1+1=4? Latin America Confronts a Pandemic Education Crisis.

SOACHA, Colombia — Already, two of Gloria Vásquez’s children had dropped out of school during the pandemic, including her 8-year-old, Ximena, who had fallen so far behind that she struggled with the most basic arithmetic.

“One plus one?” Ms. Vásquez quizzed her daughter one afternoon.

“Four?” the little girl guessed helplessly.

Now, Ms. Vásquez, a 33-year-old single mother and motel housekeeper who had never made it past the fifth grade, told herself she couldn’t let a third child leave school.

“Where’s Maicol?” she asked her children, calling home one night during another long shift scrubbing floors. “Is he studying?”

have returned to the classroom, 100 million children in Latin America are still in full or partial distance learning — or, as in Maicol’s case, some distant approximation of it.

The consequences are alarming, officials and education experts say: With economies in the region pummeled by the pandemic and connections to the classroom so badly frayed, children in primary and secondary school are dropping out in large numbers, sometimes to work wherever they can.

1.8 million children and young people abandoned their educations this school year because of the pandemic or economic hardship, according to the national statistics agency.

Ecuador lost an estimated 90,000 primary and secondary school students. Peru says it lost 170,000. And officials worry that the real losses are far higher because countless children, like Maicol, are technically still enrolled but struggling to hang on. More than five million children in Brazil have had no access to education during the pandemic, a level not seen in more than 20 years, Unicef says.

Increased access to education was one of the great accomplishments of the last half century in Latin America, with enrollment soaring for girls, poor students and members of ethnic and racial minorities, lifting many toward the middle class. Now, an onslaught of dropouts threatens to peel back years of hard-won progress, sharpening inequality and possibly shaping the region for decades to come.

some of the world’s worst outbreaks, yet several South American nations are now experiencing their highest daily death tolls of the crisis, even after more than a year of relentless loss. For some governments, there is little end in sight.

But unless lockdowns end and students get back into the classroom soon, “many children may never return,” the World Bank warns. And “those who do go back to school will have lost months or even years of education.” Some analysts fear the region could be facing a generation of lost children, not unlike places that suffer years of war.

Even before the pandemic, graduating from high school in Ms. Vásquez’s neighborhood was no small feat.

She and her children live at the end of a dirt road, just beyond Bogotá, Colombia’s sprawling, mountain-flanked capital, a deeply unequal city in one of the most unequal regions in the world. Violence and crime are as common here as the ice cream cart that circles the block each afternoon. For some children, the pandemic has been yet another trauma in a seemingly endless succession.

Many parents in the neighborhood make their living as recyclers, traversing the city with wooden wheelbarrows hitched to their backs. And many of their children don’t have computers, internet or family members who can help with class work. Often there is one cellphone for the family, leaving students scrambling for any connection to school.

Ms. Vásquez dropped out at 14 to help raise her siblings, and it has been her greatest regret. The motel she cleans is far from home, sometimes forcing her to leave her children for more than a day — 24 hours for her shift, with at least four hours of commuting. Even so, she rarely makes the country’s monthly minimum wage.

She had hoped her children — Ximena, 8, Emanuel, 12, Maicol, 13, and Karen, 15 — whom she calls “the motor of my life,” would leave the neighborhood, if only they could get through this never-ending pandemic with their schooling intact.

“I’ve always said that we have been dealt a difficult hand,” but “they have a lot of desire to learn,” she said.

Before the virus arrived, her children attended public schools nearby, wearing the colorful uniforms typical for Colombian pupils. Karen wanted to be a doctor. Maicol, a performer. Emanuel, a police officer. Ximena was still deciding.

By late May, the two boys were still officially enrolled in school, but barely keeping up, trying to fill out the work sheets their teachers sent via WhatsApp each week. They have no computer, and it costs Ms. Vásquez 15 cents a page to print the assignments, some of which are dozens of pages long. Sometimes, she has the money. Sometimes not.

Both girls had dropped out altogether. Ximena lost her spot at school just before the pandemic last year because she had missed classes, a not-so uncommon occurrence in Colombia’s overburdened schools. Then, with administrators working from home, Ms. Vásquez said she couldn’t figure out how to get her daughter back in.

Karen said she had lost contact with her instructors when the country went into lockdown in March 2020. Now, she wanted to return, but her family had accidentally broken a tablet lent to her by the school. She was terrified that if she tried to re-enroll, she would be hit with a fine her mother had no money to pay.

The family was already reeling because Ms. Vásquez’s hours at the motel had been cut during the crisis. Now they were four months behind on rent.

Ms. Vásquez was particularly worried about Maicol, who struggled to make sense of work sheets about periodic tables and literary devices, each day more frustrating than the last.

Lately, when he wasn’t recycling, he’d go looking for scrap metal to sell. To him, the nights out with his uncle were a welcome reprieve, like a pirate’s adventure: meeting new people, searching for treasure — toys, shoes, food, money.

But Ms. Vásquez, who had forbidden these jaunts, grew incensed when she heard he was working. The more time Maicol spent with the recycling cart, she feared, the smaller his world would become.

She respected the people who gathered trash for a living. She’d done it when she was pregnant with Emanuel. But she didn’t want Maicol to be satisfied with that life. During her shifts at the motel, cleaning bathrooms, she imagined her children in the future, sitting behind computers, running businesses.

“‘Look,’ people would say, ‘those are Gloria’s kids,’” she said. “They don’t have to bear the same destiny as their mother.”

Over the last year, school began in earnest only after she came home from work. One afternoon, she pulled out a study guide from Emanuel’s teacher, and began dictating a spelling and grammar exercise.

“Once upon a time,” she read.

“Once upon a time,” wrote Emanuel, 12.

“There was a white and gray duck —”

“Gray?” he asked.

When it came to Maicol’s more advanced lessons, Ms. Vásquez was often lost herself. She didn’t know how to use email, much less calculate the area of a square or teach her son about planetary rotations.

“I try to help them with what I understand,” she said. “It’s not enough.”

Lately, she’d become consumed by the question of how her children would catch up when — or if? — they ever returned to class.

The full educational toll of the pandemic will not be known until governments bring children back to school, experts warn. Ms. Di Gropello, of the World Bank, said she feared that many more children, especially poorer ones without computers or internet connections, would abandon their educations once they realize how far behind they’ve fallen.

By mid-June, Colombia’s education ministry announced that all schools would return to in-person courses after a July vacation. Though the country is enduring a record number of daily deaths from the virus, officials have determined that the cost of staying closed is too great.

But as school principals scramble to prepare for the return, some wonder how many students and teachers will show up. At Carlos Albán Holguín, one of the schools in Ms. Vásquez’s neighborhood, the principal said some instructors were so afraid of infection that they had refused to come to the school to pick up the completed assignments their pupils had dropped off.

One recent morning, Karen woke before dawn, as she often does, to help her mother get ready for her shift at the motel. Since leaving school last year, Karen had increasingly taken on the role of parent, cooking and cleaning for the family, and trying to protect her siblings while their mother was at work.

At one point, the responsibility got to be so much that Karen ran away. Her flight lasted just a few hours, until Ms. Vásquez found her.

“I told my mother that she had to support me more,” Karen said. “That she couldn’t leave me alone, that I was an adolescent and I needed her help.”

In their shared bedroom, while Ms. Vásquez applied makeup, Karen packed her mother’s blue backpack, slipping in pink Crocs, a fanny pack, headphones and a change of clothes.

Ms. Vásquez had gone out to march one day, too, blowing a plastic horn in the crowd and calling on the authorities to guarantee what she called a “dignified education.”

But she hadn’t returned to the streets. If something happened to her at the marches, who would support her children?

“Do you want me to braid your hair?” Karen asked her mother.

At the door, she kissed Ms. Vásquez goodbye.

Then, after months of hardship, came a victory.

Ms. Vásquez received messages from Maicol’s and Emanuel’s teachers: Both schools would bring students back, in person, in just a few weeks. And she finally found a spot for Ximena, who had been out of school entirely for more than a year.

“A new start,” Ms. Vásquez said, giddy with excitement.

Karen’s future was less certain. She had worked up the courage to return the broken tablet. Administrators did not fine her — and she applied to a new school.

Now, she was waiting to hear if there was space for her, trying to push away the worry that her education was over.

“I’ve been told that education is everything, and without education there is nothing,” she said. “And, well, it’s true — I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

Reporting was contributed by Sofía Villamil in Bogotá and Soacha, Colombia; José María León Cabrera in Quito, Ecuador; Miriam Castillo in Mexico City; Mitra Taj in Lima, Peru; and Ana Ionova in Rio de Janeiro.

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Darwin’s Arch, a Famed Rock Formation in the Galápagos, Collapses

Darwin’s Arch, a famous, photo-friendly rock formation in the remote Galápagos Islands, collapsed on Monday because of natural erosion, Ecuadorean officials said.

The collapse of the natural archway in the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles west of continental Ecuador, left a pile of rubble between two pillars.

one of the world’s most vulnerable places to the effects of climate change.

The islands sit at the intersection of three ocean currents and are vulnerable to the El Niño weather system, which causes rapid warming of Pacific Ocean waters. The warming waters threaten the very species that Darwin observed.

Easter Island, also in the Pacific Ocean, stands to be eroded by rising waters, threatening its residents and famed moai statues now within the reach of waves.

The Galápagos, once a destination for only well-off travelers unfazed by the islands’ remote location, had seen an increase in tourism before the coronavirus pandemic, with visitor numbers jumping 90 percent between 2007 and 2016. That has concerned some conservationists, who worried the extra visitors would put pressure on the islands’ infrastructure and encroach on animal habitats.

expressed concern about the influx of tourists, saying they could harm not just the wildlife but the islands’ landscapes and beaches. And then there’s the misbehavior: In March, officials at an airport seized 185 baby tortoises wrapped in plastic and packed into a suitcase headed for continental Ecuador.

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Colombia, Strained by Pandemic and Economic Hardship, Explodes in Protest

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — A teenager shot to death after kicking a police officer. A young man bleeding out on the street as protesters shout for help. Police firing on unarmed demonstrators. Helicopters swarming overhead, tanks rolling through neighborhoods, explosions echoing in the streets. A mother crying for her son.

“We are destroyed,” said Milena Meneses, 39, whose only son Santiago, 19, was killed in a protest over the weekend.

Colombians demonstrating over the past week against the poverty and inequality that have worsened the lives of millions since the Covid-19 pandemic began have been met with a powerful crackdown by their government, which has responded to the protests with the same militarized police force it often uses against rebel fighters and organized crime.

This explosion of frustration in Colombia, experts say, could presage unrest across Latin America, where several countries face the same combustible mix of an unrelenting pandemic, growing hardship and plummeting government revenue.

Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua and elsewhere.

Each country’s protest was different. But in all of them, people voiced their grievances over limited opportunity, widespread corruption and officials who appeared to be working against them.

Then came the pandemic. Latin America was one of the regions hardest hit by the virus in 2020, with cemeteries filling past capacity, the sick dying while waiting for care in hospital hallways, and family members spending the night in lines to buy medical oxygen in an attempt to keep loved ones alive.

The region’s economies shrank by an average of 7 percent. In many places, unemployment, particularly among the young, spiked.

significant popularity since the beginning of the pandemic, according to polling from the firm Invamer. And analysts say he is at his weakest point since he came to office in 2018.

The police and military response has made a national conversation built around compromise extremely difficult, said Sandra Borda, a political analyst and columnist for the newspaper El Tiempo.

a video, a witness can be heard shouting.

“Is he OK?” the witness says. “Can he breathe? Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!”

A passing deliveryman loaded Mr. Murillo onto his motorbike and rushed him to a clinic. There, his mother’s anguished cries were captured on tape. “Son, take me with you! Son, I want to be with you!”

Doctors could not revive him, and residents of Ibagué held a protest vigil in his name the next day.

“I asked them to protest civilly,” said his mother, “in peace.”

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Indigenous Party, Not on the Ballot, Is Still a Big Winner in Ecuador Election

TARQUI, Ecuador — Though its candidate is not on the ballot, one big winner in Sunday’s presidential runoff in Ecuador was clear before the first vote was cast: the nation’s long-marginalized Indigenous movement.

The Indigenous party and its allies jolted the nation in the first round of voting in February, winning half of all states, becoming the second-largest presence in Congress and transforming the agenda of the finalists in Sunday’s presidential race, the leftist Andrés Arauz and the conservative Guillermo Lasso.

“The politics of Ecuador will never be the same,” said Farith Simon, an Ecuadorean law professor and columnist. “There’s still racism, but there’s also a re-vindication of the value of Indigenous culture, of pride in their national role.”

Eager to court Indigenous voters and mindful of the need to work with the newly powerful Indigenous bloc in Congress, Mr. Arauz and Mr. Lasso have revamped their messages and shifted the contest from the polarizing socialist-versus-conservative ground that has defined national politics for years. Debates are emerging instead on Ecuador’s deep-seated inequality and on an economic model reliant on the export of oil and metals extracted from Indigenous lands.

Both candidates have promised to enact greater environmental safeguards and to grant Indigenous communities more say over the extraction of resources. Mr. Lasso, 66, a banker, has vowed to improve economic opportunities for Indigenous people, who, despite decades of progress, lag far behind national averages in access to education, health care and jobs.

Mr. Arauz, 36, an economist who led in the first round of voting, has promised to lead Ecuador as a true “plurinational” country in recognition of its 15 Indigenous nations. Though largely symbolic, the designation had been sought for decades by the country’s Indigenous party, Pachakutik, as a powerful acknowledgment of its people’s central place in Ecuador.

The rise of Pachakutik on the national stage has not only brought attention to the country’s Indigenous minority, it has posed deeper questions of identity for the entire electorate. Though just 8 percent of Ecuadoreans identified themselves as Indigenous in the last census, much of the population is ethnically mixed.

“This is a difficult conversation for us as a nation, but there’s no turning back,” Mr. Simon said.

The man most responsible for the political sea change has been the environmental activist Yaku Pérez, the Pachakutik presidential candidate in February’s first round of voting.

Mr. Pérez, 52, narrowly missed the runoff, but he greatly broadened Pachakutik’s historic single-digit appeal with his support for women’s rights, equality for L.G.B.T.Q. people and efforts to fight climate change. Mr. Pérez also backed abortion rights and same-sex marriage, creating tensions inside his socially conservative Indigenous constituency.

“Pérez had an enormous capacity to open his horizons, his discourse, to incorporate themes that weren’t there” in Ecuadorean politics, said Alberto Acosta, a former Pachakutik presidential candidate.

Mr. Pérez’s rise is part of a larger generational shift in Latin America’s leftist movements. Partly driven by social media and political protests in the United States, where most Latin American nations have large diasporas, younger left-leaning politicians are prioritizing environment, gender and minority issues over the Marxist doctrine of their mentors.

In neighboring Peru, Verónika Mendoza, 40, is among the top contenders in Sunday’s presidential election, promising to grant land titles to Indigenous communities and protect the environment. In Bolivia, the 34-year-old Indigenous leader Eva Copa recently won a mayor’s race in El Alto, a melting-pot city considered a bellwether.

This new generation of leaders is going beyond the traditional left-right divide, challenging their countries’ historic reliance on large mining, oil and agribusiness projects for economic growth, said Carwil Bjork-James, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

“These are big continental questions that the Indigenous movements have been asking for a long time,” Mr. Bjork-James said. “To see these questions being asked politically is a new level.”

Such a framework is shortsighted, their rivals say. South American nations have no alternative but to rely on revenue from raw materials to recover from the pandemic. And only through economic development, they say, can inequalities be fully addressed.

In Ecuador, Mr. Pérez managed to win nearly 20 percent of February’s vote, but his party and its allies soared from nine to 43 congressional seats in the election, becoming kingmakers in the country’s fractured 137-seat legislature.

The campaign had initially focused on the legacy of Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s longest-serving democratic president. He had lifted millions from poverty during a commodities boom in the 2000s, but his authoritarian style and the corruption allegations that trailed him had left the nation bitterly divided.

Mr. Correa, who left office in 2017, picked Mr. Arauz to represent his leftist movement this year, catapulting the 36-year-old to the top of the polls despite his limited experience and national recognition. Mr. Lasso centered his early campaign message on fears that Mr. Correa would continue to exert influence.

But the first-round results “showed that a great part of the population doesn’t want to be boxed into this conflict between Correa’s supporters and opponents, which reduces Ecuadoreans’ problems to a binary vision,” said Mr. Acosta, the former candidate.

Pachakutik’s electoral success this year traces to a wave of national protests in October 2019, when the Indigenous movement marched on the capital, Quito, to demand the repeal of a deeply unpopular cut in gasoline subsidies. The protests turned violent, claiming at least eight lives, but the government withdrew the subsidy cut after 12 days of unrest.

“We showed the country that the Indigenous people are looking for a transformation of this dominant system that only serves the most affluent,” said Diocelinda Iza, a leader of the Kichwa nation in the central province of Cotopaxi.

The life of Mr. Pérez, the presidential candidate, embodies the travails of the Indigenous movement. He was born in a high Andean valley in southern Ecuador to a family of impoverished farmers. His father was Kichwa, his mother Kañari.

His parents worked on the estate of a local landowner without pay in return for living on his property, a rural arrangement that has changed little since colonial times.

From his childhood, Mr. Pérez said he remembers the seemingly endless toil in the fields, the pangs of hunger, and the humiliation he felt at school when his mother came to parent meetings dressed in traditional skirts.

“I felt a lot of shame to be Indigenous, to come from the field, to be a farmer, to have a sharecropper father,” Mr. Pérez said in an interview in March. To succeed at school, he said, “I ended up whitening myself, colonizing myself, rejecting our identity.”

Mr. Pérez ended up studying at a local university, practicing law and becoming involved in politics through local associations defending communal water rights. He rose to become the governor of Ecuador’s Azuay region, the country’s fifth-most populous, before quitting to run for president.

His story has resonated with other Indigenous people, many of whom see the political efforts of today in the context of the five centuries since Ecuador’s colonial conquest.

“We’re not campaigning for a person,” said one Indigenous leader, Luz Namicela Contento, “but for a political project.”

Jose María León Cabrera reported from Tarqui, Ecuador, and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Moscow. Mitra Taj contributed reporting from Lima, Peru.

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Nearly 200 Baby Tortoises Are Seized at Galápagos Airport

Officials at an airport in the Galápagos Islands seized 185 baby tortoises on Sunday that were wrapped in plastic and packed in a suitcase that was bound for mainland Ecuador, the authorities said.

The tortoises were discovered in a red suitcase that was on its way to the port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, during an inspection at the Galápagos Ecological Airport on the island of Baltra, the airport said in a statement.

An inspector noticed “irregularities’’ during an X-ray scan of the suitcase, which had been declared as carrying souvenirs, the airport said.

Airport officials said on Sunday that 10 of the tortoises, which were estimated to be at least 3 months old, had died. Five more died on Monday, according to Ecuador’s environmental minister, Marcelo Mata.

wrote to Ecuador’s tourism minister to express concern that the growth of land-based tourism on the islands had the potential to harm its photogenic landscapes and beaches as well as its famous wildlife, including giant tortoises, sea lions and iguanas.

A motive for the tortoise smuggling effort was not immediately clear. James P. Gibbs, a professor of environmental and forest biology at the State University of New York in Syracuse, said a healthy juvenile tortoise could be sold for about $5,000. Tortoises are killed in the wild for food or for their oil, he said.

The suitcase, he said, was “a tremendous amount of value to somebody.” He said the theft was “brazen,” adding, “The cruelty of it is what struck me.”

said on Twitter that the tortoises had been taken from the wild and not from the breeding centers in the Galápagos National Park. The surviving reptiles, which were described as giant tortoises, were transferred to the Fausto Llerena breeding center on Santa Cruz Island, he said.

announced on Monday that a police officer, Nixon Alejandro, had been arrested in the case, which was being investigated by the Ministry of the Environment and Water and by state prosecutors. The authorities said that Mr. Alejandro would be charged with a crime against wild flora and fauna, which is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Officials from the Galápagos National Park were assisting with the investigation.

The tortoises, which photos on the airport’s Facebook page showed were small enough to fit in one hand, were being evaluated by veterinarians, who reported on Monday that they were not in good health, Mr. Mata said.

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