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Berenice Alanis: After three years on the run, Mexico’s ‘Black Widow’ is caught in Acapulco luxury hotel | International

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Berenice Alanís, suspected of the murder of her husband and two children, after her arrest in Acapulco, on July 20, 2022.
Berenice Alanís, suspected of the murder of her husband and two children, after her arrest in Acapulco, on July 20, 2022.RR. SS.

A woman accused of having her husband and two stepchildren killed over a US$19.5 million inheritance was arrested on July 20 after three years on the run. Berenice Alanís, nicknamed the Black Widow by the Mexican press, was arrested in a luxurious hotel in the popular Mexican resort of Acapulco. The Mexico City Attorney General has charged her with masterminding the murder of her husband, Jacobo Quesada, and his two sons, shot to death in a gym owned by the family on April 5, 2019.

“Our painstaking investigation has led to the arrest and prosecution of Berenice ‘N’ for the crime of intentional homicide by firearm, following the Mexico City Attorney General’s order issued on December 20, 2019,” said the Facebook post from the Attorney General for the state of Guerrero. After the arrest was announced, the authorities released a photo of a bewildered and handcuffed Alanís dressed in beach attire.

Alanís was initially arrested soon after the crime was committed in April 2019, but a judge released her due to irregularities in the case. According to local press reports, when Alanis was released, she absconded with a collection of luxury cars belonging to her wealthy husband. Authorities are investigating whether she sold those vehicles to finance her three-year run from justice.

Jacobo Quesada met Alanís in 2003 when he hired her to clean his house. A romantic relationship developed between the two and they later married. When Quesada accused Alanis of being unfaithful, he decided to cut her out of his will. Quesada owned numerous properties and businesses, and had amassed a fortune estimated at US$19.5 million. After being stripped of the inheritance, Alanis put the wheels in motion to have her husband killed.

On the night of April 5, 2019, Quesada and his children, Patricia and Jacobo Jr. were at a gym when Alanis arrived to work out. Quesada snapped a photo of her in gym clothes that he shared on social media. Moments later, an armed man came in and shot Quesada and his two children. The unidentified shooter has remained at large ever since.

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‘The Taliban no longer wanted to kill me. Now they wanted to marry me’ | Women’s rights and gender equality

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The day the Taliban entered my city last August, I started to receive renewed threats from Taliban commanders who wanted to punish me for my work as a news journalist. I was forced to leave my home that day, amid the loud explosions of an ongoing battle, hiding under a burqa, and praying to survive the journey.

What I did not know then was that this journey would continue for the next year.

Every few weeks, I moved from province to province, sometimes living in the heart of cities, other times hiding out in remote villages. In the first few days, I stayed at my uncle’s house in Sari Pul province, but once the local Taliban learned he was harbouring a fugitive, we had to leave in the middle of the night.

I went to Mazar-i-Sharif city in Balkh, and then took the road to Kabul, passing through Samangan, Baghlan and Parwan provinces. We were stopped at checkpoints in every province, and every time my heart would pound inside my chest. Luckily, I was under a chadari [the full Afghan burqa] and passed through checkpoints undetected.

In Kabul, the very air had shifted; there was fear and dread, alongside celebrations, as Taliban fighters from all over the country gathered in the capital. With the help of some friends, I was moved to a safe house, where I spent the next three months attempting to find ways to leave the country, but seldom even leaving the compound I was hiding in. The Taliban would launch random raids in the neighbourhood, looking for fugitives like me.

Somehow, our compound evaded suspicion, but when the number of raids increased, I knew I would have to leave Kabul soon.

In December 2021, I heard the news that my cousin had been killed by the Taliban. He was a policeman and often clashed with the Taliban during the years of conflict. Like me, he had been hiding for months, looking for a way to leave the country, but was caught and killed. I broke down, not just in grief over his loss, but also in incredible pain over what my life had turned into.

I decided to go back to my province, but did not go home because I didn’t want to risk my family’s lives. I hid at the home of another relative, but being so close to my family again made me homesick. I yearned for my mother’s embrace; I hadn’t seen her in months.

One day, I met my mother in a crowded marketplace. We hugged each other tight, and I cried, but she gave me strength. I knew I couldn’t give up now.

Over the next few months, I started weaving carpets to help support myself and my family. Since the Taliban takeover, we had not only lost income but my life in exile was costing my parents, who had already sacrificed so much to raise me and now had to support me. It was hard labour, and I developed rashes and sores on my hands, but it helped my family and took my mind off the threats I was still receiving.

Then the threats from the Taliban changed. They no longer wanted to kill me. They wanted me to marry one of their commanders. They reached out to my parents and community elders, pressuring them to give me away in marriage.

I couldn’t believe it was now happening to me. In the past, I covered stories of the Taliban imposing forced marriages on young girls. Now I was one of the women I had reported about last year.

When I refused, they sent me photos of AK-47s and pistols, threatening to kidnap me, and kill my parents. I blocked their numbers and deleted WhatsApp but they still found ways to send me threats. Eventually, I took out my sim card and broke it into pieces. I was terrified of what they would do to me, or worse, to my family.

So in July, with the help of friends, I made one more attempt to leave the country. First, with the help of my father, I moved to Mazar-i-Sharif, and then we took the road to Kabul again. I carried medical certificates, and every time we were stopped, we would say I was going to Kabul for treatment. I was nervous throughout the journey because the Taliban were more brutal than before.

Eventually we made it to Kabul, where I met with other women like myself. Together, under the pretext of seeking medical help, we were able to get on a flight leaving for a neighbouring country.

I am somewhat safer now, but not out of danger. I barely sleep because I fear for my family, who are still in Afghanistan. They are already being shamed because I ran away. A young unmarried daughter leaving by herself is considered very dishonourable in Afghan culture.

But I am fortunate in the support I have received from my parents, at great personal risk. They always prioritised my passion, my happiness, and now my security and future. Contrary to popular belief, many Afghan fathers would, like mine, rather face societal dishonour and threats than deny their daughters opportunities for a better future.

I appeal to our international allies to empower such Afghan families, particularly the women. We worked so hard to attain values of equality and freedom and have lost the most in the last year. But we are still resisting, and we are seeking allies to support us and amplify our voices.

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New Evidence Suggests Archaeologist Howard Carter Stole Tutankhamun’s Treasure

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery by Carter and his team of the tomb of the boy king, which was filled with thrones, chariots and lots of other objects Egyptians believed were needed in the next world.

Archaeologist Howard Carter, who discovered Tutankhamn’s tomb in 1922, stole some of the treasures found in the 3,300-year-old burial place, a previously unpublished letter sent to the archaeologist by a scholar from his team shows.

According to Bob Brier, a leading Egyptologist at Long Island University, rumors have long been circulating about Carter stealing treasures. “But now there’s no doubt about it,” Brier reportedly said.

Correspondence between Carter and members of his excavation team remains in a private collection but it will be published by Oxford University Press in Brier’s forthcoming book, ‘Tutankhamun and the Tomb that Changed the World’.

Carter gave British philologist Sir Alan Gardiner, who was enlisted by the archaeologist to translate hieroglyphs found in the tomb, a “whm amulet”, used for offerings to the dead, telling him that the amulet had not come from the tomb. Later, Gardiner showed the amulet to Rex Engelbach, who was the British director of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo at the time, and was told that it had actually come from the Tutankhamun’s tomb because it matched other examples which all had been made from the same mould.

In 1934, Gardiner wrote to Carter: “The whm amulet you showed me has been undoubtedly stolen from the tomb of Tutankhamun…I deeply regret having been placed in so awkward a position…I naturally did not tell Engelbach that I obtained the amulet from you.”

In 1922, Carter and his financial donor, Lord Carnarvon, discovered the tomb of the boy king, filled with thousands of objects, including thrones and chariots, that were believed to be needed in the next world. Within the next decade, Carter supervised the removal of those objects and their transportation down the Nile to Cairo where they were put on display in the Egyptian Museum.



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How Easter Island has changed since pandemic | International

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As the first commercial plane descended on Chile’s Easter Island on August 4, after 872 days of closure due to the pandemic, the passengers crowded the windows to photograph it as if they were facing some rare species in the middle of a safari. It was understandable: in addition to the uniqueness of being one of the most isolated inhabited corners of the planet, as well as its enigmatic sculptures carved in volcanic stone, for two and a half years the pandemic had completely cut off tourism to the island, its economic mainstay. Its inhabitants were isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was a bubble of 7,000 people that was only punctured at the beginning of this month. And on that island, which is also known as Rapa Nui (the navel of the world), the first visitors discovered that something had changed.

After the island closed, the tourists disappeared and, with them, the source of income for 75% of the population. Practically nobody cultivated the land anymore, and there was a significant shortage of products. “Tourism had us dazzled. People thought: tourism brings money, and money buys eggs. What do I want chickens for?” explains Julio Hotus, general secretary of the Council of Elders.

Uko Tongariki Tuki, Director of Tourism for Easter Island (Chile).
Uko Tongariki Tuki, Director of Tourism for Easter Island (Chile).sofia yanjari

The people turned to the sea for food. A deep blue sea in which you can easily see 30 meters away. Divers claim that once you submerge into the waters of Easter Island, the rest of the world seems black and white. People also began to grow their own food. Today, there are 1,200 urban gardens thanks to the help of the municipality. “We reconnected with each other. Went back to family events. To cooking curanto [a dish with spiritual dimensions], to fish, to dive, to walk around the island. We went back to the places that had been occupied by tourists,” says Uko Tongariki Tuki, the municipality’s tourism chief.

Two weekly flights

In August, LATAM airlines resumed the route with two weekly flights. The plan is to gradually add more. Before the pandemic, there were 10, plus the charter flights and cruise ships. Easter Island, with a surface of 164 square kilometers, used to receive 156,000 yearly visitors, which translated into $120 million for its economy.

Tourism has also been a launch pad for the newer generations. Thanks to this solid source of income, many young people have been able to study in universities on the mainland and travel. “In order to achieve a balance, we are working with the different players in the industry. In these meetings we ask ourselves if 14 weekly flights are necessary, or if opening a new hotel is responsible,” explains Uko.

Mayor Pedro Edmunds is aware that the new phase must be based on sustainability – the optimization of water and energy, but also of human resources. “We were wrong, we were going in the wrong direction and the pandemic made us realize that,” he says. “We came to the conclusion that tourism had blinded us. We were being a bit hypocritical by telling what the island was about without actually living it ourselves.”

Anakena beach, visited by tourists again.
Anakena beach, visited by tourists again.Sofia Yanjari

A “tourist” identity

For Hotus, a Rapa Nui councilor, the island is divided into two types of people: those from a more popular neighborhood, who are more rooted in traditions, and those who have more contact with the outsiders and the tourist business community. “Tourism is shaping the identity of the Rapanui people. Tourism tells us how we should function. We are not a tourist proposal; we are an answer,” he says.

The problems that the people of Easter Island face, such as violence and the consumption of alcohol or drugs – points out psychologist Domingo Izquierdo – have a lot to do with an identity crisis, a loss of roots. “These are the consequences of a process that has ended up building a tourist identity above its ancestral essence,” says Izquierdo.

Residents of Easter Island await the arrival of new tourists at the airport.
Residents of Easter Island await the arrival of new tourists at the airport.sofia yanjari

Tourism has been a springboard for new generations. Thanks to this solid source of income, many young people have been able to educate themselves in universities on the mainland and travel. “To achieve balance, we are working with the different players in the industry. In these meetings, we ask ourselves if 14 flights a week are necessary or if it is responsible to open a new hotel”, describes Uko. The mayor is clear that the new stage must be based on sustainability. The optimization of water and energy, but also of human resources.

During the pandemic, nearly 2,000 inhabitants left the island, most of the conti, as the islanders refer to Chileans living on the mainland. “Before we looked for solutions to our problems abroad, now we want to train and specialize our people,” adds Edmunds.

The “tourist” identity

For Hotus, a Rapa Nui councilor, the island is divided into two types of people: those from a more popular neighborhood, who are more rooted in traditions, and those who have more contact with outsiders and the tourist business community. “It is so much that tourism is shaping the identity of the Rapanui people. Tourism tells us how we should function. We are not a tourist proposal, we are an answer,” he says over a fresh tuna lunch at the Topa Ra’a seaside restaurant, where waiters are eager to serve visitors again.

The problems faced by the people of Easter Island, such as violence and the consumption of alcohol or drugs, “have a lot to do with an identity crisis, a loss of roots,” says psychologist Domingo Izquierdo. “These are consequences of a process that has ended up building a tourist identity, above its ancestral essence,” says Izquierdo, who cares for patients through a municipal program in a house open to the people, where therapies can be developed under an avocado or with your feet in the sand.

Julio Hotus, secretary general of the Easter Island Council of Elders.
Julio Hotus, secretary general of the Easter Island Council of Elders.sofia yanjari

One of the great causes of the Council of Elders, which watches over the rights of the Rapanui people before the Chilean state, is the preservation of their language, which is of Polynesian origin. Nowadays, fewer and fewer young people learn it. In their own homes, they prioritize Spanish or English, because it is “more useful.” Only 10% of those under the age of 18 speak Rapanui, according to UNESCO.

Polynesian dances are one of the most sought-after tourist attractions. The energetic traditional dances can rekindle the spirit of the most exhausted traveler at the end of the day. Men and women, with painted and feathered bodies, move in such a way that it would seem that they have the drums inside their hips and a ukulele in their knees and wrists.

Maima Rapu is a teacher at the Kari Kari cultural ballet, the oldest on the island and the only academy that continued to teach during the pandemic. Earlier this month, the Kari Kari ballet was finally able to perform again in front of an audience. Among the spectators were some of the 258 people who arrived on the first commercial flight. Some of them were relatives of the islanders, parents who had not seen their children in more than a year and foreigners who had their ticket since 2020.

The Rapanui, eager to see new faces and to reactivate their economy after one of the longest quarantines in the world, have reopened their doors with the intention of changing their relationship with tourism. And those who know this 100% indigenous territory in depth, assure that nothing can be done against the intentions of the island.

Maima Rapu, a teacher at the Kari Kari cultural dance academy on Easter Island.
Maima Rapu, a teacher at the Kari Kari cultural dance academy on Easter Island.sofia yanjari

Maima Rapu, 42, is a teacher at the Kari Kari cultural ballet, the oldest on the island and the only academy that continued to teach during the pandemic. “For us, dance and percussion are a means to interest young people in picking up their language, which we also teach them, because you can’t really dance if you don’t understand what is being sung,” she explains.

Last Friday, the Kari Kari ballet was finally able to perform again in front of the public. Among the spectators were some of the 258 people who arrived on the first commercial flight. Among the passengers were relatives of the islanders, parents who had not seen their children in more than a year and foreigners who had the ticket since 2020. All were greeted with cheers and applause from a group that approached the Mataveri international airport, and with cheerful flower leis delivered by the reception team.

The Rapanui, eager to see new faces and revive their economy after one of the longest quarantines in the world, have reopened their doors with the intention of changing their relationship with tourism. And, those who know this indigenous community, say there is nothing that the island always achieves its goals.

The Moai of Tongariki, on August 5, after the reopening of the island.
The Moai of Tongariki, on August 5, after the reopening of the island.sofia yanjari

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