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May 15, 2009
A reporter’s look down the barrel of a gun

A machine used for mining in Indiana, where Worldfocus anchor Martin Savidge was once held by an armed mine owner.

American journalist Roxana Saberi is heading home after she was released from an Iranian prison earlier this week. She had been sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of spying, but was released after an appeals court reduced her punishment to a two-year suspended sentence.

Worldfocus anchor Martin Savidge writes about his own experience being detained. 

After what must have been a frightening time for her and her family, Roxana Saberi is heading home.

We’re still waiting to hear the exact cause for her trial and imprisonment in Iran, which Saberi says she will reveal when she’s ready. One account from an Iranian lawyer says it was because she was caught in possession of some sort of sensitive government document.

I have been detained twice in my life as a journalist so far.

The first incident was very early on in my career. It was my first television job, and I was working at WCIA-TV, the CBS affiliate in Champaign/Urbana, Illinois. There was a nationwide strike by the United Mine Workers, and my assignment editor got wind of a strip mine located just across the state line in Indiana that continued to operate. He thought that might make a good story, so the cameraman and I drove off.

It took a while to find the place on the dirt back roads. As we were getting close, we passed a family butchering a pig that was hanging from a tree in their front yard. I should have seen it as an omen, but I didn’t.

We found the mine, but it wasn’t operating. It wasn’t shut down in observance of the strike, but rather due to the recent rain — it was just too muddy for the heavy equipment. I radioed the assignment desk for instructions; they said “Shoot what you can and come on back.”

We started filming from the road but couldn’t see much, so we ventured onto the property — which of course was trespassing, and a mistake.

Not long after, I heard a voice from behind asking, “Just what the hell are you doing?” I turned to find a big, weather-beaten man with a grim face holding a large gun aimed directly at us.

I stammered out some weak answer. This was clearly the mine’s owner. He knew, as I did, that if the UMW found out he was operating during their strike, he’d be in deep trouble.

He proceeded to demand the tape and the camera. I was young, dumb and just out of journalism school, with just enough idealistic passion to tell a man with a gun in his hand “No.”

He marched us into a worksite trailer on the property. He sat me down at a desk and told me to call my station. I got my assignment editor on the line and told him that the owner had shown up and was demanding our video — failing to mention the gun. The assignment editor broke into an amazing string of expletives describing the mine owner and his lineage. It was also very loud. I heard it and so did the gun holder — that’s when I decided to let my assignment editor in on the fact the man had a gun on us.

The assignment editor stopped mid-“@##$!,” got quiet and asked if we were alright. “Yes,” I said.

“Give him the tape and the camera,” he told me. Just like that — no debate, no harsh words, just give him what he asks.

“But…” I started to stammer.

“Just give it to him,” came the worried voice over the phone.

So I told the cameraman to eject the tape and give it and the camera to the mine owner.

The funny thing was, the guy just sort of looked at me staring at the gun, which he seemed to notice in his hands for the first time. He could see I was scared. He quickly put it down on the desk making sure to point it away from us.

@#$%!” the mine owner said. “Keep the damn tape and your camera and get out of here.” I told my assignment editor who was still on the phone listening that we were coming home.

After a long quiet ride back to the station, I walked in and gave the tape to the assignment editor. He asked if I was okay. I said yes. “Do you want me to write up something about the mine story?” I asked.

“Nah,” he said. “It’s not worth it.”

Since those days, I have had other run-ins with people with guns who’ve demanded my tape. I don’t argue with them — instead, I have devised other ways to prevent from ever losing a story. So far, I never have.

As for the second incident? That took place in Kuwait, and no amount of fast-talking would get me out of trouble — not when I was in the hands of the secret police being held at a secret military base. But that’s for another blog.

– Martin Savidge

For more on detained journalists, watch an interview with Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists: North Korea sets trial date for detained U.S. journalists.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user cindy47452 under a Creative Commons license.

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May 12, 2009
Generations meet in Jamaica’s Chinese cemetery

The Lignum Vitae tree — Jamaica’s national tree — shades the grave of Albert Hosang in the Chinese cemetery in Kingston, Jamaica. Photo: Lisa Biagiotti

Lisa Biagiotti is currently reporting on HIV/AIDS, sexuality and young gay men in Jamaica. On Saturday, she visited her grandfather’s grave in the Chinese cemetery in Kingston. She shares a personal story of death and renewal of the Chinese community in Jamaica.

I never met my grandfather, Albert Hosang, but I knew he was buried in the Chinese cemetery in Kingston, Jamaica. The 11-acre cemetery serves as the buffer zone for three main gangs in one of Kingston’s most volatile neighborhoods.

Before the Chinese Benevolent Association (CBA) erected a wall around the cemetery, it was a blanket battleground. People slept in graves and pillaged marble tombstones, preventing many Chinese Jamaicans from visiting the final resting places of their relatives.

The cemetery is a reminder of the Chinese presence in Jamaica since 1854. After slavery was abolished in Jamaica, British landowners recruited the Chinese — specifically the peasant, nomadic Hakka Chinese from the Guandong province outside Hong Kong. They came as indentured laborers, but soon rose through the economic and social ranks of Jamaican society, settling in downtown Kingston and throughout the island as traders, shopkeepers and bakers.

From the beginning, the Chinese mixed with the local population and converted from Buddhism to Christianity. At one point, some estimate the Chinese population reached 20,000, but it’s difficult to calculate a precise count because many Chinese are a blend of other ethnic backgrounds like black Jamaican, white European, South Asian, Lebanese, Syrian and Jewish.

When independence from British rule came in 1962, the Chinese fully integrated into Jamaican society. The second and third generations identified more as Jamaican than Chinese. They didn’t speak the old Hakka dialect, but spoke Jamaican patois. The CBA in Jamaica is trying to revive haunts of Chinese culture with Mandarin language lessons, Chinese socials, badminton, Kung Fu and other traditional Chinese celebrations.

There is also a new wave of Chinese immigrants in Jamaica today. Like their Chinese ancestors 150 years ago, they are setting up shops in downtown Kingston. When I walked into Chun Lai’s shop on Princess Street, no one spoke patois (yet), and all the goods were made in China.

At 10:00 on Saturday morning, I sat at the foot of my grandfather’s grave in the 99-year-old Chinese cemetery while resident expert David Chang read the Chinese characters on the tombstone. (My grandfather died at age 46, but the Chinese characters read 49 — it’s common to have errors like these as the language slipped away from the Chinese Jamaicans.) David read from top to bottom, right to left: The town and province my grandfather’s family came from in China, the names of his parents, brothers and wife. Then he said, “And 10? Ten children?” and turned to me.

I nodded, “Yes, 10 children.” And I looked down at my right hand, at the worn, barely-beveled ring my Aunt Paula sent me in a plastic bag a few weeks ago. I sighed and thought of her as she waged her final battle with cancer. I patted her father’s grave and heard her slim gold band tap the white tile.

My aunt, Paula (Hosang) Sperrazza, died at 1:30 p.m. that very same day. I’m not sure if my visit was karmic or auspicious — maybe it just is. She was a courageous and brilliant woman who began her life 62 years ago in the Chinese Jamaican community in Kingston.

Rest in peace Paula Sperrazza and Albert Hosang.

– Lisa Biagiotti

  • Watch all the Worldfocus In the Shadows video signature series
  • Listen to Worldfocus Radio on LGBT politics and gay asylum
  • For more information on homophobia and HIV in Jamaica, visit The Glass Closet, a multimedia project produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

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May 1, 2009
Women in Morocco blend tradition and fashion

Women don jelabas in Morocco. See more photos from producer Rebecca Haggerty below.

Worldfocus producer Rebecca Haggerty is currently reporting from Morocco and explores the meaning behind the country’s clothing, from tight jeans to heavy headscarves.

Everywhere I travel, I check out what people wear.

Goth kids in Mexico City, in solidarity with mopey teenagers worldwide, stick to a uniform of skinny pencil leg jeans and abundant black eyeliner. French Canadians of a certain age protect their footwear from wintery slush with sensible rubber galoshes, whose design hasn’t changed since I was a child. Young Finnish women, bucking the global trend of revering blondeness, have a marked affinity for dark brown hair dye.

Here in Morocco, the traditional outfit for both men and women is a long-hooded caftan called a jelaba. Men pull up their hoods and stroll city streets with their hands clasped behind their backs. The deliberate pace, combined with the vaguely medieval silhouette, makes nearly all jelaba-wearing Moroccan men look like they’re contemplating weighty philosophical issues — even if they’re just headed to the store to buy milk.

After Worldfocus’ excellent story last year on women in Egypt choosing to wear the hijab –- the Islamic headscarf — I was looking forward to checking out Moroccan attire. I saw plenty of variety. On the streets of Casablanca, young women with tight jeans, hip sunglasses, and big hair jostled old-school grannies in jelabas and leteh, the traditional Moroccan veil that covers the mouth and cheeks.

Students wore the hijab along with form-fitting jeans and bright sweaters, and I spotted a very sharp pair of leopard-skin mules paired with an olive-green tunic and a black head scarf –- proof that stylish women can adapt to pretty much anything culture throws their way. Most chose a pretty embroidered jelaba in a range of colors and added a coordinating hijab, although plenty left off any head covering at all.

Occasionally, I came across women wearing outfits of flowing head-to-toe black drapes and heavy veils. A Moroccan journalist told me it was called a nakob, and was worn by followers of the fundamentalist Wahabist school of Islam from Saudi Arabia. The black-clad figures contrasted starkly with the vivid colors of Morocco, with its intricately tiled mosques and exuberant jumbles of red and yellow hibiscus blossoms.

They also served as a reminder that everywhere in the world, clothes carry a meaning far beyond their simple elements of thread and cloth.

– Rebecca Haggerty

Watch for Worldfocus’ series from Morocco in the coming weeks.

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April 30, 2009
Beirut’s underground gay community congregates discreetly

Gemayze has a vibrant night life. Photo: Kristen Gillespie

Worldfocus special correspondent Kristen Gillespie reported on the signature story “From streets to clubs, sexual attitudes shift in Lebanon.” Here, she writes about her experience reporting on the underground gay community from a small bar in Gemayze. 

It’s Friday night at a bar on a side street in Gemayze.

Two young women sitting at the end of the bar discreetly hold hands. The female DJ wears a T-shirt that reads, “My boyfriend is out of town.” Everyone in the bar is female. In the underground gay community, Friday nights at this particular bar is known to be ladies’ night. The gay scene in Beirut, says one woman while sipping her drink, “is big, but people aren’t open about it. You have to know where to go.”

The woman, 33, lives at home, but her parents don’t know that she is a lesbian. For now, they don’t have to. For younger people looking to date casually, it’s not difficult to meet people, have fun and stay in the closet.

But for homosexual couples looking to have a serious relationship — or children — the choice often boils down to staying in Lebanon and compromising, or moving abroad. I ask if it bothers her that she can’t be “out” with her partner. “What I want is to live with my partner and have a family. But realistically, I wouldn’t be able to have children and give them a good life here.” It upsets her that she would have to leave the country to do that. “We’re not there yet,” she says about Lebanon.

As it gets later, the music gets louder, the drinks keep coming and the narrow bar fills up. Another woman, 32 years old, sees me taking notes and comes over to chat. She echoes the sentiments of the first woman, emphasizing that she will remain in the closet. Her parents “will never know” about her, even as they pressure her to get married. She is unsure how things will turn out for her.

The bar hosted at least a couple of dozen women that night, most of whom probably live at home with their parents. While Beirut is the most gay-friendly city in the Arab world, it is still a conservative society where gay couples are not socially accepted.

Homosexuals are at the beginning of a struggle for rights in Lebanon. It is one that will set an example for the rest of the Arab world.

– Kristen Gillespie

See more Worldfocus coverage on Homosexuality Around the World.

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April 30, 2009
“Swine flu” name offends Jews and Muslims

‘Swine’ flu has the pork industry worried.

The World Health Organization said on Thursday that it will stop using the the term “swine flu,” claiming the term was misleading consumers and causing some countries to slaughter pigs needlessly. The WHO will call the virus by its technical name, H1N1 influenza A.

As countries around the world debate over what to call “swine flu,” Worldfocus anchor Martin Savidge writes about the influenza name game.

A couple of days ago when the flu story was really beginning to move, I remember seeing a report from Israel on the wires about how many Jews wanted the name of the outbreak changed because it was offensive to their faith. Muslims, as well, wanted a different name for the same reason. I thought that was rather amusing and potentially confusing.

Then I read yesterday that the U.S. government wanted to make a name change as well — but it had nothing to do with faith; rather, the economy. Specifically, the negative impact “swine” flu was having on the pork industry. Pork farmers fear the market could take a dive, perhaps with good reason.

Even though scientists have said there is no way to catch the flu by eating pork chops or any other pork products, a number of nations have moved to ban the importation of pork from the U.S. and Mexico. They include the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Ecuador.

In Jordan they are shutting down pig farms, while Egypt has ordered every pig in the country destroyed — some 300,000 of them. In the newsroom, we were struck that Muslim countries like Egypt and Jordan would even have pigs as livestock. As our associate producer Mohammad al-Kassim pointed out, it’s for their Christian residents, who have no religious problem with ham or bacon.

So what name should replace “swine,” since it is so problematic? The U.S. suggests referring to the flu as H1N1, its scientific name. Thailand says it will start calling the disease the “Mexican flu” — a name Israel liked as well — but not one that Mexico is likely to like.

In Europe, Androulla Vassiliou, the European commissioner for health, said that the commission would refer to the disease as “novel flu.” I don’t quite get that name. Is it because this is said to be a totally new flu?

The WHO continues to refer to the virus as swine influenza. Meanwhile, the World Organization for Animal Health, which handles veterinary issues around the world, issued a statement suggesting that the new disease should be labeled “North American influenza,” in keeping with a long medical tradition of naming influenza pandemics for the regions where they were first identified, e.g. the Spanish flu of 1918 to 1919, the Asian flu of 1957 to 1958 and the Hong Kong flu of 1967 to 1968.

So what name would you call it?

It’s worth noting that this is another story, like the economic meltdown, which shows how we are all globally connected. And like the recession, the only way to combat the problem is by working together. No one is immune — regardless of where you live or what language you speak.

– Martin Savidge

Photo courtesy of Flickr user The Pug Father under a Creative Commons license.

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April 29, 2009
Winemakers thrive in the hills of eastern Lebanon

The mountainous region of eastern Lebanon has a rich history spanning thousands of years — and equally rich land that makes it a fertile location for some of the country’s top vineyards. Lebanon produces rich red wines, crisp whites and smooth, fruity rosés.

Worldfocus special correspondent Kristen Gillespie ventures through Lebanon’s vineyards.

Below, she blogs about her experience in the field.

From the Field

Let’s be up front about it: this story is unapologetically biased. I love Lebanese wine.

Putting together this story wasn’t exactly a hardship assignment. There are so many excellent producers in Lebanon, but I chose Chateau Belle-Vue because Naji and Jill Boutros represent a new generation of winemakers. It’s not just about the product — they are creating meaningful social change in their village while producing organically grown, award-winning wines. Jill made sure we had tasted plenty of samples from the oak barrels, which is where the wine from each specific grape variety lies for two years until it is blended to create a new vintage.

Chateau Ksara is one of Lebanon’s oldest producers, and aside from the consistent quality of their wines, the miles of mysterious, Roman-era subterranean tunnels fuel speculation as to what they were used for. Ksara graciously opened their doors, and their wine cellars, for us to film.

Another top producer not to be missed is Chateau Kefraya, which produces a reliably crisp Blanc de Blanc for about $6. For travelers to Lebanon, it’s available, along with many others, at Beirut’s airport.

Sahtain! (Cheers!)

– Kristen Gillespie

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April 28, 2009
Lebanese youth debate secularism and sectarianism

Worldfocus correspondent Kristen Gillespie reported on the signature story “Beirut’s American University preaches tolerance, democracy” — featuring a college campus that promotes a radical idea in the Middle East: free speech and democracy. 

In the back corner of the fourth floor of West Hall, the Secular Club shares a small room with the Palestine Culture Club. The room is big enough to hold a few desks and chairs.

As we get ready to film the discussion, the students start joking about how the space is divided down the middle of the room by a row of paper Palestinian flags taped to the ceiling. Typical Arab unity, says one, Palestinians alone and everyone else on the other side. Laughs all around.

But it’s the most practical arrangement, says another, and everyone agrees. A poster of Yasser Arafat from the 1970s is turned to face the wall. For this filming, the Secular Club is crossing into Palestinian territory.

I was looking for a student club to talk to for this report and happened to wander in to West Hall, where Ahmad, the young man with the dark beard and leather jacket who participated in the roundtable discussion, was exhibiting his watercolor paintings. One is on the poster for the Secular Club, seen in the report.

Ahmad and some other friends from the club sat down to talk about secularism as the only solution for the future of Lebanon. A system based on religious quotas means a fractious, divided society where intermarriage is discouraged and people live within prescribed geographical and social boundaries.

It’s common for a taxi driver who lives in Muslim West Beirut not to be familiar at all with major landmarks in sections of Christian East Beirut. He may never have even been there before, just a few miles from his home.

The Secular Club, and the slowly growing secular movement in Lebanon, want to move beyond these social boundaries; for people to be Lebanese citizens first, and to be judged on their merits, not on their religion.

– Kristen Gillespie

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April 27, 2009
Scenes of Hezbollah play out on south Beirut streets

Worldfocus correspondent Kristen Gillespie reported from Beirut for the signature story “Hezbollah heads into mainstream Lebanese life and politics.”

One out of four Lebanese citizens lives in the south Beirut area known as the Dahiya, or “suburbs” in Arabic. The war with Israel in 2006 hit this area particularly hard, with blocks and blocks of neighborhoods flattened. I covered the 2006 war from Beirut, and came back three years later to see how much progress had been made in reconstruction.

The overload of billboards, posters, Hezbollah souvenir shops and the oppressive security presence remind visitors that the Party of God is organized and ready for battle. It’s a war mode, even when there is no actual war.

This partially explains the secrecy and distrust of outsiders. The American government says Hezbollah is a terrorist group, but within Lebanon, it’s more complicated. The Hezbollah political party actively participates in the Lebanese government, while not only refusing to disarm but actively stockpiling weapons outside the scope of the state.

“Now they have a say in national politics,” says Timur Goksel, who liaised with Hezbollah for 20 years as a senior United Nations advisor. “They are not going to give that up, but they also know they got there with Hezbollah’s guns.”

– Kristen Gillespie

Photos by Kristen Gillespie.

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April 17, 2009
Sharing the good news with you

The Worldfocus signature series on Liberia’s Long Road Back featured uplifting stories on African women making a difference.

Though a common saying about news is “if it bleeds, it leads,” Martin Savidge shares some of the more cheery stories that have uplifted the world recently, including Worldfocus’ signature series on Liberia’s Long Road Back

When times are bad we all yearn for good news.

This week had plenty. Two stories in particular dominated: A courageous crew and a singing Scot.

The actions of the crew of the Maersk Alabama — and particularly the selfless offer of Captain Richard Phillips to be taken hostage to protect his ship from Somali pirates — inspired many of us. We followed the drama and his daring rescue. For days, network news programs tracked the crew’s return and swarmed to exclusively interview them. Now, a similar quest will no doubt spoil the weekend of many reporters as they head to Vermont to try and get the first words from the captain himself as he arrives back home.

For many people, the shots of the Navy snipers were welcomed, seen as the first concrete action after months of frustration as the pirates hijacked ship after ship. It went down the way many Americans prefer: Fast and precise, with only the bad guys getting hurt. Unfortunately, those are not likely to be the last shots in this conflict at sea. In fact it may well trigger a new level of violence…but let’s stick with the good news.

Then there was Susan Boyle of Scotland. I dare anyone to watch that clip of her on YouTube from “Britain’s Got Talent” and not get teary. Thanks to the Internet, the woman who proclaimed she had never been kissed is now loved by many throughout the world. I think I’ve watched her song half a dozen times, and each time I cheer.

When she first walks on stage, we see so many of life’s knock-downs and stigmas reflected in her. Though we are raised to “never judge a book by its cover,” we did. She was a middle-aged, plain Jane who seemed a bit quirky. In our modern-day zeal to instantly peg a person, we had her nailed…until she sang. Her first notes shamed us and the rest lifted us to our feet.

I saw those two stories everywhere.

But only on Worldfocus did I see a week long series by Lynn Sherr from Liberia on the triumphs of women who are working to lift that once war-torn country.

From President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female leader, to the market women who spawned a movement that helped to force former dictator Charles Taylor into exile, to the former girl soldiers and sex slaves of the civil war now are trying to forget their past and start new futures. Lynn introduced us to all of them, and in doing so, taught us much about a continent we thought we knew.

Most Americans think of Africa as a land of endless disease, war and famine. Our signature stories showed that this stereotype is wrong. Liberia inspires and teaches that the United States does not lead in all areas. In fact we ranked 56th of 130 countries [PDF] in the World Economic Forum’s 2008 survey of female political empowerment — trailing behind Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania.

These are the stories we love to bring to viewers…they inform and uplift.

It’s good news, and we know there’s a whole world of it out there.

– Martin Savidge

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April 16, 2009
Chronic malnutrition fatigues Guatemala’s children

Photo: Samuel Loewenberg

Samuel Loewenberg of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is currently in Guatemala producing a couple Worldfocus signature stories. He writes about his visit to the Bethania clinic, where he encountered the young victims of Guatemala’s rampant malnutrition.

The little girl does not smile. She doesn’t have the energy. Hopefully she will soon.

She is in a rehabilitation clinic in Jocotan, Chiquimula, a province in the far east of Guatemala, near Honduras. Her name is Domitila and she is nine years old. Her body is emaciated and she is fragile. Patches of her hair are missing; the veins in her legs show through her skin. Her face has a perpetual look of sorrow — the muscles are too weak to change expression. Other children in her family were in similar shape, the nurse tells me.

A boy, Israel, can not even support himself. He has been placed in a walker, where he lays sprawled. When he sees me, he tries several times to raise himself, but he cannot muster it. A pair of babies, twins, are so thin and frail I can hardly stand to look at them.

These were the lucky ones that were being taken care of in the well-staffed and clean Bethania clinic.

The cases of Israel, Domitila, and the other children here are the extreme edge of what is in fact an all-too common problem in Guatemala: Childhood malnutrition. While these children in the clinic faced the possibility of starvation, the more common problem is not a lack of food itself, but a lack of the right kind of food, with enough vitamins and micronutrients to keep children healthy. Children who suffer from chronic malnutrition are not in immediate danger of starvation, but they will face stunted growth and a diminished mental capacity. The children don’t look underweight — they just look tiny. Some have light hair, a sign of vitamin deficiency, and others are missing patches of hair, like Domitila.

Half the children in Guatemala suffer from this type of food poverty, known as chronic malnutrition. In some areas it is as high as 75 percent, which is among the highest such rates in the world.

The populations affected are largely the indigenous Mayan communities that make up most of the country’s rural poor. The hunger hot spots also track with the places the civil war was most fierce, like the province of Quiche in the highlands. This was not by mistake. “Budgets were shifted to keep some populations less developed,” said Andres Botran, who pioneered some of his country’s anti-hunger programs in the last government. “For us it is a national shame.”

It is often said that Guatemala is really two countries in one, divided between the few rich and the many poor. This is only partly true. One would not exist without the other. It is among the most unequal countries in the entire world, with 20 percent of the population receiving 60 percent of the income.

Botran himself is one of Guatemala’s ruling elite, the scion of the powerful rum dynasty that bears his name. It was Botran who took up the issue in the early part of his the decade as an adviser to the Berger government, which was more conservative than the current one although far from the hard-line military forces in some parties. Botran admits that he came across the issue almost by mistake, as a political maneuver while staying with friends in Georgetown. He says that when his assistant first presented him with data that half his country’s children were malnourished, he did not believe it and accused him of making a mistake. But the numbers were right.

Photo: Samuel Loewenberg

The reasons for chronic malnutrition in Guatemala are attributable to a number of factors: a lack of education; the increased price of beans, one of the only sources of protein for villagers; poor or in some cases non-existent infrastructure, meaning no electricity or running water, and certainly no clean water — so diarrhea is a major factor. And Guatemala remains a highly dysfunctional society, still badly damaged by the 36-year-old civil war and income inequality that is some of the worst in the world.

Underlying all of it is poverty.

The malnutrition, which is hidden from Guatemala’s wealthy urban populace, happens in places like the mountain village I visited in the Northern Highlands near to the town of Santa Cruz del Quiche. There, there are huts with dirt floors and tin roofs with little patches of land out back growing corn or lettuce or chili peppers. It is lunchtime, and inside one two-room hut a mother was feeding her five children. She worked over a wood-fired stove, rhythmically patting her hands making dozens of tortillas, to accompany a small bowl of pasta and just a spoonful of frijoles. Her youngest daughter is being treated for malnourishment, and the other children appeared to be stunted as well. They wolf down their tortillas and drink a Kool-aid like mixture to fill their stomachs.

Even the experts remain somewhat mystified about why the problem persists at such high levels. Guatemala is only four hours by air from Washington D.C., and it has some of the worst levels of chronic malnutrition in the world. Among Latin American countries, it is the only one to have failed to decrease its malnutrition over the last decade — even countries with worse income inequality, like Brazil, or ones that are poorer, like Honduras and Nicaragua, have had much bigger successes in addressing the problem. So far, in Guatemala, efforts are just going towards treating the symptoms. It is not enough.

– Samuel Loewenberg

Watch for Worldfocus’ stories from Guatemala in the coming weeks.

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