MIAMI — With her elbow shattered by gunfire and her mouth full of blood, the first lady of Haiti lay on the floor beside her bed, unable to breathe, as the assassins stormed the room.
“The only thing that I saw before they killed him were their boots,” Martine Moïse said of the moment her husband, President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti, was shot dead beside her. “Then I closed my eyes, and I didn’t see anything else.”
She listened as they ransacked the room, searching methodically for something in her husband’s files, she said. “‘That’s not it. That’s not it,’” she recalled them saying in Spanish, over and over. Then finally: “‘That’s it.’”
The killers filed out. One stepped on her feet. Another waved a flashlight in her eyes, apparently to check to see if she was still alive.
retired Colombian commandos, a former judge, a security equipment salesman, a mortgage and insurance broker in Florida, and two commanders of the president’s security team. According to the Haitian police, the elaborate plot revolves around a 63-year-old doctor and pastor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, who officials say conspired to hire the Colombian mercenaries to kill the president and seize political power.
But critics of the government’s explanation say that none of the people named in the investigation had the means to finance the plot on their own. And Mrs. Moïse, like many Haitians, believes there must have been a mastermind behind them, giving the orders and supplying the money.
were being hollowed out.
Mr. Moïse was also locked in battle with some of the nation’s wealthy oligarchs, including the family that controlled the nation’s electrical grid. While many people described the president as an autocratic leader, Mrs. Moïse said her fellow citizens should remember him as a man who stood up to the rich and powerful.
And now she wants to know if one of them had him killed.
“Only the oligarchs and the system could kill him,” she said.
Dressed in black, with her arm — now limp and perhaps useless forever, she said — wrapped in a sling and bandages, Mrs. Moïse offered an interview in South Florida on the agreement that The New York Times not reveal her whereabouts. Flanked by her children, security guards, Haitian diplomats and other advisers, she barely spoke above a whisper.
She and her husband had been asleep when the sounds of gunfire jolted them to their feet, she recalled. Mrs. Moïse said she ran to wake her two children, both in their early 20s, and urged them to hide in a bathroom, the only room without windows. They huddled there with their dog.
Her husband grabbed his telephone and called for help. “I asked, ‘Honey, who did you phone?’” she said.
“He said, ‘I found Dimitri Hérard; I found Jean Laguel Civil,’” she said, reciting the names of two top officials in charge of presidential security. “And they told me that they are coming.”
But the assassins entered the house swiftly, seemingly unencumbered, she said. Mr. Moïse told his wife to lie down on the floor so she would not get hurt.
“‘That’s where I think you will be safe,’” she recalled him saying.
It was the last thing he told her.
A burst of gunfire came through the room, she said, hitting her first. Struck in the hand and the elbow, she lay still on the floor, convinced that she, and everyone else in her family, had been killed.
None of the assassins spoke Creole or French, she said. The men spoke only Spanish, and communicated with someone on the phone as they searched the room. They seemed to find what they wanted on a shelf where her husband kept his files.
“They were looking for something in the room, and they found it,” Mrs. Moïse said.
She said she did not know what it was.
“At this moment, I felt that I was suffocating because there was blood in my mouth and I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “In my mind, everybody was dead, because if the president could die, everybody else could have died too.”
The men her husband had called for help, she said — the officials entrusted with his security — are now in Haitian custody.
The Assassination of Haiti’s President
And while she expressed satisfaction that a number of the accused conspirators have been detained, she is by no means satisfied. Mrs. Moïse wants international law enforcement agencies like the F.B.I., which searched homes in Florida this week as part of the investigation, to track the money that financed the killing. The Colombian mercenaries who were arrested, she said, did not come to Haiti to “play hide and seek,” and she wants to know who paid for it all.
In a statement on Friday, the F.B.I. said it “remains committed to working alongside our international partners to administer justice.”
Mrs. Moïse expected the money to trace back to wealthy oligarchs in Haiti, whose livelihoods were disrupted by her husband’s attacks on their lucrative contracts, she said.
Mrs. Moïse cited a powerful Haitian businessman who has wanted to run for president, Reginald Boulos, as someone who had something to gain from her husband’s death, though she stopped short of accusing him of ordering the assassination.
Mr. Boulos and his businesses have been at the center of a barrage of legal cases brought by the Haitian government, which is investigating allegations of a preferential loan obtained from the state pension fund. Mr. Boulos’ bank accounts were frozen before Mr. Moïse’s death, and they were released to him immediately after he died, Mrs. Moïse said.
In an interview, Mr. Boulos said that only his personal accounts, with less than $30,000, had been blocked, and he stressed that a judge had ordered the release of the money this week, after he took the Haitian government to court. He insisted that, far from being involved in the killing, his political career was actually better off with Mr. Moïse alive — because denouncing the president was such a pivotal part of Mr. Boulos’s platform.
“I had absolutely, absolutely, absolutely nothing to do with his murder, even in dreams,” Mr. Boulos said. “I support a strong, independent international investigation to find who came up with the idea, who financed it and who executed it.”
Mrs. Moïse said she wants the killers to know she is not scared of them.
“I would like people who did this to be caught, otherwise they will kill every single president who takes power,” she said. “They did it once. They will do it again.”
She said she is seriously considering a run for the presidency, once she undergoes more surgeries on her wounded arm. She has already had two surgeries, and doctors now plan to implant nerves from her feet in her arm, she said. She may never regain use of her right arm, she said, and can move only two fingers.
“President Jovenel had a vision,” she said, “and we Haitians are not going to let that die.”
Anatoly Kurmanaev and Harold Isaac contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince.
AFAR, Ethiopia — The road, a 300-mile strip of tarmac that passes through some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth, is the only way into a conflict-torn region where millions of Ethiopians face the threat of mass starvation.
But it is a fragile lifeline, fraught with dangers that have made the route barely passable for aid convoys trying to get humanitarian supplies into the Tigray region, where local fighters have been battling the Ethiopian army for eight months.
the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in a decade.
wrote on Twitter. “People are starving.”
Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, said last week that his government was providing “unfettered humanitarian access” and committed to “the safe delivery of critical supplies to its people in the Tigray region.”
But Mr. Abiy’s ministers have publicly accused aid workers of helping and even arming the Tigrayan fighters, drawing a robust denial from one U.N. agency. And senior aid officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing their operations, said the government’s stated commitment to enable aid deliveries was belied by its actions on the ground.
Aid workers have been harassed at airports or, in the case of a World Food Program official last weekend, have died inside Tigray for want of immediate medical care.
Tigrayan fighters had marched into the regional capital, Mekelle, hours after beleaguered Ethiopian soldiers quit the city. The city airport was shut, so the only way out of Tigray was on a slow-moving U.N. convoy that took the same desolate route out as the fleeing Ethiopian soldiers.
We drove down a rocky escarpment on a road scarred by tank tracks. As we descended into the plains of Afar, the temperature quickly rose.
publicized the flight but made no mention of the delays or harassment — an omission that privately angered several U.N. officials and other aid workers who said it followed a pattern of U.N. agencies being unwilling to publicly criticize the Ethiopian authorities.
Further complicating the aid effort: The war is now spilling into Afar.
In the past week Tigrayan forces have pushed into the region. In response Mr. Abiy mobilized ethnic militias from other regions to counter the offensive.
Mr. Abiy has also resorted to increasingly inflammatory language — referring to Tigrayan leaders as “cancer” and “weeds” in need of removal — that foreign officials view as a possible tinder for a new wave of ethnic violence across the country.
Ms. Billene, his spokeswoman, dismissed those fears as “alarmist.” The Ethiopian leader had “clearly been referring to a terrorist organization and not the people of Tigray,” she said.
Inside Tigray, the most pressing priority is to reopen the road to Afar.
“This is a desperate, desperate situation,” said Lorraine Sweeney of Support Africa Foundation, a charity that shelters about 100 pregnant women displaced by fighting in the Tigrayan city of Adigrat.
Ms. Sweeney, who is based in Ireland, said she had fielded calls from panicked staff members appealing for help to feed the women, all of whom are at least eight months pregnant.
“It brings me back to famine times in Ireland,” Ms. Sweeney said. “This is crazy stuff in this day and age.”
Over the last decade, Dr. Mercola has built a vast operation to push natural health cures, disseminate anti-vaccination content and profit from all of it, said researchers who have studied his network. In 2017, he filed an affidavit claiming his net worth was “in excess of $100 million.”
And rather than directly stating online that vaccines don’t work, Dr. Mercola’s posts often ask pointed questions about their safety and discuss studies that other doctors have refuted. Facebook and Twitter have allowed some of his posts to remain up with caution labels, and the companies have struggled to create rules to pull down posts that have nuance.
“He has been given new life by social media, which he exploits skillfully and ruthlessly to bring people into his thrall,” said Imran Ahmed, director of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which studies misinformation and hate speech. Its “Disinformation Dozen” report has been cited in congressional hearings and by the White House.
In an email, Dr. Mercola said it was “quite peculiar to me that I am named as the #1 superspreader of misinformation.” Some of his Facebook posts were only liked by hundreds of people, he said, so he didn’t understand “how the relatively small number of shares could possibly cause such calamity to Biden’s multibillion dollar vaccination campaign.”
The efforts against him are political, Dr. Mercola added, and he accused the White House of “illegal censorship by colluding with social media companies.”
He did not address whether his coronavirus claims were factual. “I am the lead author of a peer reviewed publication regarding vitamin D and the risk of Covid-19 and I have every right to inform the public by sharing my medical research,” he said. He did not identify the publication, and The Times was unable to verify his claim.
A native of Chicago, Dr. Mercola started a small private practicein 1985 in Schaumburg, Ill. In the 1990s, he began shifting to natural health medicine and opened his main website, Mercola.com, to share his treatments, cures and advice. The site urges people to “take control of your health.”
KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — The Afghan way of war in 2021 comes down to this: a watermelon vendor on a sweltering city street, a government Humvee at the front line just 30 feet away, and Taliban fighters lurking unseen on the other side of the road.
When the shooting starts, the vendor makes himself scarce, leaving his melons on the table and hoping for the best. When it stops, selling resumes, to customers now all too rare.
“I don’t have a choice. I’ve got to sell the melons,” said the vendor, Abdel Alim, speaking to New York Times journalists while he kept an eye on a lane within Kunduz city from which he said Taliban had emerged. “Most people have left,” he said. “There is fighting all the time.”
374,000 in Afghanistan’s north, and several other provincial capitals as well, as the Afghan government’s war with the Taliban enters a new and dangerous phase. For weeks, the insurgents have captured vulnerable districts across the country’s north, sometimes without even firing a shot. And on Wednesday, the Taliban said they had captured an important border crossing with Pakistan, at Spin Boldak — the fourth crossing they have seized in less than a month.
taken by the insurgents in 2015 and then again in 2016. Both times, the insurgents were eventually pushed back by the Afghan forces with help from American airstrikes. It was here that an American gunship mistakenly blasted a Doctors Without Borders hospital in 2015, killing 42 people.
This time, the Americans won’t be coming. The battle for Kunduz has become an intimate fight between Afghan opponents at close range.
“Every night they come to these houses and fire on us,” said the chief of police of Kunduz’s Third Municipal District, Sayed Mansoor Hashimi, looking out at now-vacant dwellings all around his police station. “Slowly, slowly they are tightening the circle.”
The war in Kunduz is intertwined with the fabric of the city. Shopping trips are planned between bursts of war. Residents no longer pay sufficient attention, said Marzia Salam Yaftali, the medical director at Kunduz Regional Hospital. “They are wounded in the streets or in the bazaar,” she said.
At the hospital, Ezzatullah, 14, lay in one of the wards, his legs wrapped in bandages: He lost both his feet when a mortar landed as he was playing outside his house. Three members of his family, including one of his parents, were killed.
“I can’t go to school now,” he said. Asked what he saw as his future, he replied firmly: “I want to be a man, to rebuild my country.”
The war, and the enemy, are inescapable. “We have to live here. Where can we go?” asked Ezamuddin Safi, a telecommunications worker who had to flee his home inside the city in early July. He was passing the day inside a small downtown restaurant.
“My 3-year-old boy, he screams when he hears the firing. He’s tired,” said Mr. Safi, 25. “Taliban are everywhere.”
assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti was met on Monday with bewilderment by some who knew him and surprise by prominent Haitian Americans who said he had not been known as a major political player.
At the same time, a university professor who met with the doctor twice last month said that he had spoken then of being sent by God to take over the Haitian presidency.
Some two dozen people have been arrested in the killing, but Haitian officials have placed the doctor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, at the center of an investigation that has stretched out from Haiti to Colombia and the United States.
The doctor’s brother, Joseph Sanon, said he had not been in touch with him for a while and he had no idea what was going on. “I am desperate to know what’s happening,” he said.
A former neighbor of the doctor’s in Florida, Steven Bross, 65, said, “He was always trying to figure out ways to make Haiti more self-sufficient, but assassinating the president, no way.”
But in a telephone interview on Monday, Michel Plancher, a civil engineering professor at Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince, said he had received a call from out of the blue to attend a meeting with Dr. Sanon, who he was told was planning a political campaign.
Professor Plancher said he had never heard of the doctor but decided to attend the meetings, which were held at a home in the capital, after internet searches showed Dr. Sanon to be a pastor who had done charitable work.
The two men had a first meet-and-greet encounter on June 1, Professor Plancher said. The initial contact was followed a day or two later by an hourlong meeting with Dr. Sanon and a group of six to eight people. Both meetings happened in the same home in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
There, he said, Dr. Sanon outlined his political ambitions.
“He said he was sent by God. He was sent on a mission of God to replace Moïse,” Professor Plancher said. “He said the president would be resigning soon. He didn’t say why.”
“He said he will implement a Marshall Plan to run the country,” Professor Plancher added. “He wanted to change French as an official language, and replace it with English. He seemed a bit crazy. I didn’t want to participate anymore.”
Haiti’s national police chief, Léon Charles, has accused Dr. Sanon of playing a pivotal role in the assassination and wanting to become president, but offered no explanation for how the doctor could possibly have taken control of the government.
During a raid of his home, the Haitian authorities said, the police found a D.E.A. cap — the team of hit men who assaulted Mr. Moïse’s home appear to have falsely identified themselves as Drug Enforcement Administration agents — six holsters, about 20 boxes of bullets, 24 unused shooting targets, and four license plates from the Dominican Republic.
A YouTube video recorded in 2011 titled “Dr. Christian Sanon — Leadership for Haiti” appears to present Mr. Sanon as a potential leader of the country. In it, the speaker denounces the leaders of Haiti as corrupt plunderers of its resources.
As the authorities focused on Monday on Dr. Sanon’s actions in recent months, a clearer picture of his past was also coming into view.
Dr. Sanon was born in 1958 in Marigot, a city on Haiti’s southern coast, and graduated from the Eugenio María de Hostos University in the Dominican Republic and the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., according to a short biography from the Florida Baptist Historical Society.
Public records show that Dr. Sanon was licensed to practice both conventional medicine as well osteopathic medicine, in which doctors can provide therapies like spinal manipulation or massage as part of their treatment.
In 2013, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Florida, a process in which people can liquidate assets to pay creditors. Dr. Sanon stated at the time of his bankruptcy filing that he was a doctor and the director of the Rome Foundation, a nonprofit involved in assisting people in Haiti.
Dr. Ludner Confident, a Haitian-born anesthesiologist who practices medicine in Florida, said he got to know Dr. Sanon while they were working for the foundation in the years before the devastating 2010 earthquake.
“He is a pastor,” Dr. Confident said. “He’s a man of God, wanting to do things for Haiti.”
Still, Dr. Confident, who said he had not spoken with Dr. Sanon for years, said, “When it comes to politics, I don’t have any information about his political agenda.”
And though Dr. Sanon was straddling two worlds, dividing time between his homes in Haiti and Florida, some in Miami’s Haitian diaspora expressed surprise when Dr. Sanon was named as a central figure in the assassination plotting.
“I never heard of this Sanon before,” said Georges Sami Saati, 68, a Haitian American businessman who is a prominent figure in Miami’s community of Haitian émigrés. “Nobody ever heard of him.”
A top security aide to President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti had traveled to Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, several times in the months before the president’s assassination last week, Colombian defense officials said on Monday morning, raising the prospect that the attackers had inside help.
The Colombian officials, who are helping in a wide-ranging investigation into the president’s death, said that they were examining what connection, if any, there was between the trips by the head of the presidential palace guard, Dimitri Hérard, and the Colombian former soldiers accused by Haitian officials of having been involved in the killing.
Since January, Mr. Hérard had traveled to Ecuador, Panama and the Dominican Republic, each time with a layover in Bogotá. On at least one occasion, he stayed for several days.
But the Colombian authorities have yet to establish a direct link between Mr. Hérard and the captured former soldiers, officials said.
At a news conference in Bogotá, Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas, the chief of the Colombian national police, said that the number of Colombians captured in Haiti had risen to 21, three of whom are dead.
The Colombians, Mr. Vargas said, had traveled from Colombia to the Dominican Republic and then on to Haiti after their plane tickets were purchased by a company based in Florida.
At least two of the Colombians, Duberney Capador and Germán Rivera García, were working with that company, CTU Security. Both are now dead.
Colombia has one of the best-trained militaries in Latin America, and because of this, Colombian veterans are highly sought after by global security companies. They deploy them to faraway places like Yemen and Iraq, often paying far more than they could expect to earn in Colombia.
Haitian officials have cast the Colombians as centerpieces of a well-organized plot carried out by “foreign mercenaries” to kill Mr. Moïse, but critical questions remain about what they were really in Haiti to do.
The country’s lead prosecutor has begun looking into what role Haitian security forces may have had in an operation that killed the president and wounded his wife but harmed no one else in the household or in the president’s security retinue.
In Colombia, some family members of the detained Colombians say the men went to Haiti to protect the president, not to kill him. That has only added to the many murky and often contradictory claims surrounding the assassination.
Then on Sunday, the Haitian authorities said they had arrested a Florida-based, Haitian-born doctor whom they described as a central figure in the assassination plot, and said he had hired a private security company that recruited at least some of the Colombians.
Things remain as murky as ever, but to Giovanna Romero, the widow of one of the Colombians killed in Haiti, one thing is clear: Her husband, Mauricio Javier Romero, was no assassin.
“Mauricio never would have signed up for such an operation, no matter how much money he was offered,” she said.
A team of U.S. officials newly returned from a trip to Haiti briefed President Biden on Monday about the situation on the ground in a country in upheaval, and it appears they may have come home with more questions than answers.
“What was clear from their trip is that there is a lack of clarity about the future of political leadership,”the White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said at a news conference on Monday.
Haiti has a presidency left vacant after an assassination, two competing prime ministers and a Parliament that is not functioning. The country, overrun by gangs and hobbled by poverty, is still shaken by the death of President Jovenel Moïse, who was gunned down at his home by a team of hit men, the authorities say.
“The people of Haiti deserve peace and security,” Mr. Biden told reporters, “and Haiti’s political leaders need to come together for the good of the country.”
The American delegation met with both the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, and with Ariel Henry, the man Mr. Moïse named to succeed Mr. Joseph as prime minister only days before he was assassinated.
“This is just the beginning of our conversations,” Ms. Psaki said, “and we will remain in close touch with law enforcement, with individuals in Haiti, with a range of leaders in Haiti about how we can assist and provide assistance moving forward.”
Ms. Psaki said the White House was still reviewing Haiti’s request that it send troops to help stabilize the county. “But as of right now,” she said, “the U.S. has not committed to having any sort of presence on the ground.”
The U.S. team included an F.B.I. agent and Department of Homeland Security officials, as well a representatives from the State Department and the National Security Council.
“The delegation reviewed the security of critical infrastructure with Haitian government officials and met with the Haitian National Police, who are leading the investigation into the assassination,” the National Security Council spokeswoman, Emily Horne, said in a statement on Monday.
John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in an interview with Fox News on Sunday that the U.S. focus was on “helping Haitian authorities“get their arms around investigating this incident and figuring out who’s culpable.”
In the wake of the assassination, there has been a sense of chaos in some parts of Haiti, with some people gathering at the U.S. Embassy there hoping to leave, and competing political factions vying for control of the government.
Chris Wallace of Fox News pressed Mr. Kirby on whether conditions in Haiti were a matter of national security. While the United States is watching the situation closely, Mr. Kirby said, the American investigative team would be “the best way forward.”
“I don’t know that we’re at a point now where we can say definitively that our national security is being put at risk by what’s happening there,” Mr. Kirby said. “But clearly we value our Haitian partners. We value stability and security in that country.”
The photos are horrifying. They seem to portray the body of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti laid out in the morgue, his left eye crushed in, the flesh of one of his arms torn by bullets, his mouth gaping.
A country already reeling from the assassination of its leader on Wednesday and the chaos that followed reacted to the images with horror and despair, afraid that the photos circulating on social media channels would rip the last shreds of dignity from both the person and the office he held.
Even his critics were outraged.
“Even if @moisejovenel was decried and declared a de facto president, let’s not go down to the level of dehumanization established by the @PHTKhaiti,” tweeted the journalist Nancy Roc, referring to Mr. Moïse’s political party. “Haitians are better than that.”
She was among many who beseeched others not to forward the photos that were circulating through the country’s buzzing WhatsApp channels.
The authenticity of the pictures could not be independently confirmed, but forensic experts consulted by The Times who reviewed the photographs said that rumors that Mr. Moïse had been tortured — which swirled around social media along with the photos — were unlikely to be true.
“I don’t see anything that looks like it would be typical of torture,” said Dr. Michael Freeman, an associate professor of forensic medicine at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Dr. Freeman noted that an autopsy would be needed to determine conclusively whether Mr. Moïse was tortured, but the wounds visible in the photographs appeared consistent with gunshots.
“The fact that he’s not bound is a pretty strong indication that he’s not been tortured,” Dr. Freeman added.
Photos of dead bodies left on the streets are sadly regular fare in Haiti. But that the country’s leader would face the same wretched indignity seemed to underscore just how cheap life had become in the country.
The Rev. Rick Frechette, an American Catholic priest with the Congregation of the Passion order and a doctor who regularly treats Haiti’s poor in clinics in Port-au-Prince’s slums and in the hospitals he built in a suburb of the capital, said that for some of his staff members, the president’s brutal assassination had brought back memories of past violence.
“People are traumatized and afraid,” he said.
And then there were those who believed the distribution of the photos was politically motivated, part of the struggle over who will govern the country in the president’s absence.
“Last night’s photos show how much they want to create a climate of violence and instability in the country after their heinous crime,” tweeted Danta Bien-Aimé, a nurse and former Fulbright scholar.
Harold Isaac contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Haitians gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, hoping to be granted visas to leave the country as the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last week heightened an uncertain and volatile situation in the country.
Just days after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti, a high-stakes battle for control of the country is heating up, and the president of the Senate, Joseph Lambert, is among those jockeying for power.
Although the Haitian Parliament is in a state of dysfunction — with only 10 sitting senators out of 30 because the terms of the other 20 have expired — a majority of the remaining lawmakers on Friday signed a resolution calling for a new government to replace the current interim prime minister, Claude Joseph. They declared that Mr. Lambert, who also has the support of several political parties, should become provisional president.
“He seems to be quite intelligent politically,” Laënnec Hurbon, a Haitian sociologist and researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, said of Mr. Lambert.
Mr. Lambert, 60, is from the city of Jacmel in southern Haiti. An agronomist by training, he is a seasoned politician who was elected to the lower house of Parliament in 1995, before winning a seat in the Senate in 2006. He is currently in his third term as president of the Senate.
Mr. Hurbon said that Mr. Lambert had initially been close to the Haitian Tèt Kale Party, whose name means “Bald Headed,” which supported Mr. Moïse as well as his predecessor Michel Martelly. But Mr. Hurbon said that Mr. Lambert had always managed to ingratiate himself with other parties.
In 2019, Mr. Lambert, who had been passed over for the position of prime minister, announced that he was joining the opposition to Mr. Moïse, according to the newspaper Nouvelliste. As Mr. Lambert rose to the Senate’s presidency in January, he criticized Mr. Moïse’s policies but also said that he wanted to cooperate closely with the president to devise solutions to the country’s problems.
On Friday, a dozen parties from all political stripes signed a “protocol of national accord” backing the Senate’s decision and calling for the installation of Mr. Lambert as interim president within the next 48 hours.
“He always knows in perilous, difficult situations like this one, to make the right speech and therefore to seduce the people,” Mr. Hurbon said of Mr. Lambert, adding that he had been surprised to see such a large coalition of opposition parties backing Mr. Lambert’s bid for power.
The Senate’s resolution on Friday said that Mr. Lambert should become provisional president until January, when a new parliament would be elected. It also said that Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon, should replace Mr. Joseph, the current interim prime minister.
Mr. Lambert wrote on Twitter that the swearing-in ceremony was scheduled for Saturday afternoon but had been delayed because all senators wanted to be “present to actively participate in the inauguration.”
Lilas Desquiron, culture minister in Haiti from 2001 to 2004, said that Mr. Lambert was “a skilled politician” who was very popular among civil servants.
“He is someone who plays for himself but plays with a lot of intelligence,” she said.
The Haitian government’s extraordinary request for U.S. forces to help stabilize the country in the aftermath of the assassination of its president last week carries haunting vestiges from American military interventions that happened more than a century ago.
Back then, the United States dispatched forces without an invitation from Haiti. The American government was motivated by Haiti’s internal turmoil and a willingness to meddle in the affairs of neighbors to protect its own interests under the Monroe Doctrine.
In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson sent the Marines into Haiti, calling the invasion a justifiable response to avert anarchy after a mob assassinated Haiti’s president, Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. The American military stayed for nearly two decades.
But even before that, Mr. Wilson saw fit to take military action in Haiti, worried about what his administration saw as the growing influence of Germany there, according to a historical page about the U.S. interventions on the State Department archive website.
In 1914, his administration sent in Marines who removed $500,000 from the Haitian National Bank for what the administration called “safekeeping” in New York, giving the United States control of the bank, the website said.
Eighty years later, President Bill Clinton ordered more than 23,000 U.S. troops sent to Haiti in what was termed “Operation Restore Democracy,” aimed at ensuring a transition that would return the ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.
In 2004, President George W. Bush sent in the Marines as part of an “interim international force” after Mr. Aristide resigned under intense U.S. pressure.
A scrappy force of local Tigrayan recruits scored a cascade of battlefield victories against the Ethiopian military, one of Africa’s strongest. Times journalists witnessed the decisive week in an eight-month civil war.
Text by Declan Walsh
Photographs by Finbarr O’Reilly
SAMRE, Ethiopia — The Tigrayan fighters whooped, whistled and pointed excitedly to a puff of smoke in the sky, where an Ethiopian military cargo plane trundling over the village minutes earlier had been struck by a missile.
Smoke turned to flames as the stricken aircraft broke in two and hurtled toward the ground. Later, in a stony field strewn with smoking wreckage, villagers picked through twisted metal and body parts. For the Tigrayan fighters, it was a sign.
“Soon we’re going to win,” said Azeb Desalgne, a 20-year-old with an AK-47 over her shoulder.
The downing of the plane on June 22 offered bracing evidence that the conflict in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia was about to take a seismic turn. A Tigrayan guerrilla army had been fighting to drive out the Ethiopian military for eight months in a civil war marked by atrocities and starvation. Now the fight seemed to be turning in their favor.
The war erupted in November, when a simmering feud between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigrayan leaders, members of a small ethnic minority who had dominated Ethiopia for much of the three previous decades, exploded into violence.
airstrike had struck a crowded village market that day, killing dozens. We watched as the first casualties arrived at Mekelle’s largest hospital.
Days later, three aid workers from Doctors Without Borders were brutally murdered by unknown assailants.
In the countryside, the war was moving at a furious pace. Ethiopian military positions fell like dominoes. Hours after the Tigrayans shot down the military cargo plane, we reached a camp holding several thousand newly captured Ethiopian soldiers, about 30 miles south of Mekelle.
Clustered behind a barbed wire fence, the prisoners erupted into applause when we stepped from our vehicle — hoping, they later explained, that we were Red Cross workers.
Some were wounded, others barefoot — Tigrayans confiscated their boots as well as their guns, they said — and many pleaded for help. “We have badly wounded soldiers here,” said Meseret Asratu, 29, a platoon commander.
Further along the road was the battlefield where others had died. The bodies of Ethiopian soldiers were scattered across a rocky field, untouched since a fight four days earlier, now swelling in the afternoon sun.
Personal items cast aside nearby, amid empty ammunition boxes and abandoned uniforms, hinted at young lives interrupted: dog-eared photos of loved ones, but also university certificates, chemistry textbooks and sanitary pads — a reminder that women fight on both sides of the conflict.
Stragglers were still being rounded up. The next day, Tigrayan fighters marched five just-captured prisoners up a hill, where they slumped to the ground, exhausted.
Dawit Toba, a glum 20-year-old from the Oromia region of Ethiopia, said he had surrendered without firing a shot. War in Tigray was not like he had imagined it. “We were told there would be fighting,” he said. “But when we got here it was looting, robbery, attacks on women.”
“This war was not necessary,” he added. “Mistakes have been made.”
Driving off, we came across a figure sprawled on the roadside — an Ethiopian, stripped of his uniform, with several bullet wounds to his leg. He groaned softly.
The wounded soldier appeared to have been dumped there, although it wasn’t clear by whom. We drove him back to the prisoner camp, where Ethiopian medics did some basic treatment on the ground outside a school. Nobody was sure if he would survive.
Artillery boomed in the distance. The Tigrayan offensive was continuing to the north, using captured heavy guns against the Ethiopian troops who had brought them in. A platoon of fighters walked through, bearing a wounded man on a stretcher. Teklay Tsegay, 20, watched them pass.
Before the war, Mr. Teklay was a mechanic in Adigrat, 70 miles north. Then, last February, Eritrean soldiers fired into his aunt’s house, killing her 5-year-old daughter, he said. The following day, Mr. Teklay slipped out of Adigrat to join the resistance.
“I never thought I would be a soldier,” he said. “But here I am.”
As Tigrayans quietly mustered a guerrilla army this year, they drew on their experience of fighting a brutal Marxist dictatorship in Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s, under the flag of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
Then, Tigrayan intellectuals used Marxist ideology to bind peasant fighters to their cause, much like the Viet Cong or rebels in Angola and Mozambique.
But this time, the Tigrayan fighters are largely educated and hail from the towns and cities. And it is anger at atrocities, not Marxism, that drew them to the cause.
At the recruitment camp, instructors standing under trees gave speeches about Tigrayan culture and identity, and taught new recruits to fire an AK-47.
The wave of recruits has included doctors, university professors, white-collar professionals and diaspora Tigrayans from the United States and Europe, colleagues and friends said. Even in government-held Mekelle, recruitment grew increasingly brazen.
Two weeks ago, a T.D.F. poster appeared on a wall beside St. Gabriel’s, the city’s largest church. “Those who fail to join are as good as the walking dead,” it read. Hours later, Ethiopian soldiers arrived and tore it down.
Mulugeta Gebrehiwot Berhe, 61, a senior fellow at the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, in Massachusetts, was visiting Mekelle when war erupted in November. I found him near the town of Samre, a leather-holstered pistol on his hip.
“I joined the resistance,” said the academic, who once helped broker a peace deal for the United Nations in Darfur. “I felt I had no other option.”
Even some Ethiopian commanders felt alienated by Mr. Abiy’s approach to the conflict.
Until late June, Col. Hussein Mohamed, a tall man with a gold-tooth smile, commanded the 11th Infantry Division in Tigray. Now he was a prisoner, held with other Ethiopian officers in a closely guarded farmhouse.
Of the 3,700 troops under his command, at least half were probably dead, said Colonel Hussein, confirming that he was speaking voluntarily. “The course of this war is political madness, to my mind,” he said.
He always had serious reservations about Mr. Abiy’s military alliance with Eritrea, Ethiopia’s old foe, he said: “They ransack properties, they rape women, they commit atrocities. The whole army is unhappy about this marriage.”
Still, Ethiopian soldiers have been accused of much the same crimes. I met Colonel Hussein in a stone-walled room, with a tin roof, as rain splattered outside. When the room’s owner, Tsehaye Berhe, arrived with a tray of coffee cups, her face clouded over.
“Take it!” she snapped at the Ethiopian officer. “I’m not serving you.”
Moments later Ms. Tsehaye returned to apologize. “I’m sorry for being emotional,” she said. “But your soldiers burned my house and stole my crops.”
Colonel Hussein nodded quietly.
Even before Ethiopian forces abandoned Mekelle on June 28, there were hints that something was afoot. The internet went down, and at the regional headquarters where Mr. Abiy had installed an interim government, I found deserted corridors and locked offices. Outside, federal police officers were slinging backpacks into a bus.
Smoke rose from the Ethiopian National Defense Forces’ headquarters in Mekelle — a pyre of burning documents, it turned out, piled high by detainees accused of supporting the T.D.F.
Weeks earlier, Ethiopian intelligence officers had tortured one of them, Yohannes Haftom, with a cattle prod. “We will burn you,” Mr. Yohannes recalled them saying. “We will bury you alive.”
But after he followed their orders to cart their confidential documents to the burn pit on June 28, the Ethiopians set Mr. Yohannes free. Hours later, the first T.D.F. fighters entered Mekelle, setting off days of raucous celebration.
Residents filled streets where young fighters paraded on vehicles like beauty queens, or leaned from speeding tuktuks spraying gunfire into the air. Nightclubs and cafes filled up, and an older woman prostrated herself at the feet of a just-arrived fighter, shouting thanks to God.
On the fourth day, fighters paraded thousands of Ethiopian prisoners through the city center, in a show of triumphalism that was a pointed rebuke to the leader of Ethiopia. “Abiy is a thief!” people chanted as dejected soldiers marched past.
The celebrations eventually reached the house where Mr. Getachew, the Tigrayan leader and T.D.F. spokesman, now descended from his mountain base, was staying.
As the whiskey flowed, Mr. Getachew juggled calls on his satellite phone while a generator rattled in the background. Mr. Abiy had once been his political ally, even his friend, he said. Now the Ethiopian leader had cut the power and phone lines to Mekelle and issued a warrant for his arrest.
Buoyed by victory, the guests excitedly discussed the next phase of their war in Tigray. One produced a cake with the Tigrayan flag that Mr. Getachew, sharing a knife with a senior commander, cut to loud cheers.
For much of his career, he had been a staunch defender of the Ethiopian state. But the war made that position untenable, he said. Now he was planning a referendum on Tigrayan independence.
“Nothing can save the Ethiopian state as we know it, except a miracle,” he said. “And I don’t usually believe in them.”
KATHMANDU, Nepal — In April at Mount Everest base camp, where climbers acclimatize to the extreme altitude before heading to the summit of the world’s highest peak, Jangbu Sherpa fell ill with a cough and fever.
At 17,590 feet, his symptoms quickly worsened. The expedition company that had hired Mr. Sherpa to help a Bahraini prince climb Everest had him airlifted to a hospital in the capital, Kathmandu, where he tested positive for the coronavirus.
He spent a week at the hospital and six days at home, and then was back at base camp. Experienced guides like him from Nepal’s high-mountain-dwelling Sherpa community were in short supply because of the pandemic, and the expedition company stood to lose thousands of dollars if the prince’s climb were canceled.
So, with his body still fighting the vestiges of the virus, Mr. Sherpa, 38, most likely became the first person with Covid-19 to stand on Everest’s pinnacle when he led the prince and 15 others there at dawn on May 11. By the end of the climbing season early this month, at least 59 infected people had been on the mountain, including five others who reached the top, according to interviews with climbers and expedition companies and the personal accounts of social media users.
pneumonia patient. Coughing, they added, is nothing new in the dry mountain air.
Nepal’s tourism department, which oversees Everest expeditions, maintained this position even as people were being airlifted off the mountain and expeditions were being canceled — a rare event because of the great expense and effort made to train, travel to Nepal and try to summit Everest.
wrote on Facebook, posting a photo of himself in a mask in a hospital bed.
Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries, has been struggling with a dire coronavirus outbreak and a shortage of vaccines. Few Sherpas or other Nepalis had access to vaccines while the climbing season was underway; even now, as the government pleads with wealthy nations for doses, less than 3 percent of the population has been fully inoculated.
Officials had strong incentives to play down the Covid situation on Everest. Nepal closed its peaks in 2020 because of the pandemic, after bringing in more than $2 billion from climbing and trekking in 2019. If the Covid-19 cases were publicized, it could tarnish Nepal’s image as a tourist destination, and invite climbers whose expeditions were canceled to demand extensions of their climbing permits.
Still, with this year’s climbing season now over, more expedition agencies are acknowledging that Covid-19 infections were rampant in the crowded base camp, which drew a record 408 foreign climbers this year. The true number of cases could be far higher than 59, since expedition organizers, doctors and climbers themselves said they were pressured to hide infections.
The Nepal government had made some preparation to avoid infections on the mountain. It instituted testing, mask and social-distancing requirements, stationed medical personnel at the Everest base camp and had helicopters ready to swoop in and pick up infected climbers.
Expedition companies, which often bring their own medical personnel, also packed antigen kits, testing members of their groups regularly and isolating anyone who tested positive.
Given that all climbers had to test negative before starting the trek to base camp, it is likely that most of those with Covid-19 became infected while on the mountain, though it is possible that some arrived with infections that were not initially detected.
far higher than The Times’s count.
His company’s expedition ended after an American climber and three Sherpa guides were evacuated from base camp to the capital, where they were hospitalized for Covid-19. Mr. Furtenbach has written to Nepal’s tourism department requesting that the government extend his climbers’ permits by two years.
Rudra Singh Tamang, the director general of the tourism department, said he had no information about Mr. Furtenbach’s appeal or those of other expedition agencies sent to his office to extend climbing permits.
“We can’t just extend climbing permits on basis of Covid rumors,” Mr. Tamang said.
“Whether their expeditions were canceled because of Covid-19 or not, that should be examined,” he said.
With very few Sherpas having been vaccinated when they arrived at base camp, dozens contracted Covid-19. Some were airlifted out. Others isolated in their pup tents and climbed to higher camps after recovering.
Phunuru Sherpa of International Mountain Guides said 10 Sherpa guides on his team fell sick with Covid-19.
Of the more than 400 foreign climbers attempting to scale Everest, almost half abandoned their expeditions, either because of Covid-19 infections or because of a cyclone that caused snowstorms in the Himalayas.
Scott Simper, a climber from Utah who lives in New Zealand, reached Everest’s peak on May 11, according to his wife, Anna Keeling, a mountain guide.
“He didn’t know he had Covid on the mountain,” she said. Mr. Simper learned of his infection only after testing positive days later in Kathmandu, where his expedition company quarantined him at a hotel for 12 days. His wife said he was still recovering from the disease.
Mr. Ness, the Norwegian climber who described his bout with Covid-19 on social media, was airlifted from base camp to a hospital in Kathmandu. Doctors advised him not to return to the mountain, so he flew home to Norway. The Everest expedition had taken three years to plan and cost him $40,000, plus hospital fees in Nepal. He does not expect to get any money back.
Mario Celinic of Croatia said he tested positive at Everest base camp. He had trained for Everest for four years, climbing some of the world’s other highest peaks. Suffering no symptoms, he decided to proceed to the top.
“‘You have Covid and you must be careful,’ this came into my mind, because Covid affects the lungs and that would be difficult to breathe above 8,000 meters’ altitude,” he said.
“That mountain is like a beautiful flower that will kill you anytime. It attracts you. You must come, you are admired. And when you go up to 8,000 meters, you are completely helpless. Whatever the mountain decides, that will be your fate,” Mr. Celinic said.
Bhadra Sharma reported from Kathmandu, and Emily Schmall from New Delhi.
The reason for the surge in Mongolia, Mr. Batbayar said, is that the country reopened too quickly, and many people believed they were protected after only one dose.
“I think you could say Mongolians celebrated too early,” he said. “My advice is the celebrations should start after the full vaccinations, so this is the lesson learned. There was too much confidence.”
Some health officials and scientists are less confident.
Nikolai Petrovsky, a professor at the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University in Australia, said that with all of the evidence, it would be reasonable to assume the Sinopharm vaccine had minimal effect on curbing transmission. A major risk with the Chinese inoculation is that vaccinated people may have few or no symptoms and still spread the virus to others, he said.
“I think that this complexity has been lost on most decision makers around the world.”
In Indonesia, where a new variant is spreading, more than 350 doctors and health care workers recently came down with Covid-19 despite being fully vaccinated with Sinovac, according to the risk mitigation team of the Indonesian Medical Association. Across the country, 61 doctors died between February and June 7. Ten of them had taken the Chinese-made vaccine, the association said.
The numbers were enough to make Kenneth Mak, Singapore’s director of medical services, question the use of Sinovac. “It’s not a problem associated with Pfizer,” Mr. Mak said at a news conference on Friday. “This is actually a problem associated with the Sinovac vaccine.”
Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates were the first two countries to approve the Sinopharm shot, even before late-stage clinical trial data was released. Since then, there have been extensive reports of vaccinated people falling ill in both countries. In a statement, the Bahraini government’s media office said the kingdom’s vaccine rollout had been “efficient and successful to date.”
Still, last month officials from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates announced that they would offer a third booster shot. The choices: Pfizer or more Sinopharm.
Reporting was contributed by Khaliun Bayartsogt, Andrea Kannapell, Ben Hubbard, Asmaa al-Omar and Muktita Suhartono. Elsie Chen and Claire Fu contributed research.
KISUMU, Kenya — Before Kenya’s president and other leaders arrived in late May to mark a major public holiday, health officials in Kisumu on Lake Victoria saw disaster brewing. Coronavirus infections were spiking, hospital isolation units were filling up and the highly contagious Delta variant had been found in Kenya for the first time — in Kisumu County.
Dr. Boaz Otieno Nyunya, the county executive for health and sanitation, said he and other health specialists argued and pleaded for the politicians to hold a virtual celebration and skip the mass, in-person events that can supercharge an outbreak. Just weeks earlier, huge political rallies had helped fuel the catastrophic Covid-19 wave in India, where the Delta variant first emerged and became dominant.
Their objections were waved away, the health officials said. President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, the former prime minister Raila Odinga and others descended on Kisumu, drawing large and mostly unmasked crowds who thronged the streets to watch their slow-moving motorcades through the city and gathered to hear them at marketplaces and parking lots.
turning away patients for lack of beds or oxygen, health officials say they fear a wave like the one that ripped through India in April and May could be looming over Kisumu.
“The India example is not lost to us,” Dr. Nyunya said.
Though data on infections and deaths is spotty, more than 23 percent of the people tested for the virus in Kisumu last week were positive — more than double the national rate. Kenya’s overall positivity rate is similar to that of the United States when the pandemic peaked there in January. But the Delta variant was still rare then, the American health system is far more robust than Kenya’s and the U.S. government was ramping up vaccination on a grand scale.
All of Africa is vulnerable, as the latest wave of the pandemic sweeps the continent, driven in part by more transmissible variants. Fewer than 1 percent of Africa’s people have been even partially vaccinated, by far the lowest rate for any continent.
“I think the greatest risk in Africa is to look at what happened in Italy earlier on and what happened in India and start thinking we are safe — to say it’s very far away from us and that we may not go the same way,” said Dr. Mark Nanyingi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Liverpool in Britain. He called the surge in western Kenya a “storm on the horizon.”
said. But experts say the true scale of the pandemic far exceeds reported figures in Africa, where testing and tracing remain a challenge for many countries, and many nations do not collect mortality data.
To forestall the ongoing crisis, Kenya’s Ministry of Health last week imposed a restriction on gatherings and extended a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Kisumu and more than a dozen surrounding counties. But the measures were too late for Dr. Nyunya, who said that thinking back on the deliberations —which involved the county governor Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, a former national health minister — over the celebrations last month, “It makes you feel impotent.”
record cases and deaths, President Yoweri Museveni has imposed a strict 42-day lockdown. Just weeks ago, Rwanda hosted the Basketball Africa League and other big sporting events, raising the possibility for a full reopening. But after a spike in cases, the government introduced new lockdown measures on Monday.
The Democratic Republic of Congo — where the virus has claimed the lives of more than 5 percent of lawmakers — is grappling with a third wave as it falters in rolling out vaccines. South Africa, the continent’s worst-hit nation, has reported new infections doubling in just two weeks’ time, with the sharpest increases in major urban centers. Tunisia, where hospitals are full and oxygen supplies are low, is enduring a fourth wave.
“New, higher transmitting variants create a precarious situation in many countries that have weak health systems,” said Dr. Ngozi Erondu, a senior health scholar at the O’Neill Institute at Georgetown University.
The W.H.O. attributes the surge in Africa to lack of vaccination, insufficient adherence to precautionary measures like mask wearing and social distancing and the Delta and other variants.
lament a lack of protective gear and health insurance.
“We are buying our own gloves and masks,” said Dr. Onyango Ndong’a, chairman of the local chapter of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union. “We are covering for government inadequacies. We are tired now. We are stretched.”
For now, families who have lost loved ones are adjusting to a new reality.
Edward Onditi, 33, lost both his brother and his mother to Covid-19 this month. He said he left Nairobi to come and assist his family after his brother, Herbert, whom he regarded as a best friend and mentor, fell ill.
For weeks, the family transported Herbert, 43, between three hospitals in two counties — a distance of 70 miles in total — so that he could get high-flow oxygen. On the day before Herbert died, Edward had fish, his brother’s favorite meal, delivered to his isolation ward and promised to take him on a holiday once he was out.
“I’m so touched,” his brother said in a text message sent on June 2.
Barely 12 hours later, he was gone.
A few days later, their mother, Naomi, who had been ailing, succumbed to complications from Covid-19, too.
“It’s one of the toughest moments of my life,” Mr. Onditi said on a recent afternoon, his eyes welling with tears. “Things are just not working. They are not adding up.”
CARACAS, Venezuela — From within his presidential palace, President Nicolás Maduro regularly commandeers the airwaves, delivering speeches intended to project stability to his crumbling nation.
But as the Venezuelan state disintegrates under the weight of Mr. Maduro’s corrupt leadership and American sanctions, his government is losing control of segments of the country, even within his stronghold: the capital, Caracas.
Nowhere is his weakening grip on territory more evident than in Cota 905, a shantytown that clings to a steep mountainside overlooking the gilded halls from which Mr. Maduro addresses the nation.
policing, road maintenance, health care and public utilities, to pour dwindling resources into Caracas, home of the political, business and military elites who form his support base.
Hunkered down in his fortified Caracas residences, Mr. Maduro crushed the opposition, purged the security forces of dissent and enriched his cronies in an effort to eliminate challenges to his authoritarian rule.
In remote areas, swathes of national territory fell to criminals and insurgents. But gang control of Cota 905 and the surrounding shantytowns, which lie just two miles from the presidential palace, is evidence that his government is losing its grip even on the center of the capital.
Across the city, other armed groups have also asserted territorial control over working-class neighborhoods.
“Maduro is often seen as a traditional strongman controlling every aspect of Venezuelans’ lives,” said Rebecca Hanson, a sociologist at the University of Florida who studies violence in Venezuela. “In reality, the state has become very fragmented, very chaotic and in many areas very weak.”
As the government’s reach in Caracas’s shantytowns withered, organized crime grew, forcing Mr. Maduro’s officials to negotiate with the largest gangs to limit violence and maintain political control, according to interviews with a dozen residents, as well as police officers, officials and academics studying violence.
In the process, the most organized gangs began supplanting the state in their communities, taking over policing, social services and even the enforcement of pandemic measures.
Police officers say the gang that controls Cota 905 now has around 400 men armed with the proceeds from drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion, and that it exerts complete control over at least eight square miles in the heart of the capital.
Gang members with automatic weapons openly patrol the shantytown’s streets and those of the surrounding communities, and guard entry points from rooftop watchtowers. The first checkpoint appears just a few minutes’ drive from the headquarters of Mr. Maduro’s secret police.
As the Venezuelan economy went into a tailspin, the Cota gang began offering financial support to the community, supplanting Mr. Maduro’s bankrupt social programs, which once offered free food, housing and school supplies for the poor.
After monopolizing the local drug trade, the Cota 905 gang imposed strict rules on the residents in return for stopping the once endemic violence and petty crime. And many residents welcome its hard line on crime.
“Before, the thugs robbed,” said Mr. Ojeda, a Cota 905 resident who, like others in the community, asked that his full name not be published for fear of crossing the gangsters. “Now, they are the ones who come to you, without fail, with anything that goes missing.”
During his tenure, Mr. Maduro has veered from brutal suppression of organized crime groups to accommodation in an attempt to check rising crime.
In 2013, he withdrew security forces from about a dozen troubled spots, including Cota 905, naming them “Peace Zones,” as he tried to placate the gangs. Two years later, when the policy failed to check crime, he unleashed a wave of brutal police assaults on the shantytowns.
The police operations resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings, according to the United Nations, earning Mr. Maduro charges of committing crimes against humanity and the hatred of many shantytown residents. Faced with the onslaught, the gangs closed ranks, creating ever larger and more complex organizations, according to Ms. Hanson and her colleague, the researcher Verónica Zubillaga.
Unable to defeat the Cota gang, Mr. Maduro’s government returned to negotiations with its leaders, according to a police commander and two government officials who held talks with the gang and worked to put the agreements in place.
Security forces are once again banned from entering the community, according to the police commander, who is not authorized to discuss state policy and did so on condition of anonymity.
Under the deal with the government, the Cota gang has reduced kidnappings and murders, and began carrying out some state policies. During the pandemic, gang members strictly enforced lockdown rules and mask wearing, local residents said. And the gang is working with the government to distribute the scant remaining food and school supplies to the residents, residents and the two officials said.
“The gang is focused on the community,” said Antonio Garcia, a shantytown resident. “They make sure we get our bag of food.”
Mr. Ojeda said he received $300 from the gang the last Carnival season to buy toys and sweets for his family, a fortune in a country where the minimum monthly wage has collapsed to about $2. Residents said young people in the community are offered jobs as lookouts or safe house guards for between $50 and $100 a week, more than most doctors and engineers make in Venezuela.
Taking these jobs is easier than leaving them. Soon after the oldest son of Ms. Ramírez — who did not want to give her full name out of fear of the gang — began serving as a lookout in Cota 905, he discovered that his life now belonged to the gang.
“He had new clothes, new shoes, but he couldn’t stop crying,” Ms. Ramírez said. “He wanted to go back and couldn’t.”
Anti-government protests are banned in the shantytown, and gang members summon residents to the polling stations on elections, said the residents.
The members “tell us that if the government is toppled, we would be affected too, because the police would return,” said Ana Castro, a Cota resident. “The ‘Peace Zone’ would end, and we would all suffer.”
In private, some government officials defend the nonaggression pacts with the biggest gangs, saying the policy has drastically reduced violence.
Violent deaths in Caracas shantytowns have halved since the mid-2010s, when the Venezuelan capital was one of the world’s deadliest cities, according to figures from a local nonprofit, Mi Convive.
But academics and analysts studying crime in the city say the drop in homicides points to the growing power of Caracas’s gangs against an increasingly weak government. The imbalance, experts said, puts the government and the population in an increasingly dangerous and vulnerable position.
The power shift was evident in April, when the Cota gang shot up a police patrol car and took over a section of highway running through Caracas. The area was a five-minute drive from the presidential palace, and the blockade paralyzed the capital for several hours.
But the government stayed silent through it all. The security forces never came to retake the highway. Once the gang left, officers quietly cleared out the blasted patrol car.