Suape’s Children: The Social Impacts of Brazil’s Top-Down Development

After reporting on the BP oil spill and its aftereffects, I became interested in the dynamics of oil production and coastal communities. Suape, a port and industrial complex in Brazil’s northeast gave me an opportunity to do some research into an area with some similarities to coastal Louisiana. What I found is a pattern of development that has received a fair bit of attention in relation to the World Cup:  a top-down model that imposes plans on low-income communities, all too often with violent methods.

Many people helped me over the course of this project. I am particularly indebted to Alex Shankland, my professor at the Institute of Development Studies, who first mentioned the Suape complex to me. Alex also connected me with Renato Athias, who provided extensive contacts and support during my first months in the area.

One result of my efforts is this piece published by Pacific Standard Magazine.

Valeria de Alcantara hunts for crabs on a beach near the Suape port complex.

Valeria de Alcantara hunts for crabs on a beach near the Suape port complex.

Brazil’s Fragile Energy System: Another Impetus for World Cup Protests?

An image from the massive 2009 blackout that struck Brazil.

An image from the massive 2009 blackout that struck Brazil.

“The big frailty today in the electrical system is the national grid system,” he said.

In early March I saw an article about the risk to Brazil’s power supply presented by low reservoir levels. Al Jazeera America agreed to work with me on an article about the way the instabilities in the country’s power system could feed into social tensions leading up to the World Cup. The result is here.  I owe a huge thanks to Pedro Telles for connecting me with a key source in this story, as well as Peter Ratcliffe, for the same reason.

 

Photo from the MadeInBrazil typepad blog:

Industrial Impacts Highlighted in The Guardian

The Guardian recently published a piece of mine about the impact that the Suape Port Complex, just south of Recife, is having on traditional fishing communities. This is the project that brought me back to Brazil, and I’m working on developing other outputs for it. My hope is to create a photographic and audio installation that will communicate some of the experiences of the people who live in the area near the port. In the meantime, you can read the story on how pollution from the port is impacting women shellfishers here.

  • Vania Maria de Alcàntara contemplates a mangrove tree at the start of a shellfishing expedition in a swamp near the Suape Port Complex.
  • Valeria Maria de Alcàntara tests a stream bed to ensure she doesn't step on a stinging eel.
  • This kind of exposure to polluted water results in high rates of skin and reproductive infections according to a study done by the Sociedade Nordestina de Ecologia.
  • A kilo of crab meat will sell for roughly 70 Reals, and it now takes 3 mornings to collect this amount, when it used to take just one.
  • Valeria Maria de Alcàntara styles her daughter's hair after a morning's work in the mangrove swamp.
 

 

 

“Rolezinhos” Fill Brazilian Malls — And Reveal Racial and Class Tensions

Janaína Oliveira, a racial justice activist in Recife, Brazil, tells onlookers at the Rio Mar shopping mall that this "rolezinho" aims to ensure that malls are accessible to people of color.

Janaína Oliveira, a racial justice activist in Recife, Brazil, tells onlookers at the Rio Mar shopping mall that this “rolezinho” aims to ensure that malls are accessible to people of color.

In January, Brazil was filled with news about “rolezinhos,” little outings. Rolezinhos are get-togethers organized on facebook. Primarily, they have offered way for low-income youth, who are also often people of color, to hang out, flirt, and shop in malls. But in early December roughly 6,000 youth came out to a rolezinho in São Paulo, and the event was accompanied by rumors of theft and mass muggings, although only three people were reportedly arrested. This blog post by Rio Gringa, offers an excellent review of the course of events and the debates around the gatherings. Repression by mall administrators and police, including pre-emptive arrests, led Amnesty International to call the response to the rolezinhos discriminatory and racist. Solidarity rolezinhos were planned and held in different parts of Brazil, including Recife. Public Radio International´s The World gave me an opportunity to cover this phenomenon for them, and to talk about the class and racial tensions that the rolezinhos are revealing as Brazil heads into the final months of preparing to host the World Cup.

Cockroaches: They’re at London’s Science Museum

Roaches learn about human eating habits from Professor John Cockroach, a.k.a. Michael Bendib, center.

Roaches learn about human eating habits from Professor John Cockroach, a.k.a. Michael Bendib, center.

On a visit to London this summer, a buddy of mine, Matt Davis, mentioned that London’s Science Museum has a cockroach tour. That is, one can go to the museum and experience something similar to Gregor Samsa’s transformation into a bug by donning a cockroach costume. DW was planning a special edition focusing on climate change education, and they thought the story engaging enough to publish. You can listen to the audio version or read the text one.

Squeezed: Life in a time of food-price volatility

This sSqueezed drawingummer, the Institute of Development Studies and Oxfam released the initial results of a four-year study on the impact that food-price volatility is having on people in ten developing counties. I had the privilege of crafting a podcast to summarize those results and to make them accessible to those who prefer to absorb their information aurally. Thanks to Naomi Hossain of IDS and Richard King of Oxfam for their support with this project.

Turning the Tide: Challenging the School to Prison Pipeline in New Orleans

Last fall I spent some time at the Tulane Towers Learning Center near the intersection of Tulane Avenue and Broad Street in New Orleans. Jerome Jupiter generously allowed me the freedom to talk to staff and students at his program, New Orleans Providing Literacy to All Youth (NOPLAY). The result is my article on the work they are doing to help people who are not enrolled in traditional schools earn their General Educational Development (GED) certificate. The Crisis, the magazine for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), published the story in its current edition.

NOPLAY students - Essence Washington, Kierra Grimes, Norkeya Jenkins and Tonisha Powell

NOPLAY students – Essence Washington, Kierra Grimes, Norkeya Jenkins and Tonisha Powell

Bluegrass at the Hi-Ho Hits the Airwaves

Smiling Guitar PlayerBefore leaving New Orleans, I produced a radio piece for AARP’s Primetime Postscript. The announcer made the typical mistake with my name, but I still enjoy the story tremendously. The piece features the bluegrass music and voices from a regular Monday night at the Hi-Ho Lounge on St. Claude Avenue, one of my favorite places and events in the city. In an earlier posting on this site, you can see several photos from another bluegrass night, and if you look at those while you listen to the story, you can have a real multi-media experience.

 

Three Months After Isaac, Water Damage At The Estates Still Not Fixed

In October, David Baker, my editor at The Louisiana Weekly asked me to cover a story of neglect in a low-income housing development, The Estates, that had been built where the Desire projects used to stand. The Housing Authority of New Orleans, which is in receivership due to mismanagement, had issued a repair deadline of November 30th to the private company managing The Estates. After that piece came out, The Lens asked me if I’d be willing to do a follow-up story for them. After publishing the piece online last Friday, The Advocate picked it up for their Sunday edition.

New Orleans Public Affairs Podcast: Water Damage in Former Desire Neighborhood

This week I interviewed Malcolm Suber of CDC 58:12, a community organization based in the Desire area that is now serving residents of the community that replaced that project. The privately managed community, The Estates, is overseen by the Housing Authority of New Orleans. Residents have been dealing with leaks and water for some time, but Hurricane Isaac exacerbated the situation. Listen to his comments here.