MEXICO CITY — Observed from a soaring cable car, the city is a sea of concrete stretching to the horizon, ruptured only by clusters of skyscrapers and the remains of ancient volcanoes. Some 60 feet below is the borough of Iztapalapa, a warren of winding streets and alleyways, its cinder block houses encasing the neighborhood’s hills in insipid gray.
But then, on a rooftop, a sudden burst of color: a giant monarch butterfly perched atop a purple flower. Further along the route of Mexico City’s newest cableway, a toucan and a scarlet macaw stare up at passengers. Later, on a canary yellow wall, there is a young girl in a red dress, her eyes closed in an expression of absolute bliss.
The 6.5-mile line, inaugurated in August, is the longest public cableway in the world, according to the city government. As well as halving the commute time for many workers in the capital’s most populous borough, the cable car has an added attraction: exuberant murals painted by an army of local artists, many of which can be viewed only from above.
most crime-ridden areas of Mexico City.
“People want to rescue their history, the history of the neighborhood,” said the borough’s mayor, Clara Brugada Molina. “Iztapalapa becomes a giant gallery.”
Sprawling toward the outer edge of Mexico City, Iztapalapa is home to 1.8 million residents, some of whom are among the poorest in the city. Many work in wealthier neighborhoods, and before the cable car, this often meant hourslong commutes.
As with many poor urban areas of Mexico, Iztapalapa has long been afflicted by both a lack of basic services, like running water, as well as high levels of violence, often linked to organized crime.
June survey from Mexico’s national statistics agency, nearly eight of 10 residents said they felt unsafe — among the highest rate for any city in the country.
Women in particular face pervasive violence in Iztapalapa, which ranks among the top 25 municipalities in the country for femicide, in which a woman is killed because of her gender. From 2012 to 2017, city security cameras recorded more instances of sexual assault against women in Iztapalapa than in any other Mexico City borough, according to a 2019 report from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
a giant re-enactment of the crucifixion of Christ.
“That religious stigma weighs against you,” Ms. Cerón said.
As far as the murals go, she says they look beautiful but have done little to make her feel safer.
“It does nothing for me to have a very pretty painted street if three blocks away, they’re robbing or murdering people,” she said.
Alejandra Atrisco Amilpas, an artist who has painted some 300 murals across Iztapalapa, believes they can make residents prouder of where they live, but she admits they can only go so far.
“Paint helps a lot, but sadly it can’t change the reality of social problems,” she said.“A mural isn’t going to change whether you care about the woman being beat up on the corner.”
Ms. Atrisco, who is gay, said she had come up against conservative attitudes during the project, whether from male artists doubting her abilities or local officials barring her from painting L.G.B.T.Q.-themed murals.
“Violence against women, yes, but lesbians, no,” she said, smiling ruefully.
Still, Ms. Atrisco believes her work can affect residents’ lives by representing the characters of Iztapalapa in full color.
“Every day you confront a new challenge, every day a new wall and a new story,” she said. “You make dreams come true a little bit — you become a dream maker.”
Originally, the surveillance cameras beaming in the images — along with hundreds more citywide — were installed to monitor for crime and reckless boaters. But now they double as visitor trackers, a way for officials to spot crowds they want to disperse.
Officials say the phone-location data will also alert them to prevent the type of crowds that make crossing the city’s most famous bridges a daily struggle. In addition, they are trying to figure out how many visitors are day-trippers, who spend little time — and little of their money — in Venice.
Once officials establish such patterns, the information will be used to guide the use of the gates and the booking system. If crowds are expected on certain days, the system will suggest alternative itineraries or travel dates. And the admission fee will be adjusted to charge a premium, up to 10 euros, or about $11.60, on what are expected to be high-traffic days.
City leaders dismiss critics who fret about the invasion of privacy, saying that all of the phone data is gathered anonymously. The city is acquiring the information under a deal with TIM, an Italian phone company, which like many others is capitalizing on increased demand for data by law enforcement, marketing firms and other businesses.
In fact, data from Venetians is also being swept up, but city officials say they are receiving aggregated data and therefore, they insist, cannot use it to follow individuals. And the thrust of its program, they say, is to track tourists, whom they say they can usually spot by the shorter amount of time they stay in the city.
“Every one of us leaves traces,” said Marco Bettini, a manager at Venis, the I.T. company. “Even if you don’t communicate it, your phone operator knows where you sleep.” It also knows where you work, he said, and that on a specific day you are visiting a city that is not yours.
But Luca Corsato, a data manager in Venice, said the collection raises ethical questions because phone users probably have no idea a city could buy their data. He added that while cities have bought phone location data to monitor crowds at specific events, he was unaware of any other city making this “massive and constant” use of it to monitor tourists.
BERLIN — They promised they would “hunt” the elites. They questioned the need for a Holocaust memorial in Berlin and described Muslim immigrants as “head scarf girls” and “knife men.”
Four years ago the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, arrived in the German Parliament like a wrecking ball, the first far-right party to win a place at the heart of Germany’s democracy since World War II. It was a political earthquake in a country that had once seen Hitler’s Nazi party rise from the fringes to win power in free elections.
Founded eight years ago as nationalist free-market protest party against the Greek bailout and the euro, the AfD has sharply shifted to the right.
The party seized on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to welcome over a million migrants to Germany in 2015 and 2016, actively fanning fears of Islamization and migrant crime. Its noisy nationalism and anti-immigrant stance were what first catapulted it into Parliament and instantly turned it into Germany’s main opposition party.
But the party has struggled to expand its early gains during the past 18 months, as the pandemic and, more recently, climate change have shot to the top of the list of voters’ concerns — while its core issue of immigration has barely featured in this year’s election campaign.
The AfD has tried to jump on the chaos in Afghanistan to fan fears of a new migrant crisis. “Cologne, Kassel or Konstanz can’t cope with more Kabul,” one of the party’s campaign posters asserted. “Save the world? Sure. But Germany first!” another read.
At a recent election rally north of Frankfurt, Mr. Chrupalla demanded that lawmakers “abolish” the constitutional right to asylum. He also told the public broadcaster Deutsche Welle that Germany should be prepared to protect its borders, “if need be with armed force.”
None of this rhetoric has shifted the race, particularly because voters seem to have more fundamental concerns about the party’s aura of extremism. Some AfD leaders have marched with extremists in the streets, while among the party’s supporters are an eclectic array of conspiracy theorists and neo-Nazi sympathizers.
shot dead on his front porch by a well-known neo-Nazi. The killer later told the court that he had attended a high-profile AfD protest a year earlier.
Since then, a far-right extremist has attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle during a Yom Kippur service, leaving two dead and only narrowly failing to commit a massacre. Another extremist shot dead 9 mostly young people with immigrant roots in the western city of Hanau.
The AfD’s earlier rise in the polls stalled almost instantly after the Hanau attack.
“After these three attacks, the wider German public and media realized for the first time that the rhetoric of the AfD leads to real violence,” said Hajo Funke of the Free University in Berlin, who has written extensively about the party and tracks its evolution.
“It was a turning point,” he said. “They have come to personify the notion that words lead to deeds.”
Shortly after the Hanau attack, Thomas Haldenwang, the chief of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, placed elements of the AfD under surveillance for far-right extremism — even as the party’s lawmakers continued to work in Parliament.
“We know from German history that far-right extremism didn’t just destroy human lives, it destroyed democracy,” Mr. Haldenwang warned after announcing his decision in March last year. “Far-right extremism and far-right terrorism are currently the biggest danger for democracy in Germany.”
Today, the agency has classified about a third of all AfD members as extremist, including Mr. Chrupalla and Alice Weidel, the party’s other lead candidate. A court is reviewing whether the entire party can soon be placed under formal observation.
“The AfD is irrelevant in power-political terms,” said Mr. Funke. “But it is dangerous.”
Mr. Chrupalla, a decorator who occasionally takes the stage in his overalls, and Ms. Weidel, a suit-wearing former Goldman Sachs analyst and gay mother of two, have sought to counter that impression. As if to hammer home the point, the party’s main election slogan this year is: “Germany — but normal.”
A look through the party’s 207-page election program shows what “normal” means: The AfD demands Germany’s exit from the European Union. It calls for the abolition of any mandates to fight the coronavirus. It wants to return to the traditional German definition of citizenship based on blood ancestry. And it is the only party in Parliament that denies man-made climate change, while also calling for investment in coal and a departure from the Paris climate accord.
That the AfD’s polling numbers have barely budged for the past 18 months suggests that its supporters are not protest voters but Germans who subscribe to its ideas and ideology.
“The AfD has brought out into the open a small but very radical electorate that many thought we don’t have in this country,” said Mr. Quent, the sociologist. “Four years ago people were asking: ‘Where does this come from?’ In reality it was always there. It just needed a trigger.”
Mr. Quent and other experts estimate the nationwide ceiling of support for the party at around 14 percent. But in parts of the former Communist East, where the AfD has become a broad-based political force entrenched at the local level, it is often twice that — enough to make it the region’s second-strongest political force.
Among the under 60-year olds, Mr. Quent said, it has become No. 1.
“It’s only a question of time until AfD is the strongest party in the East,” Mr. Quent said.
That is why Mr. Chrupalla, whose constituency is in the eastern state of Saxony, the one state where the AfD already came first in 2017, predicts it will eventually become too big to bypass.
“In the East we are a people’s party, we are well-established at the local, city, regional and state level,” Mr. Chrupalla said. “In the East the middle class votes for the AfD. In the West, they vote for the Greens.”
Christopher F. Schuetze and Melissa Eddy contributed reporting.
BARCELONA, Spain — In the spring of 2019, an emissary of Catalonia’s top separatist leader traveled to Moscow in search of a political lifeline.
The independence movement in Catalonia, the semiautonomous region in Spain’s northeast, had been largely crushed after a referendum on breaking away two years earlier. The European Union and the United States, which supported Spain’s effort to keep the country intact, had rebuffed the separatists’ pleas for support.
But in Russia, a door was opening.
In Moscow, the emissary, Josep Lluis Alay, a senior adviser to the self-exiled former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, met with current Russian officials, former intelligence officers and the well-connected grandson of a K.G.B. spymaster. The aim was to secure Russia’s help in severing Catalonia from the rest of Spain, according to a European intelligence report, which was reviewed by The New York Times.
recordings revealed a Russian plot to covertly finance the hard-right League party. In Britain, a Times investigation uncovered discussions among right-wing fringe figures about opening bank accounts in Moscow. And in Spain, the Russians have also offered assistance to far-right parties, according to the intelligence report.
Whether Mr. Alay knew it or not, many of the officials he met in Moscow are involved in what has become known as the Kremlin’s hybrid war against the West. This is a layered strategy involving propaganda and disinformation, covert financing of disruptive political movements, hacking and leaking information (as happened in the 2016 U.S. presidential election) and “active measures” like assassinations meant to erode the stability of Moscow’s adversaries.
It is unclear what help, if any, the Kremlin has provided to the Catalan separatists. But Mr. Alay’s trips to Moscow in 2019 were followed quickly by the emergence of a secretive protest group, Tsunami Democratic, which disrupted operations at Barcelona’s airport and cut off a major highway linking Spain to northern Europe. A confidential police report by Spain’s Guardia Civil, obtained by The Times, found that Mr. Alay was involved in the creation of the protest group.
Unit 29155, which has been linked to attempted coups and assassinations in Europe, had been present in Catalonia around the time of the referendum, but Spain has provided no evidence that they played an active role.
Many Catalan independence leaders have accused the authorities in Madrid of using the specter of Russian interference to tarnish what they described as a grass-roots movement of regular citizens. The referendum was supported by a fragile coalition of three political parties that quickly dissolved over disputes about ideology and strategy. Even as some parties pushed for a negotiated settlement with Madrid, Mr. Puigdemont, a former journalist with a Beatles-like mop of hair, has eschewed compromise.
Asked about the Russian outreach, the current Catalan government under President Pere Aragones distanced itself from Mr. Puigdemont.
railed against the “silence of the main European institutions.”
The European Union declared the Catalan independence referendum illegal. Russia’s position, by contrast, was more equivocal. President Vladimir V. Putin described the Catalan separatist drive as Europe’s comeuppance for supporting independence movements in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union.
“There was a time when they welcomed the collapse of a whole series of governments in Europe, not hiding their happiness about this,” Mr. Putin said. “We talk about double standards all the time. There you go.”
In March 2019, Mr. Alay traveled to Moscow, just weeks after leaders of the Catalan independence movement went on trial. Three months later, Mr. Alay went again.
In Russia, according to the intelligence report, Mr. Alay and Mr. Dmitrenko met with several active foreign intelligence officers, as well as Oleg V. Syromolotov, the former chief of counterintelligence for the Federal Security Service, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, who now oversees counterterrorism as a deputy minister at the Russian foreign ministry.
Mr. Alay denied meeting Mr. Syromolotov and the officers but acknowledged meeting Yevgeny Primakov, the grandson of a famous K.G.B. spymaster, in order to secure an interview with Mr. Puigdemont on an international affairs program he hosted on Kremlin television. Last year, Mr. Primakov was appointed by Mr. Putin to run a Russian cultural agency that, according to European security officials, often serves as a front for intelligence operations.
“Good news from Moscow,” Mr. Alay later texted to Mr. Puigdemont, informing him of Mr. Primakov’s appointment. In another exchange, Mr. Dmitrenko told Mr. Alay that Mr. Primakov’s elevation “puts him in a very good position to activate things between us.”
Mr. Alay also confirmed meeting Andrei Bezrukov, a decorated former officer with Russia’s foreign intelligence service. For more than a decade, Mr. Bezrukov and his wife, Yelena Vavilova, were deep cover operatives living in the United States using the code names Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley.
It was their story of espionage, arrest and eventual return to Russia in a spy swap that served as a basis for the television series “The Americans.” Mr. Alay appears to have become close with the couple. Working with Mr. Dmitrenko, he spent about three months in the fall of 2020 on a Catalan translation of Ms. Vavilova’s autobiographical novel “The Woman Who Can Keep Secrets,” according to his encrypted correspondence.
Mr. Alay, who is also a college professor and author, said he was invited by Mr. Bezrukov, who now teaches at a Moscow university, to deliver two lectures.
Mr. Alay was accompanied on each of his trips by Mr. Dmitrenko, 33, a Russian businessman who is married to a Catalan woman. Mr. Dmitrenko did not respond to requests for comment. But Spanish authorities have monitored him and in 2019 rejected a citizenship application from him because of his Russian contacts, according to a Spanish Ministry of Justice decision reviewed by The Times.
The decision said Mr. Dmitrenko “receives missions” from Russian intelligence and also “does different jobs” for leaders of Russian organized crime.
A Political Tsunami
A few months after Mr. Alay’s trips to Moscow, Catalonia erupted in protests.
A group calling itself Tsunami Democratic occupied the offices of one of Spain’s largest banks, closed a main highway between France and Spain for two days and orchestrated the takeover of the Barcelona airport, forcing the cancellation of more than a hundred flights.
The group’s origins have remained unclear, but one of the confidential police files stated that Mr. Alay attended a meeting in Geneva, where he and other independence activists finalized plans for Tsunami Democratic’s unveiling.
Three days after Tsunami Democratic occupied the Barcelona airport, two Russians flew from Moscow to Barcelona, the Catalan capital, according to flight records obtained by The Times.
One was Sergei Sumin, whom the intelligence report describes as a colonel in Russia’s Federal Protective Service, which oversees security for Mr. Putin and is not known for activities abroad.
The other was Artyom Lukoyanov, the adopted son of a top adviser to Mr. Putin, one who was deeply involved in Russia’s efforts to support separatists in eastern Ukraine.
According to the intelligence report, Mr. Alay and Mr. Dmitrenko met the two men in Barcelona for a strategy session to discuss the independence movement, though the report offered no other details.
Mr. Alay denied any connection to Tsunami Democratic. He confirmed that he had met with Mr. Sumin and Mr. Lukoyanov at the request of Mr. Dmitrenko, but only to “greet them politely.”
Even as the protests faded, Mr. Puigdemont’s associates remained busy. His lawyer, Mr. Boye, flew to Moscow in February 2020 to meet Vasily Khristoforov, whom Western law enforcement agencies describe as a senior Russian organized crime figure. The goal, according to the report, was to enlist Mr. Khristoforov to help set up a secret funding channel for the independence movement.
In an interview, Mr. Boye acknowledged meeting in Moscow with Mr. Khristoforov, who is wanted in several countries including Spain on suspicion of financial crimes, but said they only discussed matters relating to Mr. Khristoforov’s legal cases.
By late 2020, Mr. Alay’s texts reveal an eagerness to keep his Russian contacts happy. In exchanges with Mr. Puigdemont and Mr. Boye, he said they should avoid any public statements that might anger Moscow, especially about the democracy protests that Russia was helping to disperse violently in Belarus.
Mr. Puigdemont did not always heed the advice, appearing in Brussels with the Belarusian opposition and tweeting his support for the protesters, prompting Mr. Boye to text Mr. Alay that “we will have to tell the Russians that this was just to mislead.”
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The commander in charge of guarding the Haitian president’s home quickly became a suspect in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last month when his security team inexplicably melted away, enabling hit men to enter the residence with little resistance and kill the president in his own bedroom.
But current and former officials say that the commander, Dimitri Hérard, was already a suspect in a separate case that the United States Drug Enforcement Administration has pursued for years: the disappearance of hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of cocaine and heroin that were whisked away by corrupt officials only hours before law enforcement agents showed up to seize them.
Now, some international officials assisting with the investigation into the president’s assassination say they are examining whether those criminal networks help explain the killing. Haitian officials, including the country’s prime minister, have acknowledged that the official explanation presented in the days after the assassination — that Mr. Moïse was gunned down in an elaborate plot to seize political office — does not entirely add up, and that the true motive behind the murder has not been uncovered.
Haiti is a major transit point for drugs heading to the United States, and American and United Nations officials say the trade flourishes through an array of politicians, businesspeople and members of law enforcement who abuse their power. Now, current and former officials say that Mr. Hérard has long been a focal point of the investigation into one of the biggest drug trafficking cases the D.E.A. has ever pursued in Haiti.
detained in connection with the assassination. The president’s widow has angrily demanded to know what happened to the dozens of guards Mr. Hérard commanded, and why none of them were killed when assailants stormed her home on July 7, wounding her and shooting her husband dead on the floor beside her.
they said they were rebuffed.
“The port is an open sewer,” Mr. Greco said.
Van Williams, another United Nations anti-narcotics supervisor based in Haiti at the time, agreed.
“There was very little importance placed on the docks, which I found very strange,” Mr. Williams said. “Corruption in Haiti from the top on down is so rampant.”
report earlier this year. Only five people have been convicted of drug trafficking in Haiti, and the government did not classify corruption as a crime until 2014, the report added.
as the killers stormed the house, pleading for help. Phone records and Mr. Hérard’s initial testimony also showed that Mr. Moïse had called him at 1:39 a.m. on the night of the killing. But Mr. Hérard and his unit never engaged the hit squad at the residence, instead mounting a roadblock some distance away, according to his initial police testimony.
reprimanded the D.E.A. for its handling of the Manzanares case and for not doing more to clean up Haiti’s ports.
“I went through hell, speaking the truth and trying to do the right thing,” said Mr. McNichols.
Anatoly Kurmanaev in Port-au-Prince and Julian Barnes in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
Despite the chaotic end to its presence in Afghanistan, the United States still has control over billions of dollars belonging to the Afghan central bank, money that Washington is making sure remains out of the reach of the Taliban.
About $7 billion of the central bank’s $9 billion in foreign reserves are held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the former acting governor of the Afghan central bank said Wednesday, and the Biden administration has already moved to block access to that money.
The Taliban’s access to the other money could also be restricted by the long reach of American sanctions and influence. The central bank has $1.3 billion in international accounts, some of it euros and British pounds in European banks, the former official, Ajmal Ahmady, said in an interview on Wednesday. Remaining reserves are held by the Swiss-based Bank for International Settlements, he added.
Mr. Ahmady said earlier on Wednesday that the Taliban had already been asking central bank officials about where the money was.
International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday that it would block Afghanistan’s access to about $460 million in emergency reserves. The decision followed pressure from the Biden administration to ensure that the reserves did not reach the Taliban.
Money from an agreement reached in November among more than 60 countries to send Afghanistan $12 billion over the next four years is also in doubt. Last week, Germany said it would not provide grants to Afghanistan if the Taliban took over and introduced Shariah law, and on Tuesday, the European Union said no payments were going to Afghanistan until officials “clarify the situation.”
The central bank money and international aid, essential to a poor country where three-quarters of public spending is financed by grants, are powerful leverage for Washington as world leaders consider if and when to recognize the Taliban takeover.
Mr. Ahmady, who fled Afghanistan on Sunday, said he believed the Taliban could get access to the central bank reserves only by negotiating with the U.S. government.
high-profile talks last month. But so far, China hasn’t shown an eagerness to increase its role in Afghanistan. The Taliban could try to take advantage of the country’s vast mineral resources through mining, or finance operations with money from the illegal opium trade. Afghanistan is the world’s largest grower of poppy used to produce heroin, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
But these alternatives are all “very tough,” Mr. Ahmady said. “Probably the only other way is to negotiate with the U.S. government.”
Afghanistan has about $700 million at the Bank for International Settlements, Mr. Ahmady said. The bank, which serves 63 central banks around the world, said on Wednesday that it “does not acknowledge or discuss banking relationships.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Ahmady wrote on Twitter that Afghanistan had relied on shipments of U.S. dollars every few weeks because it had a large current account deficit, a reflection of the fact that the value of its imports are about five times greater than its exports.
Those purchases of imports, often paid in dollars, could soon be squeezed.
“The amount of such cash remaining is close to zero due a stoppage of shipments as the security situation deteriorated, especially during the last few days,” Mr. Ahmady wrote.
He recalled receiving a call on Friday saying the country wouldn’t get further shipments of U.S. dollars. The next day, Afghan banks requested large amounts of dollars to keep up with customer withdrawals, but Mr. Ahmady said he had to limit their distribution to conserve the central bank’s supply. It was the first time he made such a move, he said.
Mr. Ahmady said that he had told President Ashraf Ghani about the cancellation of currency shipments, and that Mr. Ghani had then spoken with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. Though further shipments were approved “in principle,” Mr. Ahmady said, the next scheduled shipment, on Sunday, never arrived.
their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. They are emerging now from obscurity, but little is known about them or how they plan to govern.
The New York Fed provides safekeeping and payment services to foreign central banks so they can store international reserves securely, and to facilitate cross-border payments and other dollar-based transactions. International reserves often take the form of short-term Treasury bonds or gold. The New York Fed has been storing gold for foreign governments for nearly a century.
Though Mr. Ahmady has left the country, he said he believed that most members of the central bank’s staff were still in Afghanistan.
If the Taliban can’t gain access to the central bank’s reserves, it will probably have to further limit access to dollars, Mr. Ahmady said. This would help start a cycle in which the national currency will depreciate and inflation will rise rapidly and worsen poverty.
“They’re going to have to significantly reduce the amount that people can take out,” Mr. Ahmady said. “That’s going to hurt people’s living standards.”
The more than $400 million from the International Monetary Fund, which the Biden administration has sought to keep out of the Taliban’s hands, is Afghanistan’s share of a $650 billion allocation of currency reserves known as special drawing rights. It was approved this month as part of an effort to help developing countries cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
But the toppling of Afghanistan’s government and a lack of clarity about whether the Taliban will be recognized internationally put the I.M.F. in a difficult position.
“There is currently a lack of clarity within the international community regarding recognition of a government in Afghanistan, as a consequence of which the country cannot access S.D.R.s or other I.M.F. resources,” the organization said in a statement Wednesday. It added that its decisions were guided by the views of the international community.
Jake Sullivan, the White House’s national security adviser, said Tuesday that it was too soon to address whether the United States would recognize the Taliban as the legitimate power in Afghanistan.
“Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the Taliban to show the rest of the world who they are and how they intend to proceed,” Mr. Sullivan said. “The track record has not been good, but it’s premature to address that question at this point.”
GRANTHAM, England — Daniela Espirito Santo died after waiting on hold for the police to answer her call for help.
It was the seventh time in a year that she had reported her boyfriend to the police, including for death threats and for trying to strangle her. Two of those calls came in the hours before her death. The first was in the morning, after her boyfriend pinned her on the bed and pressed his forearm against her throat.
“Is this it?” Ms. Espirito Santo, 23, had gasped, according to a police report. “Are you going to kill me this time?”
The police took him into custody but quickly released him. He returned to Ms. Espirito Santo’s apartment and soon afterward she called the police to report that he had assaulted her again. The dispatcher told her that her situation wasn’t urgent, because the boyfriend had left. He directed her to a nonemergency hotline and hung up after 94 seconds.
during the first month of Britain’s lockdown — more than triple the number in that month the previous year, and the highest figure in a decade. But it also illustrates another flaw in British authorities’ efforts to address violence against women: the repeated failure of prosecutors to punish abusers.
Initially charged with manslaughter, the boyfriend, Julio Jesus, then 30, was eventually sentenced to only 10 months behind bars. The Crown Prosecution Service, the national public prosecutor, dropped its manslaughter charge because of complicating medical opinions about the condition of Ms. Espirito Santo’s heart, and convicted him on two counts of serious assault. He was released before England’s coronavirus lockdowns had ended.
“There was a litany of failures where once again a woman’s voice hasn’t been listened to,” said Jess Phillips, a Labour lawmaker who speaks for the opposition on domestic violence policy. “This case shows nothing is changing, even though victims keep being promised it is.”
fewer than 2 percent of rape cases and 8 percent of domestic abuse cases reported to the police in England and Wales are prosecuted, even as complaints are rising.
The nation was shocked earlier this year when a police officer confessed to kidnapping, raping and murdering Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive who was abducted while walking home in South London. The crime underscored the vulnerability felt by many British women and their concern that the police and prosecutors are failing to protect them.
Parliament recently approved new legislation on domestic abuse. But changing policing and public attitudes has proved difficult for decades. Failings and missed opportunities by the police often remain hidden.
Ms. Espirito Santo’s case fit that pattern. Her death in Grantham, a market town in the largely rural English county of Lincolnshire, received little outside attention and was regarded as a tragedy, not a scandal. An inquest into her death is in limbo. Lincolnshire Police — a small force covering a wide area with a sparse but often deprived population — refused an interview, as did the Crown Prosecution Service.
But an investigation by The New York Times lays bare the escalating abuse Ms. Espirito Santo reported, gives a rare insight into police failings and raises questions about the decision by prosecutors to drop the manslaughter charge. The Times has obtained a confidential 106-page report compiled by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, an official watchdog, into the Lincolnshire force’s handling of the case.
The report documents Ms. Espirito Santo’s ever more desperate interactions with the police, revealing a haphazard response as her situation worsened. It noted that some male officers felt sympathetic toward Mr. Jesus before releasing him on bail, including one who said his “biggest concern” was the boyfriend’s mental health.
government failings on domestic abuse at the start of Britain’s lockdowns, which left victims trapped at home with abusers and isolated from family and friends. The rules were especially constricting for people with serious health conditions, like Ms. Espirito Santo, who had to pause her job at a nursing home.
“Daniela’s case is a scandalous failing by the police to recognize someone who was at an increasing risk of domestic homicide,” Ms. Wistrich said. “But it is sadly illustrative of many cases we see.”
Lincolnshire Police refused to answer even written questions, citing concerns about prejudicing a future inquest. A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said it was determined to improve the handling of crimes against women and girls and to “narrow the gap” between “reports of these terrible offenses and cases reaching court.”
Ms. Espirito Santo’s story — pieced together by The Times through the confidential report, other documents and more than a dozen interviews — is of a yearlong cry for help that went unheard.
“Everything happened because the police didn’t help Daniela when she rang,” said Isabel Espirito Santo, Ms. Espirito Santo’s mother. “If the police had helped more, I think she could still be here.”
Ms. Espirito Santo was pregnant with her second child when she first reported Mr. Jesus to the police. It was May 19, 2019, and she told officers that he had threatened to kill her, that he was violent and controlling and “excessively jealous.”
examination of domestic abuse complaints stated that it was officers’ job to “build the case for the victim, not expect the victim to build the case for the police.”
‘Is This It?’
Fifteen hours before she died, Ms. Espirito Santo made her penultimate call to the police. It was 9:48 a.m. She told the operator that Mr. Jesus had thrown her on the bed and grabbed her neck, leaving a mark. He had left, but not before pinning her with the front door and threatening to kill her. When two officers arrived, she agreed to support a prosecution.
She told the officers that she had “lost count” of how often Mr. Jesus had assaulted her, often squeezing her neck so tightly that she struggled to breathe. She said that he sometimes slammed her against furniture, that he had once broken her finger, and that she was afraid he might kill her.
Two hours later, Mr. Jesus was arrested, crying as he was taken into custody. Later that afternoon, Ms. Espirito Santo called Ms. Price-Wallace and said the police had told her that Mr. Jesus would be released pending a charging decision.
can qualify as manslaughter if it leads to a death, even if the killing was unintentional. Those found guilty can face up to life in prison.
But prosecutors decided to drop the charge after a cardiologist hired by Mr. Jesus’s lawyers argued that while the assault could have caused the heart failure, so could a verbal argument.
Prosecutors concluded that they could no longer meet the tests for a manslaughter conviction by proving that the heart failure was caused by an assault, a spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said.
That was despite the fact Ms. Espirito Santo had reported an assault, not an argument, minutes before her death; despite Mr. Jesus’s admission that he had assaulted her that morning; and despite her history of domestic violence complaints.
The official watchdog report on Lincolnshire Police found that the “decision making of its officers may have influenced the circumstances of the events” around Ms. Espirito Santo’s death, if not caused it, and blamed officers for a “lack of detailed consideration of Mr. Jesus’s situation” on release.
Yet the report did not recommend disciplinary action and mentioned only one “potential learning recommendation” — for a formal policy around sending calls to the nonemergency number, a change that has been introduced. In a statement to The Times, the watchdog agency said it had also made “learning” recommendations for two officers on how they interacted with Mr. Jesus.
Domestic Abuse Act. It was a response to growing outrage over failures in abuse cases. For the first time, the law established that nonfatal strangulation — which Ms. Espirito Santo repeatedly reported — is a criminal offense, bringing up to five years in prison.
Since such strangulation usually does not leave marks, the police often fail to recognize it as a serious crime. Prosecutors, in turn, do not bring more serious charges. Advocates for abuse victims have welcomed the law but say it will change little unless police and public prosecutors are educated in using it, and given proper resources.
On July 5, on what would have been Ms. Espirito Santo’s 25th birthday, her mother and two dozen others scattered her ashes at her favorite spot, a lake in the Lincolnshire countryside. Her grandmother gave a reading in Portuguese by the water’s edge. Her mother wept.
“I didn’t get justice in court,” she said. “But I believe in justice of the gods.”
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FRESNILLO, Mexico — The violence was already terrifying, she said, when grenades exploded outside her church in broad daylight some five years ago. Then children in town were kidnapped, disappearing without a trace. Then the bodies of the executed were dumped in city streets.
And then came the day last month when armed men burst into her home, dragged her 15-year-old son and two of his friends outside and shot them to death, leaving Guadalupe — who didn’t want her full name published out of fear of the men — too terrified to leave the house.
“I do not want the night to come,” she said, through tears. “Living with fear is no life at all.”
For most of the population of Fresnillo, a mining city in central Mexico, a fearful existence is the only one they know; 96 percent of residents say they feel unsafe, the highest percentage of any city in Mexico, according to a recent survey from Mexico’s national statistics agency.
the Mexican government. Lately, it has become a national horror show, with cadavers found dangling from bridges, stuffed into plastic bags or even tied to a cross.
Across Mexico, murders have dropped less than 1 percent since Mr. López Obrador took office, according to the country’s statistics agency. That was enough for the president to claim, in a speech last month, that there had been an improvement on a problem his administration inherited. “There is peace and calm,” he said in June.
Many in Fresnillo disagree.
“‘Hugs not bullets’ doesn’t work,” said Javier Torres Rodríguez, whose brother was shot and killed in 2018. “We’re losing the ability to be shocked.”
the authorities said they had frozen 1,352 bank accounts linked to 14 criminal groups, including powerful drug cartels.
But the collection of programs and law-enforcement actions never coalesced into a clear public policy, critics said.
There is “an unstoppable situation of violence and a tragic deterioration of public security in Mexico,” said Angelica Duran-Martinez, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. “There’s not a clear security policy.”
has also doubled down on his support for the armed forces, embracing the militarization that also marked previous administrations.
One central pillar of his approach to fighting crime has been the creation of the National Guard, a 100,000-strong federal security force deployed across some 180 regional barracks nationwide. Last week Mr. López Obrador announced that the guard would receive an additional $2.5 billion in funding.
102 people killed during the campaign, yet another sign of the country’s unraveling security.
His family is politically powerful. His brother, David, is governor-elect of Zacatecas. Another brother, Ricardo, leads the Morena party in the Senate and has said he intends to run for president in 2024. But not even the family’s political prominence has managed to rescue the city or the state.
central to the drug trade, a crossroads between the Pacific, where narcotics and drugmaking products are shipped in, and northern states along the United States border. Fresnillo, which sits in the center of important roads and highways, is strategically vital.
But for much of its recent history, residents say they were largely left alone. That began changing around 2007 and 2008 as the government’s assault on the cartels led them to splinter, evolve and spread.
In the last few years, the region has become embroiled in a battle between two of the country’s most powerful organized crime groups: the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
Caught in the middle of the fighting are residents like Guadalupe. She can remember sitting on the stoop with neighbors until midnight as a young girl. Now, the city lies desolate after dark.
Guadalupe does not let her children play outside unsupervised, but even that couldn’t stop the violence from tearing her family apart. On the night her son was killed, in mid-July, four armed men stormed into her home, dragging out her son, Henry, and two friends who were sleeping over. There was a burst of gunfire, and then the assailants were gone.
It was Guadalupe who found the teenagers’ bodies.
Now she and her family live in terror. Too scared to stay in the same house, they moved in with Guadalupe’s parents in a different part of town. But the fear remained. Her 10-year-old daughter can barely sleep, she said, and Guadalupe keeps dreaming of her son’s killing. The motive, and the identity of the killers, remain unknown.
Guadalupe has thought about leaving town or even taking her own life. But for now, she sits in her parents’ small, cinder-block house, the curtains drawn, the shadows broken by the candles of a little altar to Henry and his fallen friends.
“There’s nothing here,” she said. “The fear has overwhelmed us.”