Sunday, September 18, 2011

Serious Communications Gaps at Camps for Somali Refugees are Putting Lives at Risk

I went to Dadaab, Kenya last month with INTERNEWS to assess communication needs in the world's largest refugee camp complex. 70% of new arrivals said they need more information about how to access the aid available to them. Communication gaps like this put lives at risk...but timely, accurate and well-targeted information has the power to SAVE LIVES.

Learn more by watching our YouTube Video:

Download and Read the final report here: Serious Communication Gaps at Camps for Somali Refugees are Putting Lives at Risk

More photos available here: Somali Refugee Crisis in Dadaab, Kenya

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Venezuela's Prison Paradise

PORLAMAR, Venezuela — On the outside, the San Antonio prison on Margarita Island looks like any other Venezuelan penitentiary. Soldiers in green fatigues stand at its gates. Sharpshooters squint from watchtowers. Guards cast menacing glances at visitors before searching them at the entrance.

But once inside, the prison for more than 2,000 Venezuelans and foreigners held largely for drug trafficking looks more like a Hugh Hefner-inspired fleshpot than a stockade for toughened smugglers.

Bikini-clad female visitors frolic under the Caribbean sun in an outdoor pool. Marijuana smoke flavors the air. Reggaetón booms from a club filled with grinding couples. Paintings of the Playboy logo adorn the pool hall. Inmates and their guests jostle to place bets at the prison’s raucous cockfighting arena.

“The Venezuelan prisoners here run the show, and that makes life inside a bit easier for us all,” said Fernando Acosta, 58, a Mexican pilot jailed since 2007. His cellmate, a Congolese businessman, had hired him to fly a Gulfstream jet that prosecutors accuse them of planning to use for smuggling two tons of cocaine to West Africa.

It is not uncommon for armed inmates to exercise a certain degree of autonomy in Venezuela’s penitentiaries. Prisoners with BlackBerries and laptops have arranged drug deals, abductions and murders from their cells, the police say, a legacy of decades of overcrowding, corruption and insufficient guards.

But San Antonio prison, renowned on Margarita Island as a relatively tranquil place where even visitors can go for sinful weekend partying, is in a class of its own.

The island itself is a departure point for drug shipments into the Caribbean and the United States, and the traffickers arrested here often end up in this prison, effectively overseeing life behind its walls with a surreal mix of hedonism and force. Some inmates walk the prison grounds grasping assault rifles.

“I was in the army for 10 years, I’ve played with guns all my life,” said Paul Makin, 33, a Briton arrested here in Porlamar for cocaine smuggling in 2009. “I’ve seen some guns in here that I’ve never seen before. AK-47s, AR-15s, M-16s, Magnums, Colts, Uzis, Ingrams. You name them, it’s in here.” CONTINUE READING:

NY TIMES ARTICLE: Where Prisoners Can Do Anything, Except Leave

NY TIMES VIDEO: Venezuela's Prison Paradise

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Honduras Tilapia for The NY Times

Another Side of Tilapia, the Perfect Factory Fish

AGUA AZUL, Honduras — A common Bible story says Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, which scholars surmise were tilapia.

But at the Aquafinca fish farm here, a modern miracle takes place daily: Tens of thousands of beefy, flapping tilapia are hauled out of teeming cages on Lake Yojoa, converted to fillets in a cold slaughterhouse and rushed onto planes bound for the United States, where some will appear on plates within 12 hours.

Americans ate 475 million pounds of tilapia last year, four times the amount a decade ago, making this once obscure African native the most popular farmed fish in the United States. Although wild fish predominate in most species, a vast majority of the tilapia consumed in the United States is “harvested” from pens or cages in Latin America and Asia. CONTINUE READING HERE.

NYT Video: Cultivating Dinner
NYT Photo Slideshow: A Once-Obscure Fish Takes Center Stage on Americans’ Plates

Full Edit on Honduras Tilapia Farming

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Skyscraper Squatters


CARACAS, Venezuela — Architects still call the 45-story skyscraper the Tower of David, after David Brillembourg, the brash financier who built it in the 1990s. The helicopter landing pad on its roof remains intact, a reminder of the airborne limousines that were once supposed to drop bankers off for work.

The office tower, one of Latin America’s tallest skyscrapers, was meant to be an emblem of Venezuela’s entrepreneurial mettle. But that era is gone. Now, with more than 2,500 squatters making it their home, the building symbolizes something else entirely in this city’s center.

The squatters live in the uncompleted high-rise, which lacks several basic amenities like an elevator. The smell of untreated sewage permeates the corridors. Children scale unlit stairways guided by the glow of cellphones. Some recent arrivals sleep in tents and hammocks.

The skyscraper, surrounded by billboards and murals proclaiming the advance of President Hugo Chávez’s “Bolivarian revolution,” is a symbol of the financial crisis that struck the country in the 1990s, the expanded state control over the economy that came after Mr. Chávez took office in 1999 and the housing shortage that has worsened since then, leading to widespread squatter takeovers in this city.

Few of the building’s terraces have guardrails. Even walls and windows are absent on many floors. Yet dozens of DirecTV satellite dishes dot the balconies. The tower commands some of the most stunning views of Caracas. It contains some of its worst squalor.

“I never let my child out of my sight,” said Yeaida Sosa, 29, who lives with her 1-year-old daughter, Dahasi, on the seventh floor overlooking a bustling artery, Avenida Andrés Bello. Ms. Sosa said residents were horrified after a young girl recently fell to her death from a high floor. CONTINUE READING HERE:

NY TIMES Article: A 45-Story Walkup Beckons the Desperate

FULL PHOTO EDIT on Skyscraper Squatters

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