SAN ANTONIO HUISTA, Guatemala — An American contractor went to a small town in the Guatemalan mountains with an ambitious goal: to ignite the local economy, and hopefully even persuade people not to migrate north to the United States.
Half an hour into his meeting with coffee growers, the contractor excitedly revealed the tool he had brought to change their lives: a pamphlet inviting the farmers to download an app to check coffee prices and “be a part of modern agriculture.”
Pedro Aguilar, a coffee farmer who hadn’t asked for the training and didn’t see how it would keep anyone from heading for the border, looked confused. Eyeing the U.S. government logo on the pamphlet, he began waving it around, asking if anyone had a phone number to call the Americans “and tell them what our needs really are.”
soared in 2019 and is on the upswing once more.
have risen, malnutrition has become a national crisis, corruption is unbridled and the country is sending more unaccompanied children to the United States than anywhere else in the world.
That is the stark reality facing Ms. Harris as she assumes responsibility for expanding the same kind of aid programs that have struggled to stem migration in the past. It is a challenge that initially frustrated her top political aides, some of whom viewed the assignment from Mr. Biden as one that would inevitably set her up for failure in the first months of her tenure.
Her allies worried that she would be expected to solve the entire immigration crisis, irked that the early reports of her new duties appeared to hold her responsible for juggling the recent surge of children crossing the border without adults.
linked to drug traffickers and accused of embezzling American aid money, the leader of El Salvador has been denounced for trampling democratic norms and the government of Guatemala has been criticized for persecuting officials fighting corruption.
Even so, Ms. Harris and her advisers have warmed to the task, according to several people familiar with her thinking in the White House. They say it will give her a chance to dive squarely into foreign policy and prove that she can pass the commander-in-chief test, negotiating with world leaders on a global stage to confront one of America’s most intractable issues.
critics denounced as unlawful and inhumane. Moreover, members of the current administration contend that Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze a portion of the aid to the region in 2019 ended up blunting the impact of the work being done to improve conditions there.
But experts say the reasons that years of aid have not curbed migration run far deeper than that. In particular, they note that much of the money is handed over to American companies, which swallow a lot of it for salaries, expenses and profits, often before any services are delivered.
Record numbers of Central American children and families were crossing, fleeing gang violence and widespread hunger.
independent studies have found.
“All activities funded with U.S.A.I.D.’s foreign assistance benefit countries and people overseas, even if managed through agreements with U.S.-based organizations,” said Mileydi Guilarte, a deputy assistant administrator at U.S.A.I.D. working on Latin America funding.
But the government’s own assessments don’t always agree. After evaluating five years of aid spending in Central America, the Government Accountability Office rendered a blunt assessment in 2019: “Limited information is available about how U.S. assistance improved prosperity, governance, and security.”
One U.S.A.I.D. evaluation of programs intended to help Guatemalan farmers found that from 2006 to 2011, incomes rose less in the places that benefited from U.S. aid than in similar areas where there was no intervention.
Mexico has pushed for a more radical approach, urging the United States to give cash directly to Central Americans affected by two brutal hurricanes last year. But there’s also a clear possibility — that some may simply use the money to pay a smuggler for the trip across the border.
The farmers of San Antonio Huista say they know quite well what will keep their children from migrating. Right now, the vast majority of people here make their money by selling green, unprocessed coffee beans to a few giant Guatemalan companies. This is a fine way to put food on the table — assuming the weather cooperates — but it doesn’t offer much more than subsistence living.
Farmers here have long dreamed of escaping that cycle by roasting their own coffee and selling brown beans in bags to American businesses and consumers, which brings in more money.
“Instead of sending my brother, my father, my son to the United States, why not send my coffee there, and get paid in dollars?” said Esteban Lara, the leader of a local coffee cooperative.
But when they begged a U.S. government program for funding to help develop such a business, Ms. Monzón said, they were told “the money is not designed to be invested in projects like that.”
These days, groups of her neighbors are leaving for the United States every month or two. So many workers have abandoned this town that farmers are scrambling to find laborers to harvest their coffee.
One of Ms. Monzón’s oldest employees, Javier López Pérez, left with his 14-year-old son in 2019, during the last big wave of Central American migration to the United States. Mr. López said he was scaling the border wall with his son when he fell and broke his ankle.
“My son screamed, ‘Papi, no!’ and I said to him, ‘Keep going, my son,’” Mr. López said. He said his son made it to the United States, while he returned to San Antonio Huista alone.
His family was then kicked out of their home, which Mr. López had given as collateral to the person who smuggled him to the border. The house they moved into was destroyed by the two hurricanes that hit Guatemala late last year.
Ms. Monzón put Mr. López in one of her relatives’ houses, then got the community to cobble together money to pay for enough cinder blocks to build the family a place to live.
While mixing cement to bind the blocks together, one of Mr. López’s sons, Vidal, 19, confessed that he had been talking to a smuggler about making the same journey that felled his father, who was realistic at the prospect.
“I told him, ‘Son, we suffered hunger and thirst along the way, and then look at what happened to me, look at what I lost,’” Mr. López said, touching his still-mangled ankle. “But I can’t tell him what to do with his life — he’s a man now.”
Carmakers have been promising to scrap the internal combustion engine, and now it’s the truckmakers’ turn. But the makers of giant 18-wheelers are taking a different route.
Daimler, the world’s largest maker of heavy trucks, whose Freightliners are a familiar sight on American interstates, said last week that it would convert to zero-emission vehicles within 15 years at the latest, providing another example of how the shift to electric power is reshaping vehicle manufacturing with significant implications for the climate, economic growth and jobs.
The journey away from fossil fuels will play out differently and take longer in the trucking industry than it will for passenger cars. For one thing, zero emission long-haul trucks are not yet available in large numbers.
And different technology may be needed to power the electric motors. Batteries work well for delivery vehicles and other short-haul trucks, which are already on the roads in significant numbers. But Daimler argues that battery power is not ideal for long-haul 18-wheelers, at least with current technology. The weight of the batteries alone subtracts too much from payload, an important consideration for cost-conscious trucking companies.
online presentation Thursday, Daimler executives announced a partnership with Shell to build a “hydrogen corridor” of fueling stations spanning northern Europe. For shorter-haul trucks, Daimler announced a partnership with the Chinese company CATL to develop batteries, and partnerships with Siemens and other companies to install high-voltage charging stations in Europe and the United States.
Trevor Milton, resigned last year facing accusations he had made numerous false assertions about the company’s hydrogen fuel-cell technology.
Nikola at least demonstrated how eager investors are to put their money into hydrogen trucks. Another example is Hyzon, a maker of fuel cells based in Rochester, N.Y., that has begun offering complete trucks and buses. In February, Hyzon was acquired by Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corporation, a so-called SPAC that raises money before it has any assets.
Tesla unveiled a design for a battery-powered semi truck in 2017, which the company has said it will begin delivering this year. Tesla, Scania and some other truckmakers are skeptical of hydrogen technology, which they regard as too expensive and less energy-efficient.
The traditional truckmakers like Daimler and Volvo have some advantages over the start-ups. Truck buyers tend to be practical hauling firms or drivers who carefully calculate the costs of maintenance and fuel consumption before they make a decision. Managers of big fleets may also be reluctant to take a chance on a manufacturer without a long track record.
President Biden has been promoting electric vehicles, but has not yet defined what that means for the trucking industry.
Trucking companies, which have depended on diesel for most of the last century, will have to revamp their maintenance departments, install their own charging or hydrogen fueling stations in some cases, retrain drivers and learn to plan their routes around hydrogen or electric charging points.
But Mr. Kedzie said that emission-free trucks also had some advantages. Fuel costs for battery-powered vehicles are much lower than for diesel trucks. Maintenance costs may be lower because electric vehicles have fewer moving parts. Drivers like the way electric trucks perform — an important factor at the moment when there is a driver shortage in America.
Many companies that ship a lot of goods, like Walmart or Target, are trying to reduce their carbon footprints and taking an interest in zero-emission trucks. “There are a lot of potential benefits” Mr. Kedzie said.
Daimler says its aim is to make battery-powered short-haul trucks that can compete on cost with diesel by 2025, and long-haul fuel-cell trucks that achieve diesel parity by 2027.
“In that very moment when the customer starts benefiting more from a zero-emission truck than a diesel truck, well, there’s no reason to buy a diesel truck anymore,” Andreas Gorbach, chief technology officer for Daimler’s trucks and buses division, said during the presentation Thursday. “This is the tipping point.”
I want to end this week by showing you two Covid-19 charts. They contain the same message: The pandemic is in retreat.
received at least one vaccine shot, and the share is growing by about two percentage points per week. Among unvaccinated people, a substantial number have already had Covid and therefore have some natural immunity. “The virus is running out of places to be communicable,” Andy Slavitt, one of President Biden’s top Covid advisers, told me.
noted. For the first time since March 5 of last year, San Francisco General Hospital yesterday had no Covid patients — “a truly momentous day,” Dr. Vivek Jain said.
There are still important caveats. Covid remains especially dangerous in communities with low vaccination rates, as Slavitt noted, including much of the Southeast; these communities may suffer through future outbreaks. And about 600 Americans continue to die from the disease every day.
But the sharp decline in cases over the past month virtually guarantees that deaths will fall over the next month. The pandemic appears to be in an exponential-decay phase, as this helpful Times essay by Zoë McLaren explains. “Every case of Covid-19 that is prevented cuts off transmission chains, which prevents many more cases down the line,” she writes.
This isn’t merely a theoretical prediction. In Britain, one of the few countries to have given a shot to a greater share of the population than the U.S., deaths are down more than 99 percent from their peak.
down 23 percent from their peak in late April. In India, caseloads have been falling rapidly for almost two weeks.
The rising number of vaccinations also helps; it has exceeded 1.5 billion, which means that more than 10 percent of the world’s population — and maybe closer to 15 percent — has received at least one shot. (A new outlier: Mongolia has secured enough shots to vaccinate all of its adults, thanks to deals with neighboring Russia and China.) Natural immunity, from past infections, may also be slowing the spread in many places, and the virus’s seasonal cycles may play a role, too.
Most countries remain more vulnerable than the U.S. because of their lower vaccination rates. In Africa, a tiny share of people have received a shot, and the numbers are only modestly higher in much of Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
The vaccines are how this pandemic ends. That point is coming nearer in the United States and a few other affluent countries, but it remains distant in much of the world. Accelerating the global manufacturing and distribution of vaccines is the only sure way to avoid many more preventable deaths this year. (The Times editorial board, The Economist and National Review have each recently laid out arguments for how to do so.)
“Unless vaccine supplies reach poorer countries, the tragic scenes now unfolding in India risk being repeated elsewhere,” The Economist’s editors wrote. “Millions more will die.”
More on the virus:
Some Americans are struggling to make sense of — and pay — exorbitant and confusing bills, The Times’s Sarah Kliff reports.
A data idea, from Matthew Springer of the University of California, San Francisco: States should report Covid deaths and hospitalizations by vaccination status to highlight the value of the shots.
Virus resources: Look up the pace of vaccinations in your state.
THE LATEST NEWS
disqualified Belarus over lyrics that seemed to endorse a crackdown on antigovernment protests. In 2009, Georgia withdrew over a song about Vladimir Putin.
The Netherlands, which won the contest in 2019, is hosting the event tomorrow in an arena that will allow 3,500 audience members. Many of this year’s contestants qualified for Eurovision last year, though the show was canceled. While they’re getting another chance at performing this year, they’re singing different songs than they had planned in 2020.
The Guardian has a roundup of this year’s entries, including Ukrainian folk-techno and an Azerbaijani ode to a wartime spy. — Claire Moses, a Morning writer
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BOGOTÁ, Colombia — A prominent former commander of Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, who was known by the nom de guerre Jesús Santrich, has been killed in Venezuela, according to three senior Venezuela government officials close to the country’s security forces.
The officials, who requested anonymity to discuss national security issues, did not say how he died. The armed group he ran confirmed his death in a message on its website, blaming the killing on Colombian special forces, without providing any evidence. Colombian officials say they are still working to confirm his death, and did not immediately respond to the group’s allegation.
The rebel leader, whose real name was Seuxis Hernández Solarte, helped lead the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, before becoming one of the negotiators who struck a peace deal with the Colombian government in 2016, ending five decades of war.
He then turned against the deal, and returned to arms.
Mr. Hernández — recognizable throughout the country because he often wore dark glasses and a checkered scarf — was, in many ways, a symbol of the difficult balance Colombia has had to strike as it works to leave behind the bloody conflict that displaced millions, killed at least 220,000 and defined the nation for generations.
accused him of returning to the drug trade, a violation of the accord.
Following his detention on those charges and eventual release from prison, he vanished from public view, only to reappear alongside another rebel leader, Luciano Marín, known by the alias Iván Márquez, in a 2019 video in which they issued a new call to arms, arguing the government had failed to uphold its end of the bargain.
That announcement by the two ex-leaders was a further blow to Colombians’ hopes for lasting peace, with the agreement having already been undercut by failures by both sides to comply with its terms. The country’s countryside is still the site of mass killings, forced displacement and the recruitment and killing of children.
Critics of the deal said Mr. Hernández was proof that the FARC would never give up fighting, or crime, while supporters of the agreement pointed out that a vast majority of former fighters have indeed given up arms — and claimed that the Colombian government’s failure to hold up its end of the deal was helping to push some people back to the jungle.
Colombian officials have claimed, without providing concrete evidence, that Mr. Hernández was hiding out in neighboring Venezuela, where President Nicolás Maduro, the leftist rival of the conservative Colombian government, has allowed Colombian armed groups to take refuge and even flourish. Several Colombian groups have taken over drug smuggling routes and illegal mining within Venezuela, according to security analysts and people living on the Colombia-Venezuela border.
accuse him of working to produce and distribute about 10 tons of cocaine to the United States.
Julie Turkewitz reported from Bogotá and Anatoly Kurmanaev reported from Mexico City. Mariana Martínez contributed reporting from Caracas.
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Protests have rocked Colombia for three weeks, with thousands of people pouring into the streets of its major cities — and facing a crackdown by government security forces. More than 40 people, many of them protesters, are dead.
On Monday, Colombia’s president, Iván Duque, ordered the “maximum deployment” of the country’s military and police forces to clear roads blocked by protesters, a move he said would “allow all Colombians to regain mobility,” but that some feared would lead to more violence.
The fuse for the protests was a tax overhaul proposed by Mr. Duque, which many Colombians felt would have made getting by in an economy squeezed by the pandemic even harder.
But the outpouring quickly morphed into a widespread expression of anger over poverty and inequality — which have risen as the virus has spread — and over the violence with which the police have confronted the movement.
calls for the government to guarantee a minimum income, to prevent police violence and to withdraw a health reform plan that critics say does not do enough to fix systemic problems.
Mr. Duque’s popularity had dropped before the pandemic, and is now near its lowest point since his election in 2018, according to the polling firm Invamer.
ravaged populations and economies in the region.
many Colombians viewed the plan as an attack on their already difficult existences.
Even before the pandemic, many Colombians with full-time jobs struggled to make even the minimum wage of about $275 a month.
Helena Osorio, 24, for example, is a nurse who works nights and earns $13 per shift caring for Covid patients, barely enough for her and her younger brother to survive. This pushed her to attend recent protests.
The president’s tax proposal also came as coronavirus cases and deaths were rising in the country, leaving hundreds of desperate Colombians to wait for a bed at overloaded hospitals even as the vaccination campaign rollout has been slow.
longstanding frustrations to a boil.
Colombia is among the most unequal countries in the world. A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2018 said that it would take 11 generations for a poor Colombian to approach the mean income in his or her society — the highest number of 30 countries examined.
Despite reductions in poverty in the decades before the pandemic, many Colombians, particularly the young, feel the engines of upward mobility are beyond their reach.
violence continues in many rural areas, fueling frustration.
As the protests have escalated, resulting in clashes between demonstrators and police, Mr. Duque’s government has frequently blamed the violence on armed groups it says have infiltrated the protests.
responded with force, sometimes firing bullets at peaceful protesters, according to New York Times interviews with witnesses. This has exacerbated anger.
At least 42 people are dead, according to Colombia’s Defensoría del Pueblo, a government agency that tracks alleged human rights violations. But Human Rights Watch and other organizations say that the death toll is likely higher.
The Defensoría says that it has received 168 reports of people who have disappeared amid the protests, and only some of them have been found.
In an interview, Mr. Duque recognized that some officers had been violent, but attributed the violence to a few bad actors, saying major change in the police force was not needed.
“There have been acts of abuse of force,” he said. But “just saying that there could be any possibility that the Colombian police will be seen as a systematic abuser of human rights — well, that will be not only unfair, unjust, but without any base, any ground.”
What about the protesters, have they engaged in violence as well?
Protesters have also blocked major roads, preventing food and other essential goods from getting through. Officials say this has hampered efforts to fight the coronavirus at a time when new cases and virus deaths are at near record highs.
The defense department says that hundreds of officers have been hurt, and one has been killed, while people associated with the protests have vandalized police stations and buses.
While tens of thousands have marched in the streets, not everyone supports the protests.
Jhon Henry Morales, 51, a taxi driver in Cali, said his city had been nearly paralyzed in recent days, with some protesters blocking the roads with tires.
He had not been able to work, he said, putting him behind on his bills. “Protest is legal,” he said. But, he said, “I also have rights as a Colombian citizen.”
Reporting was contributed by Sofía Villamil and Steven Grattan in Bogotá.
Mr. Kilar, 50, fashioned himself as a disrupter inclined to break with the status quo in the pursuit of innovation. He became the chief executive of WarnerMedia in April 2020. He previously had started a video streaming company called Vessel and had managed Hulu, where he gained a reputation for thwarting the desires of the entrenched media executives overseeing the company.
HBO Max made a lackluster debut just two months after his arrival at WarnerMedia. By August, Mr. Kilar dismissed Bob Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly, two longtime television executives who were in charge of the streaming service’s programming. Mr. Kilar also laid off some 1,000 employees.
Those inside the company credit Mr. Kilar with two important decisions that have better positioned the company in the current media climate. He oriented all the divisions around HBO Max. He also hammered on the importance of making HBO Max a global streaming service, accelerating its rollout. HBO Max is set to expand into Latin America and the Caribbean next month. The European launch is scheduled for later this year.
But now the television veterans are in control.
Mr. Zaslav has run Discovery since 2007. He started his media career in 1989 at NBC, ultimately helping to create cable networks like CNBC and MSNBC and expanding USA and Bravo around the world. Known for celebrity-strewn parties at his East Hampton, N.Y., estate, Mr. Zaslav has long been one of the highest-paid chief executives in media. Last year, his compensation totaled $37.7 million. In 2018, when he signed a new contract, he received more than $100 million in Discovery stock.
Richard Gelfond, the chief executive of Imax, predicted in a CNBC interview that Mr. Zaslav would bring a “diplomatic soft touch” to WarnerMedia’s shifting movie releasing strategy. “He’s been an innovator, but he knows how to do it within the confines of the existing system,” Mr. Gelfond said.
Pulling strings in the background, per his style, will be Mr. Malone.
Nicknamed the “cable cowboy,” in part because his base of operation is in Colorado, Mr. Malone, 80, is the consummate deal maker. Mr. Zaslav in Monday’s call described him as “a teacher, and a best friend and really a father to me.” He has a reputation for putting together complex transactions that limit his tax exposure. He began amassing his fortune in 1973 when he took over Tele-Communications Inc., an almost-bankrupt cable company that he grew and then sold to AT&T in 1998 for $32 billion. A subsidiary, Liberty Media, was spun off into its own entity with Mr. Malone at the helm.
Liberty holds significant stakes in a variety of entertainment companies, including Discovery, the Atlanta Braves and SiriusXM. The company purchased Formula One racing in 2016 for $4.4 billion. And in 2017, Discovery purchased Scripps Network Interactive for $11.9 billion, which added HGTV, Travel Channel and Food Network to its media arsenal.
In 2019, after selling his shares of Lionsgate, Mr. Malone increased his ownership of Discovery, purchasing $75 million of additional shares for a total 23 percent stake.
Sanofi, the French pharmaceutical company, said on Monday that it would move the experimental Covid-19 vaccine it is developing with GlaxoSmithKline into a late-stage trial after the shot produced strong immune responses in volunteers in a mid-stage study.
The findings are encouraging news for a vaccine that has fallen behind in development and has so far disappointed those expecting that it would be crucial in combating the pandemic. If the vaccine can become available in the last three months of this year, as its developers hope, it could still play a central role as a booster shot as well as an initial inoculation in the developing world, where the pace of vaccination is lagging.
The vaccine hit a major setback in December, when its developers announced that it did not appear to work well in older adults and that they would have to delay plans to test it in a Phase 3 trial, the crucial test that will assess the vaccine’s effectiveness.
But the companies modified the vaccine and in February began testing it in a Phase 2 study that included more than 700 volunteers in the United States and Honduras between 18 and 95 years old. Sanofi said the vaccine did not raise any safety concerns and produced a strong immune response across age groups, a finding suggesting it has been successfully tweaked.
Sanofi announced the findings in a statement and said it plans to soon publish the results in a medical journal.
Sanofi and GSK are much more experienced in vaccine development than a number of their rivals that have already won authorization. The two companies used a more established approach than those deployed in other, more swiftly developed Covid vaccines. Their shot is based on viral proteins produced with engineered viruses that grow inside insect cells. GSK is supplying the Sanofi vaccine with an adjuvant, an ingredient used in many vaccines meant to boost the immune response.
Sanofi and GSK’s vaccine was one of six selected for funding from Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s effort to accelerate vaccine development. Last summer, the federal government agreed to give the companies $2.1 billion to develop and manufacture the vaccine, in exchange for 100 million doses once the shot was ready.
Sanofi also has supply deals with the European Union and Canada. It has also agreed to supply 200 million doses to Covax, the program to deliver vaccines to middle- and lower-income countries that has been struggling with a shortfall in expected doses. Sanofi has also announced plans to help manufacture the authorized vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Sanofi said its Phase 3 trial of its vaccine will begin in the coming weeks and enroll more than 35,000 adult volunteers around the world. It will test two formulations of the vaccine, one aimed at preventing the original strain of the virus and the other aimed at the B.1.351 variant first seen in South Africa that some vaccines appear to be less effective against.
Su-Peing Ng, Sanofi’s global head of medical for vaccines, told journalists on Monday that the company expects it to be “operationally quite challenging” to enroll unvaccinated participants in the Phase 3 trial as vaccination coverage increases in many nations. Still, she said, vaccine doses are still scarce in many parts of the world, pointing to Latin America and Asia as places where the company may look to enroll volunteers.
The company said that soon after starting the Phase 3 trial it plans to assess whether its vaccine can boost immune responses in people who had been vaccinated months before with authorized vaccines. Those booster studies are expected to enroll volunteers in well-vaccinated parts of the world, including the United States and Europe.
Sanofi and GSK said last year they were preparing to be able to make 1 billion doses annually. Thomas Triomphe, Sanofi’s global head of vaccines, said on Monday that the company’s production this year, if its vaccine is shown to work, would depend on the world’s needs.
The vaccine, he said, has “potential to be a booster of choice for many nations and many different platforms.”
RIO DE JANEIRO — Fretting over a fever in her toddler that wouldn’t break, the mother took the young girl, Letícia, to a hospital. Doctors had worrisome news: It was Covid-19.
But they were reassuring, noting that children almost never develop serious symptoms, said the mother, Ariani Roque Marinheiro.
Less than two weeks later, on Feb. 27, Letícia died in the critical care unit of the hospital in Maringá, in southern Brazil, after days of labored breathing.
“It happened so quickly, and she was gone,” said Ms. Marinheiro, 33. “She was everything to me.”
Covid-19 is ravaging Brazil, and, in a disturbing new wrinkle that experts are working to understand, it appears to be killing babies and small children at an unusually high rate.
scientists say are leading to more severe cases of Covid in young, healthy adults and driving up death tolls in Brazil — on babies and children.
But experts say the variant appears to be leading to higher death rates among pregnant women. Some women with Covid are giving birth to stillborn or premature babies already infected with the virus, said Dr. André Ricardo Ribas Freitas, an epidemiologist at São Leopoldo Mandic College in Campinas, who led a recent study on the impact of the variant.
“We can already affirm that the P.1 variant is much more severe in pregnant women,” said Dr. Ribas Freitas. “And, oftentimes, if the pregnant woman has the virus, the baby might not survive or they might both die.”
Lack of timely and adequate access to health care for children once they fall ill is likely a factor in the death toll, experts said. In the United States and Europe, experts said, early treatment has been key to the recovery of children infected with the virus. In Brazil, overstretched doctors have often been late to confirm infections in children, Dr. Marinho said.
“Children are not being tested,” she said. “They get sent away, and it’s only when these children return in a really bad state that Covid-19 is suspected.”
study published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal in January foundthat children in Brazil and four other countries in Latin America developed more severe forms of Covid-19 and more cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare and extreme immune response to the virus, compared with data from China, Europe and North America.
Even before the pandemic began, millions of Brazilians living in poor areas had limited access to basic health care. In recent months, the system has been overwhelmed as a crush of patients have flooded into critical care units, resulting in a chronic shortage of beds.
“There’s a barrier to access for many,” said Dr. Ana Luisa Pacheco, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the Heitor Vieira Dourado Tropical Medicine Foundation in Manaus. “For some children, it takes three or four hours by boat to get to a hospital.”
The cases in children have shot up amid Brazil’s broader explosion in infections, which experts attribute to President Jair Bolsonaro’s cavalier response to the pandemic and his government’s refusal to take vigorous measures to promote social distancing. A lagging economy has also left millions without income or enough food, forcing many to risk infection as they search for work.
Some of the children who have died of the virus already had health issues that made them more vulnerable. Still, Dr. Marinho estimates that they represent just over a quarter of deaths among children under 10. That suggests that healthy children, too, seem to be at heightened risk from the virus in Brazil.
Letícia Marinheiro was one such child, her mother said. A healthy baby who had just started walking, she had never been sick before, Ms. Marinheiro said.
Ms. Marinheiro, who was infected along with her husband Diego, 39, believes Letícia might have lived if her illness had been treated with more urgency.
“I think they didn’t believe that she could be so sick, they didn’t believe it could happen to a child,” said Ms. Marinheiro.
She recalled pleading to have more tests done. Four days into the child’s hospitalization, she said, doctors had still not fully examined Letícia’s lungs.
Ms. Marinheiro is still unsure how her family got sick.
She had kept Letícia — a first child the couple had badly wanted for years — at home and away from everyone. Mr. Marinheiro, a supplier of hair salon products, had been cautious to avoid contact with clients, even as he kept working to keep the family financially afloat.
For Ms. Marinheiro, the sudden death of her daughter has left a gaping hole in her life. As the pandemic rages on, she says, she wishes other parents would quit underestimating the dangers of the virus that took Letícia away from her. In her city, she watches as families throw birthday parties for children and officials push to reopen schools.
“This virus is so inexplicable,” she said. “It’s like playing the lottery. And we never believe it will happen to us. It’s only when it takes someone from your family.”
“We’re not against men. All we want to do is take apart a system that has abused and hurt women.”
— Vilma Ibarra, the top legal adviser to the president of Argentina
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In his annual speech before Congress in March, President Alberto Fernández of Argentina did something few, if any, of his predecessors had done before: He dedicated a large chunk of the 90-minute speech to the “rights of women.”
He vowed to help mothers get back to work by building more preschools and said that “the fight against gender violence” should be a top priority for everyone in Argentina.
The speech came just months after the country became the most populous in Latin America to legalize abortion, fulfilling one of Mr. Fernández’s key promises during his campaign for president.
“feminists” and “activists”, are driving the change: Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, the country’s first minister of Women, Genders and Diversity; Vilma Ibarra, the president’s top legal adviser who has the authority to write bills and decrees (she wrote the country’s landmark abortion bill); and Mercedes D’Alessandro, the country’s first national director of economy, equality and gender within the Economy Ministry, and the author of “Feminist Economics.”
the highest number of gender-sensitive Covid-19 responses in the world.
Ms. Alcorta, Ms. Ibarra and Ms. D’Alessandro spoke with In Her Words from the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires about the next big items on their policy agenda and how their WhatsApp group of female government leaders is helping to shake up what is still a male-dominated space.
a report on the unpaid care economy. It found that unpaid care and domestic work amount to almost 16 percent of G.D.P. — making it the largest sector of Argentina’s economy — and that 75 percent of care work is carried out by women. What are your plans to address the gender gap in unpaid domestic work and care?
Alcorta: The Ministry of Women, Genders and Diversities has created a special office to deal with care policies. In February 2020, we put together an inter-ministerial commission, including 14 ministries and strategic departments, focused specifically on crafting care policies.
We’ve also announced the creation of 800 kindergartens, nurseries and day care centers around the country, and we also want to look at leave policies to be shared by parents — so paternity and maternity leaves — to create more equality at the workplace. Before President Fernández’s administration, we didn’t have any of these things that we are now looking at.
D’Alessandro: In the pandemic, we found that activity in the unpaid care sector is the only sector that went up, while all other sectors fell. So, it’s important from an economic standpoint. And those 800 day care centers — they are not just creating a physical space where children will be looked after, but they’re also a way to create jobs and opportunities. When you create a new system, you are professionalizing the care work and you are also recognizing the value of that work.
Violence against women is a big problem in Argentina. The number of women killed reached a 10-year high during the lockdown, and there have been major protests against violence dating back to almost six years ago. Why is this still happening?
Alcorta: The femicide rate in Argentina has remained high for the past 20 years and those of us who study this phenomenon know that there are many issues that create the conditions for extreme violence. Often, higher inequality is correlated with more violence. Gender stereotypes also have a lot to do with this as does the culture — some Latin American societies are more tolerant of this violence. And of course, there are the shortcomings in the state agencies, like the police. Until 2015, Argentina didn’t officially track femicides. They used to be called “crimes of passion.” And there was no institutional structure that looked into violence against women, so we created a nationwide, federal agency.
The changes needed are huge and structural in nature so they can’t be resolved in a couple of years or with one administration.
The president has made gender equality a priority, but women are still a minority among ministers and other high positions in government. Will that change?
Ibarra: Not so many years ago, there weren’t any women at all in high-ranking positions and the creation of the Ministry of Women is a major highlight of this administration. Now, is that enough? No. But we are much better off than where we used to be.
We started a group on WhatsApp called “Women in Government” — a network of more than 250 women. And we get together, we have discussions, we share experiences and help one another. It’s important because we come from a culture that is male dominated and it’s easier for men to team up. So each woman and feminist who joins the government is opening up doors to change things.
Alcorta: This administration has the highest share of women in high-ranking positions — 37.5 percent, compared with the previous administration which had 22 percent. Certainly, as you go up to the level of ministers, you see that share get smaller. Argentina was also the first country in Latin America and the Caribbean that set a gender quota for Congress in 1991 and, since 2017, we have a parity law for Congress.
Until we took office 13 provinces had parity laws, and there was still another 10 left. Last year, seven provinces implemented provincial parity laws as well and now we have three left. One of our goals is to work with those remaining provinces so that all provinces have parity. This is a process — participation in Congress allows women to also become officials in the executive branch.
D’Alessandro: We can advocate laws related to gender parity and request that women are represented in the high levels of government and in Congress, but we still have many serious problems. In the judiciary, there’s a clear gender gap, but also in trade unions and in the business sector. I think this demonstrates the difficulties of society, which, at its core, is still a male-dominated patriarchal, unequal structure with clear discrimination against women. That’s what we need to fight.
It’s fascinating that you often call yourselves feminists and activists. That kind of language is rare — maybe even radical — for government officials. Do you face any backlash for that?
Ibarra: Yes, but we welcome that. Whenever someone says, “Where is the ministry for men?,” we say, “Well, men don’t need to get together and defend their rights and that’s great. But we need to make sure that women have the same rights.” That’s why we are feminists. We’re not against men. All we want to do is take apart a system that has abused and hurt women.
Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.
The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.
But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste.
“Blowing up a mountain isn’t green, no matter how much marketing spin people put on it,” said Max Wilbert, who has been living in a tent on the proposed mine site while two lawsuits seeking to block the project wend their way through federal courts.
Electric cars and renewable energy may not be as green as they appear. Production of raw materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel that are essential to these technologies are often ruinous to land, water, wildlife and people.
That environmental toll has often been overlooked in part because there is a race underway among the United States, China, Europe and other major powers. Echoing past contests and wars over gold and oil, governments are fighting for supremacy over minerals that could help countries achieve economic and technological dominance for decades to come.
Developers and lawmakers see this Nevada project, given final approval in the last days of the Trump administration, as part of the opportunity for the United States to become a leader in producing some of these raw materials as President Biden moves aggressively to fight climate change. In addition to Nevada, businesses have proposed lithium production sites in California, Oregon, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina.
But traditional mining is one of the dirtiest businesses out there. That reality is not lost on automakers and renewable-energy businesses.
“Our new clean-energy demands could be creating greater harm, even though its intention is to do good,” said Aimee Boulanger, executive director for the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, a group that vets mines for companies like BMW and Ford Motor. “We can’t allow that to happen.”
assembled by Bloomberg, and a hint of the frenzy underway.
Some of those investors are backing alternatives including a plan to extract lithium from briny water beneath California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea, about 600 miles south of the Lithium Americas site.
At the Salton Sea, investors plan to use specially coated beads to extract lithium salt from the hot liquid pumped up from an aquifer more than 4,000 feet below the surface. The self-contained systems will be connected to geothermal power plants generating emission-free electricity. And in the process, they hope to generate the revenue needed to restore the lake, which has been fouled by toxic runoff from area farms for decades.
Businesses are also hoping to extract lithium from brine in Arkansas, Nevada, North Dakota and at least one more location in the United States.
The United States needs to quickly find new supplies of lithium as automakers ramp up manufacturing of electric vehicles. Lithium is used in electric car batteries because it is lightweight, can store lots of energy and can be repeatedly recharged. Analysts estimate that lithium demand is going to increase tenfold before the end of this decade as Tesla, Volkswagen, General Motors and other automakers introduce dozens of electric models. Other ingredients like cobalt are needed to keep the battery stable.
Even though the United States has some of the world’s largest reserves, the country today has only one large-scale lithium mine, Silver Peak in Nevada, which first opened in the 1960s and is producing just 5,000 tons a year — less than 2 percent of the world’s annual supply. Most of the raw lithium used domestically comes from Latin America or Australia, and most of it is processed and turned into battery cells in China and other Asian countries.
In March, she announced grants to increase production of crucial minerals. “This is a race to the future that America is going to win,” she said.
So far, the Biden administration has not moved to help push more environmentally friendly options — like lithium brine extraction, instead of open pit mines. The Interior Department declined to say whether it would shift its stand on the Lithium Americas permit, which it is defending in court.
Mining companies and related businesses want to accelerate domestic production of lithium and are pressing the administration and key lawmakers to insert a $10 billion grant program into Mr. Biden’s infrastructure bill, arguing that it is a matter of national security.
“Right now, if China decided to cut off the U.S. for a variety of reasons we’re in trouble,” said Ben Steinberg, an Obama administration official turned lobbyist. He was hired in January by Piedmont Lithium, which is working to build an open-pit mine in North Carolina and is one of several companies that have created a trade association for the industry.
Investors are rushing to get permits for new mines and begin production to secure contracts with battery companies and automakers.
Ultimately, federal and state officials will decide which of the two methods — traditional mining or brine extraction — is approved. Both could take hold. Much will depend on how successful environmentalists, tribes and local groups are in blocking projects.
Mr. Bartell’s biggest fear is that the mine will consume the water that keeps his cattle alive. The company has said the mine will consume 3,224 gallons per minute. That could cause the water table to drop on land Mr. Bartell owns by an estimated 12 feet, according to a Lithium Americas consultant.
While producing 66,000 tons a year of battery-grade lithium carbonate, the mine may cause groundwater contamination with metals including antimony and arsenic, according to federal documents.
The lithium will be extracted by mixing clay dug out from the mountainside with as much as 5,800 tons a day of sulfuric acid. This whole process will also create 354 million cubic yards of mining waste that will be loaded with discharge from the sulfuric acid treatment, and may contain modestly radioactive uranium, permit documents disclose.
A Decemberassessment by the Interior Department found that over its 41-year life, the mine would degrade nearly 5,000 acres of winter range used by pronghorn antelope and hurt the habitat of the sage grouse. It would probably also destroy a nesting area for a pair of golden eagles whose feathers are vital to the local tribe’s religious ceremonies.
a lawsuit to try to block the mine.
At the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation, anger over the project has boiled over, even causing some fights between members as Lithium Americas has offered to hire tribal members in jobs that will pay an average annual wage of $62,675 — twice the county’s per capita income — but that will come with a big trade-off.
“Tell me, what water am I going to drink for 300 years?” Deland Hinkey, a member of the tribe, yelled as a federal official arrived at the reservation in March to brief tribal leaders on the mining plan. “Anybody, answer my question. After you contaminate my water, what I am going to drink for 300 years? You are lying!”
The reservation is nearly 50 miles from the mine site — and far beyond the area where groundwater may be contaminated — but tribe members fear the pollution could spread.
hiring a lobbying team that includes a former Trump White House aide, Jonathan Slemrod.
Lithium Americas, which estimates there is $3.9 billion worth of recoverable lithium at the site, hopes to start mining operations next year. Its largest shareholder is the Chinesecompany Ganfeng Lithium.
A Second Act
CalEnergy, and another business, Energy Source, have tapped the Buttes’ geothermal heat to produce electricity. The systems use naturally occurring underground steam. This same water is loaded with lithium.
Now, Berkshire Hathaway and two other companies — Controlled Thermal Resources and Materials Research — want to install equipment that will extract lithium after the water passes through the geothermal plants, in a process that will take only about two hours.
Rod Colwell, a burly Australian, has spent much of the last decade pitching investors and lawmakers on putting the brine to use. In February, a backhoe plowed dirt on a 7,000-acre site being developed by his company, Controlled Thermal Resources.
“This is the sweet spot,” Mr. Colwell said. “This is the most sustainable lithium in the world, made in America. Who would have thought it? We’ve got this massive opportunity.”
unemployment rate of nearly 16 percent.
“Our region is very rich in natural resources and mineral resources,” said Luis Olmedo, executive director of Comite Civico del Valle, which represents area farm workers. “However, they’re very poorly distributed. The population has not been afforded a seat at the table.”
The state has given millions in grants to lithium extraction companies, and the Legislature is considering requiring carmakers by 2035 to use California sources for some of the lithium in vehicles they sell in the state, the country’s largest electric-car market.
But even these projects have raised some questions.
Geothermal plants produce energy without emissions, but they can require tens of billions of gallons of water annually for cooling. And lithium extraction from brine dredges up minerals like iron and salt that need to be removed before the brine is injected back into the ground.
Similar extraction efforts at the Salton Sea have previously failed. In 2000, CalEnergy proposed spending $200 million to extract zinc and to help restore the Salton Sea. The company gave up on the effort in 2004.
opened demonstration projects using the brine extraction technology, with Standard Lithium tapping into a brine source already being extracted from the ground by an Arkansas chemical plant, meaning it did not need to take additional water from the ground.
“This green aspect is incredibly important,” said Robert Mintak, chief executive of Standard Lithium, who hopes the company will produce 21,000 tons a year of lithium in Arkansas within five years if it can raise $440 million in financing. “The Fred Flintstone approach is not the solution to the lithium challenge.”
Lilac Solutions, whose clients include Controlled Thermal Resources, is also working on direct lithium extraction in Nevada, North Dakota and at least one other U.S. location that it would not disclose. The company predicts that within five years, these projects could produce about 100,000 tons of lithium annually, or 20 times current domestic production.
Executives from companies like Lithium Americans question if these more innovative approaches can deliver all the lithium the world needs.
But automakers are keen to pursue approaches that have a much smaller impact on the environment.
“Indigenous tribes being pushed out or their water being poisoned or any of those types of issues, we just don’t want to be party to that,” said Sue Slaughter, Ford’s purchasing director for supply chain sustainability. “We really want to force the industries that we’re buying materials from to make sure that they’re doing it in a responsible way. As an industry, we are going to bebuying so much of these materials that we do have significant power to leverage that situation very strongly. And we intend to do that.”