Chilean Chronicles, Part 74: A glorious stew of humanity in Rio

I’ve had the great fortune to be around folks from all over the world, and this just may have been the most international day I’ve ever experienced.

It started real early with walking about 30 seconds from our hotel to the beach, where Dunreith and I strolled in the sand and felt the water of the ocean lap against our ankles before splashing up on our shorts.

The people

It continued at breakfast, when we happened to sit next to Bill Buizenberg, the head of the Center for Public Integrity, and David Leigh, formerly, and apparently currently, of The Guardian in England.

On the bus from the hotel to the university where the conference is being held, I sat next to Aung, an investigative journalist from Myanmar who produces four radio broadcasts and a 30-minute television segment per day.

His wife, also a journalist, works in radio.

Aung said he’s so busy that at times he doesn’t see her during the day, even though they work right near each other.

But he knows that she’s around because he hears her voice on the air.

In line to register for the conference I saw friends and colleagues from the investigative reporting universe in the United States.

I also met a pair of Brits who are not journalists, but work in animal protection.

I switched to the speakers line and started talking with Mauri Koning, a Brazilian journalist and a member of this year’s class of Cabot winners, Latin American journalism’s highest honor.

He gave me the gift of a book he wrote that was just published on Thursday and that chronicles his travels around Brazil’s borders, exposing prostitution and child trafficking.

The line was so long that the opening session began late.

While waiting I connected with Wayne, a Canadian expat who’s living in the Ukraine after previous stints in Cambodia, Indonesia and Georgia. (The country, not the state.) He introduced me to Dmytro a Ukranian colleague who is working to start a public television show with about 20 other journalists in the region.

I asked Dmytro if there is a tradition in the Ukraine of funding non-profit ventures.

There’s not a tradition of anything in the Ukraine, he answered wryly.

I assisted in a class that taught the participants about using Access, speaking and having lunch afterward with Lilia Saul, a Mexican journalist and daughter of a single mother who grew up in one of the areas most affected by the devastating earthquake of 1985.

The injustices she saw then and throughout her childhood motivated her to become a journalist.

I attended an afternoon session about how to use open records to document the movements of cargo around the world taught by Giannina Segnini, a whiz from Costa Rica.

The following session about how to investigative organized crimes included presentations from Sheila Colonel of the Philippines, Xanic von Bertrab from Mexico and Paul Radu from Romania.

During the presentation a journalist from Guinea-Bissau and one from Azerbaijan asked questions of the panel.

We all repaired to the reception, where I met, talked and laughed with colleagues and new friends from Bosnia, Ecuador, Argentina, Peru and Chile.

This of course says nothing about the Swedes and the Norwegians I met during the day.

In other words, it was an absolute stew of humanity gathered in one of the world’s most vibrant cities under a common cause and mission.

The projects

The work people do is also thoroughly global in scope.

The continually unfolding offshore accounts project, spearheaded by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, has by latest count exposed the actions take by the ultra-wealthy in 50 countries.

It’s the largest project they’ve ever done, Bill said.

Paul, the Romanian journalist, spoke about Investigative Dashboard, a tool he and his colleagues at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project have developed to help journalists around the world help their colleagues identify and understand criminals’ actions by using public records.

While the ability that criminals have to be in many countries is an advantage for them, he said, it can also be a weakness as they are exposed in many places.

This leaves room for journalists to investigate.

Giannina’s session tracked the movement of commerce, legal and illegal, all around the globe.

The risks

A sobering and inspiring part of the day was hearing about the very real costs and threats faced by journalists who do this worked.

Mauri and his family were threatened in December.

His wife left with their three-year-old son from Curatiba, the city where they were living, to Rio.

They’ve not come back, he told me, his eyes starting to water.

The journalist from Guinea-Bissau has been living in exile in France for four years after exposing government corruption in his homeland.

The woman from Azerbaijan has also been threatened.

Although there was a significant amount of talk about how the Internet and technology has facilitated finding out about people’s wrongdoing, there was comparatively little discussion of computer coding. More conversation instead
about shoe-leather and records-based reporting.

But the constant underlying message was about the general trend in the world toward greater openness and transparency and the impact the work, when done well, can have.

Xanic’s investigation into Walmart with David Barstow of The New York Times earned them a Pulitzer Prize and deal the company a blow from which it is still trying to recover.

Sheila’s work helped oust former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

And Paul’s team has actually helped prevent crime by showing the plan for an illicit bingo ring directed by convicted gangsters.

In short, it was a riveting, intensely stimulating and truly global day that I feel privileged to have attended, witnessed and, in a small way, contributed.

Day Two is tomorrow.

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