Monday, October 25, 2010

Buenos Aires slum for LeMonde

Photos of Buenos Aires slum for a feature written by Nicolas Bourcier of Le Monde about Catholic priest, Father Hector Marquez, 35, who despite being stabbed last year by one of the slum's residents, is working to unite the residents of Buenos Aires through community councils and projects aimed toward making the slum a safer place to live.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Political Flavor Infuses Venezuela’s New Cafes

The menu at a Café Venezuela in Caracas. Each entry shows two prices, the “market price” and the cafe’s lower “fair price.”

Published: September 25, 2010
CARACAS, Venezuela — On the eve of parliamentary elections on Sunday, a litmus test of President Hugo Chávez’s 12-year rule, one way to gauge the sentiment within his political movement is to wander through the streets of this city’s old center before slipping into a new state-owned cafe.

Along the way, peddlers sell copies of Correo del Orinoco, the new state newspaper. Soldiers in red berets patrol streets once overrun by informal vendors. Murals defiantly declare Caracas an “insurgent city.”

Tucked into a corner on Plaza Bolívar is Café Venezuela, part of a chain of open-air restaurants established by the government this year. The cafe serves Venezuela-grown coffee and Venezuelan snacks like cassava bread at so-called solidarity prices, half or less than what customers would pay elsewhere.

Ideology is also on the menu. The cafes were created by Comerso, a state holding company for socialist enterprises, which also manages stores that sell everything from subsidized arepas, the crispy corn cakes that are the staple of the Venezuelan diet, to inexpensive Chinese cars. The branch in Plaza Bolívar replaced a clothing store that once occupied the same spot and was expropriated live on television by Mr. Chávez.

The planners behind the cafes have multiple objectives: to provide food and conviviality at democratic prices, to serve as commercial linchpins to renew some of the city’s most run-down districts and, not incidentally, to remind satisfied patrons of the government’s populist program in an election year.

Judging by the long lines that snake from the counter onto the sidewalk on most days, they are a hit. CONTINUE READING

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hugo Chávez's hold on Venezuelan assembly in the balance

By Rory Carroll in Caracas
The Guardian, Thursday 23 September 2010

It looked like a 1950s TV commercial: an avuncular man in a shiny kitchen explaining to a housewife the wonders of a new fridge. "Feel the lines on it. Nice, eh? And wait till I tell you about the discount."

The price was not just a bargain, it was a socialist bargain, for this was a live broadcast from Venezuela's presidential palace, Miraflores, and Hugo Chávez was selling more than just a fridge. The kitchen was a set to launch a new social campaign, "My well-equipped house", on the eve of an election that could shape the fate of Chávez's socialist revolution.

The president is not on the ballot but on Sunday voters will decide whether to maintain or loosen his grip over the national assembly, a constitutionally powerful body that has been dominated by "chavistas" since 2005. Polls suggest a close fight with a resurgent opposition that boycotted elections last time round.

"Both sides are evenly balanced," said Luis Vicente Leon, director of polling firm Datanalisis. "The country is divided into two practically equal parts." Recent polls have given a slight edge to Chávez's PSUV party.

After 12 years in power, the leftist leader remains popular with many of the poor, but his government is facing bad news: recession, high inflation, creaking public services, a scandal over rotting food, and horrific crime rates that have made Caracas a murder capital.

Analysts say the election will hinge on the government's formidable "red machine" overcoming voter discontent and mobilising its base through the use of oil revenues, control of state institutions and Chávez's charisma. CONTINUE READING

Multimedia piece: Hugo Chávez Woos Discontented Voters

Friday, October 1, 2010

Left Behind in Venezuela to Piece Lives Together

Published: September 18, 2010

CIUDAD GUAYANA, Venezuela — The first scavengers one sees in Cambalache, a sprawling trash dump on this city’s edge, are the vultures. Hundreds drift through the veil of smoke that rises from the refuse each day at dawn.
The carrion birds vie with children and their parents for scraps of meat discarded by Ciudad Guayana’s more fortunate residents. Those toiling under the vultures’ wake mutter to one another in Warao, an indigenous language spoken in the nearby delta where the Orinoco, one of the world’s mightiest rivers, meets the Atlantic.
“I’m hungry, and my children are hungry,” said Raisa Beria, 25, a Warao who came here to scavenge for clothes and food. CONTINUE READING

NY Times slideshow: Stitching a Life From the Scraps of Others
Full Edit on Plight of the Warao

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reclaiming the Red

A few outtakes from a fashion piece for FOLHA SÃO PAULO on Venezuelan women who make a political statement by refusing to wear the color red, the color associated with President Hugo Chavez's Socialist Revolution.
published September 13, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

santa marta, colombia

On the Colombian Coast, Natural Beauty, Gritty Charm
Published: September 15, 2010

IT’S not called the Parque de Los Novios — Park of the Newlyweds — for nothing. Young couples lock arms as they stroll past rows of freshly planted flowers. A Sinatra love ballad sung in Spanish echoes from a corner dive bar. Aside from a few mustachioed, sombrero-clad men playing a board game, it seemed as if everyone on this breezy August evening was on a romantic sabbatical.

Yet this square in the center of Santa Marta, a port city along the Caribbean coast of Colombia, was not always a streetlamp-lighted refuge of romance. Just a few years back, the park was a tumbledown area trafficked mostly by prostitutes and petty criminals.

Wedged between the sea and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta peaks, the city may be Colombia’s oldest, but it has always been seen as the grittier and more industrial counterpart to nearby Cartagena — at best, a stopover point for visitors looking to trek through Tayrona National Park or hike to the Lost City, a well-known archaeological site nearby.

“Until five years ago nobody would come here because of the guerrillas,” said Michael McMurdo, a New York City-trained chef who recently opened a Mexican restaurant, Agave Azul, in Santa Marta. “While there is still some sketchy stuff going on, I like it here because it still feels real and Colombian.” CONTINUE READING

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

narco ballads

Ballads Born of Conflict Still Thrive in Colombia
Published: September 4, 2010

“Uriel Henao needs to travel with certain standards,” said the 41-year-old balladeer, referring to himself in the third person, as is his custom. “The people in these parts expect it,” he explained after a convoy of honking pickup trucks and motorcycles led by the town’s fire truck marked his arrival for a concert here in August.

The rock-star welcome for Mr. Henao, who cloaks a gourmand’s paunch under a white leather jacket, was common enough. Colombians call him the king of the corridos prohibidos, or prohibited ballads, a musical genre that describes the exploits of guerrilla commanders, paramilitary warlords, lowly coca growers and cocaine kingpins.

Given the graphic depiction of the drug trade, some established radio stations in Colombia keep the songs off their playlists, sometimes fearful of violent reprisals that might result from glorifying one side or another in the country’s four-decade war. CONTINUE READING

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Leading Again, Peru President Still Unpopular

Published: August 27, 2010

PRESIDENT ALAN GARCÍA is certainly used to being unpopular.

During his first term as president about 20 years ago, when Peru was suffering from terrorist attacks by a Maoist insurgency, he was widely blamed for the hyperinflation that crippled the nation’s economy.

Now in what might be considered his comeback term, a chance to rehabilitate his place in history, the insurgency is a shadow of its former self, the economy is booming — and he is still battling low approval ratings and heated criticism from his constituents.

So perhaps it is not surprising that Mr. García has learned to respond to Bronx cheers with panache.

“We’re sort of still the kind of country that expects the son of the sun, the Inca, to do acts of magic,” he said in a interview this month. “I have tried it, but it is difficult, almost impossible.”

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Venezuela, More Deadly Than Iraq, Wonders Why

Published: August 22, 2010

CARACAS, Venezuela — Some here joke that they might be safer if they lived in Baghdad. The numbers bear them out.

In Iraq, a country with about the same population as Venezuela, there were 4,644 civilian deaths from violence in 2009, according to Iraq Body Count; in Venezuela that year, the number of murders climbed above 16,000.

Even Mexico’s infamous drug war has claimed fewer lives.

Venezuelans have absorbed such grim statistics for years. Those with means have hidden their homes behind walls and hired foreign security experts to advise them on how to avoid kidnappings and killings. And rich and poor alike have resigned themselves to living with a murder rate that the opposition says remains low on the list of the government’s priorities. CONTINUE READING

NYT Photo Slideshow: Venezuela’s Climate of Crime

Personal Project documenting Crime in Venezuela: Rojo Rojito

Friday, August 20, 2010

Rapaz, Peru

High in the Andes, Keeping an Incan Mystery Alive
By Simon Romero

SAN CRISTÓBAL DE RAPAZ, Peru — The route to this village 13,000 feet above sea level runs from the desert coast up hairpin bends, delivering the mix of exhilaration and terror that Andean roads often provide. Condors soar above mist-shrouded crags. Quechua-speaking herders squint at strangers who arrive gasping in the thin air. CONTINUE READING

multimedia piece: Mysteries Woven Into Peru's Past

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sunday, August 15, 2010

preserving papiamentu

A Language Thrives in Its Caribbean Home
By Simon Romero

WILLEMSTAD, Curaçao — Thousands of languages spoken by small numbers of people, including many of the Creole languages born in the last centuries of human history, are facing extinction. But a little-known language spoken on a handful of islands near the coast of Venezuela may be an exception.

Papiamentu, a Creole language influenced over the centuries by African slaves, Sephardic merchants and Dutch colonists, is now spoken by only about 250,000 people on the islands of Curaçao, Bonaire and Aruba. But compared with many of the world’s other Creoles, the hybrid languages that emerge in colonial settings, it shows rare signs of vibrancy and official acceptance. CONTINUE READING

NYT multimedia slideshow:
Preserving Papiamentu

world cup in the netherlands antilles

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Venezuela’s Military Ties With Cuba Stir Concerns

By Simon Romero

CARACAS, Venezuela — The ties between President Hugo Chávez and Cuba’s Communist leaders are plain enough: Cuba has thousands of doctors here, not to mention a smaller number of advisers who help on a breadth of issues, like agricultural engineering and even training Olympic athletes.
But the quiet expansion of Cuba’s military role here has raised a particular concern among critics of Mr. Chávez, who maintain that the military is being retooled — with Cuba’s help — into an institution that can be used to quell any domestic challenge to the president. CONTINUE READING

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Bolívar's Bones

By Simon Romero
CARACAS, Venezuela — The clock had just struck midnight. Most of the country was asleep. But that did not stop President Hugo Chávez from announcing in the early hours of July 16 that the latest phase of his Bolivarian Revolution had been stirred into motion.
Marching to the national anthem, a team of soldiers, forensic specialists and presidential aides gathered around the sarcophagus of Simón Bolívar, the 19th-century aristocrat who freed much of South America from Spain. A state television crew filmed the group, clad in white lab coats, hair nets and ventilation masks, attempt what seemed like an anemic half-goose step. CONTINUE READING

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


a few of my favorite outtakes from Guyana:

Muddy Road Molds Debate on the Future of Guyana

Published: May 8, 2010

FIFTY EIGHT, Guyana — A battered, decades-old Bedford truck that would not look out of place in a “Mad Max” movie pulled off the road. Gold miners crawled out of its mud-splattered cab, sauntered into Peter Rajmenjan’s diner and asked if he had any bush hog for sale.

“The only wild meat I have left today is deer,” replied Mr. Rajmenjan, 55, whose establishment lies at the 58-mile marker on the main road cutting through the Guyanese jungle.

Over plates of deer curry, travelers chatted in Caribbean-accented English or murmured in indigenous languages like Macushi, Arawak and Wapishana. Around them, the forest buzzed with mosquitoes. The siren moan of howler monkeys could be heard in the distance.

Multimedia Link: The Road to Georgetown