes de los ciudadanos. Su presidente, Mahender Sharma, encabeza la agencia de energía de Guyana y su esposa dirige la nueva empresa gubernamental creada para gestionar la central eléctrica. En una audiencia de la junta, Deane-Hughes hizo referencia al mandato contra los conflictos de interés en la Ley de Protección Ambiental y le pidió a Sharma que no interviniera. “Yo quisiera que usted no tomara ninguna decisión”, le dijo.

Seis semanas después, la junta tomó una decisión: autorizó que la compañía eléctrica conservara su permiso ambiental sin hacer ninguna declaración de impacto ambiental.

Sharma calificó a los críticos de ser una élite intelectual privilegiada que ignora las privaciones que han orillado a muchos guyaneses a darle la bienvenida a la industria petrolera.

En la reunión con la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Bharrat, el ministro de Recursos Naturales, alegó que su gobierno tiene tanto el derecho como la responsabilidad de equilibrar el desarrollo económico con la sustentabilidad. “El desarrollo de nuestro país y la protección al medioambiente no son objetivos irreconciliables”, les dijo.

Para Melinda Janki, la abogada que está llevando la mayor parte de las demandas de los activistas y una de los pocos abogados locales dispuestos a enfrentarse a las empresas petroleras, la pregunta es si Exxon Mobil puede salirse con la suya y hacer lo que quiere. Janki colaboró en la creación de algunas de las leyes ambientales más estrictas de Guyana. “Pese a que es una empresa petrolera gigantesca, tendrán que obedecer la ley. El Estado de derecho es el Estado de derecho”, dijo.

La iniciativa Headway se financia mediante subvenciones de la Fundación Ford, la Fundación William y Flora Hewlett y la Fundación Stavros Niarchos (SNF, por su sigla en inglés), y Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors actúa como patrocinador fiscal. La Fundación Woodcock financia la plaza pública de Headway. Los financiadores no tienen ningún control sobre la selección, el enfoque de las historias o el proceso de edición y no revisan las historias antes de su publicación. El Times conserva el pleno control editorial de la iniciativa Headway.

Gaiutra Bahadur es autora de Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture. Enseña inglés y periodismo como profesora asociada en la Universidad Rutgers de Newark.