Category Archives: Madalena Araújo

We are thrilled to announce that every Saturday from now on, you will be hearing from London-based trainee reporter Madalena Araújo. She will touch on a wide range of topics, from inspiring figures to hot political issues that affect real people. We are very glad that she is joining us, and thank her very much for believing in our project.

The strange world of war tourism

Fancy a trip to Iraq? How about the Democratic Republic of Congo? Of course not, it’s too dangerous, right? Well that’s exactly what makes the world of war tourism go around. The thrill of going into active war zones and past areas of conflict where there is “a higher than average level of risk”.

Take Toshifumi Fujimoto, a Japanese truck driver who gets his kicks from going into war-torn Middle Eastern countries. He was most recently spotted in Syria, where he told the AFP that being on the frontline is “very exciting, and the adrenaline rush is like no other.” Syria, which became embroiled in a civil war over three years ago, is also the world’s most dangerous country for journalists. While he claims that it’s more dangerous in Syria to be a journalist than a tourist, Fujimoto himself has been taking photos of the conflict that he shares with friends on his Facebook page. He explained that he’s not afraid of getting killed since he’s “a combination of samurai and kamikaze.”  

 We’ve heard this thrill-seeking discourse before from war journalists, for example. American political satirist and journalist P.J. O’Rourke famously claimed he was a “Trouble Tourist” rather than a “foreign correspondent”, for the latter was “too dignified a title”. In the introduction of his collection of stories, Holidays of Hell, O’Rourke explains that this kind of tourism requires “going to see insurrections, stupidities, political crises, civil disturbances and other human folly because… because it’s fun.”

This obviously doesn’t mean that all journalists desire to see war, but if you find yourself in the media industry, it’s not that unusual to hear adrenaline junkies saying that “war is fun”. Yet this observer’s main point is not to get into the endless debate of real bias. And most war reporters boast they’re documenting armed conflict purely for the sake of alerting the world to human suffering anyway.

But what if you don’t want to venture into a conflict zone on your own? I don’t blame you for not wanting to dodge bullets solo, but in that case you have to be willing to splash up to $40,000 on travel agencies such as Hinterland Travel and Warzone Tours, which specialise in the ultimate extreme travel. Whether it’s Kabul, Baghdad or Mogadishu, these experienced providers – who usually have a military or security background – strive to deliver tour packages that fulfil your excitement requirements.

Just bear in mind that the more ambitious you are, the higher the price tag. Security, logistics and planning in the world’s worst places come at a price. I wonder what the tour guides’ criteria is for accepting war tourists. How do they know that the visitors will be able to keep it cool when their guide drives along dangerous roads, bomb sites or disputed territories? Or that they will not freak out if somehow they end up with an AK-47 pointed to their heads?

Ethical criticism of war tourism is mainly targeted at the exploitative aspect of this niche form of travel, with the number one argument being that this vacation concept is twisted and somewhat heartless. It’s arguably not acceptable to have a fun, adventurous holiday, at the expense of someone else’s worst nightmare. Someone’s bombed home or local business, which will most likely end up on your Instagram account, shouldn’t become your holiday playground.

And, as Laura Moth points out, war tourists may even end up funding an oppressive regime: “think of flying the national carrier, paying for a visa or spending money that inevitably gets funneled upwards to the same old structures of power.” 

The fact that travel agencies are profiting from this is also an ethical concern. But they insist their guides provide the necessary context and encourage visitors to engage with locals. One could also argue that war tourists offer a helping hand to local businesses (the obvious benefit of tourism). And, if visitors happen to sympathise with the victims’ situation, they might try to help in some way.

War tourism is not to be confused with dark tourism – the latter doesn’t deal with active conflict zones – though there are some similarities. As dark tourists, most of us are drawn to “sites of death, disaster or the seemingly macabre”, such as the Tower of London, Auschwitz, Alcatraz Island, Cambodia’s Tuol Sleng Killing Fields or the World Trade Center. This idea that we’re naturally fascinated by death is certainly not new. 

But as far as the specific fascination with death-related sites goes, the Institute for Dark Tourism Research from the University of Central Lincolnshire, launched a couple of years ago, admits that “our understanding of both production and consumption of dark tourism remains limited”. However, they suggest that attendance at events such as Roman gladiatorial games or even medieval executions could be considered dark tourism. I guess that says something about our morbid nature.


2014 World Cup: hopes and fears

Back in 2007, when Brazil was elected unchallenged as host nation of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, it all seemed so promising: Lula da Silva had just secured his second term as president, new oil discoveries had been made, and the economy was booming. Despite the huge logistical and infrastructural challenges it entailed, few questioned whether Brazil would be able to pull it off. Just under two years later, the country received yet another vote of confidence, with Rio de Janeiro confirmed as the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics. O país do futebol (or the country of football) e do Carnaval (and Carnival) was on the right track.

In 2010, Brazil’s economy grew at its fastest pace in 24 years, with a 7.5 percent surge. But fast forward to June 2013, and what you see is the largest series of protests in a generation, with more than one million people taking to the streets of several Brazilian cities during the Confederations Cup, a dress rehearsal for this summer’s event. What was triggered by bus and metro fare hikes quickly escalated into widespread riots and discontent over a number of issues, including political corruption, poor public services and a rise in inflation.

In a nutshell, rapid economic growth brought along a “new middle class” that demands more than consumer goods. It wants to ensure its high income tax money goes into decent healthcare, security, education and housing. As The Economist put it at the time, “the marches are a sign that they are waking up to the fact that they pay taxes and deserve decent public services, not just shiny stadiums.”

According to the AFP, Brazil is spending more than $11 billion (eight billion euros) to host the World Cup, which many Brazilians would rather see spent on public service improvements. The fact that the run-up to the world’s largest sporting event has been marked by several construction malfunctions, accidents and delays is only adding fuel to the fire. Last November, part of the Itaqueirão stadium, where the opening match will take place, fell over and killed two workers (the death toll is now at six). This week, parts from the roof of the Mineirão stadium fell onto the pitch during a storm, just hours before a regional championship match.

But is it all so bad? Of course not. Let’s remember that, over the last decade, more than 30 million people in Brazil have gone from poverty to the consuming classes. And while growth has slowed significantly, Brazil’s economy grew 0.7% in the last quarter of last year, which  according to Finance Minister Guido Mantega, “was a surprise even for the government.”

But president Dilma Rousseff, whose approval rating has recently fallen for the first time in seven months, can’t just put a band-aid on the nation’s underlying issues by stepping up security and hoping for the best, for that might not be enough to manage tensions in the long-term. That is, however, what seems to be happening in the country.

“I think at the end of the day Brazil’s image in the world will be determined by what people see in the World Cup,” Brazil’s deputy Sports Minister Luis said Fernandes at a press conference in the southern coastal city of Florinopolis. So we’ll have to wait and see if this will be a peaceful World Cup, and, as FIFA President Sepp Blatter puts it, pray to “God, Allah, whoever” to ensure everything is ready on time.

What is happening in Venezuela?

Mass anti-government protests in Venezuela have gripped the country over the past two weeks, claiming 10 lives and injuring at least 100. Angry with President Maduro’s government, demonstrators have taken to the streets in what are the biggest protests since Chavez hand-picked successor was elected by a narrow margin last April. But why did the protests erupt in the first place, and where do things stand now?

The unrest kicked off on 12 February with a student-led rally on the streets of San Cristobal, in the state of Táchira (where Internet access has recently been cut by the government). Students started by demanding that the Maduro administration tackled safety concerns, following the sexual assault of a freshman student at ULA university. Despite attempts to crack down on crime, Venezuela has one of the highest crime rates in the world, with one person murdered every 21 minutes (the death business is thriving as a result of that).

The protest quickly turned violent, killing three people and escalating to other cities, including Valencia and the capital Caracas, where tear gas and rubber bullets have become the norm. Opposition leader Leopoldo López soon has become as the main face of the movement, especially since he turned himself in to the authorities this week. Maduro accused López of training gangs of youths to incite violence as part of a coup to bring down the government. Undeterred, the former mayor of Caracas’ Chacao district urged demonstrators to stay on the streets. The president has also threatened to imprison other opposition members and protest leaders, called the anti-government protests a “fascist coup plot” backed by the US and financed by Colombia’s former president Álvaro Uribe.

Crime is far from being the only problem in the deeply divided and oil-rich country. Inflation is at a startling 56% and the bolívar currency has devaluated drastically. And constant shortages of basic commodities such as sugar, flour, toilet paper and even newsprint paper, have added to the discontent (the government has accused distributors of leaving supermarket shelves empty as a way of fuelling unrest). Tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators appear to have had enough of empty promises and of the ineffective and authoritarian policies seemingly incapable of solving a series of crises. Their clashes with the state police and with colectivos, pro-government citizen militias, have turned some municipalities into authentic battlefields.

The government accuses distributors of orchestrating the shortages as part of an “economic war” to fuel unrest.

Another major issue and one of the opposition’s accusations is that the government’s worsening crackdown on free speech and freedom of the press. The government controls most of CANTV, the state-owned internet provider, which provides more than half of broadband connections in the country. That near-monopoly makes it very easy to block its citizens from uploading and viewing pictures on Twitter, for example, as it did last week.

“Venezuelan broadcast media showed very unflattering signs of self-censorship, restricting its transmissions to telenovelas, interviews with athletes or obligatory government messages, rather than live coverage of events in the streets,” David Smilde, a Caracas-based analyst with the Washington Office for Latin America, told the Financial Times.

On Friday, Venezuela revoked the accreditations of CNN reporters covering the country’s crisis for allegedly “fomenting violence”. A few days earlier, Bogotá-based cable news network NTN24 was taken off the air in Venezuela following coverage of anti-government demonstrations – just to name a couple of examples. One of the regime’s arguments is that reporting of violent acts could violate broadcasting law. Here’s a good summary of the situation. In the meantime, personal accounts of torture in the hands of the authorities have been picked up in several international publications.

So what happens now? As with other insurrections, it’s hard to predict an outcome. Judging by the tone of Maduro’s latest speeches, where he called the street demonstrations a “fascist plan” that he plans on eradicating “as one eradicates infection”, it seems unlikely that he will make concessions any time soon. But with public demonstrations now approaching their third week, it also looks like protesters won’t budge, even if structural change comes at a high price. While Maduro still holds a strong support base in the country, if he keeps crushing his opponents, be it citizens or politicians, that might fuel his people’s anger further.

The appalling reality of female genital mutilation

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines female genital mutilation (FGM) as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.

It is child abuse, it is recognised internationally as a violation of human rights and yet it is estimated to affect up to 140 million girls and women worldwide. According to a 2013 Unicef report, almost all girls are mutilated in countries such as Somalia (98%), Guinea (96%) and Egypt (91%). The report focused on the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where the practice is the most common.

But thanks to migration, FGM is now practiced nearly everywhere around the world, which was personally the most shocking finding. It is taking place in countries such as the UK (a report estimates that there are 66,000 victims of FGM in England and Wales), US, Australia, Canada – you name it.

I only became aware of this last week when 17-year-old student Fahma Mohamed launched a petition – backed by the Guardian, and a coalition of campaigners – calling on the UK education secretary, Michael Gove, to write to every teacher in the country before the summer holidays, requesting them to train both teachers and parents about the barbarity of FGM. It has gathered over 200,000 signatures and Gove has agreed to meet with the teenage activist.

Causes and consequences

Having their genitals partially or totally severed with a razor blade is the price millions of girls have to pay to make their transition to adulthood, though some undergo the procedure in early childhood or infancy. The ancient this rite of passage allegedly hopes to ensure appropriate sexual behavior in regards to premarital virginity and matrimonial fidelity, since many believe it reduces a woman’s sexual urges.

But the same Unicef report found that social acceptance is now cited as the main reason for the continuation of the practice, and that in most countries where FGM is practiced the majority of girls and women think it should end. Religious motives are frequently brought up, though there is no mention of the practice in religious scripts.

In the most barbaric cases, the genital area is literally stitched up, fuelling the fear of pain to open it and thus considered an even more inhumane form of control of women. It sounds like a girl’s worst nightmare and I cannot even begin to imagine the excruciating pain, not to mention the consequences. Immediate risks include shock, bleeding and all kinds of infections. Long-term effects can go from infertility to recurrent bladder infections, and childbirth complications to mental trauma. It doesn’t benefit your health, it ruins it both physically and psychologically. You’re scarred for life.

According to the UN population fund and Unicef, whose representatives have long been engaging in negotiations with the leaders of the communities to raise awareness of the suffering and dangers of FGM, 8,000 communities in Africa have abandoned the practice.

If you want to find out more about the appalling reality of FGM I suggest you watch Channel 4’s documentaries The Cruel Cut and The Day I Will Never Forget.

5 things you should know about Sochi Winter Olympics

As the 2014 Winter Games are well under way in Sochi, on Russia’s Black Sea coast, check out some of the often bizarre facts about the most expensive Olympics in history, from state corruption to new winter sports events to look out for over the next couple of weeks.

1 – World’s most expensive Olympics

With a staggering $51 billion price tag, Putin’s games go into the record books as the costliest games ever held. That’s more than three times than the 2012 London Games and it even beats the $40 billion record of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing – even though the Winter Olympics “involve fewer athletes (2,500 vs. 11,000), fewer events (86 vs. 300), and fewer venues (15 vs. 40).”

Many observers say corruption is to blame, including in the provisions of services and facilities as well as mismanagement of funds, with builders alleging inflated costs. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Sochi’s ready though, with the media hotels being one of the most embarrassing and tweeted debacles – you may not be able to find the lobby because it simply doesn’t exist yet, as this article illustrates.

2 – Twelve new winter sports 

That’s right, twelve winter sports events across eight disciplines have made their debut at Sochi, including women’s ski jump after the longest campaign for inclusion, snowboard slopestyle and team figure skating. Such a packed programme makes these the largest version of the winter Olympiads to date, calling for an extra day of competition, too.

3 – Anti-gay “propaganda” law casts a shadow over the games

Last June the Russian parliament unanimously passed a much contested federal law banning gay “propaganda”, which makes it illegal to distribute material on gay rights as well as to equate straight and gay relationships. As you would expect, this angered rights activists worldwide.

While the several world leaders who declared they would not be attending the games – including the US, UK and Germany – did not confirm they are protesting against the anti-gay law, their absence has been widely interpreted as a clear signal against Russia’s crackdown on the LGBT community. One should not assume the decision is politically motivated, however, since the winter games are not considered a must-attend event. UK prime-ministers don’t usually attend the winter Olympiads, for example.

4 – The dog killing policy 

Stray dogs have become one of the main peculiarities of the Sochi games, as thousands roam the streets of the pearl of the ‘Russian Riviera’ and even make friends with ski icons. So when the director of a pest control firm told the Associated Press that his company had a contract to exterminate stray dogs throughout the Olympics, the news didn’t sit too well with animal rights groups. It is thought that, since their eradication began in October, approximately 300 dogs have been killed every month.

Even Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who could not be more pro-Russia, didn’t feel so good about the dog killing policy, so he funded a rescue effort through his charity organisation. And wherever you are in the world, you can adopt a Sochi dog, but “please be aware that costs for transport of a pet can range from USD $150 to $2000 or more, based on accommodation and airline”. Ouch.

5 – Meteorite medals 

Ten gold winners will receive pieces of a Chelyabinsk meteorite embedded in their commemorative medals, one year after the meteor crashed into a lake in central Russia. Forty additional cosmic medals will be sold to private collectors. The meteorite, which injured more than 1,000 people, “glowed 30 times brighter than the sun” and “delivered the biggest astronomical punch felt on earth in the century” according to National Georgraphic.

Back to basics: Portugal’s young return to farming

While Portugal remains the European nation with the lowest percentage of young farmers – 2.9 percent when the average is 5.3 per cent – the number has grown exponentially in recent years. Around 280 entrepreneurs set up new farming businesses in the “garden of Europe” every month, and professional schools have doubled its student numbers over the last four years. 

According to the Secretary of State for Agriculture José Diogo Albuquerque, out of nine thousand applications approved by the EU-backed programme for rural development (PRODER) in the last six years, over seven thousand came from workers under the age of 40, with almost half of them highly educated. The agricultural sector was the largest contributor to the creation of jobs in the second quarter of 2013, boosting the country’s recession-ravaged economy in conjunction with export growth.

The recession that brought Portugal to its knees in 2011 is the main driving force behind the significant shift in the agricultural sector landscape. Young entrepreneurs looking for new opportunities often find that, in a country where agricultural land occupies 80 percent of its territory, going back to the land can be the most viable option. Farming accounted for almost a third of Portugal’s GDP back in the 1950s, when the country’s economy persisted at subsistence levels, according to data compiled by the Bank of Portugal.

After joining the EU in 1986, Portugal’s agriculture suffered a considerable reduction in the number of producers through consolidation under the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (PAC). The country’s economic growth has mainly been driven by the services sector since then.

“Today, young people are joining the agricultural sector not due to their special skills or by choice, but as result of the lack of opportunities in other areas. That is why the sector is composed of people from virtually every area, from the arts to civil engineering,” said João Mira from the Association of Young Portuguese Farmers (AJAP).

Determined to fight back against recession, Portugal’s young are rolling up their sleeves and coming up with inventive ways to sell their harvest. “I wanted to have my own project and my sister was about to finish her studies with no job prospects,” said Jorge Ferreira Silva, 38, who started a fruit preserving business in 2013 with his younger sister Andreia, 25. Media Dúzia, which is already selling outside Portugal, relies on organic farming methods to produce artisanal preserves packaged in ink tubes.

Fruits and vegetables remain the country’s largest productions, followed by cereal, wine and olive oil, the last two being the only ones that have a trade surplus. Although the rural sector represents less than four percent of the GDP, the AJAP remains hopeful that young farmers will continue to play a part in the country’s economic recovery.

India’s walking dead

What if you were alive and well, but discovered someone had declared you dead? After getting over the ludicrousness of such act, you would naturally call on legal services to sort out the misunderstanding, right?

Well, not in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state and where thousands of people have been declared dead by devious relatives who bribe officials in order to seize their land. Once someone is deceased on paper, the resurrection process is subject to a complex, corrupt system, not to mention the fact that there are no legal services available for the officially dead.

Land shortage appears to be the main cause of this bizarre phenomenon. As families grow larger – India’s population is now over 1.2 billion – land properties, the only way for most residents to make a living, become smaller after getting subdivided among heirs. Many unsatisfied farmers turn to corrupt government officials and often pay as little as 50 rupees (around US$1) to obtain a false death certificate and take over the deceased’s land. They usually pick a vulnerable, an absentee or an uneducated relative for this easy process of land grabbing, and the victim can then spend a lifetime battling in court to reverse the action.

That’s what happened to Lal Bihari, founder of the Association of Dead People, who was first informed of his own death when he applied for a bank loan in 1975. Bihari was particularly annoyed to hear it from a dishonest bureaucrat with whom he had recently had tea. Determined to get the government’s attention, he decided to publicise his case in unique ways, including trying to get arrested, suing people, running for office, and even staging his own fake funeral along with other living dead fellows. Nearly 19 years later, in 1994, he finally got both his life and land back.

“In pursuing my battle, I had developed quite an identity. I became the leader of a movement. I knew I had other dead people to save,” he told the New York Times.

It’s not clear how many people Bihari has helped to resurrect through the association, and although his effort is admirable, it is clear that in order to put an end to such frustrating occurrences there would have to be tighter policies and substantial changes in the legal system.

If you want to find out more about India’s living dead, check out photographer Arkadripta Chakraborty, who has been documenting the plight of India’s living dead.

Our New Collaborator: Madalena Araújo

We are thrilled to announce that every Saturday from now on, you will be hearing from London-based trainee reporter Madalena Araújo. She will touch on a wide range of topics, from inspiring figures to hot political issues that affect real people. We are very glad that she is joining us, and thank her very much for believing in our project.

Read about Madalena here!

“I was born and raised in sunny Lisbon, Portugal, but decided to turn my life around when I turned 18. I moved to London to study journalism, a masters in history of international relations followed and now it’s time to take up the real challenge and pursue a journalism career full-time.

I had always been fascinated by stories of people who lived abroad, but the turning point came after I spent two weeks at a summer school outside London at 16 years old. I hated the weather but loved the city and the idea of studying in a country that has some of the best universities in the world. The more I learned at journalism school, the more I recognised my passion for international affairs, so four years later I feel really fortunate and still think it was the best decision I ever made.

The transition from journalism to international history was the outcome of my ambition of becoming a more informed and thorough reporter. The internships I took on were great to learn and network, but they made me realise that I was not familiar enough with contemporary political issues and debates. As a masters student I studied the big wars, such as World War I or the Gulf War, diplomatic decisions that influenced the course of history and key figures. This was crucial to understand our world (a bit) better.

As for hobbies, I seem to spend most of my spare time exploring London’s vibrant cultural scene, from the arts to good food, which I end up writing about here pretty often. I also love film and travelling whenever I can.”

1. Why did you decide to join our project?

“I personally love your idea of sharing knowledge on all kinds of interesting subjects in this format. I always learn something new when I read the J.R. Chronicle, you cover such a wide range of topics and I enjoy that surprise element. The more I read the more article ideas occurred to me and I am happy to contribute – it’s a win-win situation, I hope.”

2. What are the issues that motivate you to write? What can readers expect from your chronicles?

“I’m driven to all kinds of stories that have an impact on ordinary people, whether they’re being affected by government policies or unforeseen circumstances, shedding light on intriguing issues – with many of them overlooked in the mainstream media – is what drives me. Readers can also expect chronicles on interesting figures and events.”

Madalena also has a very interesting blog, The View From Beyond, that you should make sure to check out!