As Germany heads into an election that will see Angela Merkel step down after 16 years as chancellor, she leaves behind a country profoundly changed — and anxious about changing more.
By Katrin Bennhold
Photographs by Lena Mucha
STUTTGART, Germany — The small silver star at the tip of Aleksandar Djordjevic’s Mercedes shines bright. He polishes it every week.
Mr. Djordjevic makes combustion engines for Daimler, one of Germany’s flagship carmakers. He has a salary of around 60,000 euros (about $70,000), eight weeks of vacationand a guarantee negotiated by the union that he cannot be fired until 2030. He owns a two-story house and that E-class 250 model Mercedes in his driveway.
All of that is why Mr. Djordjevic polishes the star on his car.
“The star is something stable and something strong: It stands for Made in Germany,” he said.
But by 2030 there will be no more combustion engines at Daimler — or people making combustion engines.
parental leave in Catholic Bavaria. The married gay couple raising two children outside Berlin. The woman in a hijab teaching math in a high school near Frankfurt, where most students have German passports but few have German parents.
successive crises and left others unattended, there was change that she led and change that she allowed.
phase out nuclear power in Germany. She ended compulsory military service. She was the first chancellor to assert that Islam “belongs” to Germany. When it came to breaking down her country’s and party’s conservative family values, she was more timid but ultimately did not stand in the way.
Konrad Adenauer anchored Germany in the West. Willy Brandt reached across the Iron Curtain. Helmut Kohl, her onetime mentor, became synonymous with German unity. Gerhard Schröder paved the way for the country’s economic success.
Ms. Merkel’s legacy is less tangible but equally transformative. She changed Germany into a modern society — and a country less defined by its history.
She may be remembered most for her decision to welcome over a million refugees in 2015-16 when most other Western nations rejected them. It was a brief redemptive moment for the country that had committed the Holocaust and turned her into an icon of liberal democracy.
“It was a sort of healing,” said Karin Marré-Harrak, the headmaster of a high school in the multicultural city of Offenbach. “In a way we’ve become a more normal country.”
lingering inequality between East and West three decades after reunification is still evident, even though taxpayers’ money has flowed east and things have gradually improved. With the government planning to phase out coal production by 2038, billions more in funding are promised to help compensate for the job losses.
But as Mike Balzke, a worker at the nearby coal plant in Jänschwalde, put it: “We don’t want money — we want a future.”
Mr. Balzke recalled his optimism when Ms. Merkel first became chancellor. Because she was an easterner and a scientist, he expected her to be an ambassador for the East — and for coal.
Instead, his village lost a quarter of its population during her chancellorship. A promised train line from Forst to Berlin was never built. The post office shut down.
Mr. Balzke, 41, worries that the region will turn into a wasteland.
That anxiety runs deep. And it deepened again with the arrival of refugees in 2015.
Two Fathers and Two Sons
was up in arms, but only a decade later, it has become the new normal.
Ms. Merkel never backed same-sex marriage outright, but she allowed lawmakers to vote for it, knowing that it would go through.
Mr. Winkler left the party again in 2019 after Ms. Merkel’s successor as conservative leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, disparaged same-sex marriage. But he acknowledged his debt to the chancellor.
On June 30, 2017, the day of the vote, he wrote her a letter.
“It is a pity that you could not support opening marriage to same-sex couples,” he wrote. “Still, thank you that you ultimately made today’s decision possible.”
Then he invited her to visit his family, “to see for yourself.”
She never replied. But he and his family used to live just around the corner from Ms. Merkel, who never gave up her apartment in central Berlin. They would see her occasionally in the supermarket checkout line.
“There she was with toilet paper in her basket, going shopping like everyone else,” Mr. Winkler’s partner, Roland Mittermayer, recalled. Even after 16 years, they are still trying to figure the chancellor out.
“She is an enigma,” Mr. Winkler said. “She’s a bit like the queen — someone who has been around for a long time, but you never feel you really know her.”
The Post-Merkel Generation
Six hours northwest of Berlin, past endless green fields dotted with wind farms and a 40-minute ferry ride off the North Sea coast, lies Pellworm, a sleepy island where the Backsen family has been farming since 1703.
Two years ago, they took Ms. Merkel’s government to court for abandoning its carbon-dioxide emission targets under the Paris climate accord. They lost, but then tried again, filing a complaint at the constitutional court.
This time they won.
“It’s about freedom,” said Sophie Backsen, 23, who would like to take over her father’s farm one day.
Sophie’s younger brothers, Hannes, 19, and Paul, 21, will vote for the first time on Sunday. Like 42 percent of first-time voters, they will vote for the Greens.
“If you look at how our generation votes, it’s the opposite of what you see in the polls,” Paul said. “The Greens would be running the country.”
Pellworm is flush with the sea level and in parts even below it. Without a dike ringing the coastline, it would flood regularly.
“When you have permanent rain for three weeks, the island fills up like a bath tub inside the dikes,” Hannes said.
The prospect of rising sea levels is an existential threat here. “This is one of the most important elections,” Hannes said. “It’s the last chance really to get it right.”
“If not even a country like Germany can manage this,” he added, “what chance do we stand?”
Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.
The Taliban cracked down on protests that erupted in at least four cities in Afghanistan on Thursday and rounded up opponents despite promises of amnesty, even as fearful workers stayed home and thousands of people continued a frenzied rush to leave the country.
Even as the Taliban moved to assert control, hundreds of protesters took to the streets for a second day to rally against their rule, this time marching in Kabul, the capital, as well as other cities. Again, the Taliban met them with force, using gunfire and beatings to disperse crowds. And again the actions of Taliban foot soldiers undermined the leadership’s suggestions that, having taken power, they would moderate the brutality they have long been known for.
The police officers who served the old government have melted away, and instead armed Taliban fighters are operating checkpoints and directing traffic, administering their notions of justice as they see fit, with little consistency from one to another.
according to witnesses and a security assessment prepared for the United Nations. Though the Taliban have said there would be no reprisals, there have been arrests, property seizures and scattered reports of reprisal killings.
city after city with remarkable speed once most U.S. forces had withdrawn, brushed aside the demoralized and disorganized Afghan security forces, and swept into Kabul on Sunday. Now they are learning that while conquest may have been swift, governing a vibrant, freethinking society is not so easy.
The anti-Taliban protests have been a remarkable display of defiance of a group that has a long history of controlling communities through fear and meeting dissent with lethal force. The protests also offered evidence that while tens of thousands are now seeking escape, some of those left behind would try — for now, at least — to have a voice in the country’s direction, despite the growing crackdown.
independence from Britain in 1919. It was not clear whether the victims had been shot or had died in a stampede.
There were even demonstrators waving the flag in Kandahar, the southern city that is considered the birthplace of the Taliban. In the southeastern city of Khost, the group imposed a curfew, a day after demonstrations and clashes there. The protests on Thursday in Kabul included one near the presidential palace, and another that drew about 200 people before the Taliban used force to break it up.
The events, led primarily by young men and women, were a wholly new experience for Taliban insurgents who have spent the last 20 years mostly in the mountains and rural districts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — the same name they used a generation ago.
The tricolor flag flown by the collapsed government, taken down by the Taliban and replaced by their own banner, has become a repeated flash point, with people in multiple cities beaten for displaying it. On Wednesday, the Taliban fired on demonstrators waving the flag in the eastern city of Jalalabad, with reports of two or three people killed.
she said on Twitter.
She added that after the Taliban spokesman’s first news briefing, held on Tuesday, when he insisted that the rights of the media and women would be respected, she had not expected much good to come.
“I had low expectations but now it has become clear that there is a gap between action and words,” Ms. Atakpal said.
Residents of Kabul were feeling their way under the new regime gingerly. The streets were quiet, largely empty of traffic, interrupted by occasional bursts of gunfire and the roar of American military planes patrolling and conducting the round-the-clock evacuation.
their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be.
What happens to the women of Afghanistan? The last time the Taliban were in power, they barred women and girls from taking most jobs or going to school. Afghan women have made many gains since the Taliban were toppled, but now they fear that ground may be lost. Taliban officials are trying to reassure women that things will be different, but there are signs that, at least in some areas, they have begun to reimpose the old order.
One woman complained that popular Turkish television serials were no longer airing, after cable companies closed down their services. The Taliban, which banned all television during their previous time in power, have since embraced media as a propaganda tool, and cable companies were already anticipating new rules on morally acceptable content in accordance with the militants’ strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Mr. Shesta said he was deleting photos from his cellphone of him meeting with the former president, Ashraf Ghani, and other government officials, many of whom have fled the country. Mr. Ghani left the capital on Sunday, and several of his senior officials traveled to Turkey on Monday.
At the Kabul airport, which is still controlled by U.S. troops, the Taliban are in charge outside its blast walls and used force and intimidation to control access, beating people back and firing their rifles.
Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, cited multiple reports that the Taliban had a list of people to question and punish, as well as their locations. Military and police personnel and people who worked for investigative units of the toppled government were particularly at risk, according to the document, which was dated Wednesday.
Already, the Taliban were going door to door and “arresting and/or threatening to kill or arrest family members of target individuals unless they surrender themselves to the Taliban,” said the document, which was seen by The New York Times.
It contained a reproduced letter dated Aug. 16 from the Taliban to an unnamed counterterrorism official in Afghanistan who had worked with U.S. and British officials and then gone into hiding.
The letter instructed the official to report to the Military and Intelligence Commission of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in Kabul. If not, it warned, the official’s family members “will be treated based on Shariah law.”
Victor J. Blue, Helene Cooper and Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting.
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.”
David Gross, an executive at a New York-based advertising agency, convened the troops over Zoom this month to deliver a message he and his fellow partners were eager to share: It was time to think about coming back to the office.
Mr. Gross, 40, wasn’t sure how employees, many in their 20s and early 30s, would take it. The initial response — dead silence — wasn’t encouraging. Then one young man signaled he had a question. “Is the policy mandatory?” he wanted to know.
Yes, it is mandatory, for three days a week, he was told.
Thus began a tricky conversation at Anchor Worldwide, Mr. Gross’s firm, that is being replicated this summer at businesses big and small across the country. While workers of all ages have become accustomed to dialing in and skipping the wearying commute, younger ones have grown especially attached to the new way of doing business.
And in many cases, the decision to return pits older managers who view working in the office as the natural order of things against younger employees who’ve come to see operating remotely as completely normal in the 16 months since the pandemic hit. Some new hires have never gone into their employers’ workplace at all.
banking and finance, are taking a harder line and insisting workers young and old return. The chief executives of Wall Street giants like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have signaled they expect employees to go back to their cubicles and offices in the months ahead.
Other companies, most notably those in technology and media, are being more flexible. As much as Mr. Gross wants people back at his ad agency, he is worried about retaining young talent at a time when churn is increasing, so he has been making clear there is room for accommodation.
“We’re in a really progressive industry, and some companies have gone fully remote,” he explained. “You have to frame it in terms of flexibility.”
In a recent survey by the Conference Board, 55 percent of millennials, defined as people born between 1981 and 1996, questioned the wisdom of returning to the office. Among members of Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, 45 percent had doubts about going back, while only 36 percent of baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, felt that way.
most concerned about their health and psychological well-being,” said Rebecca L. Ray, executive vice president for human capital at the Conference Board. “Companies would be well served to be as flexible as possible.”
Matthew Yeager, 33, quit his job as a web developer at an insurance company in May after it told him he needed to return to the office as vaccination rates in his city, Columbus, Ohio, were rising. He limited his job hunting to opportunities that offered fully remote work and, in June, started at a hiring and human resources company based in New York.
“It was tough because I really liked my job and the people I worked with, but I didn’t want to lose that flexibility of being able to work remotely,” Mr. Yeager said. “The office has all these distractions that are removed when you’re working from home.”
Mr. Yeager said he would also like the option to work remotely in any positions he considered in the future. “More companies should give the opportunity for people to work and be productive in the best way that they can,” he said.
Daily Business Briefing
Even as the age split has managers looking for ways to persuade younger hires to venture back, there are other divides. Many parents and other caregivers are concerned about leaving home when school plans are still up in the air, a consideration that has disproportionately affected women during the pandemic.
At the same time, more than a few older workers welcome the flexibility of working from home after years in a cubicle, even as some in their 20s yearn for the camaraderie of the office or the dynamism of an urban setting.
I get to exercise in the morning, have breakfast with my kids, and coach little league in the evenings. Instead of sitting in an office building I get to wear shorts, walk our dog, and have lunch in my own kitchen.” Chad, Evanston, Ill.
V.A. issues vaccine mandate for health care workers: “I am a VA physician and strongly support this decision. Believe it or not, I know and work closely alongside several frontline healthcare workers who are not vaccinated for COVID-19, almost all of whom have chosen to avoid the vaccine as a result of misinformation and political rhetoric.” Katie, Portland.
As China boomed, it didn’t take climate change into account. Now it must.:“I think this article really highlights the fact that capitalism is, and always will be, completely incapable of addressing long term existential threats like climate change.” Shawn, N.C.
“With the leverage that employees have, and the proof that they can work from home, it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube,” he said.
Fearful of losing one more junior employee in what has become a tight job market, Mr. Singer has allowed a young colleague to work from home one day a week with an understanding that they would revisit the issue in the future.
doctrinaire view that folks need to be in the office.”
Amanda Diaz, 28, feels relieved she doesn’t have to go back to the office, at least for now. She works for the health insurance company Humana in San Juan, P.R., but has been getting the job done in her home in Trujillo Alto, which is about a 40-minute drive from the office.
Humana offers its employees the option to work from the office or their home, and Ms. Diaz said she would continue to work remotely as long as she had the option.
“Think about all the time you spend getting ready and commuting to work,” she said. “Instead I’m using those two or so hours to prepare a healthy lunch, exercising or rest.”
Alexander Fleiss, 38, chief executive of the investment management firm Rebellion Research, said some employees had resisted going back into the office. He hopes peer pressure and the fear of missing out on a promotion for lack of face-to-face interactions entices people back.
“Those people might lose their jobs because of natural selection,” Mr. Fleiss said. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if workers began suing companies because they felt they had been laid off for refusing to go back to the office.
Mr. Fleiss also tries to persuade his staff members who are working on projects to come back by focusing on the benefits of face-to-face collaborations, but many employees would still rather stick to Zoom calls.
“If that’s what they want, that’s what they want,” he said. “You can’t force anyone to do anything these days. You can only urge.”
HONG KONG — With each passing day, the boundary between Hong Kong and the rest of China fades faster.
The Chinese Communist Party is remaking this city, permeating its once vibrant, irreverent character with ever more overt signs of its authoritarian will. The very texture of daily life is under assault as Beijing molds Hong Kong into something more familiar, more docile.
Residents now swarm police hotlines with reports about disloyal neighbors or colleagues. Teachers have been told to imbue students with patriotic fervor through 48-volume book sets called “My Home Is in China.” Public libraries have removed dozens of books from circulation, including one about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
when antigovernment protests erupted.
Now, armed with the expansive national security law it imposed on the city one year ago, Beijing is pushing to turn Hong Kong into another of its mainland megacities: economic engines where dissent is immediately smothered.
goose-step in the Chinese military fashion, replacing decades of British-style marching. City leaders regularly denounce “external elements” bent on undermining the country’s stability.
Senior officials in Hong Kong have assembled, right hands raised, to pledge fealty to the country, just as mainland bureaucrats are regularly called on to “biao tai,” Mandarin for “declaring your stance.”
also warn of termination or other vague consequences if violated. Mr. Li had heard some supervisors nagging his colleagues to fill out the form right away, he said, and employees competing to say how quickly they had complied.
“The rules that were to protect everyone — as employees and also as citizens — are being weakened,” Mr. Li said.
purge candidates it deemed disloyal, Beijing called the change “perfecting Hong Kong’s electoral system.” When Apple Daily, a major pro-democracy newspaper, was forced to close after the police arrested its top executives, the party said the publication had abused “so-called freedom of the press.” When dozens of opposition politicians organized an informal election primary, Chinese officials accused them of subversion and arrested them.
helped lead an operation that smuggled students and academics out of the mainland.
But Beijing is more sophisticated now than in 1989, Mr. Chan said. It had cowed Hong Kong even without sending in troops; that demanded respect.
end of an era.
The rush of mainland money has brought some new conditions.
declaring that those who do not go risk missing opportunities.
Growing up in Hong Kong, Toby Wong, 23, had never considered working on the mainland. Her mother came from the mainland decades earlier for work. Salaries there were considerably lower.
promising to subsidize nearly $1,300 of a $2,300 monthly wage — higher than that of many entry-level positions at home. A high-speed rail between the two cities meant she could return on weekends to see her mother, whom Ms. Wong must financially support.
Ms. Wong applied to two Chinese technology companies.
“This isn’t a political question,” she said. “It’s a practical question.”
many signals were missed.
Mapping Out China’s Post-Covid Path: Xi Jinping, China’s leader, is seeking to balance confidence and caution as his country strides ahead while other places continue to grapple with the pandemic.
A Challenge to U.S. Global Leadership: As President Biden predicts a struggle between democracies and their opponents, Beijing is eager to champion the other side.
‘Red Tourism’ Flourishes: New and improved attractions dedicated to the Communist Party’s history, or a sanitized version of it, are drawing crowds ahead of the party’s centennial.
The Hong Kong government has issued hundreds of pages of new curriculum guidelines designed to instill “affection for the Chinese people.” Geography classes must affirm China’s control over disputed areas of the South China Sea. Students as young as 6 will learn the offenses under the security law.
Lo Kit Ling, who teaches a high school civics course, is now careful to say only positive things about China in class. While she had always tried to offer multiple perspectives on any topic, she said, she worries that a critical view could be quoted out of context by a student or parent.
accused it of poisoning Hong Kong’s youth. The course had encouraged students to analyze China critically, teaching the country’s economic successes alongside topics such as the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Officials have ordered the subject replaced with a truncated version that emphasizes the positive.
“It’s not teaching,” Ms. Lo said. “It’s just like a kind of brainwashing.” She will teach an elective on hospitality studies instead.
Schoolchildren are not the only ones being asked to watch for dissent. In November, the Hong Kong police opened a hotline for reporting suspected violations of the security law. An official recently applauded residents for leaving more than 100,000 messages in six months. This week, the police arrested a 37-year-old man and accused him of sedition, after receiving reports that stickers pasted on the gate of an apartment unit potentially violated the security law.
most effective tools of social control on the mainland. It is designed to deter people like Johnny Yui Siu Lau, a radio host in Hong Kong, from being quite so free in his criticisms of China.
Mr. Lau said a producer recently told him that a listener had reported him to the broadcast authority.
“It will be a competition or a struggle, how the Hong Kong people can protect the freedom of speech,” Mr. Lau said.
censor films deemed a danger to national security. Some officials have demanded that artwork by dissidents like Ai Weiwei be barred from museums.
Still, Hong Kong is not yet just another mainland metropolis. Residents have proved fiercely unwilling to relinquish freedom, and some have rushed to preserve totems of a discrete Hong Kong identity.
font of hope and pride amid a resurgence in interest in Canto-pop.
Last summer, Herbert Chow, who owns Chickeeduck, a children’s clothing chain, installed a seven-foot figurine of a protester — a woman wearing a gas mask and thrusting a protest flag — and other protest art in his stores.
But Mr. Chow, 57, has come under pressure from his landlords, several of whom have refused to renew his leases. There were 13 Chickeeduck stores in Hong Kong last year; now there are five. He said he was uncertain how long his city could keep resisting Beijing’s inroads.
“Fear — it can make you stronger, because you don’t want to live under fear,” he said. Or “it can kill your desire to fight.”
SOACHA, Colombia — Already, two of Gloria Vásquez’s children had dropped out of school during the pandemic, including her 8-year-old, Ximena, who had fallen so far behind that she struggled with the most basic arithmetic.
“One plus one?” Ms. Vásquez quizzed her daughter one afternoon.
“Four?” the little girl guessed helplessly.
Now, Ms. Vásquez, a 33-year-old single mother and motel housekeeper who had never made it past the fifth grade, told herself she couldn’t let a third child leave school.
“Where’s Maicol?” she asked her children, calling home one night during another long shift scrubbing floors. “Is he studying?”
have returned to the classroom, 100 million children in Latin America are still in full or partial distance learning — or, as in Maicol’s case, some distant approximation of it.
The consequences are alarming, officials and education experts say: With economies in the region pummeled by the pandemic and connections to the classroom so badly frayed, children in primary and secondary school are dropping out in large numbers, sometimes to work wherever they can.
1.8 million children and young people abandoned their educations this school year because of the pandemic or economic hardship, according to the national statistics agency.
Ecuador lost an estimated 90,000 primary and secondary school students. Peru says it lost 170,000. And officials worry that the real losses are far higher because countless children, like Maicol, are technically still enrolled but struggling to hang on. More than five million children in Brazil have had no access to education during the pandemic, a level not seen in more than 20 years, Unicef says.
Increased access to education was one of the great accomplishments of the last half century in Latin America, with enrollment soaring for girls, poor students and members of ethnic and racial minorities, lifting many toward the middle class. Now, an onslaught of dropouts threatens to peel back years of hard-won progress, sharpening inequality and possibly shaping the region for decades to come.
some of the world’s worst outbreaks, yet several South American nations are now experiencing their highest daily death tolls of the crisis, even after more than a year of relentless loss. For some governments, there is little end in sight.
But unless lockdowns end and students get back into the classroom soon, “many children may never return,” the World Bank warns. And “those who do go back to school will have lost months or even years of education.” Some analysts fear the region could be facing a generation of lost children, not unlike places that suffer years of war.
Even before the pandemic, graduating from high school in Ms. Vásquez’s neighborhood was no small feat.
She and her children live at the end of a dirt road, just beyond Bogotá, Colombia’s sprawling, mountain-flanked capital, a deeply unequal city in one of the most unequal regions in the world. Violence and crime are as common here as the ice cream cart that circles the block each afternoon. For some children, the pandemic has been yet another trauma in a seemingly endless succession.
Many parents in the neighborhood make their living as recyclers, traversing the city with wooden wheelbarrows hitched to their backs. And many of their children don’t have computers, internet or family members who can help with class work. Often there is one cellphone for the family, leaving students scrambling for any connection to school.
Ms. Vásquez dropped out at 14 to help raise her siblings, and it has been her greatest regret. The motel she cleans is far from home, sometimes forcing her to leave her children for more than a day — 24 hours for her shift, with at least four hours of commuting. Even so, she rarely makes the country’s monthly minimum wage.
She had hoped her children — Ximena, 8, Emanuel, 12, Maicol, 13, and Karen, 15 — whom she calls “the motor of my life,” would leave the neighborhood, if only they could get through this never-ending pandemic with their schooling intact.
“I’ve always said that we have been dealt a difficult hand,” but “they have a lot of desire to learn,” she said.
Before the virus arrived, her children attended public schools nearby, wearing the colorful uniforms typical for Colombian pupils. Karen wanted to be a doctor. Maicol, a performer. Emanuel, a police officer. Ximena was still deciding.
By late May, the two boys were still officially enrolled in school, but barely keeping up, trying to fill out the work sheets their teachers sent via WhatsApp each week. They have no computer, and it costs Ms. Vásquez 15 cents a page to print the assignments, some of which are dozens of pages long. Sometimes, she has the money. Sometimes not.
Both girls had dropped out altogether. Ximena lost her spot at school just before the pandemic last year because she had missed classes, a not-so uncommon occurrence in Colombia’s overburdened schools. Then, with administrators working from home, Ms. Vásquez said she couldn’t figure out how to get her daughter back in.
Karen said she had lost contact with her instructors when the country went into lockdown in March 2020. Now, she wanted to return, but her family had accidentally broken a tablet lent to her by the school. She was terrified that if she tried to re-enroll, she would be hit with a fine her mother had no money to pay.
The family was already reeling because Ms. Vásquez’s hours at the motel had been cut during the crisis. Now they were four months behind on rent.
Ms. Vásquez was particularly worried about Maicol, who struggled to make sense of work sheets about periodic tables and literary devices, each day more frustrating than the last.
Lately, when he wasn’t recycling, he’d go looking for scrap metal to sell. To him, the nights out with his uncle were a welcome reprieve, like a pirate’s adventure: meeting new people, searching for treasure — toys, shoes, food, money.
But Ms. Vásquez, who had forbidden these jaunts, grew incensed when she heard he was working. The more time Maicol spent with the recycling cart, she feared, the smaller his world would become.
She respected the people who gathered trash for a living. She’d done it when she was pregnant with Emanuel. But she didn’t want Maicol to be satisfied with that life. During her shifts at the motel, cleaning bathrooms, she imagined her children in the future, sitting behind computers, running businesses.
“‘Look,’ people would say, ‘those are Gloria’s kids,’” she said. “They don’t have to bear the same destiny as their mother.”
Over the last year, school began in earnest only after she came home from work. One afternoon, she pulled out a study guide from Emanuel’s teacher, and began dictating a spelling and grammar exercise.
“Once upon a time,” she read.
“Once upon a time,” wrote Emanuel, 12.
“There was a white and gray duck —”
“Gray?” he asked.
When it came to Maicol’s more advanced lessons, Ms. Vásquez was often lost herself. She didn’t know how to use email, much less calculate the area of a square or teach her son about planetary rotations.
“I try to help them with what I understand,” she said. “It’s not enough.”
Lately, she’d become consumed by the question of how her children would catch up when — or if? — they ever returned to class.
The full educational toll of the pandemic will not be known until governments bring children back to school, experts warn. Ms. Di Gropello, of the World Bank, said she feared that many more children, especially poorer ones without computers or internet connections, would abandon their educations once they realize how far behind they’ve fallen.
By mid-June, Colombia’s education ministry announced that all schools would return to in-person courses after a July vacation. Though the country is enduring a record number of daily deaths from the virus, officials have determined that the cost of staying closed is too great.
But as school principals scramble to prepare for the return, some wonder how many students and teachers will show up. At Carlos Albán Holguín, one of the schools in Ms. Vásquez’s neighborhood, the principal said some instructors were so afraid of infection that they had refused to come to the school to pick up the completed assignments their pupils had dropped off.
One recent morning, Karen woke before dawn, as she often does, to help her mother get ready for her shift at the motel. Since leaving school last year, Karen had increasingly taken on the role of parent, cooking and cleaning for the family, and trying to protect her siblings while their mother was at work.
At one point, the responsibility got to be so much that Karen ran away. Her flight lasted just a few hours, until Ms. Vásquez found her.
“I told my mother that she had to support me more,” Karen said. “That she couldn’t leave me alone, that I was an adolescent and I needed her help.”
In their shared bedroom, while Ms. Vásquez applied makeup, Karen packed her mother’s blue backpack, slipping in pink Crocs, a fanny pack, headphones and a change of clothes.
Ms. Vásquez had gone out to march one day, too, blowing a plastic horn in the crowd and calling on the authorities to guarantee what she called a “dignified education.”
But she hadn’t returned to the streets. If something happened to her at the marches, who would support her children?
“Do you want me to braid your hair?” Karen asked her mother.
At the door, she kissed Ms. Vásquez goodbye.
Then, after months of hardship, came a victory.
Ms. Vásquez received messages from Maicol’s and Emanuel’s teachers: Both schools would bring students back, in person, in just a few weeks. And she finally found a spot for Ximena, who had been out of school entirely for more than a year.
“A new start,” Ms. Vásquez said, giddy with excitement.
Karen’s future was less certain. She had worked up the courage to return the broken tablet. Administrators did not fine her — and she applied to a new school.
Now, she was waiting to hear if there was space for her, trying to push away the worry that her education was over.
“I’ve been told that education is everything, and without education there is nothing,” she said. “And, well, it’s true — I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”
Reporting was contributed by Sofía Villamil in Bogotá and Soacha, Colombia; José María León Cabrera in Quito, Ecuador; Miriam Castillo in Mexico City; Mitra Taj in Lima, Peru; and Ana Ionova in Rio de Janeiro.
KISUMU, Kenya — Before Kenya’s president and other leaders arrived in late May to mark a major public holiday, health officials in Kisumu on Lake Victoria saw disaster brewing. Coronavirus infections were spiking, hospital isolation units were filling up and the highly contagious Delta variant had been found in Kenya for the first time — in Kisumu County.
Dr. Boaz Otieno Nyunya, the county executive for health and sanitation, said he and other health specialists argued and pleaded for the politicians to hold a virtual celebration and skip the mass, in-person events that can supercharge an outbreak. Just weeks earlier, huge political rallies had helped fuel the catastrophic Covid-19 wave in India, where the Delta variant first emerged and became dominant.
Their objections were waved away, the health officials said. President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, the former prime minister Raila Odinga and others descended on Kisumu, drawing large and mostly unmasked crowds who thronged the streets to watch their slow-moving motorcades through the city and gathered to hear them at marketplaces and parking lots.
turning away patients for lack of beds or oxygen, health officials say they fear a wave like the one that ripped through India in April and May could be looming over Kisumu.
“The India example is not lost to us,” Dr. Nyunya said.
Though data on infections and deaths is spotty, more than 23 percent of the people tested for the virus in Kisumu last week were positive — more than double the national rate. Kenya’s overall positivity rate is similar to that of the United States when the pandemic peaked there in January. But the Delta variant was still rare then, the American health system is far more robust than Kenya’s and the U.S. government was ramping up vaccination on a grand scale.
All of Africa is vulnerable, as the latest wave of the pandemic sweeps the continent, driven in part by more transmissible variants. Fewer than 1 percent of Africa’s people have been even partially vaccinated, by far the lowest rate for any continent.
“I think the greatest risk in Africa is to look at what happened in Italy earlier on and what happened in India and start thinking we are safe — to say it’s very far away from us and that we may not go the same way,” said Dr. Mark Nanyingi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Liverpool in Britain. He called the surge in western Kenya a “storm on the horizon.”
said. But experts say the true scale of the pandemic far exceeds reported figures in Africa, where testing and tracing remain a challenge for many countries, and many nations do not collect mortality data.
To forestall the ongoing crisis, Kenya’s Ministry of Health last week imposed a restriction on gatherings and extended a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Kisumu and more than a dozen surrounding counties. But the measures were too late for Dr. Nyunya, who said that thinking back on the deliberations —which involved the county governor Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, a former national health minister — over the celebrations last month, “It makes you feel impotent.”
record cases and deaths, President Yoweri Museveni has imposed a strict 42-day lockdown. Just weeks ago, Rwanda hosted the Basketball Africa League and other big sporting events, raising the possibility for a full reopening. But after a spike in cases, the government introduced new lockdown measures on Monday.
The Democratic Republic of Congo — where the virus has claimed the lives of more than 5 percent of lawmakers — is grappling with a third wave as it falters in rolling out vaccines. South Africa, the continent’s worst-hit nation, has reported new infections doubling in just two weeks’ time, with the sharpest increases in major urban centers. Tunisia, where hospitals are full and oxygen supplies are low, is enduring a fourth wave.
“New, higher transmitting variants create a precarious situation in many countries that have weak health systems,” said Dr. Ngozi Erondu, a senior health scholar at the O’Neill Institute at Georgetown University.
The W.H.O. attributes the surge in Africa to lack of vaccination, insufficient adherence to precautionary measures like mask wearing and social distancing and the Delta and other variants.
lament a lack of protective gear and health insurance.
“We are buying our own gloves and masks,” said Dr. Onyango Ndong’a, chairman of the local chapter of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union. “We are covering for government inadequacies. We are tired now. We are stretched.”
For now, families who have lost loved ones are adjusting to a new reality.
Edward Onditi, 33, lost both his brother and his mother to Covid-19 this month. He said he left Nairobi to come and assist his family after his brother, Herbert, whom he regarded as a best friend and mentor, fell ill.
For weeks, the family transported Herbert, 43, between three hospitals in two counties — a distance of 70 miles in total — so that he could get high-flow oxygen. On the day before Herbert died, Edward had fish, his brother’s favorite meal, delivered to his isolation ward and promised to take him on a holiday once he was out.
“I’m so touched,” his brother said in a text message sent on June 2.
Barely 12 hours later, he was gone.
A few days later, their mother, Naomi, who had been ailing, succumbed to complications from Covid-19, too.
“It’s one of the toughest moments of my life,” Mr. Onditi said on a recent afternoon, his eyes welling with tears. “Things are just not working. They are not adding up.”
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.”
After China said it would allow couples to have three children, the state news media trumpeted the move as a major change that would help stimulate growth. But across much of the country, the announcement was met with indignation.
Women worried that the move would only exacerbate discrimination from employers reluctant to pay maternity leave. Young people fumed that they were already hard-pressed to find jobs and take care of themselves, let alone a child (or three). Working-class parents said the financial burden of more children would be unbearable.
“I definitely will not have another child,” said Hu Daifang, a former migrant worker in Sichuan Province. Mr. Hu, 35, said he was already struggling, especially after his mother fell ill and could no longer help care for his two children. “It feels like we are just surviving, not living.”
For many ordinary Chinese, the news about the policy change on Monday was only a reminder of a problem they’d long recognized: the drastic inadequacy of China’s social safety net and legal protections that would enable them to have more children.
Pregnancy discrimination is widespread in China, with women reporting being fired or demoted after telling their bosses they were expecting a child. Some women have even reported being forced to sign contracts promising not to get pregnant within a certain period at new jobs.
“As a woman, you’re inherently at a disadvantage in the workplace,” Ms. Li said.
Ms. Li said she was sympathetic to her boss’s concerns. She did believe that as a manager, her absence would be inconvenient for the company. She acknowledged that she herself, when interviewing candidates, would sometimes wonder whether a new hire would soon leave to give birth.
as some other countries do, and mandate paternity leave, so women would not be singled out for being parents.
had already barred employers from asking women about their marital or childbearing status in 2019, and the problem was weak enforcement. The government has often encouraged women to retreat to more traditional gender roles, in an effort to increase the birthrate.
“Our government is very good at empty talk,” said Lu Pin, a Chinese feminist activist. “It’s meaningless to just look at a few things they said.”
Ms. Lu expected workplace discrimination against women to get worse. Employers might fear that women would want to have a third child — even if, she added, that was unlikely to be the case, given broader trends.
The lack of social support may discourage those who would otherwise want more children, but a more fundamental issue may be a lack of interest among younger, better educated women who have declared a preference for small families. Even if the government did offer more benefits, Ms. Li said, she would not want to have a third child.
“Two is pretty good,” she said. “There’s no point to having too many.”
China said on Monday that it would allow all married couples to have three children, ending a two-child policy that has failed to raise the country’s declining birthrates and avert a demographic crisis.
The announcement by the ruling Communist Party represents an acknowledgment that its limits on reproduction, the world’s toughest, have jeopardized the country’s future. The labor pool is shrinking and the population is graying, threatening the industrial strategy that China has used for decades to emerge from poverty to become an economic powerhouse.
But it is far from clear that relaxing the policy further will pay off. People in China have responded coolly to the party’s earlier move, in 2016, to allow couples to have two children. To them, such measures do little to assuage their anxiety over the rising cost of education and of supporting aging parents, made worse by the lack of day care and the pervasive culture of long work hours.
In a nod to those concerns, the party also indicated on Monday that it would improvematernity leave and workplace protections, pledging to make it easier for couples to have more children. But those protections are all but absent for single mothers in China, who despite the push for more children still lack access to benefits.
when the number of babies born dropped to the lowest since the Mao era. The country’s total fertility rate — an estimate of the number of children born over a woman’s lifetime — now stands at 1.3, well below the replacement rate of 2.1, raising the possibility of a shrinking population over time.
The announcement on Monday still splits the difference between individual reproductive rights and government limits over women’s bodies. Prominent voices within China have called on the party to scrap its restrictions on births altogether. But Beijing, under Xi Jinping, the party leader who has pushed for greater control in the daily lives of the country’s 1.4 billion people, has resisted.
“Opening it up to three children is far from enough,” said Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert with the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based research center. “It should be fully liberalized, and giving birth should be strongly encouraged.”
“This should be regarded as a crisis for the survival of the Chinese nation, even beyond the pandemic and other environmental issues,” Mr. Huang added. “There should never have been a birth restriction policy in the first place. So it’s not a question of whether this is too late.”
The party made the announcement after a meeting by the Politburo, a top decision-making body, though it was not immediately clear when the change would take effect. In an acknowledgment that raising the birth limits might not be enough, the party also pledged to beef up support for families, though it did not provide details.
tacitly allowing couples to have three children.
But more couples now embrace the concept that one child is enough, a cultural shift that has dragged down birthrates. And some say they are not interested in children at all, even after the latest announcement.
“No matter how many babies they open it up to, I’m not going to have any because children are too troublesome and expensive,” said Li Shan, a 26-year-old product manager at an internet company in Beijing. “I’m impatient and worried that I won’t be able to educate the child well.”
forcing women of Muslim ethnic minorities, like the Uyghurs, to have fewer babies in an effort to suppress their population growth.
A full reversal of the rules could also be seen as a repudiation of a deeply unpopular policy that the party has long defended.
“If a government makes a U-turn today in the West, it’s kind of embarrassing,” said Stuart Gietel-Basten, a professor of social science and public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “But in a country like China, where the same party has been in charge for 70 years or so, then it makes a statement on the policies that were implemented. And so that’s why I think any change that goes through will be quite gradual.”
For decades, China’s family-planning restrictions empowered the authorities to impose fines on most couples who had more than one child and compel hundreds of millions of Chinese women to undergo invasive procedures.
Gao Bin, a 27-year-old seller of lottery tickets in the eastern city of Qingdao, recalled how his motherhad to flee to three different places just to escape family-planning officials because she wanted to keep him. He said that his mother still cries when she recounts those days.
“To be honest, when I saw the announcement of this policy, I was pretty angry,” Mr. Gao said. “I think the government lacks a humane attitude when it comes to fertility.”