The New York Times 2024-04-27 16:11:29


A City Scarred by Terrorism Prepares an Olympic Opening Without Walls

A terrorist attack of 2015 that left her city angry and heartbroken persuaded Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, to campaign for the Olympic Games.

“I said to myself, ‘We need to do something that is unifying,’” she said in an interview this month, remembering the horrifying afternoon when masked gunmen charged into the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and opened fire that January, killing 12. “Something that is very powerful, very peaceful and allows us to move forward. So, I threw myself into it.”

Nine years later, the Summer Olympics are set to open in Paris in July with France at its highest level of terrorism alert, after the attack on the Moscow concert hall last month. Yet for the first time, the opening ceremony will not be held inside the barricaded confines of a stadium. Instead, athletes will float in boats down the Seine River through the heart of the dense, ancient city before half a million spectators packed into stands and leaning out of windows.


The map locates the Olympics parade route along the Seine River in Paris, from the start at the Austerlitz Bridge, and west to the finish at the Iéna Bridge. It also locates some of the official Games venues, such as the Grand Palais, the Place de la Concorde, the Esplanade des Invalides, and the Trocadéro.

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Has South Africa Truly Defeated Apartheid?


Thirty years ago, the South African miracle came true. Millions voted in the country’s first democratic elections, seemingly delivering a death blow to apartheid.

The African National Congress rose to power under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and used the Freedom Charter, a decades-old manifesto, as a guide to forming a new nation.

The charter’s 10 declarations offered a vision for overcoming apartheid through a free, multiracial society, with quality housing, education and economic opportunities for all.

As South Africans celebrate 30 years of freedom and prepare to vote in a pivotal national election, we looked at how far the country has come in meeting the Freedom Charter’s goals.

When the apartheid government was toppled in South Africa, ending white minority rule, people around the world shared in the excitement and optimism that a more just society would emerge. A generation later, the country’s journey provides a broader lesson: It is far easier to rally for an end to racism than it is to undo entrenched inequities and to govern a complicated country.

The African National Congress won the 1994 election on the promise of “a better life for all.” But for many that promise has fallen short. Polls now suggest that in the election scheduled for May 29, the party risks losing its absolute majority in the national government for the first time.

No one doubts that South Africa has made strides since the days of legalized racial oppression. Democracy has brought a growing Black middle class, access to better education across racial lines and a basic human dignity once stolen from the Black majority.

But there also has been a widening gap between rich and poor, a breakdown in basic services like electricity and water, and the continued isolation of Black families stuck in ramshackle homes in distant communities.

Black South Africans, who make up 81 percent of the population, often argue that they’ve gained political freedom, but not economic freedom — and remain trapped in the structure of apartheid.

We went through the Freedom Charter’s declarations — each ending in an exclamation point — to measure South Africa’s progress and shortcomings over the past 30 years.

On a continent where coups, autocrats and flawed elections have become common, South Africa is a widely admired exception.

Since 1994, the country has held national elections every five years, with local elections in between. Presidents have changed, but the party in power — the A.N.C. — never has. Despite this, there have never been any serious doubts about the integrity of those electoral contests. A record 52 parties will compete in the national election this year.

Despite the electoral stability, politics have been dangerous. Fierce conflict within the A.N.C. has resulted in many assassinations over the years. The A.N.C.’s access to state resources as the governing party has fueled many of the disputes and led to widespread corruption — from top national officials down to local councilors.

The enrichment of A.N.C. leaders while many people barely earn enough to feed themselves has shaken the faith of many South Africans in their democratic system.

Last year, 22 percent of South Africans approved of the functioning of the country’s democracy, down from 63 percent in 2004, according to surveys from the Human Sciences Research Council.

Under apartheid, race restricted every aspect of life for South Africans who were Black, Indian and colored — a multiracial classification created by the government. There were strict limits on where they could live, attend school, work and travel. Laws enforced this segregation, and partaking in politics was criminalized.

But the democratic government drafted a constitution that enshrined equal rights for all.

South Africa has become a place where people of all races often dine, worship and party together. Gay rights are largely accepted. There is a free and vigorous press, and protests and open political debate are a part of life.

But many of the economic barriers created under apartheid still endure.

By one measure, the World Bank has ranked South Africa as the most unequal country in the world. Ten percent of the population holds about 71 percent of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 60 percent holds just 7 percent of assets, according to the World Bank.

To a large extent, the wealth disparities have kept millions of Black South Africans relegated to some of the most deplorable conditions.

Just look at the place in the Soweto community of Kliptown where hundreds of anti-apartheid activists gathered to draft the Freedom Charter in 1955. It is now known as Walter Sisulu Square, named for a prominent anti-apartheid activist.

Nearly two decades ago, the government built a large concrete complex around the square, with restaurants, offices and a hotel. But because of a lack of maintenance and huge riots in 2021 that stemmed from political grievances, most of the businesses are now gutted, littered and stinking of sewage. Informal traders eke out a living nearby selling sandwiches, clothes and fruit.

Across adjacent railroad tracks sits an all-Black neighborhood where most residents live in tin shacks, use outdoor latrines, rely on jury-rigged wires for electricity and navigate craggy dirt roads.

Jack Martins, 54, who lives in the neighborhood, had a cellphone repair shop in the complex, but it did not survive the riots. He now plies his trade from a table on the sidewalk. He secured public housing, but had to pay a bribe to get it, he said. Two of his sons could not get into university because there was not enough space, and his daughter, despite having a mechanical engineering degree, has been unable to find stable work. He is fed up with the near-daily, hourslong electricity outages caused by the failing state power utility.

“What is this government doing for us?” he said. “Absolutely nothing.”

The Black middle and upper classes have grown significantly. In 1995, just 350,000 Black South Africans lived in households that were among the top 15 percent in income, according to researchers at the University of Cape Town’s Liberty Institute of Strategic Marketing. By 2022, that number had grown to about 5.6 million.

Still, Black families are underrepresented among rich households.

Many expected something better this far into democracy. Much of the nation’s wealth remains in white hands.

Black South Africans had a stake in only 29 percent of the companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, according to a 2022 report by South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment Commission. Not a single entity on the exchange was fully Black-owned, the report said.

Economists say the country’s economy never took off enough to allow for a greater redistribution of wealth. Even when South Africa experienced its strongest stretch of economic growth in the first decade and a half of democracy, it still lagged behind its peers in Africa and other upper-middle-income countries. Since then, growth has been tepid, and contraction since the Covid-19 pandemic has been sharper than that in similarly sized economies.

Government rules have allowed Black South Africans to gain a greater stake in industries like mining, where Black ownership has grown from 2 percent to 39 percent over the past two decades. But the gains have gone to relatively few people at the top.

However, the Bafokeng kingdom, an ethnic group within South Africa, has shown what is possible when a community gets its fair share of its resource wealth. The kingdom sits on rich platinum deposits. After a court victory in 1999 that affirmed its land rights, the kingdom used its platinum dividends to build a school with a large campus and a modern clinic, and to invest in other industries. Most families live in large brick homes that are the envy of other rural villages.

At the end of apartheid, when almost all of South Africa’s agricultural land was white-owned, Mr. Mandela’s government pledged in 1994 to transfer 30 percent of it into Black hands within a few years, by encouraging white landowners to sell.

The government failed to meet its goal, and it stretched the deadline to 2030. So far, about 25 percent of white-owned farmland has been transferred to Black ownership, mostly through the purchase of land by the government or Black individuals, according to Wandile Sihlobo and Johann Kirsten, agricultural economists at Stellenbosch University.

White South Africans make up roughly 7 percent of the population, but white-owned farms still cover about half of the country’s entire surface area, according to Mr. Sihlobo and Mr. Kirsten.

In the first decade of democracy, the government gave Black people full ownership of the white-owned farms it had bought. Owning the land meant that Black families had the chance not only to feed and support themselves but also advance.

But the government is no longer giving land to Black South Africans outright, offering long-term leases instead, Mr. Sihlobo and Mr. Kirsten said. Without ownership, Black farmers cannot generate wealth by using the land as collateral to get a bank loan. That has prevented Black farmers from expanding their operations to be commercially competitive.

Only about 7 percent of commercial-scale farms — those that sell to major grocers or export their products — are Black-owned. Only about 10 percent of the food produced by commercial farms in South Africa comes from Black-owned farms, about the same share as in the 1980s, Mr. Sihlobo said.

In the first decade of democracy, more than 930,000 mostly Black and colored farm workers were evicted from farms despite new laws intended to allow them to spend their lives on the farms where they worked.

“We haven’t been able to live up to those ideals” of Black land ownership, Mr. Sihlobo said.

Black South Africans are unemployed at far higher rates than their white peers, and that disparity has not improved over time.

The high unemployment rate has given rise to a hustle culture that sends many South Africans to the streets early each morning in search of work.

Zinhle Nene, 49, has been waking up by 5:30 a.m. most days and waiting on a corner in downtown Johannesburg with hundreds of others seeking day jobs. She left her low-paying job as a home health aide because the transportation to work was too expensive.

“It’s heartbreaking because we come here and we don’t even have food,” she said, wiping away tears as the hours passed. “Sometimes, you even get home, there’s nothing. You just drink water and then you sleep.”

Poverty has decreased since the start of democracy. Still, it remains very high. Nearly two out of every three Black South Africans lived below the upper-bound poverty line in 2015 — the most recent data available — meaning they had access to less than about $80 a month. Only 1 percent of white South Africans lived below that line.

Peter Mokoena broke down in tears last November inside the modest two-bedroom house the government had just given him. It sat alongside dozens of other homes just like it, on the freshly paved roads of a new subdivision about half an hour southeast of Johannesburg.

“I’m so happy, happy, happy, happy for this house,” said Mr. Mokoena, 74, who had been living in a tin shack so leaky that his furniture was soaked when it rained. “Now, it feels like I’m in heaven.”

The government has built 3.4 million houses since 1994, and given ownership of most of them for free to poor South Africans. Some units, known as social housing, are rented out at below-market rates. The government also has embarked on several “mega city” projects, in partnership with the private sector, to cluster together various types of housing and services like day care centers.

Many South Africans have moved into formal homes from makeshift structures, and access to basic services like electricity and piped water has increased. But frequent power and water outages have made those services unreliable, leading to anger and frustration nationwide.

Mr. Mokoena waited 27 years for his house. Many are still waiting. In the meantime, some squat in downtown buildings. Others build shacks in any open space they can find. Or they rent small backyard units built behind houses — an effort the government is supporting.

New government housing has often ended up in areas far from jobs and economic activity, perpetuating the apartheid system of marginalizing Black people to outlying townships.

Nokuthula Mabe anxiously sat on her suitcase in the February heat outside North-West University in the city of Mahikeng, waiting with about a dozen other high-school graduates hoping for a spot. The university had received more than 181,000 applications for 11,717 slots.

In many ways, Ms. Mabe epitomized post-apartheid progress simply by graduating from her overcrowded village school near the Botswana border.

In the 1950s, only 10 percent of Black children finished high school. By 2021, that number had risen to 58 percent, according to government statistics.

Despite these gains, significant racial disparities persist.

In 1982, the apartheid government spent roughly $1,100 a year on education for each white child but just $140 for each Black child, according to Section 27, a human rights organization.

By 2018, that had increased to about $1,400 for each child, according to researchers at Stellenbosch University, much of it intended to level the playing field for Black students.

But schools are still failing many of their students. A report published in 2022 found that 81 percent of Grade 4 students could not understand what they were reading.

And while more children are finishing high school, there are not enough seats in colleges to meet the demand.

In 2022, about 6 percent of South Africans aged 18 to 29 were enrolled in higher education, according to Statistics South Africa. These enrollment rates lag behind countries with similarly sized economies, like Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines, according to figures from the World Bank.

After waiting nervously for hours, Ms. Mabe, 18, dragged her suitcase to the nearest bus stop to begin the three-and-a-half-hour trip back to her village. The university was too full to admit her.

During apartheid, the judicial system was used to criminalize Black people, mete out harsh punishment and cover up the atrocities committed against them.

Today, the judiciary is seen as among the most credible institutions in the country. Judges have upheld human rights and taken tough stances against even powerful political figures like the former president Jacob Zuma, who was sentenced to prison for contempt.

Still, as in many other countries, the South African justice system works best for those with money. A government commission found two years ago that most South Africans could not afford legal fees. The agency providing legal assistance for the poor is underfunded and overburdened.

“Those with very deep pockets are able to take the criminal justice process, stretch it for a very long period of time,” said Chrispin Phiri, a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services. “That’s a privilege not afforded to a poorer person.”

What’s more, the justice system does not seem to be taming the country’s high crime rate.

Although the murder rate is lower than it was in 1994, it has climbed steadily since 2012.

On paper, South Africa’s legal system prioritizes rehabilitating prisoners. The government offers an array of restorative justice, jobs and counseling programs for inmates and those being released.

In reality, though, prison-reform activists and studies suggest that treatment behind bars can be harsh and access to education difficult.

Internationally, South Africa has tried to position itself as a broker of peace and a leader in challenging a Western-led world order.

South Africa is the “S” in the BRICS group of nations that also includes Brazil, Russia, India and China, formed as a counterpoint to American and European alliances.

South Africa has played a critical role over the years in peace missions in African countries like Ethiopia, Burundi and Zimbabwe. And President Cyril Ramaphosa led a peace delegation last year to Ukraine and Russia, while refusing to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

South Africa argues that as a midsize nation, it cannot afford to choose sides and must make friends with everyone.

But it has been accused of being hypocritical and selectively concerned about peace and human rights.

The government brought a genocide case this year in the International Court of Justice against Israel for its war in Gaza after the attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7. South African officials have argued that Palestinians face a situation similar to apartheid.

For all of the frustrations that South Africans may have about the past 30 years, democracy has brought something that money and data cannot measure: freedom.

As in, freedom to go where you want, to date whom you want, to complain and advocate change as loudly as you want.

That has driven Sibusiso Zikode, 48, for much of his adult life.

He arrived in Durban, a port city on South Africa’s east coast, and started law school, but dropped out in the first term when his family savings ran out.

He moved to Kennedy Road, a slum built on muddy slopes and surrounded by a landfill, joining thousands who had flocked to the city for opportunity, only to find themselves in zinc shacks. This didn’t feel like freedom.

So, he helped to establish Abahlali baseMjondolo, a protest movement that is one of many that represent the revolt of poor people. Between July and September in 2022, the South African police responded to 2,455 protests.

But going up against the post-apartheid political establishment has come at great cost: Leaders of Abahlali have been assassinated, and Mr. Zikode had to flee from his home at the squatter camp after deadly attacks.

Abahlali’s members are growing more disillusioned with democracy.

“Whoever is homeless now,” Mr. Zikode said, “will be homeless after the election.”

From a Heavy Metal Band in Hijabs, a Message of Girl Power

The drummer crashed her cymbals. The bass player clawed at her guitar. The crowd raised index and pinkie fingers in approval. The lead singer and guitarist stepped up to the mic and screamed: “Our body is not public property!” And dozens of fans threw themselves into a frenzy for the hijab-wearing heavy metal trio.

“We have no place for the sexist mind,” the lead singer, Firda Kurnia, shrieked into the mic, singing the chorus of one of the band’s hit songs, “(Not) Public Property,” during a December performance in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital.

Nearly a decade after first emerging, Voice of Baceprot (pronounced bachey-PROT, meaning “noise” in Sundanese, one of the main languages spoken in Indonesia) has earned a large domestic following with songs that focus on progressive themes like female empowerment, pacifism and environmental preservation.


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A Novelist Who Finds Inspiration in Germany’s Tortured History

She became a writer because her country vanished overnight.

Jenny Erpenbeck, now 57, was 22 in 1989, when the Berlin Wall cracked by accident, then collapsed. She was having a “girls’ evening out,” she said, so she had no idea what had happened until the next morning. When a professor discussed it in class, she said, it became real to her.

The country she knew, the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, remains a crucial setting for most of her striking, precise fiction. Her work, which has grown in acuity and emotional power, combines the complications of German and Soviet history with the lives of her characters, including those of her own family members, whose experiences echo with the past like contrapuntal music.

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Suddenly, Chinese Spies Seem to Be Popping Up All Over Europe

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One of the men, a young Briton known for his hawkish views on China, worked as an aide to a prominent member of the British Parliament. Another, a German citizen of Chinese descent, was an assistant to a member of the European Parliament representing Germany’s far right.

While from different countries and seemingly divergent backgrounds and outlooks, both men became ensnared this week in accusations of espionage on behalf of China — and a widening pushback in Europe against malign Chinese influence in politics and commerce.

In all, six people in three separate cases have been charged this week in Europe with spying for China: two in Britain and four in Germany.

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Putin’s War Will Soon Reach Russians’ Tax Bills

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia appears on track to institute a rare tax increase on corporations and high earners, a move that reflects both the burgeoning costs of his war in Ukraine and the firm control he has over the Russian elite as he embarks on a fifth term in office.

Financial technocrats in Mr. Putin’s government are searching for new ways to fund not just the war but also a broader confrontation with the West that is likely to remain costly for years. Russia is allocating nearly a third of its overall 2024 budget to national defense spending this year, a huge increase, adding to a deficit that the Kremlin has taken pains to keep in check.

The proposed tax increase underscores Mr. Putin’s rising confidence about his political control over the Russian elite and his country’s economic resilience at home, showing that he is willing to risk alienating parts of society to fund the war. It would represent the first major tax overhaul in over a decade.

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Israel’s Military Campaign Has Left Gaza’s Medical System Near Collapse

Before Israel’s invasion of Gaza last year, Dr. Mahmoud Al-Reqeb worked in one of the Palestinian territory’s largest hospitals and had a private clinic, caring for women throughout their pregnancies.

Now, he lives in a plastic tent in Rafah, a Palestinian border town where roughly half of Gaza’s population has sought refuge, and treats patients for no charge in another tent. Living under Israeli bombardment, with shortages of food and clean water, the pregnant women he serves struggle to find basic safety and nourishment, let alone prenatal care.

Since the Israeli military began bombarding Gaza six months ago following the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack, its forces have wrecked entire hospitals, struck ambulances and killed or detained hundreds of health care workers. Israeli restrictions on goods entering Gaza have prevented lifesaving medical supplies from reaching patients, according to aid groups. And shortages of fuel, water and food have made it difficult for medical workers to provide basic services.

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Blinken to Return to Israel to Discuss Hostages and Planned Rafah Incursion

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will visit Israel next week, an Israeli official said on Friday, as talks on a cease-fire deal have stalled and tensions have risen between Israel and the United States over the treatment of civilians in the war.

The Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said talks with Mr. Blinken would center on the remaining hostages held in Gaza and an impending Israeli military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Mr. Blinken last visited Israel in March, when he warned that its plans to invade Rafah, where more than a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering, would pose severe risks to the population. Since then, the Biden administration has continued to raise concerns about the planned incursion, saying it should not be carried out without a credible plan to protect civilians.

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When U.S. Diplomats Visit China, Meal Choices Are About More Than Taste Buds

Beijing beer made with American hops, to highlight the trade relationship between the two countries. Tibetan food, to send a human rights message. Mushrooms with possible hallucinogenic properties, just because they taste good.

Where, what and how American dignitaries eat when they visit China is a serious matter. Choices of restaurants and dishes are rife with opportunities for geopolitical symbolism, as well as controversy and mockery. Chopstick skills — or a lack thereof — can be a sign of cultural competence or illiteracy.

An exorbitantly expensive meal can make an official look out of touch. Too cheap or informal, and you risk appearing undignified. Authenticity, history, cooking technique and taste can all affect the perception of a meal choice.

When Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken started a trip through China on Wednesday, part of the Biden administration’s efforts to stabilize the relationship between the two countries, some on Chinese social media wondered whether he would have time on his visit to Shanghai to stop and try some of the city’s famous xiaolongbao (soup dumplings).

One recommendation that he do so came with something of a political warning: “Eating xiaolongbao is just like handling international relations,” a commentator wrote on Weibo. “If your attention slips even a little, you’ll burn your mouth.”

Mr. Blinken did in fact visit a renowned soup dumpling restaurant that night. It’s unclear how much he considered the symbolism of his dumplings, but by indulging in a traditional popular snack, and by attending a basketball game, the optics suggested there was a more cordial spirit than on the trip he made last year, soon after a Chinese spy balloon drifting across the United States had heightened tensions.

While in Beijing, Mr. Blinken visited a notable establishment, in addition to the city’s restaurants: Li-Pi Records. Mr. Blinken — a musician who has touted “musical diplomacy” — bought two records: an album by the Chinese rocker Dou Wei, and Taylor Swift’s “Midnights,” which he described as a successful American export.

Mr. Blinken’s eating habits have drawn far less interest than that of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Over two trips, this month and last year, her meals in China attracted so much attention that the state-run Global Times deemed it a form of “food diplomacy.”

Last year, Ms. Yellen made headlines when, at a restaurant in Beijing serving cuisine from Yunnan Province, she ate mushrooms that were revealed to be mildly toxic and could cause hallucinations if not cooked properly.

Ms. Yellen later said that she was not aware of the mushrooms’ potential hallucinogenic properties when she ate them and felt no abnormal effects. Still, the story sparked a brief craze for the mushrooms in China.

This month, during a four-day trip to China, Ms. Yellen visited a famed Cantonese restaurant in Guangzhou, and a Sichuan restaurant in Beijing. The dishes she ordered were quickly posted online, drawing broad approval from commenters for the variety and affordability of the dishes ordered, her chopstick skills and the fact that she and her team sat among other diners instead of in a private room.

The dishes Ms. Yellen and her team ordered were classic meals from their respective regions and were not modified to foreign tastes, according to Fuchsia Dunlop, a London-based cook and food writer who specializes in Chinese cuisine.

“They haven’t chosen really expensive, show-off dishes and ingredients,” Ms. Dunlop said, speaking about the Sichuan meal. “This is very much what everyday people in Sichuan like to eat. This menu was chosen for flavor, not prestige.”

According to a Treasury Department spokeswoman, the department generally solicits suggestions from staff at the local embassy for restaurant recommendations when Ms. Yellen travels. Then, Ms. Yellen will research the restaurants herself and make the final decision.

On occasion, specific establishments will be chosen to convey a diplomatic message, the spokeswoman added. She cited Ms. Yellen’s visit this month to a brewery in Beijing that uses American hops, aimed to highlight the significance of American agricultural exports to China.

Some restaurants where Ms. Yellen has dined have capitalized on her fame, like the Yunnan restaurant where she ate the mushrooms, which released a set menu based on what she ordered, called the “God of Money” menu, a nod to her position as Treasury secretary.

Ms. Yellen isn’t the first American dignitary to turn Chinese restaurants into overnight sensations. In 2011, a visit by then-Vice President Joe Biden to a Beijing noodle restaurant sent its business skyrocketing, according to Chinese state media, and led the restaurant to create a “Biden set” noodle menu.

In 2014, after Michelle Obama visited a hot pot restaurant in the city of Chengdu, the restaurant said it would create an “American First Lady” set menu. Articles in Chinese media noted approvingly that Mrs. Obama was able to handle the spicy soup, which was not toned down for a foreign palate.

Her visit to a Tibetan restaurant in the same city, however, attracted controversy, and her staff at the time readily acknowledged that the venue had been chosen deliberately to show support for the rights and religious liberties of Tibetans in China.

But for Mrs. Obama’s husband and other U.S. presidents, Chinese cuisine served at official state banquets is often Americanized or customized to better suit a foreign palette.

In 2009, President Barack Obama was served a Chinese-style beef steak and baked fish, according to Chinese state media, and in 2017, President Donald J. Trump ate dishes including kung pao chicken and stewed boneless beef in tomato sauce. Both meals finished with fruit ice cream, which is highly atypical of traditional Chinese meals.

But even those meals may hint at an international trend, Ms. Dunlop said. Mr. Obama’s menu contained “very safe, conservative choices that would be appealing to foreigners,” she said, while Mr. Trump’s menu was slightly more contemporary and showed off more Chinese cooking techniques.

That shift, Ms. Dunlop said, “may reflect China feeling a bit more confident with Westerners’ familiarity with real Chinese food” in 2017 versus 2009.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

Why Gaza Protests on U.S. College Campuses Have Become So Contagious

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The past week has seen a growing wave of protest encampments and other demonstrations on university campuses across the United States, many of which have been met by mass arrests and other forceful police actions, as well as intense media scrutiny. And the demonstrations continue to spread.

But campus protests overseas have been sporadic and smaller, and none have started a wider student movement.

In Britain, for example, small groups of students temporarily occupied university buildings on the campuses of the University of Manchester and the University of Glasgow. But they never generated national news or set off a widening wave of demonstrations.

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Save the Children Says Its Guatemala Offices Were Searched Over Abuse Claims

Guatemalan authorities searched the offices of Save the Children, the international charity said on Thursday, in an inquiry into claims of child abuse that was widely viewed as a political attack in a country with a history of targeting nonprofit groups and human rights organizations.

Guatemala’s Public Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that it had searched the headquarters of an organization as “part of an ongoing transnational investigation” into potential abuses against Guatemalan children. The ministry did not name the organization.

Save the Children, which has operated in Guatemala since 1976, said its office had been searched. It denied the claims and said it had not been previously notified of an investigation.

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King Charles to Return to Public Duties, Reassuring Anxious Royal Watchers

King Charles III will return to public duties next week, Buckingham Palace announced on Friday, an encouraging sign of his recovery, nearly three months after he disclosed that he had cancer, and a palpable relief to a country anxious about another wrenching change in the British monarchy.

Charles and his wife, Queen Camilla, will mark his return with a visit to a cancer center on Tuesday, where they will meet with patients and staff, the palace said. He will appear at other engagements later, not least welcoming Emperor Naruhito of Japan, and his wife, Empress Masako, for a state visit in June.

The palace did not offer specific updates on Charles’s medical treatment, condition or prognosis, in keeping with its policy of sharing some — but not all — details about his illness. Yet in the opaque world of the royal family, the busyness of a monarch’s calendar is often the best clue to his well-being.

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Resignation of Vietnam’s Parliament Chief Stirs Fresh Political Chaos

Vietnam’s recent political turmoil intensified on Friday as the head of its Parliament resigned, the latest high-level government departure amid a widening anticorruption campaign that has raised questions about the stability of the country.

Vuong Dinh Hue, the chairman of Vietnam’s National Assembly, submitted his resignation on Friday after the Central Inspection Committee found that he had violated regulations governing Communist Party members. It did not specify what these regulations were, but it came four days after his assistant was detained on charges of abuse of power.

“Mr. Vuong Dinh Hue’s violations and shortcomings, according to the Central Executive Committee, have caused bad public opinion and affected the reputation of the Party, the state and him personally,” the Vietnamese government wrote in a post on Facebook.

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At F.C. Porto, a Toxic Presidential Race Feels Typical for 2024

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Things started with a brawl and have scarcely gotten better from there. Over the course of the past five months or so, there have been a string of arrests; allegations of drug trafficking and money laundering; dark whispers of illegal data breaches; vague accusations of intimidation; and several charged invectives about financial impropriety, dishonesty and betrayal.

Across the globe this year, at least 64 countries will hold elections. So, too, will the European Union. The campaigns will be fierce. Frequently, they may be toxic. Few, though, will prove quite so virulent — or offer quite such an instructive case study of the state of democracy in 2024 — as the one to decide who gets to be president of F.C. Porto.

Like dozens of clubs around Europe, Porto — one of the three great houses of Portuguese soccer — is owned by its members. Their number is currently somewhere north of 140,000. Every few years, the club holds an election, for both a president and an executive board, to determine who should run the club on their behalf.

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In Western Ukraine, a Community Wrestles With Patriotism or Survival

It was sunset when Maj. Kyrylo Vyshyvany of the Ukrainian Army stepped into the yard of his childhood home in Duliby, a village in western Ukraine, just after his younger brother, also a soldier, had been buried. Their mother was still crying in the living room.

“I can already see that she’ll be coming to visit him every day,” he said that day.

He was right, but he would not be by her side. A few days after the funeral, in March 2022, he was killed in a Russian missile strike on a Ukrainian military base and buried next to his brother, Vasyl.

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A Gen Z Resistance, Cut Off From Data Plans

In the night, the mountain air not quite chill enough to still the insects, young people gathered around a glow. The light attracting them was not a phone screen, that electric lure for people almost everywhere, but a bonfire.

From around the blaze, music radiated. Fingers strummed a guitar. Voices layered lyrics about love, democracy and, most of all, revolution. Moths courted the flame, sparking when they veered too close, then swooning to their deaths.

For months now, these hills of Karenni State in eastern Myanmar have been severed from modern communications. The military junta that seized power in a coup three years ago, plunging the country into civil war, has cut off the populations most opposed to its brutal rule. In these resistance strongholds, where people from around the nation have congregated, there is almost no internet, cell service or even electricity.

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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 began, 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 taken his own grinder to the front.

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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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Forbidden to Watch Films as a Child, He Now Directs Somalia’s Top Shows

At the shout of “action,” two actors, costumed in black blazers and sunglasses, erupted into a spirited shouting match, gesticulating wildly as one demanded that the other convince his daughter to marry him.

A cameraman and a boom operator, sweaty under a scorching sun, moved in to capture the altercation in close-up.

Then the director, Abshir Rageh, seated in a foldable chair, removed his headphones and called: “Cut.”

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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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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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This Town Had a Reputation Problem. Premier League Soccer Changed Things.

As the announcement trilled out over Kenilworth Road, the jumble of rusted metal and peeling paint that Luton Town F.C. calls home, the tone started to shift. At the start of the sentence, it was little more than the traditional polite welcome to the stadium for that evening’s visiting team, Manchester City.

By the end, though, the voice of the announcer seemed overcome by what sounded a little like awe. Luton, the fans in the stands and the players on the field were reminded, was about to face “the champions of the F.A. Cup, the champions of England and the champions of Europe.” Luton seems to be having a hard time believing the company it now keeps.

There is a reason for that. Fifteen years ago, Luton Town had been relegated to the fifth tier of English soccer, a world away from the power and the prestige of the Premier League. There was, for a time, a genuine risk that the club, founded in 1885, several years before the invention of the zipper, might fold altogether. For years afterward, money remained tight, ambitions modest.

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Top Biden Official Calls for Inquiry Into Chinese Doping Case

The Biden administration’s top drug official called on Monday for an independent investigation into how Chinese and global antidoping authorities decided to clear 23 elite Chinese swimmers who tested positive for a banned drug months before the Summer Olympics in 2021.

The official, Rahul Gupta, who is the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that he planned to bring up the handling of the positive tests during a two-day meeting of sports ministers in Washington. Top members of the World Anti-Doping Agency are scheduled to attend the event, which starts Thursday.

“The United States stands by its commitment to ensure that every American athlete and those across the globe are provided a level playing field and a fair shot in international athletic competitions,” Dr. Gupta said in response to questions from The New York Times. “There must be rigorous, independent investigations to look into any incident of potential wrongdoing.”

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A Soccer Team Stopped Charging for Tickets. Should Others Do the Same?

Neither Paris F.C. nor St.-Étienne will have much reason to remember the game fondly. There was, really, precious little to remember at all: no goals, few shots, little drama — a drab, rain-sodden stalemate between the French capital’s third-most successful soccer team and the country’s sleepiest giant.

That was on the field. Off it, the 17,000 or so fans in attendance can consider themselves part of a philosophical exercise that might play a role in shaping the future of the world’s most popular sport.

Last November, Paris F.C. became home to an unlikely revolution by announcing that it was doing away with ticket prices for the rest of the season. There were a couple of exceptions: a nominal fee for fans supporting the visiting team, and market rates for those using hospitality suites.

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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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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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Lo que sabemos del ataque de Israel a Irán

Israel atacó Irán a primera hora del viernes, según funcionarios de ambos países, en lo que pareció ser su primera respuesta militar al ataque iraní contra Israel del pasado fin de semana.

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

El ataque fue el más reciente de un ciclo de represalias entre los dos enemigos que ha alarmado a los líderes mundiales, quienes temen que los ataques de ida y vuelta puedan desembocar en una guerra más amplia.

He aquí lo que sabemos sobre el ataque y sus implicaciones.

Funcionarios iraníes dijeron el viernes que un ataque israelí alcanzó una base aérea militar cerca de Isfahán, una ciudad en el centro de Irán. La magnitud y el método del ataque no estaban claros.

Funcionarios iraníes dijeron que otro ataque israelí fue frustrado en Tabriz, una región a unos 800 kilómetros al norte de Isfahán. Las agencias de noticias iraníes dijeron que se oyeron explosiones cerca de ambas ciudades.

Los medios de comunicación estatales de Siria, un importante aliado de Irán que limita con Israel, dijeron también que misiles israelíes habían alcanzado posiciones de defensa aérea en el sur de Siria el viernes.

El ejército israelí declinó hacer comentarios.

Israel atacó Irán en represalia por un gran ataque iraní en territorio israelí el fin de semana pasado, que incluyó más de 300 misiles y aviones no tripulados.

Ese ataque asustó a los israelíes pero causó pocos daños y pocos heridos porque casi todas las armas de Irán fueron interceptadas por Israel y sus aliados, incluidos Estados Unidos, el Reino Unido y Jordania.

Ese ataque iraní se lanzó en respuesta a un ataque israelí contra un complejo diplomático iraní en Siria el 1 de abril, en el que murieron siete funcionarios iraníes. Las autoridades israelíes no advirtieron a Estados Unidos del ataque de Damasco y algunos han reconocido en privado que se trató de un grave error de cálculo.

No estaba claro si Irán tomaría represalias, pero la reacción inicial en Israel e Irán, donde algunos funcionarios y medios de comunicación estatales trataron de restar importancia a la gravedad del ataque, dio a entender que la respuesta podría ser moderada.

La televisión estatal iraní emitió imágenes de Isfahán con aspecto pacífico e informó que las instalaciones militares y nucleares no habían sufrido daños. Un locutor dijo a los telespectadores que el ataque “no era para tanto”.

Funcionarios israelíes dijeron que el ataque había sido diseñado para evitar una escalada de las tensiones.

Isfahán es una de las ciudades más famosas e históricas de Irán, conocida por sus hermosas mezquitas de azulejos turquesa y púrpura, sus pintorescos puentes arqueados y su Gran Bazar.

La zona alberga también cuatro pequeñas instalaciones de investigación nuclear y es un centro de producción de armamento iraní. Allí se ensamblan muchos de los misiles de medio alcance Shahab, capaces de alcanzar Israel y otros países.

En la provincia de Isfahán también se encuentra la planta de enriquecimiento de uranio de Natanz, así como una base aérea que alberga una flota de cazas F-14 Tomcats de fabricación estadounidense. Según The Associated Press, fueron adquiridos por el gobierno iraní respaldado por EE. UU. antes de la revolución islámica de 1979.

Durante la última semana, el presidente Joe Biden y otros líderes mundiales han instado a Israel a no responder al ataque con misiles iraní del pasado fin de semana. Han dicho que temen que una respuesta israelí pueda desembocar en una guerra total.

Los líderes mundiales han aconsejado a Israel que considere la interceptación de casi todos los misiles y drones iraníes como una victoria estratégica. Esto es especialmente cierto, han dicho, porque fue lograda por una coalición internacional que incluye a países árabes, que históricamente no han sido proclives a salir en defensa de Israel.

Israel también ha estado luchando contra aliados de Irán en otros dos frentes —Hamás en Gaza y Hizbulá en Líbano— durante los últimos seis meses. La dirección de la guerra en Gaza, donde han muerto más de 33.000 personas y ha empezado a cundir la hambruna, ha dejado a Israel cada vez más aislado diplomáticamente.


Liam Stack es un reportero del Times que cubre la guerra entre Israel y Hamás desde Jerusalén. Más de Liam Stack

Atraco histórico en Canadá: 14,5 millones de dólares en oro, armas de contrabando, y nueve detenidos

Fue un atraco descarado: miles de lingotes de oro y millones de dólares en billetes fueron robados hace un año en el aeropuerto internacional de Toronto.

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El miércoles, las autoridades canadienses anunciaron la detención de nueve personas, entre ellas un empleado de la aerolínea Air Canada, en relación con el robo de más de 20 millones de dólares canadienses, unos 14,5 millones de dólares, en lingotes de oro y también de 2,5 millones de dólares canadienses, o alrededor de 1,8 millones de dólares, en papel moneda que desaparecieron de un almacén del aeropuerto Pearson de Toronto en abril de 2023.

También se han emitido órdenes de detención contra otras tres personas, entre ellas un directivo de la aerolínea.

“Esta historia es sensacional”, dijo Nishan Duraiappah, jefe de la policía regional de Peel, durante una conferencia de prensa el miércoles, frente a un camión que, afirmó, se utilizó en el atraco. Una historia “que decimos en broma que pertenece a una serie de Netflix”. La policía de Peel es responsable de la aplicación de la ley en el aeropuerto de Toronto.

El oro, dijo Duraiappah, se utilizó en parte para comprar armas con destino a Canadá. El hombre que conducía el camión utilizado en el robo del oro fue detenido en Pensilvania en septiembre, después de que un agente de policía parara el vehículo de alquiler por una infracción de tráfico y encontró 65 armas, dos de ellas rifles totalmente automáticos. El hombre ha sido acusado de conspiración para traficar ilegalmente armas de fuego a Canadá.

No está claro si esa detención y una investigación separada de la Agencia de Alcohol, Tabaco, Armas de Fuego y Explosivos de Estados Unidos (ATF, por su sigla en inglés) sobre el contrabando de armas de fuego fueron las que revelaron la trama del robo en general. Eric DeGree, agente especial de la ATF presente en la rueda de prensa, declaró que la agencia se puso en contacto con la policía de Peel tras encontrar el nombre del hombre en una base de datos de información policial.

El robo del oro, que según Duraiappah es el mayor que ha sucedido en Canadá, parece ser extraordinariamente sencillo. El oro y el dinero en efectivo llegaron al aeropuerto de Toronto en un contenedor especial a bordo de un vuelo de Air Canada procedente de Suiza el 17 de abril de 2023, y fueron trasladados a uno de los almacenes de la aerolínea.

El contenedor incluía 6600 lingotes de oro destinados a un banco de Toronto y billetes con destino a una casa de cambio.

Unas dos horas más tarde, un camión conducido por el hombre detenido en Pensilvania se detuvo en el almacén. Según la policía, el hombre llevaba una hoja de ruta (un documento que suele expedir el transportista con información detallada sobre un envío) que le daba acceso al almacén.

En realidad era un duplicado de una hoja de ruta, producida en una impresora de Air Canada, para un envío de mariscos que había sido recogido un día antes.

El contenedor con los lingotes de oro y los billetes se cargó en el camión.

“Necesitaban gente dentro de Air Canada para facilitar este robo”, dijo en la rueda de prensa Mike Mavity, sargento detective de la policía de Peel.

Las grabaciones mostraban al camión circulando por la autopista más transitada de Canadá antes de desaparecer en una zona rural al oeste de la ciudad.

Los agentes de la policía de Peel fueron alertados a primera hora de la mañana siguiente, después de que llegara un camión blindado de Brink’s con la hoja de ruta real para el cargamento de oro y los billetes.

La policía dijo el miércoles que cree que los lingotes de oro, que tenían números de serie, estaban todos fundidos y que se habían incautado unas ollas de fundición. El único oro recuperado, según la policía, fueron seis brazaletes hechos con oro puro que tienen un valor de unos 89.000 dólares canadienses. Entre las personas detenidas se encontraba el propietario de una joyería de Toronto.

Durante la rueda de prensa, la policía mostró dos listas escritas a mano en las que, según dijo, detallaban los pagos a las personas implicadas en el robo.

“Esta es una historia de alquimia inversa”, dijo Nando Iannicca, presidente del gobierno regional. “Se trata de cómo el oro se convierte en armas”.

Ian Austen informa sobre Canadá para el Times, radicado en Ottawa. Cubre la política, la cultura y la gente de Canadá y lleva dos décadas cubriendo el país. Puedes ponerte en contacto con él en austen@nytimes.com. Más de Ian Austen


Un memorable y accidentado viaje por Yucatán con el Tren Maya

Salí al andén de la nueva y reluciente estación de tren de Maxcanú, con muchas ganas de ver la magnífica zona arqueológica maya de Uxmal. Solo tenía que tomar un taxi que me llevara hasta allá, en un viaje de unos 48 kilómetros.

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No hay taxis, dijo el encargado de las instalaciones, mientras esperábamos en los pisos de piedra caliza pulida de la estación con techo alto, que estaba fresca y recibía viento a pesar del fuerte sol mañanero. Yo era la tercera persona que, en las últimas dos semanas, se bajaba en Maxcanú con la intención de llegar a Uxmal, dijo.

Estaba a mitad de un viaje de cinco días para explorar el nuevo Tren Maya y varios de sus destinos en la península de Yucatán en México. Diseñado para recorrer 1554 kilómetros alrededor de un circuito de 34 estaciones cuando esté listo, el tren trasladará cómodamente a los pasajeros que deseen visitar ciudades coloniales, zonas arqueológicas, ostentosos centros turísticos y bosques tropicales.

Pero me había quedado perpleja. Tomar un taxi nunca ha sido un problema en México. Sin embargo, los conductores reunidos en la plaza principal de Maxcanú solo ofrecían furgonetas destartaladas que recorren pequeños pueblos en los que podría o no conseguir un taxi que me llevara a Uxmal. La siguiente camioneta salía en 45 minutos.

Durante mucho tiempo, las capas de la historia de Yucatán me han fascinado. En viajes anteriores en carro, trepé templos y palacios mayas desiertos, entré en las frescas naves de enormes iglesias del siglo XVI y visité haciendas restauradas, testamentos de la ostentación —y el sufrimiento— de la economía de plantación del siglo XIX de la península. Viajar en tren, pensé, me permitiría sumergirme más en esa historia.

Pero, como bien descubrí en Maxcanú, el tren no te llevará necesariamente adonde quieres ir.

Durante mi viaje de febrero, viajé en la única ruta que estaba disponible en ese momento, un segmento en dirección este-oeste que se inauguró en diciembre y que va de Cancún a Mérida, y que luego va al sur a través de la ciudad portuaria de Campeche hacia la zona arqueológica maya de Palenque (el mes pasado se inauguró una ruta corta entre Cancún y Playa del Carmen, con tres trenes diarios). Me encontré con fallas en la programación, estaciones incompletas y escasez de trenes: solo dos operaban a diario en cada dirección entre Cancún y Campeche, y solo uno hacia Palenque. Trenes nocturnos con camas así como vagones especiales con restaurantes parecen estar a años de distancia de ser una realidad.

El presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador considera al Tren Maya como su proyecto de desarrollo más importante y quiere inaugurar el resto de la ruta antes de dejar la presidencia el 1 de octubre. Basándome en mi experiencia, ese objetivo parece difícil de alcanzar.

Comencé mi viaje en Cancún, donde la estación flotaba como una nave espacial resplandeciente en la oscuridad previa al amanecer. Un funcionario escaneó el boleto que había comprado en línea y media decena más me señalaron el camino hacia mi vagón de clase turista, que estaba lleno en un 25 por ciento. Mi plan era ir a Campeche, a unos 482 kilómetros, haciendo una parada diaria. A 120 kilómetros por hora, el tren completa la ruta en unas 6 horas, al igual que un auto. (Cuando la construcción termine, la velocidad del tren debería aumentar a 160 kilómetros por hora).

Las amplias ventanillas del vagón daban hacia una pared de selva baja. Los asientos azul verdoso eran cómodos y había mucho espacio entre las filas. Me compré un capuchino muy bueno en la cafetería, pero ignoré los sándwiches envueltos en plástico. El resto de la mercancía disponible eran vasos de frutas, cajas de leche y comida chatarra.

Al final, el tren costará mucho más que los 29.000 millones de dólares presupuestados hasta ahora, y no es la primera vez que planificadores ambiciosos se han posado en la región. Cancún solía ser un pequeño pueblo pesquero, y hace medio siglo fue seleccionado para ser un centro turístico. El año pasado, 10 millones de turistas internacionales llegaron a su aeropuerto, una cantidad mayor que los aeropuertos de Ciudad de México, Los Cabos y Puerto Vallarta combinados.

Pero el crecimiento descontrolado ha ejercido presión sobre el frágil medioambiente de la costa caribeña. El Tren Maya, advierten los científicos, fomentará esos problemas desde el sur, amenazando el suministro de agua de la región, su sistema único de cuevas subterráneas de roca caliza y sus vastas reservas naturales.

López Obrador pisó el acelerador, entregándole el tren al ejército, y alegando que propagará la riqueza de Cancún y atraerá nuevos visitantes. México recibió más de 42 millones de turistas extranjeros el año pasado, los cuales gastaron casi 31.000 millones de dólares.

Los gobiernos locales ven una oportunidad. “El tren permitirá a las personas dispersarse por toda la península”, afirmó Michelle Fridman, la secretaria de Turismo del estado de Yucatán, el cual promueve decenas de atracciones más allá de destinos conocidos como Mérida y Chichén Itzá.

Ahora que el tren está operativo, las compañías de transporte comenzarán a conectar estaciones con sitios menos conocidos cercanos, afirmó Fridman.

Es justo preguntarse si el tren es la forma más efectiva de desarrollar el turismo de la península. Las empresas de viajes ya organizan viajes a muchos lugares desde las principales ciudades, las cuales están bien comunicadas por autobuses. Conducir un coche de alquiler por la mayor parte de la zona se considera seguro, según las directrices de viaje del Departamento de Estado de EE. UU.

Me tomó dos horas (y un cambio de huso horario) llegar a Valladolid, una ciudad colonial de hermosas calles y viejas iglesias, donde compré el resto de mis boletos en la estación. Un boleto de clase turista desde Cancún a Valladolid cuesta 472 pesos (alrededor de 28 dólares) a extranjeros y 355 pesos (cerca de 21 dólares) a mexicanos. La clase premier, que tiene asientos más anchos, cuesta respectivamente 755.50 pesos y 566.50 pesos, y hay descuentos disponibles para viajeros mayores y residentes de los cinco estados de la ruta del tren. (Un autobús de primera clase desde el centro de Cancún a Valladolid cuesta entre 222 y 344 pesos, dependiendo de la hora del día, y tarda media hora más).

Fue imposible hacer circular las nuevas vías del Tren Maya por los densos centros urbanos y la estación de Valladolid, como el resto, estaba fuera del núcleo urbano. Un autobús en espera llevaba a los pasajeros que desembarcaban al centro, un viaje de 15 minutos por 35 pesos.

Ese día recorrí Ek Balam, la zona arqueológica de un reino maya del siglo IX en el cual se erige un palacio de 30 metros que se distingue por una fachada de tallados que muestran guerreros alados, rasgos animales estilizados y patrones geométricos bordeados por colmillos gigantes. La entrada al sitio incluye el acceso al cenote X’Canché, una de las miles de sumideros de roca caliza que eran sagradas para los mayas.

Esa misma tarde, deambulaba por el Museo de Ropa Étnica, una colección privada de vestidos, adornos y sombreros tradicionales, cuando recibí un mensaje de WhatsApp de la oficina de boletería. Mi tren programado para el día siguiente había sido cancelado.

Decidí lidiar con el problema por la mañana y disfrutar de la ciudad. Mientras paseaba por las tiendas de antigüedades y los hoteles boutique de la elegante Calzada de los Frailes, me quedó claro que el turismo de Valladolid y la infraestructura para gestionarlo, estaban bien establecidos. El Tren Maya es simplemente una forma alternativa de llegar a una ciudad que los turistas descubrieron hace años.

Por la mañana, descubrí que mi tren no había sido cancelado, sino que la estación para la que tenía boleto, Tixkokob, estaba cerrada. En su lugar me bajé una parada antes en Izamal, conocida por sus calles ocres y el gigantesco convento franciscano de San Antonio de Padua, construido sobre las ruinas de una pirámide.

Durante el recorrido de 90 minutos, percibí un entusiasmo generalizado entre mis compañeros de viaje, quienes expresaron su voluntad de darle tiempo al tren para resolver los problemas. “Ahorita somos experimento”, afirmó Oliva Escobedo Ochoa, de 64 años, quien estaba de vacaciones desde su casa en el centro de México.

Leticia Iliassich, mexicana de 57 años, viajaba con su esposo croata junto con familiares de México y Croacia. Inicialmente estaban programados en un tren anterior a Mérida que había sido cancelado. “Sabíamos que era un proyecto nuevo”, dijo. “No nos molesta”.

El grupo ya había mandado un video a varios amigos en el que afirmaban: “¡Estamos en el Tren Maya!”.

En la estación de Izamal, un hombre que me había pedido que le tomara una foto junto a su padre frente al tren, me dio un aventón de 15 minutos hacia el centro del pueblo. Allí, negocié un taxi a la Hacienda San Lorenzo de Aké, una hacienda en funcionamiento que convierte la fibra de una planta de agave llamada henequén en rollos de cuerda. La demanda mundial de henequén, conocido como el “oro verde” de Yucatán, trajo una riqueza fantástica a la región a mediados del siglo XIX, salpicando la península con más de 1000 haciendas. (Muchas son actualmente hoteles lujosos).

Fue durante mi tercer día que me quedé varada en Maxcanú, tras un recorrido en tren de 90 minutos desde Izamal. El encargado de la estación, un capitán del ejército, me ofreció llevarme a Uxmal, tal como lo había hecho antes con varios turistas varados.

Sabiendo que a las 4:00 p. m. cerraban la venta de boletos para Uxmal, acepté.

Mi situación dejaba en claro cuán lejanas están las promesas del Tren Maya para los turistas que buscan explorar más zonas de Yucatán. Con el tiempo eso cambiará, dijo Fridman, la secretaria de Turismo del estado. “La idea es tener más hoteles a lo largo de la línea del tren”, afirmó. “Eso sucederá poco a poco”.

Pero Uxmal, una de las zonas arqueológicas mayas más impresionantes, compensó el inconveniente. Sus grandes edificaciones tienen máscaras decorativas intrincadas y frisos en los que se fusionan la geometría, la naturaleza y lo divino. Placas nuevas en cada estructura ofrecen información detallada en inglés y español, y forman parte de la inversión gubernamental para mejorar las exhibiciones en las zonas arqueológicas mayas para el proyecto del tren.

La mayoría de los turistas realizan excursiones de un día por coche o autobus desde Mérida o se hospedan en uno de los tres hoteles cercanos. Mientras terminaba de cenar en mi hotel, el comedor comenzó a llenarse: habían llegado 47 turistas polacos.

Mi plan para el día era llegar en taxi a Bécal, una ciudad donde se tejen sombreros panameños en cuevas de roca caliza para mantener las fibras suaves, y luego tomar el tren de la tarde en la cercana Calkiní hacia la ciudad portuaria de Campeche.

Pero pasé demasiado tiempo viendo la demostración de fabricación de sombreros y luego probándome mi nuevo sombrero y comprando regalos que salimos de allí con poco tiempo para llegar a la estación. Para mi desgracia, perdí el tren, el último del día.

En la plaza central de Calkiní, encontré una furgoneta que estaba saliendo rumbo a Campeche. ¿El costo? 65 pesos. ¿Duración del viaje? Alrededor de 1 hora y 20 minutos, muy similar a lo que habría durado en el tren. Por supuesto, estuve atrapada en un asiento estrecho y tuve que escuchar las baladas sentimentales elegidas por el conductor, pero me dejaron en el centro de Campeche, cerca de mi hotel.

Al día siguiente, recorrí el Museo de Arqueología Maya, una colección expertamente curada que incluye inquietantes máscaras funerarias de jade, glifos y delicadas figuras de cerámica.

José Madrigal, un ingeniero de 45 años de Fremont, California, intentaba lograr que sus hijos gemelos se interesaran por la cerámica maya. Los chicos acababan de cumplir 5 años y su regalo de cumpleaños había sido un viaje en el Tren Maya. “Aman los trenes”, dijo Madrigal. Acto seguido, la familia siguió su recorrido, manteniendo un ritmo rápido por el museo. Tenían otro tren que tomar.

Sí, si viajas entre las estaciones más grandes. El tren también ofrece una manera de llegar a Palenque, que es más difícil de acceder y tiene carreteras con problemas de seguridad. Los viajeros pueden guardar bicicletas a bordo.

Para ver los horarios de los trenes, revisa los destinos en la página web. No puedes comprar boletos en línea con más de una semana de antelación. Pero cuando finalmente abordas, el viaje es tranquilo y el café es excelente.

Sigue a New York Times Travel en Instagram y suscríbete a nuestro boletín semanal Travel Dispatch para obtener consejos de expertos sobre cómo viajar de manera más inteligente e inspiración para tus próximas vacaciones. ¿Sueñas con una futura escapada o simplemente quieres viajar desde tu sillón? Consulta nuestros 52 lugares a los que ir en 2024.

¿Fue misoginia? Australia se cuestiona tras el ataque masivo

Mary Aravanopoulos estaba abrazada a su hija, acurrucada para ponerse a salvo con otras 15 mujeres en la tienda de vestidos de organza etéreos. Habían visto pasar a un hombre por el pasillo del centro comercial, sin prisa, balanceando en la mano un gran cuchillo.

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Pronto oyeron que apuñalaban a una mujer y luego a otra.

En medio de la confusión de aquellos momentos de pánico, Aravanopoulos dijo que pensó inmediatamente: “Dios mío, es contra las mujeres”.

El lunes, muchos otros australianos habían llegado a la misma conclusión sobre el espeluznante ataque con arma blanca del fin de semana en un centro comercial de Sídney, en el que murieron seis personas, cinco de ellas mujeres. De la decena de personas que resultaron heridas por lo que al parecer fue un acto aleatorio de violencia masiva —uno de los más mortíferos ocurridos en el país en las últimas décadas—, todas menos dos eran mujeres, entre ellas una bebé de apenas 9 meses.

Es posible que nunca se aclaren los motivos del agresor, del que se sabía que padecía una enfermedad mental y que fue abatido a tiros por una inspectora de policía, Amy Scott.

Pero para muchas personas, fue un recordatorio más de la misoginia y las amenazas de violencia que pueden sufrir las mujeres en la sociedad australiana. Menos de 24 horas antes de los apuñalamientos, cientos de personas habían salido a la calle para protestar por la reciente cadena de asesinatos de tres mujeres. Y el lunes, la sentencia de un caso civil parecía dar validez a una denuncia de violación que se remontaba a años atrás y que obligaba a replantearse cómo la clase dirigente australiana, dominada por hombres, había victimizado a las mujeres durante décadas.

“La ideología del agresor estaba muy clara: odio a las mujeres”, escribió el lunes Josh Burns, miembro del Parlamento, en la red social X. “Debemos denunciarlo por lo que es”.

Para Maria Lewis, escritora y guionista, las acciones del agresor, por inexplicables que fueran, tenían ecos de una idea australiana de lo que significa ser hombre.

“La cultura de ‘hermanos que apoyan a hermanos’ está tan profunda e intrínsecamente ligada a la idea australiana de masculinidad”, afirma. “Esa idea cargada de testosterona de lo que representa la masculinidad se refuerza constantemente en la cultura pop”.

El lunes fue un día de luto nacional en Australia, con las banderas ondeando a media asta en todo el país. El atacante fue identificado por las autoridades como Joel Cauchi, de 40 años, un hombre conocido por las autoridades que nunca había sido detenido.

“El desglose por sexos es, por supuesto, preocupante”, dijo el primer ministro Anthony Albanese en una entrevista radiofónica el lunes por la mañana, afirmando que la policía estaba investigando si el atacante había atacado deliberadamente a mujeres.

Cauchi se había mudado recientemente miles de kilómetros desde Queensland, en el noreste del país, a la zona de Sídney.

En Toowoomba, Queensland, los periodistas congregados frente a su casa le preguntaron al padre de Cauchi, Andrew Cauchi, por qué su hijo, que no había estado en contacto regular con su familia, podía haber atacado a mujeres.

Cauchi padre dijo que podía deberse a la frustración que le producía su incapacidad para salir con mujeres.

“Quería una novia, no tenía habilidades sociales y se sentía frustrado hasta el tuétano”, declaró Cauchi a los medios de comunicación locales.

Tessa Boyd-Caine, directora ejecutiva de la Organización Nacional de Investigación para la Seguridad de las Mujeres de Australia, dijo que era comprensible que la gente buscara una explicación basada en el género inmediatamente después del ataque. Al mismo tiempo, advirtió que la inmensa mayoría de los casos de violencia contra las mujeres se producen en el hogar y a manos de personas conocidas, y no de forma indiscriminada, como en el ataque del sábado.

“¿Cómo entender un acto aleatorio de violencia tan brutal y mortal, perpetrado por un hombre que la policía considera que podría haber atacado a mujeres?”, dijo. “Es una fase tan temprana de la investigación, pero la gente va a querer respuestas a preguntas difíciles”.

El lunes ya habían sido identificadas las seis víctimas mortales de los apuñalamientos del sábado. Las mujeres eran Ashlee Good, de 38 años y madre primeriza; Jade Young, de 47 años y madre de dos hijas; Dawn Singleton, de 25 años y empleada del sector de la moda; Pikria Darchia, de 55 años, artista y diseñadora; y Yixuan Cheng, de nacionalidad china y estudiante en Sídney. El único hombre era Faraz Tahir, de 30 años, guardia de seguridad y recién llegado de Pakistán.

Las autoridades policiales declararon el lunes que habían concluido la investigación de la extensa escena del crimen y devuelto el control del complejo comercial a sus operadores.

Frente al lugar, que permanecía cerrado, un flujo constante de dolientes seguía dejando flores el lunes, que se sumaban a una gran pila que había crecido hasta extenderse por varios escaparates. Muchos de los visitantes eran grupos de mujeres: madres e hijas cogidas de la mano, amigas que se secaban las lágrimas unas a otras, mujeres que parecían aferrarse un poco más a sus hijas.

Aravanopoulos y su hija, Alexia Costa, estaban entre los que dejaban flores. Habían vuelto para recuperar su automóvil, que desde el sábado había quedado inaccesible en el centro comercial acordonado.

Aravanopoulos, de 55 años, dijo que se sentía especialmente culpable por el roce con el peligro del sábado, porque había insistido en ir de compras esa tarde a fin de elegir un vestido para el próximo cumpleaños, 21 años, de su hija. Como mujer que trabaja en el sector de la construcción, dominado por los hombres, ha educado a sus hijas para que nunca se echen atrás y siempre se defiendan.

“Creen que las mujeres no nos vamos a defender”, dijo.

Al creer que el atacante estaba escogiendo a mujeres, dijo que le estremecía pensar qué habría pasado si las jóvenes encargadas de la tienda no hubieran actuado con rapidez y bajado la puerta enrrollable.

“Era una tienda llena de mujeres, y las encargadas fueron las heroínas para nosotras”, relató.

Simone Scoppa, de 42 años, que también estuvo en el lugar de homenaje el lunes, dijo que la oleada de apuñalamientos era solo el más reciente incidente dirigido contra mujeres que le hace mirar por encima del hombro mientras pasea a su perro por la noche, incluso en su barrio de las afueras, y llevar las llaves en la mano como arma defensiva, por si acaso.

El hecho de que el lugar del atentado sea un centro comercial también hace que las mujeres se sientan vulnerables.

“¿Dónde van a estar muchas mujeres un sábado por la tarde?”, dijo Scoppa. “Ves a los padres y a los maridos en los asientos cuidando las bolsas, y a las madres amamantando”.

Yan Zhuang colaboró con reportería.


Victoria Kim es corresponsal en Seúl, y se centra en la cobertura de noticias en directo. Más de Victoria Kim

La ofensiva iraní dejó en evidencia un error de cálculo de Israel

Los ataques sin precedentes de Irán contra Israel del fin de semana pasado han sacudido las suposiciones de Israel sobre su enemigo, afectando sus estimaciones de que la mejor forma de disuadir a Irán era con una mayor agresión israelí.

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Durante años, los funcionarios israelíes han alegado, tanto en público como en privado, que cuanto más fuerte sea el golpe contra Irán, más cauteloso será su gobierno a la hora de contratacar. El bombardeo iraní realizado con más de 300 aviones no tripulados y misiles el sábado —el primer ataque directo de Irán contra Israel— ha revocado esa lógica.

La ofensiva fue una respuesta al ataque de Israel realizado este mes en Siria que mató a siete oficiales militares iraníes. Los analistas afirmaron que la respuesta demostraba que los líderes de Teherán ya no se conforman con luchar contra Israel a través de sus diversas fuerzas aliadas, como Hizbulá en el Líbano o los hutíes en Yemen, sino que están preparados para enfrentarse a Israel de forma directa.

“Creo que calculamos mal”, dijo Sima Shine, exjefa de investigación del Mosad, la agencia de inteligencia exterior de Israel.

“La experiencia acumulada de Israel es que Irán no tiene buenos medios para tomar represalias”, añadió Shine. “Había una fuerte percepción de que no querían involucrarse en la guerra”.

En cambio, Irán ha creado “un paradigma completamente nuevo”, afirmó Shine.

Al final, la respuesta de Irán causó pocos daños en Israel, en gran parte porque Irán había telegrafiado sus intenciones con mucha antelación, dando a Israel y a sus aliados varios días para preparar una defensa fuerte. Irán también emitió una declaración, incluso antes de que terminara la ofensiva, de que no tenía más planes de atacar a Israel.

Sin embargo, los ataques de Irán han convertido una guerra que durante años se había librado en la sombra entre Israel e Irán en una confrontación directa, aunque aún podría contenerse, dependiendo de cómo responda Israel. Irán ha demostrado que tiene una capacidad armamentística considerable que solo puede contrarrestarse con un apoyo intensivo de los aliados de Israel, incluido Estados Unidos, lo que subraya cuánto daño podría infligir sin esa protección.

Irán e Israel solían tener una relación más ambigua, e Israel incluso le vendió armas a Irán durante la guerra entre Irán e Irak en la década de 1980. Pero sus vínculos se desgastaron después de que terminó la guerra. Los líderes iraníes se volvieron cada vez más críticos del enfoque de Israel hacia los palestinos e Israel se volvió cauteloso ante los esfuerzos de Irán por construir un programa nuclear y su mayor apoyo a Hizbulá.

Durante más de una década, ambos países han atacado de manera silenciosa los intereses del otro en toda la región, pero rara vez anunciaron alguna acción individual.

Irán ha apoyado a Hamás, además de financiar y armar a otras milicias regionales hostiles a Israel, varias de las cuales han estado involucradas en un conflicto de bajo nivel con Israel desde los ataques mortales que Hamás ejecutó el 7 de octubre. De manera similar, Israel ha atacado regularmente a esas fuerzas aliadas, así como a funcionarios iraníes a los cuales ha neutralizado, incluso en suelo iraní, asesinatos por los que ha evitado asumir responsabilidad formal.

Ambos países han atacado buques mercantes vinculados a sus oponentes y también han llevado a cabo ataques cibernéticos entre sí. Además, Israel ha saboteado repetidas veces el programa nuclear de Irán.

Ahora, esa guerra se está librando abiertamente. Y, en gran parte, se debe a lo que algunos analistas ven como un error de cálculo israelí del 1 de abril, cuando los ataques israelíes destruyeron parte del complejo de la embajada iraní en Damasco, Siria, uno de los aliados y representantes más cercanos de Irán, y mataron a los siete oficiales militares iraníes, incluidos tres altos comandantes.

El ataque se realizó tras repetidas insinuaciones de los líderes israelíes de que una mayor presión sobre Irán forzaría a Teherán a reducir sus ambiciones en todo Medio Oriente. “Un aumento de la presión ejercida sobre Irán es fundamental”, dijo en enero Yoav Galant, ministro de Defensa de Israel, “y podría evitar una escalada regional en ámbitos adicionales”.

En cambio, el ataque a Damasco desencadenó el primer ataque iraní contra territorio soberano israelí. Es posible que Israel haya malinterpretado la posición de Irán debido a la falta de respuesta iraní a anteriores asesinatos de altos funcionarios iraníes perpetrados por Israel, según dijeron los analistas.

Aunque durante mucho tiempo los líderes israelíes han temido que algún día Irán construya y dispare misiles nucleares contra Israel, se habían acostumbrado a atacar a funcionarios iraníes sin obtener represalias directas de Teherán.

En uno de los ataques más descarados, Israel asesinó al principal científico nuclear de Irán, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, en 2020, en suelo iraní. Incluso hace poco, en diciembre, Israel fue acusado de asesinar a un alto general iraní, Sayyed Razi Mousavi, en un ataque en Siria, donde funcionarios militares iraníes asesoran y apoyan al gobierno sirio. Esos y varios otros asesinatos no provocaron ataques iraníes de represalia contra Israel.

La decisión de Irán de responder esta vez fue motivada en parte por la indignación en algunos círculos de la sociedad iraní por la pasividad previa de Irán, según Ali Vaez, un analista sobre Irán.

“Nunca antes había visto el grado de presión que recibió el régimen desde la base en los últimos 10 días”, dijo Vaez, analista del International Crisis Group, un grupo de investigación con sede en Bruselas.

Irán también necesitaba demostrarles a sus fuerzas aliadas como Hizbulá que podía defenderse por sí mismo, añadió Vaez. “Demostrar que Irán tiene demasiado miedo para tomar represalias contra un ataque tan descarado a sus propias instalaciones diplomáticas en Damasco habría sido muy perjudicial para las relaciones de Irán y la credibilidad de los iraníes ante los ojos de sus socios regionales”, explicó.

Para algunos analistas, el ataque de Israel contra Damasco todavía podría resultar ser un error de cálculo menor de lo que parecía en un principio. El ataque aéreo de Irán ha distraído la atención de la tambaleante guerra de Israel contra Hamás y ha reafirmado los vínculos de Israel con los aliados occidentales y árabes que se habían vuelto cada vez más críticos de la conducta de Israel en la Franja de Gaza.

El hecho de que Irán le haya dado a Israel tanto tiempo para prepararse para el ataque podría indicar que Teherán sigue relativamente disuadido y que solo buscaba proyectar la imagen de una respuesta importante y, al mismo tiempo, evitar una escalada significativa, afirmó Michael Koplow, analista de Israel en Israel Policy Forum, un grupo de investigación con sede en Nueva York.

“Creo que todavía no hay certeza”, dijo Koplow.

Gabby Sobelman colaboró con este reportaje.

Patrick Kingsley es el jefe de la corresponsalía en Jerusalén, y lidera la cobertura de Israel, Gaza y Cisjordania. Más de Patrick Kingsley