SANTIAGO, Chile — Chileans faced a stark choice between left and right on Sunday as they began voting in a presidential election that has the potential to make or break the effort to draft a new constitution.
The race was the nation’s most polarizing and acrimonious in recent history, presenting Chileans with sharply different visions on a range of issues, including the role of the state in the economy, pension reform, the rights of historically marginalized groups and public safety.
José Antonio Kast, 55, a far-right former lawmaker who has promised to crack down on crime and civil unrest, faces Gabriel Boric, 35, a leftist legislator who proposes raising taxes to combat entrenched inequality.
The stakes are higher than in most recent presidential contests because Chile is at a critical political crossroads. The incoming president stands to profoundly shape the effort to replace Chile’s Constitution, imposed in 1980 when the country was under military rule. Chileans voted overwhelmingly last year to draft a new one.
campaigned vigorously against establishing a constitutional convention, whose members Chileans elected in May. The body is tasked with drafting a new charter that voters will approve or reject in a direct vote next September.
Members of the convention see Mr. Kast’s rise as an existential threat to their work, fearing he could marshal the resources and the bully pulpit of the presidency to persuade voters to reject the revised constitution.
“There’s so much at stake,” said Patricia Politzer, a member of the convention from Santiago. “The president has enormous power and he could use the full backing of the state to campaign against the new constitution.”
Recent polls have suggested Mr. Boric has a slight edge, although Mr. Kast won the most votes during the first round of voting last month.
Mr. Boric has referred to his rival as a fascist and has assailed several of his plans, which include expanding the prison system and empowering the security forces to more forcefully crack down on Indigenous challenges to land rights in the south of the country.
Mr. Kast has told voters a Boric presidency would destroy the foundation that has made Chile’s economy one of the best performing in the region and would likely put the nation on a path toward becoming a failed state like Venezuela.
“This has been a campaign dominated by fear, to a degree we’ve never seen before,” said Claudia Heiss, a political science professor at the University of Chile. “That can do damage in the long run because it deteriorates the political climate.”
Mr. Boric and Mr. Kast each found traction with voters who had become fed up with the center-left and center-right political factions that have traded power in Chile in recent decades. The conservative incumbent, Sebastián Piñera, has seen his approval ratings plummet below 20 percent over the past two years.
Mr. Boric got his start in politics as a prominent organizer of the large student demonstrations in 2011 that persuaded the government to grant low-income students tuition-free education. He was first elected to congress in 2014.
A native of Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost province, Mr. Boric made taking bold steps to curb global warming a core promise of his campaign. This included a politically risky proposal to raise taxes on fuel.
Mr. Boric, who has tattoos and dislikes wearing ties, has spoken publicly about being diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, a condition for which he was briefly hospitalized in 2018.
In the wake of the sometimes violent street protests and political turmoil set off by a hike in subway fares in October 2019, he vowed to turn a litany of grievances that had been building over generations into an overhaul of public policy. Mr. Boric said it was necessary to raise taxes on corporations and the ultrarich in order to expand the social safety net and create a more egalitarian society.
“Today, many older people are working themselves to death after backbreaking labor all their lives,” he said during the race’s final debate, promising to create a system of more generous pensions. “That is unfair.”
Mr. Kast, the son of German immigrants, served as a federal lawmaker from 2002 to 2018. A father of nine, he has been a vocal opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage. His national profile rose during the 2017 presidential race, when he won nearly 8 percent of the vote.
Mr. Kast has called his rival’s proposed expansion of spending reckless, saying what Chile needs is a far leaner, more efficient state rather than an expanded support system. During his campaign’s closing speech on Thursday, Mr. Kast warned that electing his rival would deepen unrest and stoke violence.
Mr. Kast invoked the “poverty that has dragged down Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba” as a cautionary tale. “People flee from there because dictatorship, narco-dictatorship, only brings poverty and misery,” he said.
That message, a throwback to Cold War language, has found resonance among voters like Claudio Bruce, 55, who lost his job during the pandemic.
“In Chile we can’t afford to fall into those types of political regimes because it would be very difficult to bounce back from that,” he said. “We’re at a very dangerous crossroads for our children, for our future.”
Antonia Vera, a recent high school graduate who has been campaigning for Mr. Boric, said she saw electing him as the only means to turn a grass-roots movement for a fairer, more prosperous nation into reality.
“When he speaks about hope, he’s speaking about the long-term future, a movement that started brewing many years ago and exploded in 2019,” she said.
The new president will struggle to carry out sweeping changes any time soon, said Claudio Fuentes, a political science professor at Diego Portales University in Santiago, noting the evenly divided incoming congress.
“The probability of making good on their campaign plans is low,” he said. “It’s a scenario in which it will be hard to push reforms through.”
Pascale Bonnefoy reported from Santiago and Ernesto Londoño from Rio de Janeiro.
“The amount of lithium we need in any of our climate goals is incredible,” said Anna Shpitsberg, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for energy transformation. “Everyone is trying to build up their supply chains and think about how to be strategic.”
But Washington has little sway in Bolivia, whose leaders have long disagreed with the American approach to drug policy and Venezuela. That may explain why some energy executives do not think Bolivia is worth the risk.
“You’ve had 30 years’ worth of projects in Bolivia with almost nothing to show,” said Robert Mintak, chief executive of Standard Lithium, a publicly traded mining company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, referring to lithium development efforts dating back to 1990. “You have a landlocked country with no infrastructure, no work force, political risk, no intellectual property protection. So as a developer, I would choose someplace else that is safer.”
Mr. Egan sees the odds differently.
‘I Need to Be Involved’
That Mr. Egan has gotten this far is a marvel. He learned about Bolivian lithium only by chance when he and a friend crisscrossed South America as tourists in 2018.
When they got to the salt flats, a guide explained that they were standing on the world’s largest lithium reserve. “I thought, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this, but I need to be involved,’” Mr. Egan said.
He had tried his hand as a sports and music agent and ran a small investment fund at the time. He had invested in Tesla in 2013 at $9 a share; it now trades around $975. (He would not reveal how many shares he had bought and how many he still had.)
But he felt that he wasn’t achieving much. Before Mr. Egan traveled to South America, his father, Michael, the founder of Alamo Rent A Car, advised him to make two lists — of his five biggest passions and of the five industries he thought would grow fastest in the coming decades. Renewable energy was on both lists.
CARACAS, Venezuela — From within his presidential palace, President Nicolás Maduro regularly commandeers the airwaves, delivering speeches intended to project stability to his crumbling nation.
But as the Venezuelan state disintegrates under the weight of Mr. Maduro’s corrupt leadership and American sanctions, his government is losing control of segments of the country, even within his stronghold: the capital, Caracas.
Nowhere is his weakening grip on territory more evident than in Cota 905, a shantytown that clings to a steep mountainside overlooking the gilded halls from which Mr. Maduro addresses the nation.
policing, road maintenance, health care and public utilities, to pour dwindling resources into Caracas, home of the political, business and military elites who form his support base.
Hunkered down in his fortified Caracas residences, Mr. Maduro crushed the opposition, purged the security forces of dissent and enriched his cronies in an effort to eliminate challenges to his authoritarian rule.
In remote areas, swathes of national territory fell to criminals and insurgents. But gang control of Cota 905 and the surrounding shantytowns, which lie just two miles from the presidential palace, is evidence that his government is losing its grip even on the center of the capital.
Across the city, other armed groups have also asserted territorial control over working-class neighborhoods.
“Maduro is often seen as a traditional strongman controlling every aspect of Venezuelans’ lives,” said Rebecca Hanson, a sociologist at the University of Florida who studies violence in Venezuela. “In reality, the state has become very fragmented, very chaotic and in many areas very weak.”
As the government’s reach in Caracas’s shantytowns withered, organized crime grew, forcing Mr. Maduro’s officials to negotiate with the largest gangs to limit violence and maintain political control, according to interviews with a dozen residents, as well as police officers, officials and academics studying violence.
In the process, the most organized gangs began supplanting the state in their communities, taking over policing, social services and even the enforcement of pandemic measures.
Police officers say the gang that controls Cota 905 now has around 400 men armed with the proceeds from drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion, and that it exerts complete control over at least eight square miles in the heart of the capital.
Gang members with automatic weapons openly patrol the shantytown’s streets and those of the surrounding communities, and guard entry points from rooftop watchtowers. The first checkpoint appears just a few minutes’ drive from the headquarters of Mr. Maduro’s secret police.
As the Venezuelan economy went into a tailspin, the Cota gang began offering financial support to the community, supplanting Mr. Maduro’s bankrupt social programs, which once offered free food, housing and school supplies for the poor.
After monopolizing the local drug trade, the Cota 905 gang imposed strict rules on the residents in return for stopping the once endemic violence and petty crime. And many residents welcome its hard line on crime.
“Before, the thugs robbed,” said Mr. Ojeda, a Cota 905 resident who, like others in the community, asked that his full name not be published for fear of crossing the gangsters. “Now, they are the ones who come to you, without fail, with anything that goes missing.”
During his tenure, Mr. Maduro has veered from brutal suppression of organized crime groups to accommodation in an attempt to check rising crime.
In 2013, he withdrew security forces from about a dozen troubled spots, including Cota 905, naming them “Peace Zones,” as he tried to placate the gangs. Two years later, when the policy failed to check crime, he unleashed a wave of brutal police assaults on the shantytowns.
The police operations resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings, according to the United Nations, earning Mr. Maduro charges of committing crimes against humanity and the hatred of many shantytown residents. Faced with the onslaught, the gangs closed ranks, creating ever larger and more complex organizations, according to Ms. Hanson and her colleague, the researcher Verónica Zubillaga.
Unable to defeat the Cota gang, Mr. Maduro’s government returned to negotiations with its leaders, according to a police commander and two government officials who held talks with the gang and worked to put the agreements in place.
Security forces are once again banned from entering the community, according to the police commander, who is not authorized to discuss state policy and did so on condition of anonymity.
Under the deal with the government, the Cota gang has reduced kidnappings and murders, and began carrying out some state policies. During the pandemic, gang members strictly enforced lockdown rules and mask wearing, local residents said. And the gang is working with the government to distribute the scant remaining food and school supplies to the residents, residents and the two officials said.
“The gang is focused on the community,” said Antonio Garcia, a shantytown resident. “They make sure we get our bag of food.”
Mr. Ojeda said he received $300 from the gang the last Carnival season to buy toys and sweets for his family, a fortune in a country where the minimum monthly wage has collapsed to about $2. Residents said young people in the community are offered jobs as lookouts or safe house guards for between $50 and $100 a week, more than most doctors and engineers make in Venezuela.
Taking these jobs is easier than leaving them. Soon after the oldest son of Ms. Ramírez — who did not want to give her full name out of fear of the gang — began serving as a lookout in Cota 905, he discovered that his life now belonged to the gang.
“He had new clothes, new shoes, but he couldn’t stop crying,” Ms. Ramírez said. “He wanted to go back and couldn’t.”
Anti-government protests are banned in the shantytown, and gang members summon residents to the polling stations on elections, said the residents.
The members “tell us that if the government is toppled, we would be affected too, because the police would return,” said Ana Castro, a Cota resident. “The ‘Peace Zone’ would end, and we would all suffer.”
In private, some government officials defend the nonaggression pacts with the biggest gangs, saying the policy has drastically reduced violence.
Violent deaths in Caracas shantytowns have halved since the mid-2010s, when the Venezuelan capital was one of the world’s deadliest cities, according to figures from a local nonprofit, Mi Convive.
But academics and analysts studying crime in the city say the drop in homicides points to the growing power of Caracas’s gangs against an increasingly weak government. The imbalance, experts said, puts the government and the population in an increasingly dangerous and vulnerable position.
The power shift was evident in April, when the Cota gang shot up a police patrol car and took over a section of highway running through Caracas. The area was a five-minute drive from the presidential palace, and the blockade paralyzed the capital for several hours.
But the government stayed silent through it all. The security forces never came to retake the highway. Once the gang left, officers quietly cleared out the blasted patrol car.
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.
HOUSTON — The Venezuelan government released a group of American refinery executives from prison to house arrest in Caracas on Friday, in a possible sign that President Nicolás Maduro would like to improve relations with the Biden administration.
The six executives of Houston-based Citgo Petroleum, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company, have been held on corruption charges since 2017, after they were ordered to attend a budget meeting in Venezuela. When they arrived, they were arrested.
The group — known as the “Citgo 6” — was previously allowed to return to private homes from prison only to be sent back to prison.
Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, who has been attempting to negotiate the release of the six — five of whom are naturalized American citizens and the other an American resident — said he viewed the transfer as a sign of progress.
negotiating pawns as the relationship between the United States and Venezuela has worsened in recent years.
When the executives were last released from prison two years ago, they were quickly returned to prison after then-President Donald J. Trump invited Juan Guaidó, a top opposition leader, to the White House.
Mr. Guaidó is formally recognized as the president of Venezuela by the United States and other Western countries, but the likelihood that he will ever take control of the government appears dim. Mr. Maduro has held on to power with a tight grip and aid from Cuba, Russia and China.
Citgo operates three major refineries, a major pipeline network and scores of gasoline stations around the United States. It is currently blocked from doing business with Venezuela under U.S. sanctions.
If the world doesn’t stop the region’s surging caseload, it could cost us all that we’ve done to fight the pandemic, said one health official.
By Julie Turkewitz and Mitra Taj
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — In the capital of Colombia, Bogotá, the mayor is warning residents to brace for “the worst two weeks of our lives.”
Uruguay, once lauded as a model for keeping the coronavirus under control, now has one of the highest death rates in the world, while the grim daily tallies of the dead have hit records in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Peru in recent days.
Even Venezuela, where the authoritarian government is notorious for hiding health statistics and any suggestion of disarray, says that coronavirus deaths are up 86 percent since January.
As vaccinations mount in some of the world’s wealthiest countries and people cautiously envision life after the pandemic, the crisis in Latin America — and in South America in particular — is taking an alarming turn for the worse, potentially threatening the progress made well beyond its borders.
abandoned on sidewalks and new burial grounds cut into thick forest. Yet even after a year of incalculable loss, it is still one of the most troubling global hot spots, with a recent surge in many countries that is even more deadly than before.
longest schools closures and largest economic contractions in the world.
Inequality, a longstanding scourge that had been easing before the pandemic, is widening once again, and millions have been tossed back into the precarious positions they thought they had escaped during a relative boom. Many are venting their anger in the streets, defying official pleas to stay home.
“They’ve taken so much from us that we’ve even lost our fear,” read a sign held by Brissa Rodríguez, 14, at a protest with thousands of others in Bogotá on Wednesday.
recent essay. “I want to think that the worst is over. But that turns out, I believe, to be counter-evident.”
devastated by the virus in mid-2020. But the second wave there was worse than the first.
While the data is far from conclusive, initial studies indicate that P.1 is more transmissible than the initial virus, and is associated with a higher death rate among younger patients and patients without pre-existing conditions. It can also reinfect people who have already had Covid, though it’s unclear how often that occurs.
37 countries, but appears to have spread most thoroughly through South America, said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University.
Across the region, doctors say that the patients coming into hospitals are now far younger and far sicker than before. They’re also more likely to have had the virus already.
In Peru, the National Health Institute documented 782 cases of likely reinfection in the first three months of 2021 alone, a surge from last year. Dr. Lely Solari, an infectious disease doctor with the institute, called this “a very significant underestimate.”
Official daily death tolls have exceeded previous records in recent days in most of South America’s biggest countries. Yet scientists say that the worst is yet to come.
Our World in Data, a project at the University of Oxford. Several of its neighbors have achieved half that, or less.
the first in the world to record more than 100 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.
The actual death toll is far higher, because many of the dead have not been included in the official count of coronavirus patients.
government study in the capital, Lima, found that 40 percent of residents had coronavirus antibodies. Officials said the population had reached such a high level of immunity that a second wave might not be so bad. The government opted not to impose a lockdown during Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
jumped the line to get vaccinated first. More recently, multiple government agencies have begun investigating whether some health workers have asked for bribes in exchange for access to scarce hospital beds.
“It was that or let her die,” said Dessiré Nalvarte, 29, a lawyer who said she helped pay about $265 to a man who claimed to be the head of the intensive care unit at a hospital in order to get treatment for a family friend who had become sick.
The crisis has plunged nations like Peru into grief, ripping at the social fabric. This month, thousands of poor and newly poor Peruvians began to occupy empty swaths of land in southern Lima, with many saying that they were doing so because they had lost their livelihoods amid the pandemic.
Rafael Córdova, 50, a father of three, sat on a square drawn in the sand that marked his claim to land overlooking the Pan-American Highway and the Pacific Coast.
Before the pandemic, he explained, he was supervisor in the human resources department of a local municipality, and had a grip — or so he thought — on stability.
Then, in May, he became sick with Covid and was fired. He believes his bosses let him go because they feared that he would sicken others, or that his family would blame them if he died.
He now struggles to pay for minutes on the one family phone so that his children can do class work. Meals are small. Debts are mounting. “Today I went to the market and bought a bag of fish bones and made soup,” he said.
He says he has lost an aunt, a sister-in-law and a cousin to Covid, as well as friends. In June, his wife, who had also had Covid, gave birth to twins prematurely. One daughter died days after birth, he said, and the second died about a month later. He had no money for a proper burial.
“I left the hospital with my daughter in a black plastic bag and got in a taxi and went to the cemetery,” he said. “There was no Mass, no wake. No flowers. Nothing.”
When he heard about the occupation, he said he was three months behind on rent and feared eviction. So he made a run for the hill, pitching a tent that became his new home.
“The only way they’ll get us out of here,” he said, “is if we’re dead.”
A week later, the police arrived, set off tear gas — and booted him and thousands of others from their camp.
Reporting was contributed by Isayen Herrera in Caracas, Venezuela; Sofía Villamil in Bogotá, Colombia; and Daniel Politi in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
GUARERO, Venezuela — They bring drinking water to residents in the arid scrublands, teach farming workshops and offer medical checkups. They mediate land disputes, fine cattle rustlers, settle divorces, investigate crimes and punish thieves.
They’re not police officers, civil servants or members of the Venezuela government, which has all but disappeared from this impoverished part of the country.
Quite the opposite: They belong to one of Latin America’s most notorious rebel groups, considered terrorists by the United States and the European Union for carrying out bombings and kidnappings over decades of violence.
Venezuela’s economic collapse has so thoroughly gutted the country that insurgents have embedded themselves across large stretches of its territory, seizing upon the nation’s undoing to establish mini-states of their own.
brutal armed groups known as syndicates that dominate illegal mining manage the supply of electricity and fuel, while also providing medical equipment to clinics in the towns they control.
Along Venezuela’s 1,400-mile border with Colombia, the ELN and other insurgents hold sway. Just a decade ago, the town of Paraguaipoa in the Guajira peninsula had several banks, a post office and a court. All have since closed. The hospital is out of basic medicines. The power goes out for days on end. Water pipes have been dry for years.
proven oil reserves in the world.
“There’s nothing here, just slow death,” said Isabel Jusayu, a Wayuu weaver in the town of Guarero.
The tourists who bought her woven purses and hammocks have disappeared with the pandemic. Her family now survives by biking to Colombia to sell scavenged scrap metal every week. But Ms. Jusayu has been homebound because of a stray bullet that injured her during the recent gang war.
When violence broke out in Guarero in 2018, the police and soldiers largely stood by as criminals fought brutally over the smuggling routes, according to residents and local rights activists.
Gunmen terrorized neighborhoods just steps away from military barracks, spraying houses with bullets, they said. The shooting became so common in Guarero that pet parrots began imitating machine gun fire. Residents said their children were traumatized.
As the violence spiraled, entire Wayuu clans became targets. Magaly Baez said 10 of her relatives were killed and that her entire village, located along a major gasoline trafficking route, was demolished. Most residents fled to Colombia.
“We suffered hunger, humiliation,” said Ms. Baez, “listening all day to children crying: ‘Mami, when are we going to eat?’”
Residents spoke of massacres, forced curfews and mass graves that brought to their remote corner of Venezuela the kind of terror Colombia experienced during its decades-long civil war.
“As long as you stayed alive, you stayed silent,” said Ms. Baez.
Some people dared to report homicides, but it didn’t lead to charges, residents said. The crimes went unpunished — until the ELN stepped in to help last year, said Mr. Hernández, the Wayuu leader in Guarero. His account was corroborated by interviews with dozens of other Indigenous residents.
As the ELN took control, the fighting subsided last year, and refugees began trickling back. Street life resumed in previously deserted towns, and young men went back to ferrying fuel drums from Colombia on bicycles and motorbikes to resell in Venezuela.
In Guarero, when the heat cools at sunset, children once again gather at the soccer field where Junior Uriana, a 17-year-old, was shot dead in 2018.
His aunt, Zenaida Montiel, buried him in her backyard in a simple grave next to her son, José Miguel, who was murdered a week earlier. Ms. Montiel said she still didn’t know why they died. She was too scared to go to the police or ask for help, she said.
Now, things have changed, she said.
“A new law is here now,” she said. “I feel safer.”
Reporting was contributed by María Iguarán from Guarero; Isayen Herrera from Caracas, Venezuela; and Sheyla Urdaneta from Maracaibo, Venezuela.
In a coup for the venerable Paris Opera, founded in 1669 by Louis XIV, the company announced on Friday that the superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel would be its next music director.
The musical leader of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2009 and the rare classical artist to have crossed into pop-culture celebrity, Dudamel has led only a single production in Paris: “La Bohème,” in 2017. And while he has dipped his toe into the operatic repertory in Los Angeles, at the Metropolitan Opera and elsewhere, he has been largely known as a symphonic conductor.
But another big appointment will come as little surprise to those who have watched Dudamel rise steadily over the past 15 years. The new position is a milestone in the heady career of an artist who made his name as a wunderkind with orchestras in North and South America and who is now, at 40, taking the reins at one of Europe’s oldest opera companies. His tenure will start in August, for an initial term of six years, overlapping for much of that period with his position in Los Angeles, where his current contract runs through the 2025-26 season.
Dudamel — who was born in Venezuela in 1981 and trained there by El Sistema, the free government-subsidized program that teaches music to children, including in some of its poorest areas — occupies a unique position in music. He is sought by leading orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic. But he also appeared in a Super Bowl halftime show; was the classical icon Trollzart in the animated film “Trolls World Tour”; is conductor of the score for Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film version of “West Side Story”; and inspired a messy-haired main character in the Amazon series “Mozart in the Jungle.” In 2019 he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
started last fall — has expanded its audience in recent years, but still faces the pressure of roiling debates about racial representation and the relevance of expensive-to-produce classical art forms.
It is no longer the norm — especially outside German-speaking countries — for opera music directors to start as pianists and singer coaches and work their way up through the company ranks, as Philippe Jordan, 46, Dudamel’s predecessor in Paris, did. While Dudamel lacks that preparation, he is not unknown in major opera houses. He made his debut at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 2006, when he was in his mid-20s, and at the Berlin State Opera the following year. He first appeared at the Vienna State Opera in 2016, and at the Met in 2018, with Verdi’s “Otello”; on Wednesday he finished a run of “Otello” in Barcelona.
In Los Angeles, he has contributed to the Philharmonic’s robust educational outreach, especially the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, a program inspired by El Sistema that was founded in 2007. He also continues to hold the post of music director of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, but after he criticized the government there in 2017, the country canceled his planned international tour with that ensemble.While he has not been able to perform with the Simón Bolívar since then, he still works with the ensemble remotely and has sometimes met outside Venezuela with groups of its players.
Dudamel’s appointment comes two months after the release of a report on discrimination and diversity at the Paris Opera, focusing on changes to the repertory, school admissions process and racial and ethnic makeup of its in-house ballet company.
Around the world, opera companies, too, have been called on to make their staffs, artistic lineups and repertories more representative. Alongside Ching-Lien Wu, the Paris Opera’s newly appointed (and first female) chorus master, Dudamel’s hiring is part of an effort to change the face of the company’s executive ranks and how it thinks about diversity and equity.
The assault of a 13-year-old girl in Venezuela and the arrest of her mother and a teacher who helped her end the pregnancy have forced a national debate about legalizing abortion.
MÉRIDA, Venezuela — She wore a ponytail and a red T-shirt, the words “Glitter Girl” sketched across the front.
Gripping her mother’s hand, she spoke softly, describing how she had been forced out of school by Venezuela’s economic crisis, and then was raped at least six times by a neighborhood predator who threatened to harm her family if she spoke out. At just 13, she became pregnant.
With her mother, she sought out a doctor, who told her the pregnancy endangered her life, and then a former teacher, who provided pills that induced an abortion.
But ending a pregnancy is illegal in almost all circumstances in Venezuela. And now the girl was speaking up, she said, because her teacher, Vannesa Rosales, was in jail, facing more than a decade in prison for helping her end a pregnancy — while the accused rapist remained free.
local and international press earlier this year, has become a point of outrage for women’s rights activists, who say it demonstrates the way the country’s economic and humanitarian crisis has stripped away protections for young women and girls. (The Times is not identifying the girl because she is a minor.)
The country’s decline, presided over by President Nicolás Maduro and exacerbated by U.S. sanctions, has crippled schools, shuttered community programs, sent millions of parents abroad and eviscerated the justice system, leaving many vulnerable to violent actors who flourish amid impunity.
But the girl’s assault, and Ms. Rosales’s arrest, has also become a rallying cry for activists who say it is time for Venezuela to have a serious discussion about further legalizing abortion, an issue, they argue, that is now more important than ever.
at least open to a discussion on the issue.
The country’s penal code, which dates back to the 1800s, criminalizes abortion in nearly all cases, with punishments for pregnant women lasting six months to two years and one to nearly three years for abortion providers.
An exception allows doctors to perform abortions “to save the life” of a pregnant woman.
But to obtain a legal abortion, a girl or woman must first find a doctor who will diagnose her with a specific life-threatening condition, said Dr. Jairo Fuenmayor, president of the country’s gynecologic society, and then have her case reviewed before a hospital ethics board.
The process is “cumbersome,” he said, and there are “very few” women who go through it.
The 13-year-old girl may have been eligible for a rare legal abortion, but the process is so infrequently publicized, and there so few doctors who will grant one, that neither she nor her mother knew they could seek one out.
Some women believe that simply raising the issue with a doctor will land them in the hands of the police.
legalize abortion, elevating a discussion about the issue in a region that has long had some of the strictest abortion laws in the world.
“We can ride the wave of the triumph in Argentina,” said Gioconda Espina, a longtime Venezuelan women’s rights activist.
Legalization, however, is far from imminent.
Venezuela is a deeply Catholic country, and many on both sides of the political aisle reject the idea of ending a pregnancy, even amid a crisis.
“Abortion is something that people naturally or instinctively reject,” said Christine de Vollmer, a Venezuelan activist who opposes the procedure. Venezuela may be “chaotic,” she said, but, “I don’t think the idea will catch.”
Hugo Chávez, who began the country’s socialist-inspired revolution in 1999, never took a strong position on abortion, but often asked feminist activists — many of whom supported abortion rights and his cause — to put his larger political movement ahead of their own demands.
sometimes disappeared for months or years in the Venezuelan justice system, and she worried that her partner was about to do the same.
Ms. Rosales’s lawyer, Venus Faddoul, exited the courthouse. No hearing today, she said. And it would probably be weeks before a judge took up the case.
Ms. Escobar collapsed, consumed by anger and anxiety. Soon, she was shaking violently and struggling to breathe.
“We are powerless,” she cried.
internet outrage that Venezuela’s attorney general, Tarek Saab, took to Twitter to clarify that he had issued an arrest warrant for the accused rapist.
The authorities in Mérida soon released Ms. Rosales to await trial under house arrest.
Abortion rights activists last month met for hours with Mr. Rodríguez, the National Assembly president, where they proposed a change to the penal code, among other ideas.
The country’s influential association of Catholic bishops responded with a letter imploring the country to stick with the status quo.
Powerful international organizations, the association said, were trying to legalize abortion “by appealing to fake concepts of modernity, inventing ‘new human rights,’ and justifying policies that go against God’s designs.”
Ms. Rosales remains in legal limbo. Six months after her arrest, she has yet to have her first day in court. The accused person is still free.
“This goes beyond being a negligent state,” she said. “This is a state that is actively working against women.”
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Venezuela is waging its most concerted military campaign in years, targeting what it says is a criminal group operating within its border near Colombia but also sending an estimated 5,000 of its own civilians fleeing into the neighboring country.
The assault — which began with several days of airstrikes that security experts described as Venezuela’s largest use of firepower in decades — represents a significant departure from the largely hands-off approach it has long employed toward the illicit organizations that flourish along its border.
For years, officials in President Nicolás Maduro’s government have tolerated and sometimes even cooperated with these armed groups, many of them with roots in Colombia, as they moved drugs and other contraband between nations.
Now it has lashed out at one of them, though the reasons remain murky. Mr. Maduro has claimed in recent days that the attack reflects his government’s policy of “zero tolerance toward irregular Colombian armed groups.”
nine people whom the Venezuelan government considers to be guerrillas and two of its own personnel, the defense minister, Vladimir Padrino, said.
Several Colombian rebel groups have operated in Venezuelan territory in recent years, including dissident members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia who have refused to lay down their weapons following a 2016 peace deal.
The Venezuelan assault, centered around La Victoria, a town of about 10,000, has been aimed at a faction of FARC dissidents known as the Tenth Front, according to local residents, leading security experts to suggest they may have broken unwritten rules laid out by the Maduro government or its allies.
Fundaredes attributed to the FARC group.
the country’s attorney general, Tarek Saab, said. But the government has also sought to limit news coverage of the military campaign, according to Fundaredes.
On Wednesday in La Victoria, Venezuelan authorities detained two journalists with the Venezuelan channel NTN24 and two human rights activists with Fundaredes who had been trying to document the crisis. They were kept for a day before being released, according to family members and friends.
Tamara Taraciuk Broner, Americas deputy director at Human Rights Watch, called abuses documented by her organization as “a case study in the atrocities that the regime has been carrying out, and continues to carry out, with impunity.”
She continued: “This should be a wake up call for the International Criminal Court, which has the duty and the power to criminally investigate those who are ultimately responsible for the most heinous international crimes.”