Photographers' Blog

A world without smiles

By Lunaé Parracho

The northeastern city of Salvador, Brazil’s third-largest, is a major tourist destination thanks to its beautiful beaches and popular festivals. Its Carnival is considered the world’s largest street party.

In spite of being idyllic in so many ways, this city suffers from an unprecedented explosion of violence in recent years, part of a national phenomenon with the migration of violence towards the north. While the murder rate has dropped more than 63% in the southeast in the past ten years, it has increased 86% in the northeast. That is according to the 2012 Map of Violence compiled by the Brazilian Center for Latin American Studies.

GALLERY: FAVELAS IN ARMS

In Salvador, the murder rate has risen over 250%.

One of the police officers I spoke to summed up the situation clearly with his own personal tragedy. “We’re living in the middle of a war. I try not to leave home, and  when I do I’m armed,” he said, asking to remain anonymous. He knows what it’s all about – his son was killed recently by a thief to steal his iPad. Just a teenager, he died as he was returning from school on the street near their home in an upscale neighborhood.

Across the city in the Fazenda Coutos slum, Lucia Menezes, 53, avoids going out too. “I only leave home to go to church,” she told me. Lucia also lost her son Ebert, 24, shot by police in their neighborhood on the city’s outskirts. The police allege that their patrol was shot at by five men, and that Ebert was hit during the firefight. Neighbors and family say that Herbert was not a criminal and was unarmed, and that he was shot in the back of the head.

Heartbroken, Lucia said she fears the police and therefore will not pursue punishment for her son’s killers. “God will be the one to judge this, because Jesus has eyes of fire.” She would still like to see the results of a real investigation only to have her son’s name cleared. “He was not a bandit,” she said.

In the shadow of Mexico’s guns

Mexico City, Mexico

By Edgard Garrido

Days before last Christmas, city authorities initiated a program of voluntary disarmament for citizens encouraging them to swap their pistols, revolvers, guns and the occasional 60mm mortar round for bicycles, tablets or cash. Thousands flocked to the swapping stations set up in different neighborhoods by the police and military.

Some weapons were destroyed on site but I wondered where the rest of the collected weapons would land. So, I decided to issue a formal request to the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) asking if I could access their storage facilities to take pictures.

The military is in charge of storing and destroying weapons, not only those handed in by the civilian population sometimes including those inherited from an ancestor who might have fought in the revolution but also the weapons confiscated in the six-year-long, ongoing drug war that has so far killed some 70,000 people. Those are generally larger calibers than great-granddad’s Winchester Rifle from the early 1900s. They confiscated everything from custom-made, gold-plated Colt Super 38 Automatic to rocket-propelled grenade launchers and lots of Kalashnikov AK-47s, the narcos’ weapon of choice.

Drug war ghosts

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

By Tomas Bravo

The memory is still fresh. I close my eyes and I can feel the tension. First the explosions… then the screams… then the silence.

The trickles of blood on the concrete make their way as small, red rivers to form a puddle, quickly dried by the sun. The bodies lie there, surrounded by police tape, waiting to be checked by forensic technicians. The prying eyes of the neighbors are fixed on the laughing police officers and the reporters who are speculating on the reasons for the execution.

Moments later the bodies are bagged and placed in a van, ready for their penultimate destination. If they are lucky they have family members who will recognize them at the coroner’s office and are able to give them a burial. In the worst cases, they will end up in a mass grave, next to others without names but similar in their wounds and histories in a parallel world.

Nobody to trust in Mexico’s north

The first version of the killings came from Mexico City media. “Massacre in Tamaulipas State,” said the news anchorman. Seventy-two corpses had been discovered on a ranch in San Fernando municipality, all showing signs of a mass execution.

A ranch is seen in San Fernando in Tamaulipas state where according to a Mexican navy statement 72 bodies were discovered by Mexican marines in San Fernando, Tamaulipas state, in this handout photo released by the Attorney General's office August 26, 2010. The corpses were found by Mexican marines at the remote ranch near the U.S. border, the Mexican navy said on Wednesday, the biggest single discovery of its kind in Mexico's increasingly bloody drug war. REUTERS/Tamaulipas' State Attorney General's Office/Handout  

 The blindfolded and hand-tied bodies of people thought to be migrant workers lie at a ranch where they were discovered by Mexican marines in San Fernando, Tamaulipas state, in this handout photo released by the Attorney General's office August 26, 2010. REUTERS/Tamaulipas' State Attorney General's Office/Handout

News of executions, macabre assassinations and kidnappings are commonplace in northern Mexico, but this headline was not. With journalists’ reflexes we began to plan a trip to what suddenly became the bloodiest theater in the drug war. In the past two months a candidate for governor was gunned down, two mayors assassinated, grenades exploded on city streets and the cousin of a media mogul kidnapped. In one weekend 51 people had been murdered in infamous Ciudad Juarez.

People walk past a covered-up body of a dead man on a street near a shopping center in Ciudad Juarez August 15, 2010. REUTERS/Claudia Daut

My editors asked me if I wanted to go to Ciudad Victoria, where the government announced it would send the 72 bodies for identification. I knew the routine. In less than an hour I was headed out the door to the airport with my equipment and a hastily-packed suitcase, just as my youngest daughter arrived from school.