Photographers' Blog

Losing the land war

Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil

 By Lunae Parracho

Three-year-old Sandriely has a look of suffering. She was born in the roadside camp along the same highway where her brother was run over by a truck. Her grandmother Damiana Cavanha, one of the few women chiefs among the Guarani Indians, has lost, beside her grandson, five other family members: one aunt died of poisoning from pesticides used on the neighboring sugar cane plantation, and her husband and three of their children were hit and killed by passing vehicles.

Damiana, Sandriely, and 23 other Guarani Kaiowa Indians are living in a makeshift camp along the shoulder of highway BR-463 in Mato Grosso do Sul since 2009. They settled here after their last failed attempt to take back their ancestral land, called Tekohá Apika’y. (Tekohá is loosely translated as ancestral land, and Apika’y, the name of that specific plot, means “those who wait.”) That was four years ago when they were expelled from their land by gunmen who shot one of them.

A federal prosecutor visited the camp back then, and wrote in a report, “Children, youths, adults and the elderly are subjected to degrading conditions against human dignity. The situation experienced by them is analogous to a refugee camp. They are like foreigners in their own country.”

GALLERY: LOSING THE LAND WAR

Four years later, nothing has changed in Tekohá Apika’y. The Indians continue living squeezed between the road and a sugar cane field which is part of the land they claim. Divided into eight huts, they do not have access to drinking water and depend on meager donations of food.

Their children show obvious signs of malnutrition. They live with the constant danger of trucks rumbling closely by them loaded with Brazil’s rich agricultural commodities, some of which were harvested from plantations on the very land they are claiming as ancestral.

Dignity Wage

Brasilia, Brazil

By Ueslei Marcelino

I phoned Sueli yesterday to give her the good news.

“Mrs. Sueli. The government just announced that it will increase the minimum wage in January!”

With the same lively voice she spoke with when I visited her a few days earlier, she responded, “Child, that’s a great thing. Maybe there will be a little extra money now to buy some meat?”

According to her ID card, Sueli Paes Alecrin is 48 years old, but her eyes reveal that she is older, much older. She is a single mother to her sons Alessandro, 16, and Alex, 15, and her daughter Amanda, 11. Amanda was born with cerebral palsy.

High fashion under high security

Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, Brazil

By Paulo Whitaker

A stylish, high-society blonde smelling of French perfume, inside a maximum security prison teaching prisoners to knit, truly seemed like a scene from a movie. But that’s what I found in Juiz de Fora, a medium-sized city in Brazil’s southeastern state of Minas Gerais.

Just a few years ago, Raquell Guimaraes, now 32, began working with her mother to knit clothing in tricot. They enjoyed success and with an increase in orders she needed more knitters, but couldn’t find enough. That was when she decided to visit the Arisvaldo de Campos Pires maximum security penitentiary in Juiz de Fora, about 100 miles (160 kms) north of Rio de Janeiro. There, Ms. Guimaraes found her perfect knitters, people with available time, some with as many as 20 years to spare.

At first, she presented to the prison administration a proposal to train female prisoners to produce her clothing. But after talking with the warden, Andrea Andires, they concluded that it would be more productive to work with male prisoners, an idea that at first seemed a little bizarre. These prisoners have violent histories, and the question was whether men imprisoned for offenses such as armed robbery, drug trafficking, and murder, could learn to knit tricot. This was the gamble that Guimaraes and Andires took, with excellent results.

Slumdog gringos

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Pilar Olivares

One day I decided to check out rumors that there were gringos living in the famous but feared “favelas” of Rio. I went to the Vidigal favela and asked residents if they knew any foreigners living there, and they confirmed, “This place has been invaded by gringos. Look around a while and you’ll see a parade of them, even Peruvians, Ecuadorians, from everywhere.”

Although the term gringo was originally coined in Mexico to refer to Americans, here it refers to any foreigner, even myself, a gringa from Peru.

GALLERY: FOREIGNERS IN FAVELAS

There in Vidigal I met Ekaterina, an attorney from Russia who is living in the favela with her Chilean boyfriend, Marcos. Spending a day with them was like training myself to be a translator – Ekaterina doesn’t speak Spanish and is only just learning Portuguese, so her best language of communication here is English. Between photographing and interviewing, I often ended up in the middle of the couple and their language problems.

Reasoning amid riots

Fortaleza, Brazil

By Paulo Whitaker

If the FIFA Confederations Cup is supposed to be about soccer, the latest edition in Brazil was really about so much else. Brazilians are passionate about the sport, but with all the public spending on stadiums for that and the 2014 World Cup, the people inaugurated the Confederations Cup with protests against poor public schools, hospitals and transportation. The protests began over a sudden increase in bus fares, but that was only the catalyst for a wave of protests that swept the country, especially near the stadiums where the world was watching soccer.

They were ten days of steady protests and riots, leading up to the semi-final between Spain and Italy in Fortaleza. I had the information that protests were planned near the stadium, and because of past experience covering I went earlier this time with colleague Kai Pfaffenbach to the stadium. But police had kept the demonstrations far from the stadium in a slum area dangerous to walk in with photo gear.

After leaving the hotel we passed in front of a university where some 300 students were already barricading the main road to the stadium. It was clear that clashes would be inevitable that day.

From Confederations Cup to Demonstrations Cup

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

It took them 21 years but they’re back. Brazilians began to hit the streets last week to protest the lack of investment in health, education, public transportation, and security, and against corruption and the exaggerated spending for the Confederations Cup, World Cup and Olympic Games. The last time I saw a nationwide movement of this type was in 1992, during the impeachment of President Fernando Collor de Mello. He ended up resigning.

Two decades later Brazil’s youths have again provoked the entire country to fight for their rights. The difference between these protests and the ones in 1992 is the level of violence from both the police and the demonstrators. I covered them back then, and those now in Rio and Belo Horizonte, and there’s no way I can agree with those who say that it’s just a small group from each protest that confronts the police. I’ve seen the protests divided into huge groups between those who are fighting for better infrastructure and services, and others who just want to fight the cops, but they are all in the battle.

The first protests were against the increase in public transportation fares, but with the movement’s success suddenly other issues have made the list of demands much longer. Since they began during the FIFA Confederations Cup, a warm-up to next year’s World Cup, the protests gained much more visibility than normal. One of the biggest complaints is the amount of public money being spent on the construction of stadiums, and for that reason many of the demonstrations are held on match days, and even inside the stadiums as fans hold up posters with phrases like, “We want FIFA-standard hospitals,” or “No more corruption.” It’s worth noting that FIFA prohibits demonstrations inside stadiums during its competitions, but this time Brazilians managed to dribble around FIFA and get their posters inside.

Between “Jogo bonito” and riots on the streets

Salvador, Brazil

By Kai Pfaffenbach

Football is the sport I most like to photograph.

Almost everybody in Reuters knows that. When I was assigned to head to Brazil to cover the FIFA Confederations Cup one of my dreams came a little closer: covering a soccer match at Rio’s famous Maracana stadium. After almost two weeks of following the tournament’s group stage matches I haven’t seen the Maracana (that only happens for the final). But I have had the pleasure of traveling in a team of three with my colleagues Jorge Silva and Paulo Whitaker from Brasilia to Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza and Salvador. The stadiums look great, they are ready for the big event next year, the spectators are as enthusiastic as expected and so far we have seen good games with an outstanding Brazilian superstar Neymar and spectacular overhead kicks from Hulk.

But I have to admit that my attention has been taken away from the stadiums, organization and the games by the huge demonstrations across Brazil. It is very obvious that the people are not happy about how things are happening here and it seems solidarity for the cause is rising.

Some of these protests unfortunately turned into riots and violence. Being quite experienced with this and even used to rough police enforcement for the last few days I found myself outside the stadiums to cover the street fights before heading back in to cover the matches. The situation develops very quickly here. Most of the protesters were calm, only shouting slogans and holding up placards and flags but some of them were ready for trouble. Stones flew everywhere, barricades were set on fire and it turned into proper civil unrest.

The new soulless Maracana

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

Last Sunday, June 2, I returned to Maracana to cover Brazil and England playing a friendly soccer match that was also the re-inauguration of this iconic stadium. The first sensation I felt when entering the building was nostalgia for the old Maracana. The new one is beautiful and modern with fantastic lighting, but it didn’t move me. The truth is, it’s no longer Maracana, but rather a different stadium built for the 2014 World Cup. Even the acoustics are different.

It is no longer, as legendary player Nilton Santos called it in the 50’s, “an enormous pressure cooker.”

My first experience with Maracana was when I was 6 years old. That was in 1968, a magic year for a boy who just began to become passionate about soccer and with the Botafogo club, known in Rio as “O Glorioso,” or The Glorious One. That year I witnessed Botafogo being crowned champion of the state championship, and winning the Brazil Cup the following year.

The Pope is pop

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

When we recently received the official agenda for Pope Francis’ July trip to Rio de Janeiro, we went straight out to photograph the sites he will visit. Brazil has 123 million Roman Catholics according to the last census, more than any other country. Since Rio is the world’s most irreverent city, according to its own residents, all Popes are received here with the slogan, “The Pope is pop.”

And with the large number of events in which he’ll participate here, that slogan will be on everyone’s minds.

Cariocas, as we natives of Rio are called, have a joke for everything, including for all the delays that we see happening in the construction of stadiums for next year’s World Cup. Our slogan of the moment is “Imagine that during the Cup”, and we use it for everything. If we run into a traffic jam, someone will inevitably say, “Imagine that during the Cup.” If a beer is too warm, if a restaurant’s service is slow, or if a day is rainy, we blurt out, “Imagine that during the Cup.”

In the spirit of a Franciscan Pope

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Ricardo Moraes

It was Palm Sunday in Rio’s cathedral when I found them in a small group wearing their simple, traditional robes, with short hair and beards, praying, concentrating, amidst hundreds of other Catholics.  I’m talking about the Franciscans, young followers of Saint Francis of Assisi who on some occasions I had seen roaming the city, almost invisible, helping Rio’s poor.

I knew nothing about them, but with the election of a Latin American Pope and his chosen name of Francis, I began to do some research. Apart from what I learned from the Internet and through phone calls to a monastery, there wasn’t a lot more information available. The Franciscan orders have existed for centuries around the world, but I wanted to know more about those youths who one monk had told me are the “Church’s rebels.”

I stood observing them during an important moment in the mass, with their eyes tightly shut and very serious faces. I really wanted to photograph them, but with so many people around me I didn’t want to disturb the mass. I waited, and when the mass finished I was finally able to talk to them and introduce myself. Their serious looks disappeared and with smiles they told me that I would be very welcome to visit them in their home.