The New York Times 2024-05-10 16:11:21


Middle East Crisis: U.N. General Assembly Adopts Resolution Supporting Palestinian Statehood

The U.N. General Assembly adopts a resolution in support of Palestinian statehood.

The United Nations General Assembly on Friday overwhelmingly adopted a resolution declaring that Palestinians qualify for full-member status at the United Nations, a highly symbolic move that reflects growing global solidarity with Palestinians and is a rebuke to Israel and the United States.

The resolution was approved by a vote of 143 to 9 with 25 nations abstaining. The Assembly broke into a big applause after the vote. The United States voted no.

The resolution was prepared by the United Arab Emirates, the current chair of the U.N. Arab Group. The 193-member General Assembly took on the issue of Palestinian membership after the United States in April vetoed a resolution before the Security Council to recognize full membership for a Palestinian state. The majority of council members supported the move, but the United States said recognition of Palestinian statehood should be achieved through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Anger and frustration at the United States has been brewing for months among many senior U.N. officials and diplomats, including from allies such as France, for repeatedly blocking cease-fire resolutions at the Security Council and staunchly supporting Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, even as humanitarian suffering has mounted.

“The U.S. is resigned to having another bad day at the U.N.,” said Richard Gowan, an expert on the U.N. for the International Crisis Group, a conflict prevention organization. But he added that the resolution “gives the Palestinians a boost without creating a breakdown over whether they are or are not now U.N. members.”

The U.N. charter stipulates that the General Assembly can only grant full membership to a nation-state after the approval of the Security Council. Examples of that include the creation of the states of Israel and South Sudan. The resolution adopted on Friday explicitly states that the Palestinian issue is an exception and will not set precedent, language that was added during negotiations on the text when some countries expressed concern that Taiwan and Kosovo might follow a similar path to pursue statehood, diplomats said.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., told the Assembly ahead of the vote that Palestinians’ right to full membership at the U.N. and statehood “are not up for negotiations, they are our inherent rights as Palestinians.” He added that a vote against Palestinian statehood was a vote against the two state solution.

Still, the resolution does provide new diplomatic perks to Palestinians. Palestinians can now sit among member states in alphabetical order; they can speak at General Assembly meetings on any topic instead of being limited to Palestinian affairs; they can submit proposals and amendments; and they can participate at U.N. conferences and international meetings organized by the Assembly and other United Nations entities.

Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan, a sharp critic of the U.N., said voting for a Palestinian state would be inviting “a state of terror” in its midst and rewarding “terrorists” who killed Jewish civilians with privileges and called member states endorsing it “Jew haters.”

The resolution says that it “determines the State of Palestine is qualified for membership in the United Nations,” under its charter rules and recommends that the Security Council reconsider the matter with a favorable outcome.

Nate Evans, the spokesman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., said that if the Assembly refers the issue back to the Council, it would veto have the same outcome again with the U.S. blocking the move.

The Palestinians are currently recognized by the U.N. as a nonmember observer state, a status granted to them in 2012 by the General Assembly. They do not have the right to vote on General Assembly resolutions or nominate any candidates to U.N. agencies.

The Assembly session was not without moments of performative drama.

Mr. Gilad. Israel’s ambassador, held up the picture of Hamas’s military leader Yahya Sinwar, considered the architect of the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, with the word ‘President,” and then a transparent shredder, inserting a piece of paper inside it, and said the member sates were “shredding the U.N. charter.”

Mr. Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador, at the end of his speech raised his fist in the air, visibly chocking back tears, and said “Free Palestine.” The Assembly broke into applause.

More than 100,000 have fled Rafah, the U.N. says, as Israeli bombardment intensifies.

With fears rising that Israel will move ahead with a long-planned full-scale invasion of Rafah, the United Nations said Friday that more than 100,000 people had fled since Israel ordered people to leave parts of the city and intensified a bombardment that Gazan health officials say has killed dozens of people.

As Israeli troops continued to exchange fire with Palestinian fighters near Rafah on Friday, according to both the Israeli military and Hamas, people were packing up their tents and leaving the southern Gazan city and its surrounding areas where more than a million Palestinians had sought shelter in trucks, cars and donkey carts.

Many of them have already been displaced multiple times by Israel’s war in Gaza over the past seven months.

“Around 110,000 people have now fled Rafah looking for safety,” the main United Nations agency that aids Palestinians, known as UNRWA, posted online on Friday. “But nowhere is safe in the #GazaStrip & living conditions are atrocious.” On Thursday, a U.N. official said that 79,000 people had left since Israel issued its evacuation order.

“The only hope is an immediate #Ceasefire,” UNRWA said.

Manal Othman al-Wakeel and her extended family, who have already been displaced multiple times, fled on Tuesday night and are now in an encampment in Deir al Balah in central Gaza.

Ms. al-Wakeel, 48, who helped the aid group World Central Kitchen prepare hot meals, and her family began packing their bags and preparing to dismantle their tent on Monday when Hamas announced that it had accepted a cease-fire proposal from Qatar and Egypt — but their hopes of a truce were dashed as Israel said the two sides were still far apart.

Israeli warplanes were dropping leaflets in eastern Rafah telling people to flee the area as the Israeli military bombarded Rafah. Gazan health officials say that dozens have been killed since Israel’s incursion into parts of Rafah.

“We thought at that day a cease-fire was possible,” Ms. al-Wakeel said on Thursday. She said that missiles hit the Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital near where they were. The director of the hospital, Dr. Marwan al-Hams, said that 26 people were killed and dozens more injured.

Israel seized control of the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in what it called a “limited operation,” and intense fighting has continued on the eastern edge of the city since. The Israeli military said on Friday that its aircraft had struck Hamas members and rocket-launching sites at several locations in the Rafah area over the past day, while Hamas said its forces had fired mortars on Israeli troops east of the city.

Israel has designated what it calls a safe zone for Gazans fleeing Rafah, including Al-Mawasi, a coastal section of Gaza it has advised people to go to for months. But the United Nations has said it is neither safe nor equipped to receive them.

On Friday, UNICEF’s senior emergency coordinator in the Gaza Strip, Hamish Young, said from Rafah that in his 30 years working on large-scale humanitarian emergencies “I’ve never been involved in a situation as devastating, complex or erratic as this.”

“Yesterday, I walked around Al-Mawasi,” Mr. Young said. “The roads to Mawasi are jammed — many hundreds of trucks, buses, cars and donkey carts loaded with people and possessions.”

“People I speak with tell me they are exhausted, terrified and know life in Al-Mawasi will, again, impossibly, be harder,” he said. “Families lack proper sanitation facilities, drinking water and shelter.”

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting.

U.N. officials warn that aid efforts face imminent threat from lack of fuel.

After five days without fuel deliveries to Gaza, United Nations officials said on Friday that large parts of the international aid mission faced imminent closure, deepening the humanitarian emergency as levels of malnutrition and disease mount.

“Humanitarian operations cannot run without fuel,” Georgios Petropoulos, head of the U.N. aid office in the southern city of Rafah, said. The U.N.’s humanitarian activities, particularly food and health care aid, would halt “within the next two days” unless solutions were found quickly to allow deliveries of fuel and other supplies into Gaza, he said.

Raising fears of a full invasion of Rafah, Israel this week seized the Gaza side of the crossing with Egypt in what it described as a limited operation. The United Nations said that no aid is reaching Gaza through the south.

Only a trickle of aid is entering through a border crossing point at the northern end of the Gaza Strip, in Erez, and that cannot reach the south and is inadequate given the scale of need, Mr. Petropoulos said in a video news briefing from Gaza.

The U.N. food agency and UNRWA, the main aid agency for Palestinians, will run out of food for distribution in southern Gaza on Saturday, Mr. Petropoulos said.

Five hospitals, five field hospitals, 10 mobile clinics treating war injuries and malnutrition, and nearly 30 ambulances will stop operating “in the next day or so,” because of a lack of fuel, he said.

Eight of 12 bakeries in southern Gaza have already halted operations for lack of fuel and stock, he added, and the remaining four are expected to stop working by Monday.

“In a matter of days, if this is not corrected, the lack of fuel will really grind the whole humanitarian operation to a halt,” said Hamish Young, the U.N. children’s agency emergency coordinator in Gaza.

The White House tries to assuage concerns about U.S. support of Israel.

A White House spokesman warned on Thursday that Israel “smashing into Rafah” would not eradicate Hamas as he urged the country to find alternatives to the long-threatened assault on a city where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering.

John F. Kirby, a White House national security spokesman, said President Biden shares Israel’s goal of eradicating the terrorist group that attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostages.

But Mr. Biden has grown increasingly wary of a major assault in the densely populated city of Rafah in southern Gaza. Since the war began, more than 34,000 people have died in Gaza, according to local health authorities. The United States fears an operation in Rafah would lead to widespread civilian casualties.

“An enduring defeat of Hamas certainly remains the Israeli goal, and we share that goal with them,” Mr. Kirby said. “Smashing into Rafah, in his view, will not advance that objective, will not get to that sustainable and enduring defeat of Hamas.”

Those concerns led Mr. Biden last week to pause the delivery of 3,500 bombs to Israel — the first time he had leveraged U.S. arms to try to influence how the war is waged. On Wednesday, he said he would also withhold artillery if Israel went ahead with a major operation in Rafah.

“If they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, that deal with that problem,” Mr. Biden said in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett.

He also acknowledged that Israel had used American bombs to kill civilians in Gaza, reflecting his growing unease with the mounting death toll as the war grinds on.

Mr. Kirby also tried to assuage concerns that the United States was breaking with its closest ally in the Middle East.

“The argument that somehow we’re walking away from Israel fly in the face of the facts,” Mr. Kirby said Thursday, citing Mr. Biden’s visit to Israel within the days of the Oct. 7 attack, providing money and military expertise for its war, and putting American fighter pilots in the sky to shoot down Iranian drones.

He said the United States believes that Israel has “put an enormous amount of pressure on Hamas, and that there are better ways to go after what is left of Hamas in Rafah than a major ground operation.”

Mr. Kirby said the United States was still working with Israel on ways it can help it defeat Hamas, such as ensuring that the border between Gaza and Egypt cannot be used for smuggling weapons and targeting Hamas’s leaders.

He also noted that while the United States has temporarily paused the transfer of bombs, Israel was “still getting the vast, vast majority of everything that they need to defend themselves,” and that a recent funding package passed by Congress will continue to send billions to Israel.

Mr. Biden’s decision to pause certain weapons shipments to Israel underscored brewing frustrations between Mr. Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu has said that Israel would move forward with its invasion in Rafah even without global support. In the last week, Israeli forces have carried out a number of targeted strikes in Rafah, and showed other signs of a major ground invasion, including the evacuation of more than 100,000 people.

On Thursday, the Israeli leader said: “If we need to stand alone, we will stand alone. I have said that, if necessary, we will fight with our fingernails. But we have much more than fingernails and with that same strength of spirit, with God’s help, together we will win.”

UNRWA says it closed its headquarters in East Jerusalem after attacks and a fire.

The main United Nations agency that aids Palestinians, known as UNRWA, said on Thursday that it had temporarily closed its headquarters in East Jerusalem for the safety of its staff after parts of the compound were set on fire following weeks of attacks.

“This evening, Israeli residents set fire twice to the perimeter of the UNRWA Headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem,” said the leader of the agency, Philippe Lazzarini, on social media. The fire caused extensive damage to the outdoor areas of the compound, Mr. Lazzarini said, but that no workers from UNRWA or other U.N. agencies suffered injuries. He added that some of the workers “had to put out the fire themselves as it took the Israeli fire extinguishers and police a while before they turned up.”

The attack put the lives of U.N. staff at “serious risk” and came two days after protesters threw stones at staff members at the compound, Mr. Lazzarini said.

Protests by Israeli settlers calling for UNRWA’s closure have been continuing for months. “On several occasions, Israeli extremists threatened our staff with guns,” Mr. Lazzarini said in Thursday’s social media post. He added that under international law, it is Israel’s responsibility “as an occupying power to ensure that United Nations personnel and facilities are protected at all times.”

Many Israeli officials have called for years for UNRWA to be dismantled, and the agency lost funding from some donor countries earlier this year after Israel accused a dozen of its employees of being involved in the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7. An independent review commissioned by the U.N. and released in April found that Israel had not provided any evidence to support its further accusations that many UNRWA staff members were members of terrorist organizations.

A Japanese American civil rights group pushes for a cease-fire, breaking with its Jewish allies.

The Japanese American Citizens League, one of the oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organizations, called on Thursday for a negotiated cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, following months of pressure from younger members who believed the group had a duty to advocate for Palestinians.

The organization’s leaders and some older members were reluctant to take a position on the war, in part because of the league’s longstanding ties with prominent Jewish civil rights groups in the United States. In the 1970s, the American Jewish Committee was the first national organization to endorse the push by Japanese Americans for reparations for their incarceration during World War II.

But younger members of the Japanese American group said that Palestinians were suffering from human rights violations and that their organization had long stood up for such victims.

The league, in a statement on Thursday, pointed to the conflict’s “staggering” death toll of Palestinians and Israelis and the immense and continuous humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

As a group “dedicated to safeguarding the civil liberties of not only Japanese Americans but all individuals subjected to injustice and bigotry,” the group said, “we must denounce these egregious human rights violations.”

The organization did not call for an unconditional cease-fire, but instead said it wanted Israel and Hamas to reach an agreement and urged President Biden to advance such negotiations.

The rift within the league was another example of how the Israel-Hamas war has cleaved cultural, academic and political institutions far beyond the Middle East, and not just among groups with direct ties to the region. As in many organizations, the divide within the league has mostly been along generational lines.

In its cease-fire statement, the group did not address one of the young activists’ primary demands: cutting ties with Jewish organizations they labeled “Zionist.” David Inoue, the league’s executive director, said in an interview on Thursday that the group was not considering that option.

“That’s not how we work in coalition,” Mr. Inoue said. “I think it’s inherently unfair for anyone to make demands like that.”

An American aid ship heads toward Gaza, but the system for unloading it still isn’t in place.

An American vessel carrying aid intended for Gaza has departed from Cyprus, the Pentagon said on Thursday, but a temporary floating pier constructed by the U.S. military is not in place to unload the food and supplies meant for the enclave.

Maj. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, said in a news briefing on Thursday afternoon that while the construction of the floating pier and the causeway has been completed, weather conditions have made it unsafe to actually place them off the coast of Gaza.

General Ryder said that the aid on the vessel, called Sagamore, eventually would be loaded onto another American motor vessel docked at Ashdod, the Roy P. Benavidez. That second vessel would take the aid to the floating pier system as soon as it is installed off the coast in northern Gaza, he said, allowing it to be delivered to the enclave.

Sagamore appeared to be anchored at the Israeli port of Ashdod by late Thursday evening, according to VesselFinder, a ship tracking website. For now, the aid for Palestinians, desperately needed, is roughly 20 miles from the nearest Gazan border crossing.

“While I’m not going to provide a specific date, we expect these temporary piers to be put into position in the very near future, pending suitable security and weather conditions,” General Ryder said.

Israel has prevented the construction of Gaza’s own international seaport, prompting the United States and another aid group, the World Central Kitchen, to create their own systems for getting aid into the enclave by sea.

But aid groups and experts have frequently criticized the maritime efforts as costly and complicated ways to deliver aid, citing trucking as a more efficient way to get food inside Gaza. After Israeli strikes killed seven World Central Kitchen workers, the group paused its maritime operations there. The food charity has since said it would restart operations in Gaza with the help of Palestinian aid workers.

More food is needed in Gaza. The director of the World Food Program, Cindy McCain, said recently that some areas are already experiencing a famine.

How Pro-Palestinian Students Pushed Trinity College Dublin to Divest

Discontent over the war in Gaza had been building for months at Trinity College Dublin, but what had been a rumble last week suddenly became a roar. News broke that Trinity had demanded a heavy sum from the student union after protests had blocked tourist access to the Book of Kells, a major attraction for paying visitors.

Trinity’s request for about $230,000 enraged students and brought a surge of media attention, and last Friday some anti-war demonstrators set up an encampment like those at American schools.

Irish lawmakers worried that the university was trying to stifle independent protest, and there were offers of help from lawyers and pro-Palestinian groups. The university closed parts of its campus that day, citing security concerns.

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Jacob Zuma, Once Leader of the A.N.C., Becomes Its Political Rival

Jobless graduates, struggling business owners and army veterans marched through the eastern South African city of Pietermaritzburg this week, chanting the name “Jacob Zuma.”

The 500 or so demonstrators brought to a standstill parts of the city, in KwaZulu-Natal Province — the traditional stronghold of Mr. Zuma, a past president of both South Africa and the African National Congress, the party that governed the country for three decades.

Demanding water and electricity, the protest over commonplace local concerns was also a show of power for the new political party that Mr. Zuma now leads — uMkhonto weSizwe, or M.K. — with the hope of eroding the dominant position of his former allies.

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The Russians Destroyed Their Villages. Now They Rebuild.

Carlotta Gall and

Reporting from the Kherson region of Ukraine

A double line of concrete pyramids snakes its way across undulating farmland outside the city of Kherson. Anti-tank fortifications known as dragon’s teeth, the pyramids are a sign of the new defenses Ukraine is building in the south against an anticipated Russian offensive.

In a village nearby, residents were focused on a more immediate task: collecting donations of building supplies.

The people of the Kherson region have been slowly rebuilding their homes and livelihoods since a Ukrainian counteroffensive forced Russian troops out of the area west of the Dnipro River 18 months ago and ended a brutal occupation.

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After Her Sister Wed at 11, a Girl Began Fighting Child Marriage at 13

When they were children, Memory Banda and her younger sister were inseparable, just a year apart in age and often mistaken for twins. They shared not only clothes and shoes, but also many of the same dreams and aspirations.

Then, one afternoon in 2009, that close relationship shattered when Ms. Banda’s sister, at age 11, was forced to wed a man in his 30s who had impregnated her.

“She became a different person then,” Ms. Banda recalled. “We never played together anymore because she was now ‘older’ than me. I felt like I lost my best friend.”

Her sister’s pregnancy and forced marriage happened soon after her return from a so-called initiation camp.

In parts of rural Malawi, parents and guardians often send their daughters to these camps when they reach puberty, which Memory’s younger sister hit before she did. The girls stay at the camps for weeks at a time where they learn about motherhood and sex — or, more specifically, how to sexually please a man.

After her sister’s marriage, it dawned on Memory that she would be next, along with many of her peers in the village.

Strong feelings of resistance, she said, began stirring within her.

“I had so many questions,” she said, “like, ‘Why should this be happening to girls so young in the name of carrying on tradition?’”

It was a moment of awakening for the self-described “fierce child rights activist,” who, now 27, helped in a campaign that, in 2015, led Malawi to outlaw child marriage.

Despite the passage of the law against child marriage, enforcement has been weak, and it is still common for girls here to marry young. In Malawi, 37.7 percent of girls are married before the age of 18 and seven percent are married before turning 15, according to a 2021 report from the country’s National Statistical Office.

The drivers of child marriage are multifaceted; poverty and cultural practices — including the longstanding tradition of initiation camps — are important components of the problem. When girls return from the camps, many drop out of school and quickly fall into the trap of early marriage.

In the past, almost every girl in certain rural areas of the country went to initiation camps, said Eunice M’biya, a lecturer in social history at the University of Malawi. “But this trend is slowly shifting in favor of formal education,” Ms. M’biya said.

Ms. Banda’s own grassroots activism began in 2010, when she was just 13, in her small village of Chitera in the district of Chiradzulu, in Malawi’s south.

Despite initial resistance from older women in her village, she rallied other girls in Chitera and became a leader in the local movement of girls saying no to the camps.

Her activism gained momentum when she crossed paths with the Girls Empowerment Network, a Malawi-based nonprofit that was lobbying lawmakers to address the issue of child marriage. It was also training girls in the Chiradzulu District to become advocates and urge their village chiefs to take a stance by enacting local ordinances to protect adolescent girls from early marriage and harmful sexual initiation practices.

Ms. Banda teamed up with the nonprofit on the “I will marry when I want” campaign, calling for the legal marriage age to be increased to 18 from 15. Other rights activists, parliamentarians, and religious and civil society leaders joined the ultimately successful battle.

Today, the Malawi Constitution defines any person below age 18 as a child.

Ms. Banda’s role in the push against the practice earned her a Young Activist award from the United Nations in 2019.

“Our campaign was very impactful because we brought together girls who told their stories through lived experience,” Ms. Banda said. “From there, a lot of people just wanted to be part of the movement and change things after hearing the depressing stories from the girls.”

Habiba Osman, a lawyer and prominent gender-right advocate who has known Ms. Banda since she was 13, describes her as a trailblazer. “She played a very crucial role in mobilizing girls in her community, because she knew that girls her age needed to be in school,” she said. “What I like about Memory is that years later, after the enactment of the law, she’s still campaigning for the effective implementation of it.”

In 2019, with the support of the Freedom Fund, an international nonprofit dedicated to ending modern slavery, Ms. Banda founded Foundation for Girls Leadership to promote children’s rights and teach leadership skills to girls.

“I want children to understand about their rights while they are still young,” Ms. Banda said. “If we want to shape a better future, this is a group to target.”

Though her nonprofit is still in its infancy, it has already managed to help over 500 girls faced with child marriages to avoid that fate and stay in school or enroll again.

Last year she shared what she has been doing with Michelle Obama, Melinda French Gates and Amal Clooney during their visit to Malawi as part of the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s efforts to end child marriage.

“I’ve watched these three inspiring women from a world apart and just to be in their presence and talk to them was such a huge moment in my life,” Ms. Banda said. “I never thought I’d one day meet Michelle Obama.”

Ms. Banda was born in 1997 in Chitera. Her father died when she was 3, leaving her mother to raise two infant girls on her own.

Ms. Banda did well in school, knowing from an early age, she said, that learning was crucial for her future.

“My sister’s experience fueled the burning desire I had for education,” she said. “Whenever I was not in the first position in my class, I had to make sure that I had to be No. 1 in the next school term.”

Outspoken in class, her willingness to ask questions and express herself proved essential when her time came to go to the initiation camp. She refused.

“I simply said no because I knew what I wanted in life, and that was getting an education,” she said.

The women in Chitera labeled her as stubborn and disrespectful of their cultural values. She said she often heard comments like: “Look at you, you’re all grown up. Your little sister has a baby, what about you?” Ms. Banda recalled. “That was what I was dealing with every day. It was not easy.”

She found support from her teacher at primary school and from people at the Girls Empowerment Network. They helped convince her mother and aunts that she needed to be allowed to make her own decision.

“I was lucky,” Ms. Banda said. “I believe if the Girls Empowerment Network had come earlier in my community, things would have turned out different for my sister, as for my cousins, friends and many girls.”

Ms. Banda stayed in school, earning an undergraduate degree in development studies. She recently completed her master’s degree in project management.

She now works in Ntcheu, Malawi, with Save the Children International while running her own children’s rights nonprofit in Lilongwe. Malawi’s capital.

As much as she has accomplished, Ms. Banda is aware there is much left to do.

“Some of the girls that we have managed to pull out of early marriage, ended up getting back into those marriages because of poverty,” Ms. Banda said. “They have no financial support, and their parents cannot take care of them when they return home.”

She noted that child marriage is a multidimensional problem that requires a multidimensional solution of scholarships, economic opportunities, child protection structures at the community level and “changing the way families and communities view the problems,” she said.

Ms. Banda is currently lobbying Malawi’s Ministry of Gender to set up a “girls fund” to help provide economic opportunities to those most vulnerable to a childhood marriage.

For her sister, the first, forced marriage didn’t last. While now remarried to a man she chose as an adult, her childhood trauma disrupted her education and ended her ambitions of becoming a teacher.

Ms. Banda’s next move is to set up a vocational school for girls through her nonprofit, aimed at providing job skills to those like her sister unable to go beyond secondary school.

“All I want is for girls to live in an equal and safe society,” she said. “Is that too much to ask?”

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Israel’s Shutdown of Al Jazeera Highlights Long-Running Tensions

When Israel ordered Al Jazeera on Sunday to shut down operations there, the network had a reporter covering a government meeting in West Jerusalem, another in an East Jerusalem hotel room, a third in northern Israel to cover clashes on the border with Lebanon and a fourth in Tel Aviv.

But the cameras stopped rolling when Walid al-Omari, the network’s bureau chief in Ramallah, in the West Bank, ordered all of them to go home. Israeli authorities descended on a room used by Al Jazeera in the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem, confiscating broadcast equipment. Israeli television and internet providers cut off its channels and blocked its websites, though people were still able to find it online.

Al Jazeera, the influential Arab news network, says it will continue reporting and broadcasting from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. But its departure from Israel marks a new low in its long-strained history with a country that much of Al Jazeera’s audience in the Arab world and beyond sees as an aggressor and an occupier.

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At Victory Day Parade, Putin Seeks to Keep Ukraine in the Distance

The ballistic missiles rolled through Red Square, the fighter jets zipped overhead and rows of foreign dignitaries impassively looked on. Russia’s annual commemoration of the end of World War II presented a traditional ceremony on Thursday cherished by millions of Russians, a reflection of President Vladimir V. Putin’s broader attempts to project normalcy while resigning the population to a prolonged, distant war.

At last year’s Victory Day celebration, as Russia struggled on the battlefield, Mr. Putin said the country was engaged in a “real war” for survival, and accused Western elites of seeking the “disintegration and annihilation of Russia.” On Thursday, he merely referred to the war in Ukraine once, using his initial euphemism for the invasion, “special military operation.”

And on Russia’s most important secular holiday, he dedicated more time to the sacrifices of Soviet citizens in World War II than to the bashing of modern adversaries.

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Ukraine Strikes More Russian Oil Facilities in a Bid to Disrupt Military Logistics

Ukrainian drones struck two oil depots and a refinery across Russia in a 24-hour period, including one deep in Russian territory, officials on both sides said Thursday, as Kyiv presses a campaign aimed at hampering the country’s military operations and putting strain on its most important industry.

Radiy Khabirov, the head of Russia’s Bashkiria region, near Kazakhstan, said a drone hit the Neftekhim Salavat oil refinery, one of the country’s largest, around midday on Thursday, sending plumes of smoke into the sky. The facility is more than 700 miles from the Ukrainian border, in a sign that Ukraine is increasingly capable of striking further into Russia.

An official from Ukraine’s special services, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military matters, said Ukraine was behind the assault. The official said Ukraine was also responsible for two other drone strikes overnight that hit oil depots in Russia’s Krasnodar region, southeast of Ukraine.

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What Happens When a Happening Place Becomes Too Hot

Packed bars with carousing revelers spilling onto clogged streets. Takeaway booze swigged by drunken tourists and students. Earsplitting volumes in once quiet residential neighborhoods long after midnight.

When Milan’s authorities embarked years ago on plans to promote the city as a buzzy destination by building on its reputation as Italy’s hip fashion and design capital, the resulting noise and rowdy overcrowding were perhaps not quite what they had in mind.

Now, after years of complaints and a series of lawsuits, the city has passed an ordinance to strictly limit the sale of takeaway food and beverages after midnight — and not much later on weekends — in “movida” areas, a Spanish term that Italians have adopted to describe outdoor nightlife. It will go into effect next week and be in force until Nov. 11.

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In Budapest, Xi Hails a ‘Deep Friendship’ With Hungary

President Xi Jinping of China on Thursday found another safe zone in a continent increasingly wary of his country, meeting in Budapest with the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, the European Union’s perennial odd man out as a vocal supporter of warm relations with both China and Russia.

As happened at his previous stop in Serbia, Mr. Xi received a red-carpet welcome and was spared from protesters, with his motorcade from the airport on Wednesday evening taking a roundabout route into the Hungarian capital, avoiding a small group of Tibetan demonstrators.

Police banned a protest planned for Thursday in the center of Budapest and a Tibetan flag that had been hoisted on a hill overlooking the venue of a welcome reception was covered with a Chinese one.

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Reality Show Contestants Compete for an Authoritarian’s Campaign Jingle

The flashing neon lights. The cheering audience. The lively host with slicked back hair in a sea foam green suit. The panel of judges in dark sunglasses. The contestants who share emotional personal stories before belting their songs into a microphone.

It has all the elements of a typical singing competition. But this contest’s winner will not earn money or a recording contract.

Instead, contestants on the show, “M Factor,” write and perform songs in a competition to become the official campaign jingle for the party of President Nicolás Maduro, the authoritarian leader of Venezuela.

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‘We Still Have Hope’: Rescuers Race to Find Dozens Missing in South Africa Building Collapse

It may not have been his dream, but Gift Kasonda was happy to have been working as a laborer on a construction site in South Africa’s coastal city of George. A recent high school graduate, he had emigrated from Malawi last year and was hoping to save money for college, said his uncle, Gracium Msiska.

Now his family is left wondering whether those hopes have been dashed. The four-story building under construction where he was working collapsed in a thunderous instant on Monday, killing at least eight people and leaving dozens of others, including Mr. Kasonda, missing.

As the search for survivors passed the 72-hour mark on Thursday, the screams for help from beneath the rubble that offered signs of life in the early hours of the collapse faded. But rescuers were still desperately combing through some 3,000 tons of concrete. As of Thursday afternoon, 29 of the 37 people pulled from the wreckage had survived and 44 people were still missing, according to the authorities.

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Ramón Fonseca, Cofounder of Law Firm at Center of Panama Papers, Dies

Ramón Fonseca, who co-founded the law firm at the heart of the Panama Papers leak, died Wednesday night, his lawyer confirmed, while awaiting the verdict in his money-laundering trial in Panama.

Mr. Fonseca, 71, died after complications from pneumonia, his daughter, Raquel Fonseca, told the Spanish news agency EFE.

Both Mr. Fonseca and Jürgen Mossack, who together founded the Mossack Fonseca firm, stood trial in Panama last month in relation to an explosive investigation published in 2016 by a coalition of news outlets that looked at 11.5 million confidential documents from the firm. The files, leaked by an anonymous source, identified international politicians, business leaders, criminals and celebrities involved in webs of suspicious financial transactions that concealed their wealth and avoided taxes.

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Images of a Brazilian City Underwater

Ana Ionova and

Ana Ionova reported from Rio de Janeiro, and Tanira Lebedeff from Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Anderson da Silva Pantaleão was at the snack bar he owns last Friday when clay-colored water began filling the streets in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. Soon, it was rushing into his ground-floor shop. By 9 p.m., the water was up to his waist.

“Then the fear starts to hit,” he said. “You’re just trying not to drown.”

He dashed up to a neighbor’s home on the second floor, taking refuge for the next three nights, rationing water, cheese and sausage with two others. Members of the group slept in shifts, fearing another rush of water could take them by surprise in the dead of night.

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Noisy, Gaudy and Spiritual: Young Pilgrims Embrace an Ancient Goddess

Chris Buckley and

Chris Buckley, Amy Chang Chien and Lam Yik Fei spent four days walking parts of two pilgrimages in central and southern Taiwan. On the journey, they interviewed around 20 pilgrims.

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In a din of firecrackers, cymbals and horns, a team of devotees carried the shrouded wooden statue of a serene-faced woman, holding her aloft on a brightly decorated litter as they navigated through tens of thousands of onlookers.

As the carriers nudged forward, hundreds of people were lined up ahead of them, kneeling on the road and waiting for the moment when the statue would pass over their heads.

Some wept after it did; many smiled and snapped selfies. “I love Mazu, and Mazu loves me,” the crowd shouted.


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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.

The Vyshyvany brothers were the first deaths from Duliby and the surrounding community after Russia began its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. Since then, 44 more Ukrainian soldiers from the area have been killed — more than four times the local death toll from the previous eight years of fighting Russian-backed separatists in the east.

For Duliby and its surrounding enclave of Khodoriv — total population around 24,000 — waiting for the next solemn death notification and the funeral that follows has become a bitter routine. But even as the town meets and buries the fallen with modest ceremony, some neighbors are quietly weighing the price they are willing to pay for a war with no end in sight.

Divisions have started to form between residents agnostic about the war — often those whose family members have dodged the draft or fled the country — and those who have loved ones on the front line or who fully support the war effort.

In the earliest days of the war, before the news of the first combat deaths arrived, people in communities across Ukraine flocked to draft offices. Among them was Khodoriv, whose families have a long history of fighting for Ukraine’s independence and being executed or sent into exile during violent Soviet repressions of its nationalist movement in the last century.

In Duliby, the Russian invasion hit home early with the deaths of the Vyshyvany brothers. Suddenly, residents were burying soldiers whom most had known as lifelong neighbors.

“No one knew then how to do everything correctly,” said Natalia Bodnar, 41, the older sister of the Vyshyvany brothers. She arranged both her brothers’ funerals, she said, and even wrote the speeches for the priest.

As the war has ground on, the Khodoriv government has taken over the logistics of organizing funerals, and, inevitably, somber repetition has helped smooth the process. Public services have been moved to a central square, each time gathering crowds of people.

“Now everyone knows what kind of coffins, standards and what the procedure is,” Ms. Bodnar said from her apartment in Khodoriv last month.

Last fall, the deaths of locals mounted, and residents sought a visible commemoration of loss to go beyond the daily church services that drew dozens of faithful. So new memorial plaques of rock and bronze were hung on the outer walls of schools the killed soldiers had attended.

At those schools, people also honored the fallen with memorials of flowers and candles. But some parents complained that the offerings were too grim to look at and should be removed, said Olha Melnyk, 46, the head of the social services department in the Khodoriv administration. They were opposed to having their children reminded of the war happening hundreds of miles to the east.

Still, the makeshift altars have stayed put, and when the school the Vyshyvany brothers attended was renamed after them last fall, no one objected.

By 2023, the lines at draft offices across the country slowly disappeared as most volunteers had already gone to the front. New recruits were mostly summoned by draft notices given out in waves, based on the army’s needs, to men aged 27 to 60.

But gradually, the military has increased efforts to recruit soldiers, with some draft offices forcibly taking people from the streets to speed up the process. In the past six months, that tactic — widely known as forced mobilization — has frequently made headlines in Ukraine, symptomatic of the chronic troop shortage, which culminated this month in the government’s decision to lower the draft age in Ukraine to 25.

About 600 people from the Khodoriv community were serving in the army as of March, local authorities said, including over a dozen men from Duliby itself, some of whom were drafted from the streets. Men have since begun to avoid staying out during daylight, residents said.

“Everyone is afraid. No one wants to die,” said Bohdan, a school employee who declined to provide his surname for fear of repercussions from the Ukrainian authorities.

Petro Panat, the leader of the territorial defense unit, an ad hoc military unit formed in the early days of the war to protect local communities, said 10 out of 30 men from the unit had since obtained documents to legally exempt them from fighting. The exemptions are granted for reasons like health problems or relatives in need of care.

Anna Kukharaska, 66, who runs a volunteer group that collects donations to aid soldiers at the front, said, “There are lots of indifferent people.”

In the Khodoriv area, relatives of soldiers who are fighting or who have died at the front said that in the last two years they had begun to resent men in the community who are said to have bought their way out of service while their own sons and fathers are fighting — a feeling that may be shared by many across the country as the Ukrainian government wrestles with how to mobilize up to 500,000 more troops.

“Sometimes people want to devalue the sacrifice of such families to justify themselves buying their sons out,” said Marta Hladii, 51, a therapist from nearby Stryi who works with the military and their families for free. Of the five mothers spoken to by Ms. Hladii who had lost their only sons to the war, she said two were criticized by neighbors for not bribing their way out of the military to protect them.

There is no legal way to pay for an exemption from military service in Ukraine, but there have been widespread reports of corruption in draft offices, with bribes ranging from $1,000 early in the war — “a buyout from death” — to as much as the $10,000 per head price that was revealed in a Kyiv draft center. Some of the most prominent draft-related scandals caused the government to fire top military enlistment officers last August.

One of the most recent soldiers to be buried in Khodoriv showed up to the fight willingly.

As a child growing up in Khodoriv, a 9-year-old Nazar Yankevych attended the funeral of a local activist, Roman Tochyn, who was shot in the head during Ukraine’s Maidan revolution, the protests in 2014 that renounced pervasive Russian influence on Ukraine.

“After that funeral, he told our mom, ‘When I grow up, I’ll go to war,’” said his sister Maria Yankevych.

Her brother had been accepted to a technology training program just before Russia invaded but instead went to a military training camp, she said, and joined an elite assault unit.

Mr. Yankevych was 19 when he died in combat in February outside the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka. The shrapnel piece that killed him left a mark on his temple, the same place as the bullet that hit his hero 10 years earlier.

“A lot of young guys from all over Ukraine wrote to me,” his sister said, after she posted about him on Instagram. They wrote, “‘Your brother is a hero to me, I want to be like him.’”

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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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A Portrait Artist Fit for a King (but Not a President)

Few famous Britons, it seems, can resist the chance to be painted by Jonathan Yeo. David Attenborough, the 97-year-old broadcasting legend, is among those who have recently climbed the spiral stairs to his snug studio, hidden at the end of a lane in West London, to pose for Mr. Yeo, one of Britain’s most recognized portrait artists.

Yet when it came to painting his latest portrait, of King Charles III, the artist had to go to the subject.

Mr. Yeo rented a truck to transport his 7.5-by-5.5-foot canvas to the king’s London residence, Clarence House. There, he erected a platform so he could apply the final brushstrokes to the strikingly contemporary portrait, which depicts a uniformed Charles against an ethereal background.

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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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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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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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Este es el candidato que desafiará a Nicolás Maduro en Venezuela

Genevieve Glatsky informó desde Bogotá, Colombia, e Isayen Herrera desde Caracas, Venezuela.

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El día en que Edmundo González fue sacado de las sombras y elegido para retar al líder autoritario con mayor tiempo en el poder de Sudamérica, un equipo de técnicos estuvo ocupado asegurándose de que su casa no estuviese intervenida.

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“Esto no estaba en nuestros planes”, dijo su esposa, Mercedes López de González, en una entrevista concedida ese día en abril en su apartamento en Caracas, la capital de Venezuela.

Hasta hace poco, González, de 74 años, era un diplomático jubilado con cuatro nietos y ninguna aspiración política. Se mantenía ocupado escribiendo ensayos académicos, participando en conferencias y llevando a sus nietos a la barbería y a clases de música. Pocos en su Venezuela natal conocían su nombre.

Hoy, muchos venezolanos han puesto sus esperanzas en él para que le ponga fin a años de un gobierno represivo, ya que se enfrentará al presidente Nicolás Maduro, quien ha ostentado el poder desde 2013, en las elecciones programadas para finales de julio.

De repente, González ha vuelto a tener un trabajo de tiempo completo.

“Dos veces al día debo limpiar el teléfono”, dijo en una breve entrevista. “Borro casi 150 mensajes. Me acuesto a la 1:00 a. m. y a las 4 a. m. ya estoy otra vez atento y trabajando. Nunca me imaginé esto”.

Después de años de elecciones amañadas y persecuciones políticas, la población en Venezuela que anhela un regreso a la democracia había aprendido a esperar decepciones.

Una coalición de partidos de oposición, la Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, MUD, había estado haciendo esfuerzos para apoyar a un único candidato que pudiera representar un desafío viable para Maduro, pero su gobierno les puso una serie de obstáculos.

Al final, González emergió como un candidato al que el gobierno no intentaría bloquear y que la oposición apoyaría.

Aceptó el reto, pero tanto amigos como colegas afirman que es un desafío para el que nunca se había preparado.

“Edmundo no es un hombre que haya tenido alguna vez ambiciones políticas”, dijo Phil Gunson, experto sobre Venezuela del International Crisis Group en Caracas y amigo de González. “Es alguien que está haciendo lo que siente es su deber”.

Algunos expertos afirman que su bajo perfil podría dificultar que González coja impulso entre los votantes, sobre todo fuera de Caracas, donde la información llega a través de los medios controlados por el gobierno que muy probablemente no le den mucha cobertura a su campaña.

A diferencia de otros líderes opositores, González no ha criticado abiertamente el gobierno de Maduro y su historial con los derechos humanos, lo que ha generado preocupación entre algunos analistas que afirman que responsabilizar a las autoridades por los abusos es crucial para restaurar el Estado de derecho en el país.

En su casa, el día que ingresó a la tarjeta electoral, González se negó a conversar en detalle sobre las elecciones.

González, el menor de tres hermanos, nació en una familia de recursos modestos en la pequeña ciudad de La Victoria, a unos 80 kilómetros al oeste de Caracas. Su madre era profesora y su padre era un comerciante que lo desanimó de su sueño infantil de ser diplomático, calificándolo de “una profesión para gente rica”, según la hija del candidato, Carolina González.

Firme, González terminaría estudiando relaciones internacionales en la Universidad Central de Venezuela.

Imelda Cisneros, excompañera de clases y vieja amiga, recordó que González era un estudiante dedicado en la universidad. Era una época políticamente tumultuosa en la que una ideología comunista de extrema izquierda se estaba volviendo popular en el campus y las tensiones eran altas.

Pero González se convirtió en un líder estudiantil “con un enfoque muy calmado, de reconciliación”, contó Cisneros.

“Quería ser un diplomático”, añadió Cisneros. “Eso lo tuvo muy claro su objetivo desde que entró”.

Se unió al servicio diplomático poco después de graduarse en 1970, con experiencias en Bélgica, El Salvador y Estados Unidos, donde obtuvo una maestría en relaciones internacionales en la Universidad Americana en Washington.

Posteriormente fue nombrado embajador de Venezuela en Algeria y luego Argentina, donde estaba asignado cuando Hugo Chávez fue elegido presidente en 1999. Chávez terminaría consolidando su poder bajo la bandera de una revolución de inspiración socialista.

González regresó a Venezuela en 2002 y poco después se retiró del servicio diplomático.

En 2008 empezó a participar en la coalición de partidos de oposición llamada Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, asesorando tras bastidores en asuntos de relaciones internacionales.

González se convirtió en el presidente de la junta de directores de la coalición en 2021, afirmó Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, exsecretario ejecutivo de la coalición.

Pero la mayoría de las personas, incluso en los círculos políticos venezolanos, no sabía que González desempeñaba ese papel hasta que se anunció su candidatura presidencial, porque los líderes de la oposición a menudo enfrentan persecución.

Eso hace que, para González, sea una decisión arriesgada estar al centro de atención frente a un gobernante empeñado en retener el poder.

“Estoy nerviosa porque no sabemos si nos pueda pasar algo”, dijo López de González.

Quienes conocen a González afirman que afrontar una campaña presidencial es algo que no asumiría con ligereza.

“Es un hombre sumamente equilibrado, tranquilo, un hombre bastante serio y sobre todo sobrio”, dijo Ramón José Medina, quien fue secretario ejecutivo adjunto de la Mesa de la Unidad Democrática hasta 2014 y ha sido amigo de González durante décadas.

En octubre, Maduro firmó un acuerdo con la oposición para tomar medidas hacia unas elecciones libres y justas, y Estados Unidos levantó temporalmente algunas sanciones económicas severas como un gesto de buena voluntad.

Días después, una exdiputada nacional, María Corina Machado, gano unas elecciones primarias con más del 90 por ciento de los votos, convirtiéndola en una amenaza considerable para Maduro en un enfrentamiento entre ambos.

Desde entonces, el gobierno de Maduro ha puesto obstáculos para impedir que un rival serio llegue a la tarjeta electoral.

En primer lugar, el Tribunal Supremo del país inhabilitó a Machado en enero debido a lo que los jueces afirmaron habían sido irregularidades financieras ocurridas cuando era diputada nacional, una táctica común utilizada para mantener a rivales viables fuera de la tarjeta electoral.

Luego, el mes pasado, el gobierno impidió que una coalición de oposición presentara otra candidata preferida utilizando maniobras electorales técnicas justo antes de la fecha límite de inscripción.

Solo a un político, Manuel Rosales, a quien los analistas políticos consideraban como alguien que había recibido el visto bueno de Maduro, se le permitió inscribirse. Por un momento pareció que el esfuerzo por presentar un candidato unificado había sido derrotado.

Pero, sorpresivamente, la coalición anunció que la autoridad electoral le había concedido una prórroga, lo que allanó el camino para que González entrara de manera oficial en la contienda. Rosales se hizo a un lado y apoyó a González.

La carrera de González como “buscador de consenso” lo ayudó a unir a la oposición, afirmó Gunson.

“Es alguien aceptable para muchas diferentes personas”, añadió. “Y no ofende a nadie”.

Esas cualidades también podrían lograr que sea más probable que el gobierno de Maduro le ceda el poder si gana, dijo Tamara Taraciuk Broner, experta en Venezuela para el Diálogo Interamericano, una organización de investigación en Washington.

Según los expertos, Maduro podría estar dispuesto a aceptar la derrota si se le concediera amnistía por abusos contra los derechos humanos y si a su partido se le diera una participación permanente en el sistema político del país.

En este sentido, González ha sido más conciliador que otros candidatos. Machado ha dicho que Maduro y otras autoridades de su gobierno deben ser responsabilizados penalmente por corrupción y abusos contra los derechos humanos.

González ha dicho en entrevistas que está dispuesto a conversar con el gobierno de Maduro para garantizar una transición de poder sin sobresaltos.

“Su principal desafío será conservar ese equilibrio entre mantener a la oposición alineada detrás de una candidatura unificada y asegurarse de que su candidatura no represente una amenaza insoportable para el régimen”, dijo Taraciuk Broner. “Y esa es una línea muy delgada”.

Una encuesta ya lo muestra derrotando a Maduro, aunque esta también reveló que alrededor de un tercio de los encuestados afirmó que no estaban seguros por quién votarían y cerca de otro 20 por ciento dijo que no lo harían por ningún candidato en la contienda.

Aveledo afirmó que tenía la esperanza de que González pudiera ganar apoyo de más venezolanos en las próximas semanas.

“Por fin alguien que habla con serenidad, con moderación, que piensa en los problemas y las soluciones, que habla sin gritar, sin insultar”, dijo. “Porque el país está muy cansado de conflicto”.

José Raúl Mulino es elegido presidente de Panamá

Los panameños eligieron el domingo a José Raúl Mulino, exministro de Seguridad Pública, como su próximo presidente. Fue la culminación de un ciclo electoral que ha estado envuelto en agitación política.

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Mulino, de 64 años, centró su campaña en el crecimiento del empleo y prometió aumentar el turismo y construir una línea ferroviaria que conectará la capital, Ciudad de Panamá, con el interior del país, lo que crearía puestos de trabajo en construcción. También prometió aumentar la producción agrícola, reducir el costo de los medicamentos y proporcionar acceso gratuito a internet en las escuelas.

Mulino obtuvo el 34 por ciento de los votos con más del 90 por ciento de los sufragios escrutados el domingo, según el Tribunal Electoral del país, que lo declaró vencedor de la contienda a una sola vuelta. Mulino tenía una ventaja de 10 puntos porcentuales sobre su competidor más próximo, Ricardo Lombana, antiguo diplomático. Mulino asumirá el cargo el 1 de julio, sustituyendo al presidente saliente, Laurentino Cortizo.

“Es un honor para mí, para mi familia, para mis amigos, recibir esta llamada”, dijo Mulino en su discurso de victoria en Ciudad de Panamá el domingo por la noche. Su elección, dijo, “implica un enorme peso sobre mis hombros”, añadiendo que prometía hacer todo lo posible por el país.

En un grupo de ocho candidatos, Mulino lideraba las encuestas, prometiendo devolver a Panamá el crecimiento económico que experimentó bajo el mandato de Ricardo Martinelli, quien fue presidente de 2009 a 2014.

Martinelli, a quien sus partidarios conocen como “el Loco”, había sido uno de los principales contendientes hasta que fue inhabilitado por una condena por blanqueo de dinero en 2023. Pero desde la embajada de Nicaragua en Ciudad de Panamá, donde se le otorgó asilo, Martinelli hizo una intensa campaña en favor del Mulino, quien fue su compañero de fórmula y ocupó su lugar en la papeleta electoral.

La campaña del Mulino adoptó el eslogan “el Loco con Mulino”.

Carlos Taylor, camarero de 71 años, dijo que no había tenido tiempo de leer las propuestas de Mulino. Votó por él en una escuela pública de Ciudad de Panamá debido a Martinelli.

“Por el solo hecho de que está acompañado de Martinelli, yo confío en él”, dijo. “Cuando Martinelli fue presidente a todos nos iba mejor”.

Desestimó la condena por blanqueo de dinero de Martinelli, diciendo que otros funcionarios públicos roban pero, a diferencia del expresidente, no son investigados por ello.

“Todos hacen lo suyo”, dijo.

El caos político caracterizó las elecciones, que se celebraron en medio de una frustración generalizada con el gobierno actual y tras unas nutridas protestas del año pasado contra contratos de minería de cobre que, según los manifestantes, eran perjudiciales para el medioambiente.

Los candidatos compitieron por un mandato de cinco años en una votación de una sola vuelta. Panamá no permite a los presidentes en ejercicio presentarse a un segundo mandato consecutivo. Los votantes también eligieron a los representantes de la Asamblea Nacional y de los gobiernos locales.

Panamá ha emergido como una de las economías de más rápido crecimiento del hemisferio occidental gracias a la expansión del canal de Panamá, acuerdos de libre comercio que han atraído a inversores y el uso del dólar como moneda local.

Pero en marzo, la agencia Fitch Ratings rebajó la calificación crediticia de Panamá. Se espera que la producción económica del país crezca solo un 2,5 por ciento este año, frente al 7,5 por ciento de 2023.

Según el Fondo Monetario Internacional, esta desaceleración se debe en gran medida a la decisión de la Corte Suprema de declarar inconstitucional el contrato de extracción de cobre y a la posterior decisión del Gobierno de cerrar la mina. (El Banco Mundial pronostica un crecimiento más rápido a partir del año que viene).

Mulino tendrá que hacer frente a una serie de otros problemas, como la crisis humanitaria que empeora a medida que cientos de miles de migrantes cruzan un camino selvático entre Panamá y Colombia conocido como el Tapón del Darién. Las organizaciones de ayuda han denunciado un alarmante aumento de los asaltos en el lado panameño de la brecha, incluidas violaciones.

El presidente electo ha prometido cerrar el paso y deportar a los migrantes que infrinjan las leyes panameñas. “No voy a permitir que miles de ilegales pasen por nuestro territorio como si nada, sin control”, afirmó.

La preocupación por el agua también fue un tema central de las elecciones. Una reciente sequía provocada por la escasez de lluvias ha reducido los niveles de agua del canal de Panamá, lo que ha provocado que se permita el paso de menos barcos. Mulino prometió suministrar agua potable a las comunidades que carecen de ella.

También prometió abordar el alto déficit que afecta al sistema de pensiones de Panamá y crear nuevos empleos en un país que lucha contra la escasez de mano de obra calificada y un alto número de trabajadores informales.

Al igual que otros candidatos, Mulino evitó tocar temas sociales polémicos y no hizo hincapié en una ideología política concreta en su campaña.

A pesar de la inhabilitación de Martinelli, la campaña de Mulino ha seguido utilizando su imagen en materiales promocionales y se ha apoyado de manera significativa en su legado, el cual incluye una ampliación multimillonaria del canal de Panamá y la inauguración de un sistema de metro en Ciudad de Panamá, la capital.

Mulino calificó el juicio por corrupción de Martinelli, , el cual tuvo como resultado una sentencia de 10 años de prisión, de “juicio armado”, y ha afirmado que él también ha sido un perseguido político.

En 2015, Mulino fue detenido y pasó varios meses en prisión por cargos de malversación vinculados a unos contratos multimillonarios que firmó en 2010 para la compra de radares, cuando era ministro de Seguridad Pública de Martinelli.

Posteriormente, la Corte Suprema de Justicia dictaminó que se habían producido violaciones de procedimiento y confirmó la desestimación de los cargos por parte de un tribunal inferior, aunque mantuvo abierta la posibilidad de que el caso pudiera reabrirse. (El viernes, la Corte Suprema dictaminó que la candidatura de Mulino era legal después de que una impugnación afirmara que no debería participar en la contienda porque no se está presentando con un candidato a vicepresidente como lo exige la constitución del país).

No está claro qué significará la victoria del Mulino para la situación de Martinelli. El Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Panamá ha rechazado la petición de Nicaragua de permitir la salida del país de Martinelli.

Mary Triny Zea colaboró con reportería desde Ciudad de Panamá.


La policía de Haití necesita ayuda para combatir a los criminales

En marzo, unas bandas criminales entraron en el vecindario del jefe de la policía haitiana, Frantz Elbé, irrumpieron en su casa, la incendiaron y mataron a su perro.

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Elbé y su familia no estaban en casa en ese momento, y no quiso dar detalles de lo sucedido. Pero el ataque, que fue grabado en video, envió un mensaje escalofriante a las filas de la policía y a los residentes de Puerto Príncipe, la asediada capital del país.

“Simbolizaba que nadie estaba a salvo”, declaró Reginald Delva, consultor de seguridad y exministro del gobierno haitiano.

El incendio de la casa del jefe de la policía aumentó el temor entre los haitianos de que su país está al borde del colapso ante el ataque de una coalición de bandas armadas que se apoderaron de muchas zonas de Puerto Príncipe y amenazan instituciones clave, como el Palacio Nacional.

La policía haitiana, superada en número y armamento, ha conseguido —al menos por ahora— enfrentar a las bandas en algunos combates y defender los pocos edificios gubernamentales que quedan bajo control estatal.

Como resultado, la policía ha pasado de ser una fuerza muy criticada, considerada por muchos analistas como inepta y corrupta, a adquirir un nuevo respeto entre algunos haitianos.

“La policía ha hecho esfuerzos importantes”, afirmó Gédéon Jean, director del Centro de Análisis e Investigación de los Derechos Humanos, con sede en Haití. “Todavía es insuficiente, pero ahora tienen a la población de su lado”.

Según los expertos, la policía se centra en proteger los principales edificios e infraestructuras gubernamentales, haciendo que las zonas residenciales de la capital queden expuestas a los ataques de las bandas, en lo que un funcionario de EE. UU. comparó con una partida de Whac-a-Mole.

Las bandas dominan muchas zonas de Puerto Príncipe y controlan barrios enteros. Han recurrido a la extorsión y al secuestro para financiar sus operaciones y también han exigido tener injerencia en el futuro político de Haití.

La policía ha contribuido a disminuir el dominio que las bandas ejercían sobre el aeropuerto de la capital, permitiendo el aterrizaje de aviones militares. Está previsto que los vuelos comerciales se reanuden este mes por primera vez desde principios de marzo.

Y el miércoles, la policía también le quitó el control de las carreteras de acceso al puerto de Puerto Príncipe a las pandillas, lo que permitió que los barcos atracaran y descargaran.

La ofensiva de las bandas, que comenzó a fines de febrero, sí logró uno de sus objetivos: la destitución del líder de Haití.

Al primer ministro Ariel Henry se le impidió regresar al país de un viaje al extranjero después de que las bandas atacaran el aeropuerto internacional de la capital, y finalmente se vio obligado a dimitir.

Se suponía que la policía de Haití iba a recibir ayuda del extranjero en su campaña para sofocar la anarquía: una fuerza multinacional de 2500 miembros dirigida por Kenia que fue aprobada por las Naciones Unidas y financiada en gran parte por Estados Unidos.

Pero el contingente quedó suspendido porque los dirigentes de Kenia dijeron que estaban esperando a que se instalara un nuevo gobierno haitiano.

Un consejo de transición encargado de aportar estabilidad política a Haití ha tomado el relevo, como parte de un proceso para conformar un nuevo gobierno y allanar el camino para unas elecciones generales.

Haití no ha tenido un líder elegido por una votación democrática desde que su último presidente, Jovenel Möise, fue asesinado hace tres años.

Pero Kenia aún no ha dicho cuándo partirá la fuerza multinacional hacia Haití, por lo que, de momento, la policía del país tendrá que seguir enfrentándose a las bandas por su cuenta.

“Llevan meses rogando por ayuda”, dijo Bill O’Neill, experto de Naciones Unidas en derechos humanos en Haití. “Me sorprende que sigan resistiendo. Es un pequeño milagro”.

La policía cuenta con unos 9000 oficiales activos para una población de 11 millones de habitantes, según cifras del gobierno, aproximadamente un tercio de la dotación recomendada por Naciones Unidas para un país de ese tamaño.

En Puerto Príncipe suelen estar de servicio unos cientos de oficiales, según los expertos, aunque de manera oficial hay unos 2400 asignados a la capital.

Muchos oficiales han muerto, han renunciado o simplemente han abandonado el trabajo, afirmó Elbé, el jefe de la policía. Sin embargo, dijo que un número significativo ha abandonado Haití al amparo de un programa de permiso humanitario o de permanencia temporal de EE. UU. (conocido como parole en inglés) para inmigrantes haitianos presentado el año pasado por el gobierno de Joe Biden.

En el otro bando hay hasta 200 bandas criminales en todo el país, de las cuales unas dos decenas operan en Puerto Príncipe, según los expertos. Estas van desde pequeños grupos de unas pocas decenas de jóvenes que comparten pistolas hasta pandillas de unos 1500 hombres armados con armas automáticas.

Las autoridades estadounidenses afirman que algunas bandas también disponen de rifles de gran calibre que pueden disparar munición capaz de penetrar fortificaciones. También utilizan drones para vigilar a la policía. Las armas de la policía consisten principalmente en rifles y pistolas.

El gobierno de Biden, que ha dado a la policía de Haití alrededor de 200 millones de dólares en ayuda en los últimos años, está gastando otros 10 millones de dólares en capacitación y equipamiento, incluyendo armas, municiones, chalecos antibalas y cascos.

“Les hemos proporcionado material suficiente, diría yo, por el momento, pero cada día cuenta, y ésta es una acción de contención”, declaró en una entrevista Brian A. Nichols, subsecretario de Estado para Asuntos del Hemisferio Occidental. Las autoridades de EE. UU. han insistido repetidamente en la urgencia de contar con la fuerza multinacional sobre el terreno en Haití.

Al mismo tiempo, organizaciones de derechos humanos en Haití afirman que la policía también ha cometido abusos, como detener a personas bajo acusaciones no especificadas o falsas y golpear a los detenidos, según un informe del Departamento de Estado de EE. UU. publicado en abril.

El asalto a la casa del jefe policial se produjo cuando las bandas intensificaron su nivel de violencia: en los tres primeros meses de este año, más de 2500 personas murieron o resultaron heridas en Haití. Además de forzar el cierre del principal aeropuerto del país, las pandillas también cerraron el principal puerto de Haití, bloqueando el transporte marítimo.

Con este sombrío telón de fondo, Elbé, que no suele hacer apariciones públicas, difundió dos videos en los que les aseguraba a los haitianos que sus oficiales estaban haciendo todo lo posible para protegerlos.

“Se han mantenido firmes en la defensa de la población y han evitado que el país se desmorone por completo”, dijo en un video, con un chaleco protector y rodeado de oficiales de élite antibandas.

También hizo un llamado directo a sus compañeros policías. “Les pido que se unan a esta lucha para evitar que el país muera”, dijo.

Sin embargo, algunos oficiales que viven en barrios invadidos por las bandas se han unido a los cientos de miles de haitianos que han huido de sus hogares.

Las bandas criminales han atacado deliberadamente a la policía como muestra de poder y para sembrar el terror, según los expertos.

“Asesinan o mutilan brutalmente los cuerpos de los policías”, afirmó Diego Da Rin, quien supervisa Haití para el International Crisis Group.

El jefe del sindicato de la policía, Lionel Lazarre, declaró: “La policía es víctima, como el resto de la población. La moral no es alta”.

Desde enero, al menos 24 oficiales han muerto y otros 5 han desaparecido tras sufrir emboscadas de bandas criminales, afirmó Elbé. Unos 220 oficiales han dimitido y 170 han abandonado las filas sin dar explicaciones, añadió.

Debido a los enormes retos y riesgos que enfrentan los oficiales, algunos funcionarios de Estados Unidos afirmaron que la institución había mostrado un compromiso y una resistencia notables.

Equipos especializados SWAT y unidades antipandillas han logrado repeler varios ataques contra edificios clave del gobierno en el centro de la ciudad, incluidos los ministerios del Interior y de Justicia y la Corte Suprema, en lo que Elbé describió como “guerra de guerrillas urbanas por bandas fuertemente armadas”. Al menos 22 comisarías de policía de Puerto Príncipe y sus suburbios fueron destruidas en las últimas semanas.

Un equipo de 14 asesores y capacitadores del Departamento de Estado de EE.UU. está integrado en la policía haitiana para prestar apoyo, incluido asesoramiento táctico. Los altos mandos de la policía haitiana también han recibido formación a través del Colegio Interamericano de Defensa de Washington, que forma parte de la Organización de Estados Americanos.

Sin embargo, los expertos advierten que la policía haitiana está en desventaja en su lucha contra las bandas porque carece de una buena capacidad de respuesta y equipos de inteligencia, como vehículos de patrulla blindados, helicópteros o aviones no tripulados, para atacar las bases fortificadas de las bandas criminales.

La fragilidad de la policía preocupa a los expertos, quienes han advertido que no será fácil derrotar a las bandas ni siquiera con la llegada de la misión multinacional respaldada por la ONU.

“El despliegue internacional tendrá que estar específicamente entrenado para ejecutar operaciones en entornos urbanos densos, donde las bandas probablemente también empleen tácticas de guerrilla que aumenten el riesgo para los civiles”, dijo Lewis Galvin, analista principal para las Américas de Janes, la empresa de inteligencia de defensa.

Encuentran cuerpos sin vida en Baja California tras la desaparición de 3 turistas

Una búsqueda de tres turistas desaparecidos cerca de una localidad surfista cercana a la frontera entre Estados Unidos y México terminó trágicamente el viernes cuando las autoridades informaron que habían localizado tres cuerpos en un pozo de agua.

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Dos hermanos australianos Callum y Jake Robinson, y su amigo, Jack Carter Rhoad, un ciudadano estadounidense, habían estado de vacaciones practicando surf y acampando en la costa cercana a la ciudad mexicana de Ensenada cuando desaparecieron el sábado pasado.

Debra Robinson, la madre de los hermanos, dijo en una publicación en las redes sociales el miércoles que sus hijos habían reservado un Airbnb en otro pueblo costero al norte de Ensenada pero nunca llegaron allí.

“Este es un mensaje para cualquiera que haya visto a mis dos hijos. No nos han contactado”, suplicó a los más de 120.000 miembros de una página comunitaria en Facebook creada para personas interesadas en recorrer la península de Baja California en México.

Robinson informó además que Callum padece de diabetes tipo 1.

La fiscal general del estado, María Elena Andrade Ramírez, dijo en una conferencia de prensa el jueves que los fiscales estaban investigando a tres personas relacionadas con el caso, pero que había transcurrido un tiempo crucial desde la desaparición de los tres hombres.

Andrade Ramírez declaró ante los reporteros que la desaparición se había conocido de manera tardía, por lo que, agregó, eso significaba que se había perdido tiempo importante.

En una entrevista, Andrade Ramírez dijo que después de un análisis minucioso de un pozo de agua de 15 metros de profundidad en la playa La Bocana, cerca del pueblo de Santo Tomás, las autoridades mexicanas encontraron tres cuerpos masculinos la madrugada del viernes. Los restos ya descompuestos, añadió, “reunen las caracteristicas para suponer con un alto grado de probabilidad” que se trata de los hermanos Robinson y Rhoad.

Los investigadores realizarán pruebas de ADN para confirmar los hallazgos.

Los fiscales también creen que las tres personas vinculadas con las muertes intentaron apoderarse del vehículo de las víctimas. Cuando se resistieron, dijo Andrade Ramírez, un hombre sacó un arma, disparó y luego trató de deshacerse de sus cuerpos. Esa persona ha sido arrestada.

“Esta agresion al parecer se dio de manera imprevista, de manera circunstancial”, añadió. “Nos comprometemos a que este crimen no va a quedar impune”.

En el mismo lugar también se encontraron restos humanos de un cuarto cuerpo masculino, que aún no ha sido identificado y no está relacionado con este caso.

En 2022, 192 ciudadanos estadounidenses murieron en México, según las cifras del Departamento de Estado, pero la mayoría de esas muertes fueron accidentes o suicidios. Solo 46 se dictaminaron como homicidios.

Las grandes olas de Baja California han atraído durante mucho tiempo a muchos surfistas y viajeros, varios de los cuales han tenido que lidiar con las crecientes tasas de criminalidad durante casi dos décadas.

Pero en los últimos años el estado se ha visto afectado por niveles de violencia sin precedentes. Los datos gubernamentales muestran que Baja California ocupa actualmente el primer lugar en robo de vehículos y el segundo en homicidios, la mayoría de los cuales están relacionados con el tráfico de drogas o el crimen organizado, según declaró este año el secretario de la Defensa Nacional de México, Luis Cresencio Sandoval.

Un funcionario familiarizado con la investigación, quien no estaba autorizado a hablar públicamente, dijo que una camioneta blanca en la que viajaban los turistas desaparecidos había sido encontrada carbonizada cerca de la playa de La Bocana, en Santo Tomás. También se estaban analizando otras pertenencias y pruebas, añadió el funcionario.

El rápido esfuerzo por encontrar a los turistas fue una rara excepción en un país donde casi 100.000 personas siguen desaparecidas, según el último recuento facilitado por las autoridades mexicanas en marzo.

La mayoría de los casos siguen sin resolverse. Los familiares y los voluntarios tienen que seguir por su propia cuenta las pistas, pero la presencia de los cárteles y la falta de apoyo de las autoridades convierten la búsqueda en una misión peligrosa.

Este caso reciente en Ensenada hizo recordar un suceso de 2015 en el que dos surfistas australianos, Adam Coleman y Dean Lucas, fueron asesinados mientras conducían por Sinaloa, otro estado del norte de México. Las autoridades locales arrestaron a tres personas, quienes dijeron que le habían disparado a los dos amigos después de que se habían resistido a un robo. Sus cuerpos fueron encontrados dentro de su camioneta, la cual había sido rociada con gasolina y prendida en fuego.

Emiliano Rodríguez Mega es un investigador reportero del Times en Ciudad de México. Cubre México, Centroamérica y el Caribe. Más de Emiliano Rodríguez Mega

¿Proteger los árboles de la Amazonía puede ser más rentable que la ganadería?

Manuela Andreoni visitó proyectos de restauración y propiedades rurales en el norte del Amazonas para entender cómo están cambiando las economías locales.

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Los habitantes de Maracaçumé, una localidad al borde de la selva amazónica cuya población vive en situación de pobreza, se sienten desconcertados por la empresa que acaba de comprar la mayor hacienda de la región. ¿Cómo puede ganar dinero plantando árboles, que los ejecutivos dicen que nunca talarán, en terrenos donde el ganado ha pastado durante décadas?

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“Estamos acabando con unos pastos que muchos granjeros necesitan”, afirmó Josias Araújo, un antiguo ganadero que ahora trabaja en la reforestación, parado sobre una parcela de tierra que estaba ayudando a abonar. “Es tan extraño”, agregó.

La nueva empresa, que también es el nuevo empleador de Araújo, es un negocio de restauración forestal llamado Re.green. Su objetivo, junto con otras empresas, es crear toda una nueva industria que pueda hacer que los árboles en pie, que almacenan el carbono que calienta al planeta, sean más lucrativos que la mayor causa de deforestación mundial: la ganadería.

Es el santo grial de la economía forestal. Y ahora podría estar al alcance de la mano.

El interés es enorme. Ya desapareció una quinta parte de la gran selva tropical. Y los científicos advierten que el aumento de las temperaturas globales podría hacer que todo el ecosistema, un tesoro de biodiversidad y un regulador crucial del clima mundial, colapse en las próximas décadas, a menos que se detenga la deforestación y se restaure una zona del tamaño de Alemania.

Re.green planea restaurar árboles endémicos en áreas deforestadas y vender créditos que corresponden al carbono que captan. Esos árboles se conservarán, no se talarán. Luego, las empresas utilizarán esos créditos para compensar sus propios gases de efecto invernadero en el recuento de emisiones.

Lo que está en juego depende del éxito de un sistema que se está construyendo desde cero y que implica desafíos enormes. Medir el carbono que contienen los árboles y el suelo es complejo. Además, a muchos conservacionistas les preocupa que las empresas puedan abusar de los créditos de carbono para aparentar conciencia ecológica sin renunciar a los combustibles fósiles.

A pesar de eso, los proyectos de reforestación han creado un gran revuelo en el norte de la Amazonía, donde las empresas se apresuran a comprar grandes parcelas de tierra con potencial de restauración.

“Ustedes saben que a quienes crían ganado no les importa mucho esto de la reforestación”, comentó Anderson Pina Farias, un ganadero cuya finca está deforestada casi en su totalidad. Pero, añadió, “si vender carbono es mejor que la ganadería, podemos cambiar de negocio”.

Una reacción adversa de la naturaleza parece estar ayudando a las empresas de restauración a ganarse los corazones y las mentes en una región donde la cultura ganadera está muy arraigada.

Jose Villeigagnon Rabelo, alcalde de Mãe do Rio, ciudad del noreste de la Amazonía, está preocupado. Una sequía brutal provocada por el cambio climático y la deforestación secó recientemente buena parte de los pastizales que los ganaderos usaban como alimento. Y, tras décadas de pisoteo de los animales, millones de hectáreas en toda la región se han degradado tanto que no sirven para cultivar casi nada.

“El ganado se está muriendo de hambre”, declaró Rabelo sentado en su oficina, recubierta de madera y con bancos de ‘Dinizia excelsa’, también conocido como angelim vermelha, un árbol que ahora es difícil de encontrar en la región. “Nunca habíamos tenido un verano así”.

La crisis ha hecho que los ganaderos tengan que dedicar partes cada vez mayores de sus fincas a alimentar a un número cada vez menor de reses. En la actualidad, menos de la mitad de las haciendas registradas en la ciudad tienen ganado.

Pero, hace más o menos un año, una empresa de restauración llamada Mombak inició un proyecto que abarca 3035 hectáreas en uno de los ranchos ganaderos más grandes de la región. Rabelo confía en que la nueva industria sea un salvavidas para la comunidad.

La idea es sencilla: la venta de un crédito, por cada tonelada de carbón que los árboles absorban de la atmósfera, para las empresas que quieran compensar la contaminación que producen.

Según los expertos, los trastornos medioambientales, combinados con el interés cada vez mayor por los créditos de carbono, han creado una oportunidad para desafiar el dominio del imperio de la carne de res sobre vastas extensiones de selva tropical. Según un informe de 2023 de BloombergNEF, los mercados de carbono podrían alcanzar un valor de un billón de dólares en 2037, el doble de lo que vale en este momento el mercado mundial de la carne de res.

Cultivar un bosque grande y biodiverso en terrenos degradados puede costar decenas de millones de dólares. Durante años, los proyectos de reforestación forestal habían tenido que depender de varias fuentes de ingresos, incluida la tala sostenible de madera, para restaurar el suelo y cultivar distintos tipos de árboles endémicos.

Sin embargo, las empresas que quieren mejorar sus credenciales climáticas están cada vez más dispuestas a invertir más recursos para financiar proyectos que consideran de alta calidad. Por eso, empresas como Mombak y Re.green están desarrollando un modelo de negocio que se basa casi exclusivamente en créditos de carbono, con poca o ninguna tala.

Parte de la estrategia de empresas como Mombak y Re.green es ayudar a los agricultores a mejorar la tierra e intensificar la ganadería en algunas zonas degradadas, al tiempo que restauran los bosques en otras. En promedio, las fincas amazónicas mantienen un animal por cada 0,80 hectáreas. Los investigadores afirman que esta cifra podría aumentar a tres animales con poca inversión.

La mayoría de los proyectos emplean a decenas de lugareños para que planten los árboles, fertilicen la tierra y estén atentos a incendios. Las empresas también financian y capacitan a empresas locales para que proporcionen las semillas y plántulas autóctonas que tanto necesitan.

En algunos proyectos, a medida que crecen los bosques, las comunidades locales también pueden ganarse la vida recolectando y procesando nueces de Brasil, aceite de andiroba y otros productos forestales que pueden vender a empresas de alimentos, belleza y farmacéuticas.

Cuando un bosque se convierte en una respuesta a las diversas necesidades de la gente, se vuelve una poderosa razón para que las comunidades lo protejan, afirmó Luiza Maia de Castro, economista que gestiona las relaciones comunitarias de Re.green. En este momento, la tala de árboles es un medio de subsistencia aceptable en la mayor parte de la Amazonía.

“Para romper ese ciclo”, dijo, “tienes que cambiar la manera en la que la gente se gana el sustento”.

Estas iniciativas siguen enfrentando retos enormes. El suministro de semillas de árboles endémicos es un problema logístico y encontrar granjas que puedan ser adquiridas en regiones donde la tenencia de la tierra es caótica puede implicar meses de investigación.

Y lo que es más importante, la trayectoria de los precios de los créditos de carbono depende de que el mundo establezca qué es un crédito de alta calidad. En repetidas ocasiones, los mercados de carbono se han visto afectados por investigaciones académicas y periodísticas que revelaron que decenas de proyectos habían exagerado el impacto de sus emisiones, por ejemplo, al “proteger” bosques que nunca estuvieron en peligro de tala.

Pero los proyectos de reforestación almacenan carbono con el cultivo de árboles en tierras degradadas, un sistema más sencillo y directo.

Algunos expertos advierten que el ganado desplazado podría continuar impulsando la deforestación en otros lugares y que los incendios forestales podrían eliminar los beneficios de los árboles que tardaron décadas en crecer.

“Suena a que el financiamiento del carbono puede marcar la diferencia”, dijo Barbara Haya, directora del Proyecto de Comercio de Carbono de Berkeley, que ha investigado varios proyectos de silvicultura de carbono. Pero también hay dudas sobre los métodos de contabilidad.

Además, agregó: “Es problemático intercambiar carbono forestal por emisiones de combustibles fósiles”. En parte, eso se debe a que la compra de créditos de carbono puede resultar menos costosa que la transición de una empresa a abandonar las fuentes de energía sucias, lo que, según los científicos, el mundo debe hacer en última instancia para evitar los peores efectos del cambio climático.

Manuela Andreoni es periodista del Times que cubre el clima y el medioambiente y escribe el boletín Climate Forward. Más de Manuela Andreoni