The New York Times 2024-04-12 16:18:07

Middle East Crisis: Travel Warnings Issued as Israel Prepares for Possible Iranian Strike

The U.S. issues new travel guidelines, warning that Iran will avenge the killings of senior commanders.

Several countries including the United States have issued new travel guidelines for Israel and the surrounding region, as the Israeli military said its forces were “highly alert” for a possible Iranian strike in retaliation for the killings of several commanders.

Iran has repeatedly vowed to strike back at Israel over the bombing of an Iranian Embassy complex in Damascus, Syria, this month that killed three generals and four other military officers. An American official said on Friday that Washington expects an attack by Iran against Israel that would be bigger than recent attacks in the long shadow war between the two countries, but not so big that it would draw the United States into war. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The U.S. State Department on Thursday barred its employees from traveling to large parts of Israel, the first time the U.S. government had restricted the movement of its employees in this way since the war in Gaza began more than six months ago.

On Thursday, Britain told its citizens that they “should consider leaving” Israel and the Palestinian territories “if it is safe to do so.” On Friday, India told its citizens “not to travel to Iran or Israel till further notice,” while France advised people not to travel to Israel, Iran or Lebanon and evacuated the families of French diplomats from Iran.

Asked about the U.S. travel warning, Matthew Miller, the State Department spokesman, said at a news briefing Thursday: “We have seen Iran making public threats against Israel in the past few days.” He declined to provide details about any specific information that prompted the warning.

The new guidelines bar U.S. government employees and their families from traveling to locations outside the Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba metropolitan areas “out of an abundance of caution” until further notice. The State Department said U.S. personnel could move among those areas for personal travel.

The top American military commander for the Middle East, Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, traveled to Israel to coordinate a response to possible Iranian retaliation, U.S. officials said.

“Our enemies think that they will divide Israel and the United States,” the Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said in a statement on Friday after meeting with General Kurilla. “They are connecting us and are strengthening the relationship between us.”

If Iran attacks, he added, “we will know how to respond.”

On Thursday, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said that the armed forces were “highly alert and prepared” for any action Iran might take, even as the timing and scale of any response remained unclear. Analysts say that Tehran, which has long used a network of proxy forces to project power across the Middle East, wants to avoid igniting a full-fledged war that could drag in the United States and threaten the survival of Iran’s regime.

“For years, and even more so during the war, Iran has been financing, directing and arming its proxies — in Lebanon, Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Yemen — to attack the state of Israel,” he said. “An attack from Iranian territory would be clear evidence of Iran’s intentions to escalate the Middle East and stop hiding behind the proxies.”

Israel says it opened a new aid corridor to northern Gaza.

The Israeli military said on Friday it had begun allowing humanitarian aid trucks to enter northern Gaza through a new crossing, in an apparent response to international pressure to do more to alleviate the hunger and deprivation produced by more than six months of war.

The military did not specify the location of the new crossing, and it remained unclear how many trucks had crossed, what aid agency they belonged to and when the crossing might be open for wider use.

The convoy that Israel says entered on Thursday was not coordinated with the United Nations, whose agencies handle much of the relief effort in Gaza, according to a U.N. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Jamie McGoldrick, a top U.N. relief official in Jerusalem, said that U.N. officials planned to head to the crossing on Saturday to examine it. He said the crossing would be a significant improvement “if it can go to scale and is not temporary.”

Israel has come under increasing international pressure to allow more aid to enter Gaza. After Israeli strikes killed seven aid workers last week, President Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel by phone that the United States could withhold military support for Israel unless it did more to protect civilians and ensure adequate supplies for Palestinian civilians.

More than a million Gazans are facing “catastrophic levels of food insecurity” and over 50,000 Gazan children are acutely malnourished, the United Nations’ Office of Humanitarian Affairs reported this week. Aid agencies say the desperation is gravest in northern Gaza, where chaos and lawlessness have followed the withdrawal of most Israeli troops, and where relief groups have struggled to bring supplies from the two main border crossings in the south.

Aid officials have lobbied the Israeli government for months to open more entry points to bring aid directly into northern Gaza to avoid perilous roads across the territory where they fear their trucks will be either looted or bombarded.

In announcing the new crossing, the Israeli military said that Israeli inspectors had checked the trucks at Kerem Shalom, across the border from southern Gaza, before they headed to the new entry point, according to the Israeli military.

In mid-March, the Israeli authorities opened a military access road, known as Crossing 96, into northern Gaza. But Israel ultimately did not allow U.N. agencies to use the route consistently to bring in trucks, saying it was often needed for military use, Mr. McGoldrick said.

“Until we get a consistent flow inside Gaza, we’re never going to have the desperation reduced,” he said in an interview.

Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, pledged on Wednesday to “flood Gaza with aid” and said he expected to ultimately see 500 relief trucks entering the enclave on a daily basis. (U.N. figures show that an average of about 110 aid trucks have entered Gaza daily since the war began Oct. 7.) Mr. Gallant said Israel would soon open the port of Ashdod, an Israeli city north of Gaza, to accept aid shipments, without providing a time frame.

The relief organization Anera says it is resuming operations in Gaza.

An aid group that was a partner with World Central Kitchen in Gaza and had suspended its operations after Israeli strikes killed seven humanitarian workers has said it is resuming work in the territory.

The Israeli authorities this week told the group, Anera, that the country’s military would take “certain measures” to protect aid workers in Gaza, the group’s chief executive, Sean Carroll, said in a statement on Thursday. The longstanding U.S.-based nonprofit, also known by its full name, American Near East Refugee Aid, said it was fully resuming its work in Gaza distributing meals, hygiene kits and tents, and providing medical treatment.

“Our ability to help people in Gaza relies on our heroic staff and hundreds of volunteers,” Mr. Carroll said in the statement, saying the group was “cautiously hopeful” that Israel’s assurances would mean that its workers will be safe.

In an email response to questions from The New York Times, Mr. Carroll said that the Israeli authorities had assured him that “there will be no firing at humanitarian missions under any circumstances.” A strike near a humanitarian mission would occur only “in the case of a suspected armed militant in the area,” and only with the authorization of “a senior officer,” Mr. Carroll said he was told.

More than six months of Israeli bombardment in Gaza have taken a devastating toll on Palestinians and aid workers. At least 224 humanitarian workers have been killed in Gaza since the current conflict broke out on Oct. 7, the U.N. Security Council said in a statement Thursday. That toll is at least three times higher than in a single conflict in a given year, the Security Council said.

With Israel’s blockade and heavy bombardment of the territory, Gaza’s 2.2 million civilians have become ever more dependent on aid organizations to meet even a fraction of their basic needs. At the same time, aid groups say the constant risk of strikes, crumbling roads and infrastructure, and staggering levels of need make their work immensely challenging.

In a sign of the continuing peril for aid workers, UNICEF said on Thursday that one of its vehicles had been hit with live ammunition while waiting to enter northern Gaza this week. The Palestine Red Crescent Society said separately that a staff member had died on Thursday after having been wounded in March during the evacuation of a hospital in Khan Younis.

The seven workers with the relief organization World Central Kitchen were killed April 1 leaving a warehouse in central Gaza. The team was part of the group’s efforts to get hundreds of tons of food aid, sent in by ship through a makeshift jetty the organization built on the Mediterranean coast, to a population among whom famine is beginning to set in.

They were killed when at least one Israeli drone struck three vehicles in their convoy in rapid succession, which Israel’s military later said was the result of a “grave mistake.”

Anera, which was a partner with World Central Kitchen to distribute meals, said it had also lost one of its workers on March 8 in an Israeli airstrike, even though the location of his shelter had been shared with the Israeli authorities. Mousa Shawwa, 41, a logistics coordinator, had been a member of its staff for nearly 15 years and was wearing a vest with its logo when he was killed, according to the organization.

World Central Kitchen, which also suspended its work in Gaza after the deaths of its staff members, has not announced plans to restart operations.

Here’s what to know about Gaza’s hunger crisis.

Six months into the Israel-Hamas war, the people of Gaza are facing a hunger crisis that the United Nations says borders on famine.

The crisis in Gaza is entirely human-made, a result of Israel’s war on Hamas and a near-complete siege of the territory, aid experts say. Conflicts were also at the root of the other two disasters in the last two decades that were classified by a global authority as famines, in Sudan and Somalia, though in those countries drought was also a significant underlying factor.

Here’s a look at how Gaza reached this point.

The food shortages in Gaza have been created by Israel’s blockade and military operations.

For years before the latest war, Gaza was subject to an Israeli blockade, backed by Egypt. Under the blockade, humanitarian aid, including food and commercial imports, was tightly restricted. Even so, levels of malnutrition among Gaza’s roughly 2.2 million people were low and comparable to those of countries in the region.

After Oct. 7, when Hamas led a deadly attack on Israel that incited the war, Israel imposed a siege and instituted much stricter controls on what could go into Gaza, stopping anything it believed could potentially benefit Hamas from entering. At the same time, Israel blocked commercial imports of food that had filled Gaza’s shops and markets.

It also bombed Gaza’s port, restricted fishing and bombed many of the territory’s farms. Airstrikes and fighting have shattered Gaza’s infrastructure and forced almost all of its population to flee their homes. That displacement, plus the destruction of businesses and a surge in prices, has made it hard for families to feed themselves.

“The food production system has been completely obliterated, and the lack of entry of emergency aid within a short time has created a free fall,” said Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N. humanitarian office.

Famine has a precise definition for the United Nations and aid groups.

This week, Samantha Power, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said that a famine was underway in northern Gaza, the part of the territory most cut off from aid. Her agency later said that assessment was based on data collected in March, not on new information, but that “conditions remain dire.”

That data was released by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, an initiative of U.N. bodies and major relief agencies that is also known as the I.P.C.,. The I.P.C. has not yet classified the situation in Gaza as a famine but said last month that one was imminent in the north. The body defines a famine as at least 20 percent of households facing an extreme lack of food, at least 30 percent of children suffering from acute malnutrition, and at least two adults or four children for every 10,000 people dying each day from starvation or disease linked to malnutrition.

Since 2004, when the system was set up, there have been two famines, according to that definition. In 2011, the United Nations declared famine in parts of Somalia, which had endured decades of conflict. Years of drought wrecked the agricultural sector and the economy, forcing many people to leave their homes in search of food. At the same time, an Islamist insurgent group blocked starving people from fleeing and forced out Western aid organizations. In all, around 250,000 people died.

Six years later, a famine was declared in parts of South Sudan. The country had suffered years of drought, but the U.N. said that the famine was human-made. Millions of people had fled because of a civil war, destroying the country’s economy, and rebel forces and government soldiers blocked aid and hijacked food trucks. Tens of thousands died.

Gaza is small and mostly urban, so food should be close at hand.

Gaza is just 25 miles long and largely urban, and there is no shortage of food on the other side of its borders, with Israel and Egypt.

Still, aid agencies have found doing their jobs difficult. Six months of war have included the killings of scores of aid workers, including seven from World Central Kitchen, the relief group founded by the chef José Andrés. Those employees were killed by an Israeli drone strike on April 1 after delivering tons of food to a warehouse.

There is a sharp disagreement in Gaza between the U.N. and the Israeli government about how much aid is entering Gaza each day, but aid organizations say they need better access, particularly to northern Gaza. The Israeli authorities have repeatedly denied permission for aid convoys to move within Gaza, they say.

Arif Husain, the chief economist at the World Food Program, said that what made the situation in Gaza so shocking was the scale and severity of the crisis and how quickly it had developed.

Israel claims it has placed no limits on aid. Critics disagree.

Critics of the way Israel is conducting the war say that the hunger crisis derives largely from Israeli restrictions on where trucks can enter and from an onerous inspection process. Some have accused Israel of slowing aid down to punish Gazans for the Oct. 7 attack.

Israeli officials say they have placed no limits on the amount of aid that can flow into Gaza. They blame the U.N., particularly UNRWA, the main agency that helps Palestinians, for failing to distribute aid effectively.

COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for coordinating aid deliveries into Gaza, says that it has “surged” deliveries in recent days and is opening an additional entry point in northern Gaza. More broadly, the Israeli government holds Hamas responsible for all civilian suffering in Gaza. (UNRWA said last month that Israel had denied the group access to northern Gaza, though Israel has rebutted that claim.)

Governments around the world have urged Israel to address the crisis quickly. President Biden last week warned that the United States could withhold support for Israel if it did not ensure adequate aid deliveries and protect civilians. On Wednesday, Mr. Biden said that the steps Israel had taken since then were “not enough.”

Adam Sella contributed reporting.

How the War in Gaza Mobilized the American Left

Katie GlueckKatie Benner and

Support for Palestinians, a cause once largely championed on college campuses and in communities with ties to the region, has transformed into a defining issue of the Democratic left, galvanizing a broad swath of groups into the most significant protest movement of the Biden era.

Through daily organizing sessions on Zoom and grass-roots campaigning in battleground states, a sprawling new iteration of the pro-Palestinian movement is now propelled both by longtime — and sometimes hard-line — activists and by mainstream pillars of the Democratic coalition.

Organizations that are usually focused on climate, housing or immigration are regularly protesting Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, which followed the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack and has killed more than 33,000 people, according to local officials.

Labor activists are calling for a cease-fire. Black clergy leaders have appealed directly to the White House. Young Americans are using online tools to mobilize voters and send millions of missives to Congress. And an emerging coalition of advocacy groups is discussing how to press its case at the Democratic National Convention this summer.

“Maybe there was an idea that over time, the movement would lose steam, or it was just like a campus thing or it was like a far-left sort of protest movement,” said Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the Working Families Party, a progressive group that has often been more focused on domestic issues. “The opposite is happening as the humanitarian toll becomes so clear.”

Interviews with more than three dozen activists and others involved in the cease-fire cause, as well as their critics, reveal an effort that is at once increasingly powerful and also disjointed and difficult to clearly define. There is no single leader or organization at the helm, nor even a single name for the effort.

It comprises hundreds of groups, from the national to the hyperlocal level, all loosely united behind a call for Israel to end its military campaign. But they are far from consensus on other core issues, such as how to achieve a cease-fire and what should come afterward.

They do not all work together, and their tactics also vary widely: While labor and faith leaders have issued calibrated statements, more strident groups and activists often stage demonstrations that snarl traffic or drown out politicians at events, and some have encouraged supporters to take their own “autonomous actions.”

On campuses especially, some protests have turned ugly or violent. Jewish students and leaders have described being harassed and threatened by people angered by the war in Gaza, in the face of a broader surge in antisemitic incidents, according to law enforcement officials and advocacy groups. They have also tracked a rise in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab acts, including the killing of a Palestinian American 6-year-old boy and the shooting of three students of Palestinian descent in Vermont.

In the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack, which Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people in Israel, demonstrations against Israel were initially often led by campus groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, which would later be banned or suspended from several universities; left-wing Jewish organizations including Jewish Voice for Peace chapters; and groups heavily involved in street protests that cheered or justified the attack as legitimate resistance, such as Palestinian Youth Movement and Within Our Lifetime.

But as Israel’s military response intensified and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza spiraled, a much broader constellation of more traditional Democratic-leaning organizations, leaders and voters began to engage. Activists are now wrestling with how best to push President Biden and his Democratic allies — or whether to break from them — in an election year.

Mr. Biden is under intense pressure to take a tougher stand against Israel, a longtime ally, from powerful parts of a divided party. In a Pew Research Center poll released last month, a slim majority of Democrats said the way Israel was conducting the war was unacceptable, even as the same share said its reasons for fighting were either completely or somewhat valid.

After seven aid workers were killed by Israeli strikes last week, Mr. Biden threatened to condition future support for Israel on how it addresses civilian casualties and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Other Democrats are going much further in their condemnations.

“There is now a real link between prominent elected officials and on-the-ground organizing,” said Abbas Alawieh, 32, a Democratic strategist who is helping to lead a national effort protesting Mr. Biden’s Israel policy. “That link is leading to what I’ve experienced as one of the largest antiwar organizing efforts this generation has seen.”

For decades, pro-Palestinian activists largely existed on the political fringe, drowned out by bipartisan support for Israel and by well-organized, well-funded pro-Israel organizations.

But after years of fraying ties between the Democratic Party and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader, the outbreak of war abruptly exposed just how much the political landscape had shifted.

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After Oct. 7, Mr. Biden traveled to Israel to offer support, and many around the world demanded that Hamas release the roughly 240 hostages taken captive.

At universities and in some activist circles, however, a powerful backlash against Israel was brewing within hours of the attack, transforming student groups with sleepy social media presences into powerful campus voices.

On Oct. 5, Columbia University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine posted on Instagram about an upcoming meeting. The post drew 369 likes and 14 comments.

On Oct. 9, a post proclaiming “full solidarity with Palestinian resistance” received nearly 33,000 likes.

Such reactions drew widespread criticism. But as Israel bombarded Gaza and launched a ground invasion, scenes of death and devastation in Israel were increasingly supplanted on television and social media by images of death and devastation in Gaza.

Those scenes began to define views of the war for many within the broader Democratic Party who strongly condemned Hamas but grew increasingly alarmed by the civilian toll.

“We are seeing profound pain,” said William J. Barber II, an activist and professor at Yale Divinity School who has spoken with Vice President Kamala Harris about a cease-fire. “Nothing organizes people like that pain.”

On Nov. 8, a coalition of Black clergy members ran an advertisement in The New York Times calling for a bilateral cease-fire.

The ad, signed by more than 900 Christian faith leaders, was perhaps the clearest sign yet of the movement’s growth. It reflected longstanding relationships between Black and Palestinian activists dating to the demonstrations against police violence in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

The Rev. Michael McBride, a founder of Black Church PAC who helped organize the letter, recalled the online encouragement he received from Palestinian young people while in Ferguson. Nine years later, he was shaken by the scenes from Gaza on social media.

“I don’t think many of us had seen anything like that before,” he said.

Other core Democratic constituencies were mobilizing, too. In the labor movement, progressive and younger members as well as workers from heavily Arab American Dearborn, Mich., agitated for their unions to take a stand.

Brandon Mancilla, a regional director with the United Automobile Workers, said that by early November, as the death toll rose in Gaza, union members were regularly joining demonstrations in their U.A.W. gear.

“It wasn’t just protesting the bombing,” said Mr. Mancilla, who helped lead the cease-fire call efforts. “It was also trying to say that, like, ‘I belong to this organization, and I want that organization to reflect my principles.’”

In December, the U.A.W. International Union became the largest labor union at the time to back an “immediate” cease-fire.

While many activists have urged an “immediate, permanent” cease-fire, others have pressed for a negotiated, bilateral cease-fire with pressure on Israel and Hamas, illustrating both growing disillusionment with Israel’s war effort and stark differences about how to end it.

As unions intensified their efforts, Mr. Biden received a warning in a bastion of the American labor movement.

In February, more than 100,000 Michigan voters cast an “uncommitted” ballot in the state’s Democratic primary, after activists urged voters to send a message to Mr. Biden. There have been notable protest votes in subsequent primary states, and activists are now planning their presence at the Democratic National Convention.

Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for the Biden campaign, said in a statement that Mr. Biden “shares the goal for an end to the violence and a just, lasting peace in the Middle East. He’s working tirelessly to that end.”

From the outset, the Gaza war fueled heated debates over the differences between criticism of Israel and overt antisemitism, a clash shaped by generational divisions and disputes over where free speech ends and hate speech begins.

Leading Democrats including the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, and Ms. Harris have emphasized distinctions between the Israeli government, which they criticize, and the Israeli people. Some lawmakers have also voiced concerns about instances in which Jewish Americans have been targeted by people who appear to oppose Israeli policy.

“If you think that you are opposing actions of a country like Israel by attacking Jewish organizations, Jewish members of Congress, Jewish businesses, Jewish prayer-goers, you are veering into pure, unadulterated antisemitism,” said Representative Daniel S. Goldman, a New York Democrat who was in Israel for a family event on Oct. 7.

Some left-leaning Jews have found a home in the protest movement, embracing organizations including the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace as well as IfNotNow, another Jewish group strongly critical of Israel. Both have helped organize antiwar demonstrations and say they have seen a surge in membership since the war broke out.

“They can hold the grief of Oct. 7 while also seeing clearly there is nothing that can justify what Israel has done to Palestinian civilians,” said Matan Arad-Neeman, a spokesman for IfNotNow.

Others described feeling a sense of betrayal by the progressive social justice movements they long supported.

“In our time of need, those groups who we have always stood by have abandoned us,” Mr. Goldman said. “It feels very lonely right now to be a Jew in America.”

Social media has played a critical role in powering the cease-fire cause and shaping perceptions of the conflict, especially among young people.

Since October, more than 500 Instagram accounts and Facebook groups have been created in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. Some of the largest accounts have millions of followers and promote fund-raising drives and letter-writing campaigns.

Longstanding accounts run by Palestinians in Gaza have also grown as they document life during the war. A Palestinian journalist and Gaza resident, Plestia Alaqad, had about 3,700 followers on Instagram before Oct. 7. Today, she has more than 4.7 million, whom she regularly calls upon to attend events in support of Palestinians.

“We’re seeing it on our phones every time we open social media,” said Elise Joshi, executive director of a progressive group, Gen-Z for Change.

While the accounts on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and X appear to operate independently, they often share the same memes and videos. When a demonstration blocked the president’s traditional motorcade route ahead of the State of the Union, it took less than 10 minutes for Instagram and TikTok accounts to begin declaring the protest a success.

Within an hour, more than 200 Instagram accounts shared the news.

Activists use Instagram and Facebook to organize protests and sometimes send play-by-play logistical instructions on Telegram. Every weekday afternoon, Jewish Voice for Peace hosts a “power half-hour” online, where participants organize, take political actions and find solidarity, accompanied by a dedicated Spotify playlist. The gathering regularly draws around 500 people, said Beth Miller, the group’s political director.

Some Israel advocates cautioned against conflating online energy with public opinion, and alluded to concerns about misinformation.

Researchers have discovered that tens of thousands of bots are involved in the campaigns. But while those accounts have found an audience in Russia, Iran and other countries, in the United States they have garnered little support, according to a Times review.

It is difficult to trace the money that supports Palestinian advocacy groups. Many entities are new, local or not required to disclose their funding to the I.R.S., and the cause is often fueled by grass-roots efforts.



Some supporters that have disclosed donations include the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a left-leaning foundation, and the social justice-focused Tides Foundation. Both have backed major advocacy groups including IfNotNow, Adalah Justice Project and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, according to tax filings and donors.

Jewish Voice for Peace has received funding from Open Society Foundations, the network founded by the billionaire financier George Soros and run by his son, Alex Soros.

The antiwar movement also appears to have drawn support from Neville Roy Singham, a longtime benefactor of far-left causes. The People’s Forum, a group that helped organize protests of a recent Biden fund-raiser at Radio City Music Hall, said in 2021 that he was their funder, calling him a “Marxist comrade.”

The Times also reported that Mr. Singham finances pro-China propaganda, and was shown attending a Chinese Communist Party propaganda forum last year.

Asked whether Mr. Singham’s work on China shaped how the People’s Forum approached the Palestinian cause, Manolo De Los Santos, the group’s executive director, said that the leaders of the People’s Forum had “been rallying for Palestine for nearly 20 years, long before we met Roy.”



“He doesn’t guide or dictate the direction of our work,” he added.

Mr. Singham did not reply to emails seeking comment.

For years, Israel and allies in the U.S. have accused some pro-Palestinian organizations of having ties to terrorist groups. No charitable groups have been convicted of funding Hamas since 2008, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman.

That scrutiny is one reason giving to pro-Palestinian organizations has been relatively muted, especially compared with pro-Israel organizations. But many groups that support Palestinian causes have seen funding increase since last October.

“People donate based on emotions,” said Steve Sosebee, the founder of HEAL Palestine, an N.G.O. “Nothing is more emotional than seeing children starving, injured and orphaned.”

On the electoral front, a coalition of progressive organizations that helped power the rise of the left-wing “Squad” — which includes some of Congress’s sharpest critics of Israel — said they were joining forces to support their congressional allies and counter anticipated heavy spending by AIPAC, the major pro-Israel group.



The groups include Justice Democrats, the Working Families Party, the Democratic Socialists of America and several Palestinian rights’ groups.

“It’s a powerful moment,” said Ahmad Abuznaid, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights and its action arm, which is part of that coalition. But, noting the war and continued American military support, he added, “We have a long way to go.”

Ruth Igielnik, David A. Fahrenthold and Sean Piccoli contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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War or No War, Ukrainians Aren’t Giving Up Their Coffee

When Russian tanks first rolled into Ukraine more than two years ago, Artem Vradii was sure his business was bound to suffer.

“Who would think about coffee in this situation?” thought Mr. Vradii, the co-founder of a Kyiv coffee roastery named Mad Heads. “Nobody would care.”

But over the next few days after the invasion’s start, he started receiving messages from Ukrainian soldiers. One asked for bags of ground coffee because he could not stand the energy drinks supplied by the army. Another simply requested beans: He had brought his own grinder to the front.

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China Feels Boxed In by the U.S. but Has Few Ways to Push Back

President Biden’s effort to build American security alliances in China’s backyard is likely to reinforce the Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s view that Washington is leading an all-out campaign of “containment, encirclement and suppression” of his country. And there is not much Mr. Xi can do about it.

To China, Mr. Biden’s campaign looks nothing short of a reprise of the Cold War, when the world was split into opposing blocs. In this view, Beijing is being hemmed in by U.S. allies and partners, in a cordon stretching over the seas on China’s eastern coast from Japan to the Philippines, along its disputed Himalayan border with India, and even across the vast Pacific Ocean to a string of tiny, but strategic, island nations.

That pressure on China expanded Thursday when Mr. Biden hosted the leaders of Japan and the Philippines at the White House, marking the first-ever trilateral summit between the countries. American officials said the meeting was aimed at projecting a united front against China’s increasingly aggressive behavior against the Philippines in the South China Sea and against Japan in the East China Sea. Mr. Biden described America’s commitment to defense agreements with Japan and the Philippines as “ironclad.”

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Even Before the Olympics, a Victory Lap for a Fast-Moving French Mayor

Reporting from St.-Ouen, France

The mayor grew up in a building so decrepit — filthy hallways, no private toilets, no showers — that his friends in nearby concrete towers pitied him.

Five decades later, that building — in St.-Ouen, a Paris suburb — is a distant memory, and in its place rises France’s Olympic pride: the athletes’ village, with its architectural-showcase buildings that are outfitted with solar panels, deep-sinking pipes for cooling and heating, and graceful balconies from which to look down on the forest planted below. One-quarter will become public housing after the Games.

“All of a sudden, we have the same feeling of pride as people living in the hypercenter,” said the mayor of St.-Ouen, Karim Bouamrane, 51, using his personal shorthand for the glamorous downtown playgrounds of the elites. “There was Los Angeles, Barcelona, Beijing, London, Sydney and, now, there is St.-Ouen.”

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Myanmar Rebels Take Key Trading Town, but Counteroffensive Looms

Resistance forces seeking to oust Myanmar’s military regime captured a key trade town on the Thai border this week, one of their most significant gains since the junta seized power in a coup more than three years ago. But thousands of residents were fleeing on Friday as the regime’s troops prepared to mount a counteroffensive.

The town, Myawaddy, which is now held by rebels belonging to the Karen ethnic group, is a hub for imports and exports, with $1 billion in trade last year. Its fall comes as resistance forces have seized dozens of towns and military outposts in recent months in border regions near China and Bangladesh. Rebel groups have also launched drones that hit the capital, Naypyidaw, and military bases when top junta generals were visiting.

“A major border trade hub that serves as Myanmar’s gateway to mainland Southeast Asia has fallen to the resistance,” said Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based security analyst with the Jane’s group of military publications. “This is huge.”

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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 birthrates 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 birthrates — 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 birthrate 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.”

Ukraine’s Parliament Passes a Politically Fraught Mobilization Bill

After months of political wrangling, Ukraine’s Parliament passed a new law on Thursday that aims to replenish the nation’s exhausted and depleted fighting forces, which are struggling to hold back relentless Russian assaults that are expected to intensify into the summer.

The mobilization law is a carefully crafted attempt to expand the size of Ukraine’s military while avoiding a public backlash. It offers a mix of financial incentives for those taking up arms, including a special bonus for soldiers at the front and death benefits for the families of those who fall in battle. It also imposes new penalties on Ukrainian men trying to evade service, like suspending the driver’s licenses of those who fail to register.

But perhaps as important as what was included in the legislation is what was cut — namely a timeline for when conscripts will be demobilized, something that both soldiers and their families had been demanding after more than two years of a brutal war.

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Stinging Election Loss Leaves South Korean Leader at a Crossroads

In political banners, campaign slogans and everyday conversations, South Koreans used two words to convey the high stakes of this week’s parliamentary election: “Judgment Day.” It was an opportunity to issue a verdict on the first two years of President Yoon Suk Yeol, a leader who has made strides on the global stage but is deeply unpopular and divisive at home.

The results, released on Thursday, were disastrous for Mr. Yoon.

Voters pushed him to the verge of being a lame duck, giving the opposition one of the biggest parliamentary majorities in recent decades. He becomes the first South Korean president in decades to contend with an opposition-controlled Parliament for his entire time in office.

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Vietnamese Real Estate Tycoon Sentenced to Death in $12 Billion Fraud Case

Truong My Lan, a Vietnamese real estate tycoon, was sentenced to death on Thursday for her role in a financial fraud case, in a major display of the ruling Communist Party’s resolve to crack down on corruption.

A court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced Ms. Lan, who was arrested in 2022 and faced charges of bribing government officials, violating banking regulations and embezzling more than $12 billion from one of Vietnam’s largest banks.

The trial for Ms. Lan, who was the chairwoman of the real estate developer Van Thinh Phat Group, was part of the government’s campaign against corruption. The leader of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, has sought for years to stamp out corruption as the nation emerges as a major manufacturing hub and as one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies.

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In Ancient Pompeii, Dinner Surrounded by Myth

Archaeologists working at the ancient site of Pompeii unveiled their latest find on Thursday: a formal dining room that offers a glimpse of how some of the wealthier denizens lived, or at least the art they could meditate on as they munched.

Painted dark black so that soot from candle smoke wouldn’t stain them, experts said, the walls are divided into panels. Several of them are decorated with couples who are associated with the Trojan War.

The dining room is part of an insula, the equivalent of a city block, that has been excavated in connection with a project to shore up the perimeter between the excavated and unexcavated areas of the city, part of which remains underground. The project will help better preserve the site.

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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.

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3 Men Rescued from Pacific Island After Writing ‘Help’ With Palm Leaves

Three men who were stranded on a remote Pacific island for more than a week were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard after spelling out “HELP” on a beach using palm leaves.

The lost men were found on Pikelot, an uninhabited island about 100 miles northwest of their home, alongside their damaged boat on Sunday by an American military aircraft, the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Guam said in a statement.

The men, who were experienced mariners in their 40s, set sail on March 31 from Polowat Atoll, an island that is part of the Federated States of Micronesia, in a 20-foot open skiff powered by an outboard motor. After their unintended delay, the Coast Guard said, the men had been safely returned home Tuesday evening.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Japanese Sensei Bringing Baseball to Brazil

Reporting from Rio de Janeiro

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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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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Canadian Skaters Demand Bronze Medals in Olympics Dispute

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

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

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

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

Reporting from Mexico City and León, Mexico

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.