On The Ground

Cocaland

“Are you really going to that shit hole?” Even my hardened fixer in Cúcuta was skeptical. But I was teaming up with Msf on a survey mission and felt safe enough even after the grim security briefing: never walk alone, mandatory 6pm curfew, no pictures unless agreed by the local guerrilla leaders and open windows in the car. “Why?” “To hear the gunshots”. La Gabarra, a remote hamlet in the…

A road to nowhere

“I’m goin’ to Medellin to join my family” says José. “I’ve never seen my two years old son”. “I go to Peru” says Veronica. “Maybe it’s easier to get a job there”. “I was a nurse in Maracaibo” says Pedro. “My monthly salary was half a dollar. Can you believe it? No way to feed my three children with that”. The massive exodus of Venezuelans, the largest migration crisis in…

A Land of fear

  “The Angels of Death came down on us one mid afternoon. I managed to slip out of the village with three of my kids but my husband was shot. They gunned down my brother and sister, shooting at random. They burned the houses, stole the crops and the herds. There’s nothing left there but dead bodies”. Salimata is now hanging around the crumbling small town of Nouna, in western…

Iran on the brink

With a blue sky and the snow-covered mountains in the background, it was a perfect day to celebrate the 41st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. I walked for hours with people chanting slogans, burning american and israeli flags, carrying a fake coffin of Donald Trump, throwing stones at his portrait and mourning the death of the all powerful general Qasem Soleimani, the “living martyr” who was assassinated by a US…

Toxic wasteland

I reach the border between Ecuador and Colombia: a forgotten corner of the Amazon, and yet a very busy place. On the banks of the Putumayo and the San Miguel rivers, and deep in the rainforest’s no man’s land, illegal miners and loggers cross path with gas smugglers and arms traders, renegate guerrillas and ruthless paramilitary thugs, coca farmers and shadowy cocaine dealers. The region is a drug producing and…

Ni vivos, ni muertos

The road to Ayotzinapa winds up the hills of the dreaded Sierra de Guerrero, a major drug producing and trafficking hub where coca and poppy fields have replaced coffee plantations and soldiers man checkpoints between rival gangs of narcos militias. It’s a land of sicarios, peasants’ uprisings, armed insurrections and utter poverty. The Raúl Isidro Burgos rural school in Ayotzinapa is a large compound at the edge of Tixtla, a…

Havana blues

  The mood is quite somber as Havana prepares to celebrate 500 years of its foundation. The stunning historical downtown district has been cleaned and polished, ancient buildings have been restored and carefully repainted, fleets of old pastel color American cars line up for tourists. But 5 stars hotels are nearly empty and the casas particulares struggle to find guests. Don Onofrio, a retired university professor, enjoys the view of…

Jakarta going underwater

Armed with a bamboo stick, an old woman in a pink robe steps out of her wooden shack on the Pluit lagoon and stumbles through the thick garbage layer leading to the water. “It’s my balcony” she jokes. “But I must constantly keep the drains open with this stick or I’ll be drowned by the waste”. The mostly plastic/rubbish embankment is also a makeshift floodgate against the rising ocean. I…

Streets of algiers

  Life goes on as usual in the Casbah. Old women clad in the white haik climb up the narrow impasses with their grocery bags. Young boys play football between the crumbling houses. A man sipping coffee sits on the doorstep of the centuries-old hammam, a cane in his hand. The laundry float in the wind on the rooftops where the girls hang out at sunset, staring at the dark…