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U.S. and I.M.F. Apply a Financial Squeeze on the Taliban

Despite the chaotic end to its presence in Afghanistan, the United States still has control over billions of dollars belonging to the Afghan central bank, money that Washington is making sure remains out of the reach of the Taliban.

About $7 billion of the central bank’s $9 billion in foreign reserves are held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the former acting governor of the Afghan central bank said Wednesday, and the Biden administration has already moved to block access to that money.

The Taliban’s access to the other money could also be restricted by the long reach of American sanctions and influence. The central bank has $1.3 billion in international accounts, some of it euros and British pounds in European banks, the former official, Ajmal Ahmady, said in an interview on Wednesday. Remaining reserves are held by the Swiss-based Bank for International Settlements, he added.

Mr. Ahmady said earlier on Wednesday that the Taliban had already been asking central bank officials about where the money was.

International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday that it would block Afghanistan’s access to about $460 million in emergency reserves. The decision followed pressure from the Biden administration to ensure that the reserves did not reach the Taliban.

Money from an agreement reached in November among more than 60 countries to send Afghanistan $12 billion over the next four years is also in doubt. Last week, Germany said it would not provide grants to Afghanistan if the Taliban took over and introduced Shariah law, and on Tuesday, the European Union said no payments were going to Afghanistan until officials “clarify the situation.”

The central bank money and international aid, essential to a poor country where three-quarters of public spending is financed by grants, are powerful leverage for Washington as world leaders consider if and when to recognize the Taliban takeover.

Mr. Ahmady, who fled Afghanistan on Sunday, said he believed the Taliban could get access to the central bank reserves only by negotiating with the U.S. government.

high-profile talks last month. But so far, China hasn’t shown an eagerness to increase its role in Afghanistan. The Taliban could try to take advantage of the country’s vast mineral resources through mining, or finance operations with money from the illegal opium trade. Afghanistan is the world’s largest grower of poppy used to produce heroin, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

But these alternatives are all “very tough,” Mr. Ahmady said. “Probably the only other way is to negotiate with the U.S. government.”

Afghanistan has about $700 million at the Bank for International Settlements, Mr. Ahmady said. The bank, which serves 63 central banks around the world, said on Wednesday that it “does not acknowledge or discuss banking relationships.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Ahmady wrote on Twitter that Afghanistan had relied on shipments of U.S. dollars every few weeks because it had a large current account deficit, a reflection of the fact that the value of its imports are about five times greater than its exports.

Those purchases of imports, often paid in dollars, could soon be squeezed.

“The amount of such cash remaining is close to zero due a stoppage of shipments as the security situation deteriorated, especially during the last few days,” Mr. Ahmady wrote.

He recalled receiving a call on Friday saying the country wouldn’t get further shipments of U.S. dollars. The next day, Afghan banks requested large amounts of dollars to keep up with customer withdrawals, but Mr. Ahmady said he had to limit their distribution to conserve the central bank’s supply. It was the first time he made such a move, he said.

Mr. Ahmady said that he had told President Ashraf Ghani about the cancellation of currency shipments, and that Mr. Ghani had then spoken with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. Though further shipments were approved “in principle,” Mr. Ahmady said, the next scheduled shipment, on Sunday, never arrived.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

The New York Fed provides safekeeping and payment services to foreign central banks so they can store international reserves securely, and to facilitate cross-border payments and other dollar-based transactions. International reserves often take the form of short-term Treasury bonds or gold. The New York Fed has been storing gold for foreign governments for nearly a century.

Though Mr. Ahmady has left the country, he said he believed that most members of the central bank’s staff were still in Afghanistan.

If the Taliban can’t gain access to the central bank’s reserves, it will probably have to further limit access to dollars, Mr. Ahmady said. This would help start a cycle in which the national currency will depreciate and inflation will rise rapidly and worsen poverty.

“They’re going to have to significantly reduce the amount that people can take out,” Mr. Ahmady said. “That’s going to hurt people’s living standards.”

The more than $400 million from the International Monetary Fund, which the Biden administration has sought to keep out of the Taliban’s hands, is Afghanistan’s share of a $650 billion allocation of currency reserves known as special drawing rights. It was approved this month as part of an effort to help developing countries cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

But the toppling of Afghanistan’s government and a lack of clarity about whether the Taliban will be recognized internationally put the I.M.F. in a difficult position.

“There is currently a lack of clarity within the international community regarding recognition of a government in Afghanistan, as a consequence of which the country cannot access S.D.R.s or other I.M.F. resources,” the organization said in a statement Wednesday. It added that its decisions were guided by the views of the international community.

Jake Sullivan, the White House’s national security adviser, said Tuesday that it was too soon to address whether the United States would recognize the Taliban as the legitimate power in Afghanistan.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the Taliban to show the rest of the world who they are and how they intend to proceed,” Mr. Sullivan said. “The track record has not been good, but it’s premature to address that question at this point.”

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‘We’re Living in Hell’: Inside Fresnillo, Mexico’s Most Terrified City

FRESNILLO, Mexico — The violence was already terrifying, she said, when grenades exploded outside her church in broad daylight some five years ago. Then children in town were kidnapped, disappearing without a trace. Then the bodies of the executed were dumped in city streets.

And then came the day last month when armed men burst into her home, dragged her 15-year-old son and two of his friends outside and shot them to death, leaving Guadalupe — who didn’t want her full name published out of fear of the men — too terrified to leave the house.

“I do not want the night to come,” she said, through tears. “Living with fear is no life at all.”

For most of the population of Fresnillo, a mining city in central Mexico, a fearful existence is the only one they know; 96 percent of residents say they feel unsafe, the highest percentage of any city in Mexico, according to a recent survey from Mexico’s national statistics agency.

the Mexican government. Lately, it has become a national horror show, with cadavers found dangling from bridges, stuffed into plastic bags or even tied to a cross.

Across Mexico, murders have dropped less than 1 percent since Mr. López Obrador took office, according to the country’s statistics agency. That was enough for the president to claim, in a speech last month, that there had been an improvement on a problem his administration inherited. “There is peace and calm,” he said in June.

Many in Fresnillo disagree.

“‘Hugs not bullets’ doesn’t work,” said Javier Torres Rodríguez, whose brother was shot and killed in 2018. “We’re losing the ability to be shocked.”

the authorities said they had frozen 1,352 bank accounts linked to 14 criminal groups, including powerful drug cartels.

But the collection of programs and law-enforcement actions never coalesced into a clear public policy, critics said.

There is “an unstoppable situation of violence and a tragic deterioration of public security in Mexico,” said Angelica Duran-Martinez, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. “There’s not a clear security policy.”

has also doubled down on his support for the armed forces, embracing the militarization that also marked previous administrations.

One central pillar of his approach to fighting crime has been the creation of the National Guard, a 100,000-strong federal security force deployed across some 180 regional barracks nationwide. Last week Mr. López Obrador announced that the guard would receive an additional $2.5 billion in funding.

102 people killed during the campaign, yet another sign of the country’s unraveling security.

His family is politically powerful. His brother, David, is governor-elect of Zacatecas. Another brother, Ricardo, leads the Morena party in the Senate and has said he intends to run for president in 2024. But not even the family’s political prominence has managed to rescue the city or the state.

central to the drug trade, a crossroads between the Pacific, where narcotics and drugmaking products are shipped in, and northern states along the United States border. Fresnillo, which sits in the center of important roads and highways, is strategically vital.

But for much of its recent history, residents say they were largely left alone. That began changing around 2007 and 2008 as the government’s assault on the cartels led them to splinter, evolve and spread.

In the last few years, the region has become embroiled in a battle between two of the country’s most powerful organized crime groups: the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Caught in the middle of the fighting are residents like Guadalupe. She can remember sitting on the stoop with neighbors until midnight as a young girl. Now, the city lies desolate after dark.

Guadalupe does not let her children play outside unsupervised, but even that couldn’t stop the violence from tearing her family apart. On the night her son was killed, in mid-July, four armed men stormed into her home, dragging out her son, Henry, and two friends who were sleeping over. There was a burst of gunfire, and then the assailants were gone.

It was Guadalupe who found the teenagers’ bodies.

Now she and her family live in terror. Too scared to stay in the same house, they moved in with Guadalupe’s parents in a different part of town. But the fear remained. Her 10-year-old daughter can barely sleep, she said, and Guadalupe keeps dreaming of her son’s killing. The motive, and the identity of the killers, remain unknown.

Guadalupe has thought about leaving town or even taking her own life. But for now, she sits in her parents’ small, cinder-block house, the curtains drawn, the shadows broken by the candles of a little altar to Henry and his fallen friends.

“There’s nothing here,” she said. “The fear has overwhelmed us.”

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Hundreds More Unmarked Graves Found at Former Residential School in Canada

CALGARY, Alberta — For decades, the Indigenous children were taken from their families, sometimes by force, and housed in crowded, church-run boarding schools, where they were abused and prohibited from speaking their languages. Thousands vanished altogether.

Now, a new discovery offers chilling evidence that many of the missing children may have died at these schools: The remains of as many as 751 people, mainly Indigenous children, were found at the site of a former school in the province of Saskatchewan, an Indigenous group said on Thursday.

The burial site, the largest one to date, was uncovered only weeks after the remains of 215 children were found in unmarked graves on the grounds of another former church-run school for Indigenous students in British Columbia.

The discoveries have jolted a nation grappling with generations of widespread and systematic abuse of Indigenous people, many of whom are survivors of the boarding schools. For decades, they suggested through their oral histories that thousands of children disappeared from the schools, but they were often met with skepticism. The revelations of two unmarked grave sites are another searing reminder of this traumatic period in history.

Chief Cadmus Delorme, of the Cowessess First Nation.

The recent unearthing of remains in Canada have reverberated globally, including in the United States, where this week the interior secretary said the country would search federal boarding schools for possible burial sites of Native American children. Hundreds of thousands of them were forcibly taken from their communities to be culturally assimilated in the schools for more than a century.

a system started in the 19th century that took Indigenous children from their families.

A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 2008 to investigate the residential schools, called the practice “cultural genocide.” Many children never returned home, and their families were given only vague explanations of their fates, or none at all. Canada had about 150 residential schools and an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children passed through the schools between their opening, around 1883, and their closing in 1996.

The commission estimated that about 4,100 children went missing nationwide from the schools. But an Indigenous former judge who led the commission, Murray Sinclair, said in an email this month that he now believed the number was “well beyond 10,000.”

1.7 million Indigenous citizens, who make up about 4.9 percent of the population, the finding of yet another mass burial site is a visceral reminder of centuries of discrimination and abuse, which has led to intergenerational trauma among survivors of residential schools and their families.

“There’s no denying this: All of the stories told by our survivors are true,” Chief Cameron said.

Florence Sparvier, 80, an elder of the Cowessess First Nation, said she attended two residential schools, including Marieval, the school where the unmarked remains were found.

were forced to attend residential schools in a forced assimilation program. Most of these schools were operated by churches, and all of them banned the use of Indigenous languages and Indigenous cultural practices, often through violence. Disease, as well as sexual, physical and emotional abuse were widespread. An estimated 150,000 children passed through the schools between their opening and their closing in 1996.

  • The Missing Children: A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up as part of a government apology and settlement over the schools, concluded that at least 4,100 students died while attending them, many from mistreatment or neglect, others from disease or accident. In many cases, families never learned the fate of their offspring, who are now known as “the missing children.”
  • The Recent Discovery: In May, members of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation found 215 bodies at the Kamloops school — which was operated by the Roman Catholic Church until 1969 — after bringing in ground-penetrating radar.
  • ‘Cultural Genocide’: In a 2015 report, the commission concluded that the system was a form of “cultural genocide.” Murray Sinclair, a former judge and senator who headed the commission, recently said he now believed the number of disappeared children was “well beyond 10,000.”
  • Apologies and Next Steps: The commission called for an apology from the pope for the Roman Catholic church’s role. Pope Francis stopped short of one, but the archbishop of Vancouver apologized on behalf of his archdiocese. Canada has formally apologized and offered financial and other search support, but Indigenous leaders believe the government still has a long way to go.
  • In September 2017, Mr. Trudeau acknowledged the nation’s past “humiliation, neglect and abuse” of Indigenous people, and vowed in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly to improve their lives.

    Pope Francis has still not taken that step. By contrast, the leadership of the United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, apologized in 1998 for its role in running the schools.

    Since the Kamloops announcement, Chief Cameron said, he has been traveling around the province, where farming and mining are major industries, looking at former school sites.

    “You can see with your plain eye the indent of the ground where these bodies are to be found,” he said in an interview Wednesday night. “These children are sitting there, waiting to be found.”

    Vjosa Isai in Toronto contributed reporting.

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    A Fading Coal County Bets on Schools, but There’s One Big Hitch

    “I hear it from kids all the time: I want to get out of here,” said Kristin Johnson, a 24-year-old middle school teacher at Mount View who lives in Princeton, W.Va., about an hour’s drive away, and is itching for a teacher job to open there. “Those who do get an education know they can make more money somewhere else.”

    Ms. Keys returned, in part, out of loyalty. “When I was in high school, we started losing a lot of teachers,” she said. “People feared there would be nobody there to take those jobs.” But a stable teaching job, as well as free housing at her grandmother’s old house, played into her calculations.

    This may not be enough to hold her, though. Even dating locally is complicated. Her boyfriend lives over an hour away, outside Beckley. “There is nobody here that is appealing,” Ms. Keys said.

    Consider Emily Hicks, 24, who graduated from Mount View in 2015. She is at the forefront of Reconnecting McDowell’s efforts, an early participant in the mentoring program meant to expand the horizons of local youths.

    She didn’t even have to leave home to get her bachelor’s degree at Bluefield State College, commuting from home every other day. Today she teaches fifth grade at Kimball Elementary School. Her father is a surveyor for the coal mines; her mother works for the local landfill. But her boyfriend, Brandon McCoy, is hoping to leave the coal business and has taken a couple of part-time jobs at clinics outside the county after getting an associate degree in radiology.

    Her brother, Justin, who graduated from high school in June, is going to college to get a degree in electrical engineering. “I have no idea what I’m going to do after that,” he said. “But there’s not a lot to do here.”

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    Tasked to Fight Climate Change, a Secretive U.N. Agency Does the Opposite

    LONDON — During a contentious meeting over proposed climate regulations last fall, a Saudi diplomat to the obscure but powerful International Maritime Organization switched on his microphone to make an angry complaint: One of his colleagues was revealing the proceedings on Twitter as they happened.

    It was a breach of the secrecy at the heart of the I.M.O., a clubby United Nations agency on the banks of the Thames that regulates international shipping and is charged with reducing emissions in an industry that burns an oil so thick it might otherwise be turned into asphalt. Shipping produces as much carbon dioxide as all of America’s coal plants combined.

    Internal documents, recordings and dozens of interviews reveal what has gone on for years behind closed doors: The organization has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise, a trend that threatens to undermine the goals of the 2016 Paris climate accord.

    One reason for the lack of progress is that the I.M.O. is a regulatory body that is run in concert with the industry it regulates. Shipbuilders, oil companies, miners, chemical manufacturers and others with huge financial stakes in commercial shipping are among the delegates appointed by many member nations. They sometimes even speak on behalf of governments, knowing that public records are sparse, and that even when the organization allows journalists into its meetings, it typically prohibits them from quoting people by name.

    Homes are washing away. Much of the nation could become unlivable in the coming decade.

    was almost denied a seat. International Registries, which represented the Marshall Islands on the I.M.O., initially refused to yield to the foreign minister, Mr. Woodroofe recalled.

    United Nations climate meetings, countries are typically represented by senior politicians and delegations of government officials. At the maritime organization’s environmental committee, however, one in four delegates comes from industry, according to separate analyses by The New York Times and the nonprofit group Influence Map.

    Representatives of the Brazilian mining company Vale, one of the industry’s heaviest carbon polluters and a major sea-based exporter, sit as government advisers. So does the French oil giant Total, along with many shipowner associations. These arrangements allow companies to influence policy and speak on behalf of governments.

    Connections can be hard to spot. Luiz Gylvan Meira Filho sat on the Brazilian delegation in 2017 and 2018 as a University of Sao Paulo scientist. But he also worked at a Vale-funded research organization and, during his second year, was a paid Vale consultant. In an interview, he described his role as mutually beneficial: Brazilian officials relied on his expertise, and Vale covered his costs.

    “Sometimes you cannot tell the difference. Is this actually the position of a nation or the position of the industry?” said David Paul, a Marshallese senator who attended an I.M.O. meeting in 2018.

    Hundreds of other industry representatives are accredited observers and can speak at meetings. Their numbers far exceed those of the approved environmental groups. The agency rejected an accreditation request by the Environmental Defense Fund in 2018.

    Industry officials and the maritime organization say such arrangements give a voice to the experts. “If you don’t involve the people who are actually going to have to deliver, then you’re going to get a poor outcome,” said Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping.

    openly opposed strict emissions regulation as a hindrance to economic growth. And an informal bloc of countries and industry groups helped drag out the goal-setting process for three years.

    Documents show that China, Brazil and India, in particular, threw up repeated roadblocks: In 2015, it was too soon to consider a strategy. In 2016, it was premature to discuss setting targets. In 2017, they lacked the data to discuss long-term goals.

    a Cook Islands diplomat.

    The I.M.O. almost never puts environmental policies to a vote, favoring instead an informal consensus-building. That effectively gives vocal opponents blocking power, and even some of the agency’s defenders acknowledge that it favors minimally acceptable steps over decisive action.

    So, when delegates finally set goals in 2018, Mr. de Brum’s ambition had been whittled away.

    The Marshall Islands suggested a target of zero emissions “by the second half of the century” — meaning by 2050. Industry representatives offered a slightly different goal: Decarbonization should occur “within” the second half of the century, a one-word difference that amounted to a 50-year extension.

    Soon, though, the delegates agreed, without a vote, to eliminate zero-emissions targets entirely.

    What remained were two key goals:

    First, the industry would try to improve fuel efficiency by at least 40 percent. This was largely a mirage. The target was set so low that, by some calculations, it was reached nearly the moment it was announced.

    Second, the agency aimed to cut emissions at least in half by 2050. But even this watered-down goal is proving unreachable. The agency’s own data say emissions may rise by 30 percent.

    When delegates met last October — five years after Mr. de Brum’s speech — the organization had not taken any action. Proposals like speed limits had been debated and rejected.

    What remained was what several delegates called the “refrigerator rating” — a score that, like those on American appliances, identified the clean and dirty ships.

    European delegates insisted that, for the system to work, low-scoring ships must eventually be prohibited from sailing.

    China and its allies wanted no such consequence.

    So Sveinung Oftedal of Norway, the group’s chairman, told France and China to meet separately and compromise.

    Delegates worked across time zones, meeting over teleconferences because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Shipping industry officials said they weighed in through the night.

    The Marshallese were locked out.

    “We’re always being told ‘We hear you,’” Mr. Ishoda said. “But when it comes to the details of the conversation, we’re told ‘We don’t need you to contribute.’”

    Ultimately, France ceded to nearly all of China’s requests, records show. The dirtiest ships would not be grounded. Shipowners would file plans saying they intended to improve, would not be required to actually improve.

    German delegates were so upset that they threatened to oppose the deal, likely triggering a cascade of defections, according to three people involved in the talks. But European Union officials rallied countries behind the compromise, arguing that Europe could not be seen as standing in the way of even limited progress.

    “At I.M.O., that is as always the choice,” said Damien Chevallier, the French negotiator. “We have the choice to have nothing, or just to have a first step.”

    All of this happened in secret. The I.M.O.’s summary of the meeting called it a “major step forward.” Natasha Brown, a spokeswoman, said it would empower customers and advocacy groups. “We know from consumer goods that the rating system works,” she said.

    But the regulation includes another caveat: The I.M.O. will not publish the scores, letting shipping companies decide whether to say how dirty their ships are.

    Ms. Kabua, the Marshallese minister, is under no illusions that reclaiming the diplomatic seat will lead to a climate breakthrough.

    But if it works, she said, it might inspire other countries with private registries to do the same. Countries could speak for themselves rather than through a corporate filter.

    Regardless of the outcome, the political winds are shifting. The European Union is moving to include shipping in its emissions-trading system. The United States, after years of being minor players at the agency, is re-engaging under President Biden and recently suggested it may tackle shipping emissions itself.

    Both would be huge blows to the I.M.O., which has long insisted that it alone regulate shipping.

    Suddenly, industry officials say they are eager to consider things like fuel taxes or carbon.

    “There’s much more of a sense of momentum and crisis,” said Mr. Platten, the industry representative. “You can argue about, ‘Are we late to it,’ and all the rest. But it is palpable.”

    Behind closed doors, though, resistance remains. At a climate meeting last winter, recordings show that the mere suggestion that shipping should become sustainable sparked an angry response.

    “Such statements show a lack of respect for the industry,” said Kostas G. Gkonis, the director of the trade group Intercargo.

    And just last week, delegates met in secret to debate what should constitute a passing grade under the new rating system. Under pressure from China, Brazil and others, the delegates set the bar so low that emissions can continue to rise — at roughly the same pace as if there had been no regulation at all.

    Delegates agreed to revisit the issue in five years.

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