Meet international freelancers who aren’t afraid to work in Brazil

Andy Martin

Thinking back I’m not quite sure how my (Brazilian) wife put up with me during the first few months after our move from London to São Paulo. As far as I was concerned there was hardly anything I positive I could take from the experience – apart from the weather. Why was there so much traffic? Why the crippling bureaucracy to sort out my visa? And why the hell were there turnstiles on buses?

Over time though, my apathy for Brazil slowly became begrudging appreciation and later flourished into a passionate love affair (don’t tell my wife). Most importantly, I realised that my problem – and I would hazard to guess it is the same for many ‘gringos’ – was as much about my own struggle to adjust to Brazil as it was about Brazil itself.

Certainly, Brazil is not perfect and yes, there are still many things it needs to get right. And whilst Brazilians might not like it when us foreigners point these things out to them – largely, I guess, because they are often already very much aware of them – we have an important role to play in helping Brazil move forward. Running away from problems, as far as I am aware, has never been a particular constructive way to go about helping to solve them.

Benjie Guy

I only arrived here on the 5th Feb, after a couple of years freelancing at BBC World Service radio in London. As for most people, getting to know Rio has been an incredibly rich and rewarding experience so far. I have thrown myself into the city, trying to do and see as much as possible. Of course I’m sure I have only scratched the surface so far. I’m also enjoying getting to grips with the language, arriving having listened to 8 Pimsleur CDs and had 3 lessons with a friend, I’ve been topping up my vocab while getting to know Cariocas.

I was warned before I came here that while there is much to love, there is much to infuriate. As a result, the wonder that is an incredibly bureaucratic – and at the same time disorganised – city has only caused me to smile. You have to laugh, otherwise you’d cry. That said I’ve had very little to complain about. And I’ve not run into any trouble so far, touch wood. I was warned to exercise caution before I came out, but I’d say it’s more about letting common sense prevail, as with anywhere.

The World Cup was my lure to Brazil, but by no means all I am interested in. It provides a unique opportunity for the country to find out more about itself – with elections looming later in the year – and for journalists to shine a light on a fascinating country at a very important time in its development. The more I find out about the place, the more I want to know, and impart.

Ben Tavener

Reporting the World Cup, and everything that has led up to it, was one of the main reasons I made the move to Brazil three years ago. Each day life here has brought new challenges and new frustrations, but often alongside brighter, sometimes life-changing experiences.

By battling Brazil’s everyday conundrums – bureaucracy, poor infrastructure, high living costs – and talking to people from all walks of life, we can give the outside world a clearer picture of what is really happening here.

Getting a sense of events on the ground has been vital during coverage of the run-up to the World Cup and the Olympics, including the anti-government protests, the pacification of Rio’s favelas, and the real impact of a sputtering economy.

Brazil has an undeniable dark side – one of inequality, violence, corruption – but these complex social injustices form the very powerful narrative that underlines exactly why the story of what remains wrong with Brazil must be told, and told from Brazil.

The build-up to the World Cup has, in many ways, exposed the very worst of Brazil. I hope the event itself will allow Brazil to bring its best. Whatever the story is, we should be here ready to tell it.


Beth McLoughlin

I have reported from Brazil before for the UK press and am returning this week to investigate the impact of the World Cup on children, so it was with some interest that I read Mikkel’s story. If I did not believe that journalists have a vital role as agents of change, I would never have chosen to be one. There will always be a conflict between the story the authorities would like you to tell and the reality as you find it. Equally, the truth can sometimes be more complicated than it first appears. That is why societies need professional journalists, and not just social media commentators, to find out what is really going on.

Some situations are undoubtedly difficult to report on for a variety of reasons, but these stories must still be told. Mikkel’s Facebook post (intentionally or not) has added to the debate about Brazil’s social problems generally but I do hope that Brazilians do not interpret it as an outsider taking a superior stance towards them. I believe that we all benefit from cultural exchange and from good journalism, practiced to high professional standards and with integrity.


Callum Leahy

As is often the case, my interest in Brazil began with a girl. A couple of years later I now speak Portuguese and have just moved to Belo Horizonte, attempting to bring some on the ground coverage to the English speaking world as the World Cup looms large.

Brazil is a nation of contrasts, of great beauty but hideous in equal measure. One of the worst things that can be said of Mikkel Jensen’s allegations about street children being disappeared in Fortaleza is that no one is surprised.

In a nation where tens of millions live under the yoke of crippling poverty and rampant crime, FIFA and the government would have the world see only the beautiful side of the Brazilian coin and seem to be prepared to violate any sort of human right they can get away with in order to achieve this.

By leaving Brazil and giving up his World Cup tickets Mikkel sent a strong statement and has helped his vitally important story gain nationwide attention. However, had he not been there in the first place, the story might have remained forever untold.

International journalists are a vital tool in giving the world a window on the reality of Brazil’s streets and exposing the misdeeds of FIFA and the government and, if can play some small part in that, being here will have been worth it.


Chris Westwood

Drama is the oregano of journalism.

Or so I thought.

It now appears, however, as though drama has been substituted for an idyllic cottage nestled amongst the rolling plains of the Danish Archipelago.

Mikkel Jensen’s decision to leave Brazil left me baffled. In my young journalistic career, it’s the first time I have heard of a reporter running away from, and not scurrying towards, a story.

Unlike the majority of people invited to contribute to this patchwork, I wasn’t even a journalist when I arrived in Brazil, a little over two years ago.

What changed that, was the complexity of my new home – the passion and the apathy, the promise and the waste, the loyalty and the promiscuity, the joy and the violence. The last thing I want to do now is run away.

Mikkel should come back to Brazil and complete the work he started. But, if he doesn’t, I’ll happily take his tickets.


Donna Bowater

For me, the big attraction of moving to Brazil 18 months ago was not covering the World Cup but using it as an opportunity to report on a country that has been historically overlooked and under-reported yet has a fascinating and complex story. It presents a journalistic challenge to break down stereotypical ideas of Brazil and actually tell the stories of Brazilian people, whatever they may be.

Many people have a new curiosity about the country simply as a result of knowing it will host the World Cup and it’s important to capitalise on that to shake up preconceptions. It’s natural that there’s some posturing and make-up to disguise the problems before hosting a mega-event but it’s an integral part of a journalist’s job to hold authorities to account and try to get beyond the superficial.


Jill Langlois

Brazil is not an easy place to cover. But when I moved to São Paulo four years ago, I was under no illusion that it would be. I’d heard the horror stories of needing to use the public healthcare system, the beyond-crowded public transportation and the much-hated bureaucracy to get anything done. And I do mean anything. Even coming from Canada, a place where the aforementioned items are not nearly as much of an issue, I knew I could take on Brazil.

No country is perfect, but every country is important. I didn’t come here for a sporting event. The stories of people’s struggles and triumphs in everyday life are what brought me here and what make me want to stay. I’ve covered stories of protest, crack addiction and domestic violence. Everyone should have a voice, and the job of a journalist is to help them speak a little louder.

I would never, nor would any of my colleagues, put anyone in danger for the sake of a story, but sometimes staying silent because of fear is more dangerous than speaking out. Brazil most definitely is not easy, but the things worth doing in life never are.


Joe Callaghan

Compared to a lot of the international media working and living in Brazil, I very much feel like I’m fresh off the boat, having arrived at the turn of the year. But I’ve had more than enough time to see the best and the worst of the country.

In lots of ways your first 15 minutes here is enough time for that – the intoxicating best of Brazil and the dispiriting worst can be found on the same street corner. But no country is perfect. If it were it would be a very bland place.

Being a sports journalist can often seem like the easier of the industry to operate in. There’s a reason sportsdesks are known as the toy department in newspapers. Sport isn’t life or death. There are much more important things going on in the world. But right now sport is the very reason the world is looking at Brazil.

And no matter what type of journalist you are, you are here to tell the world the stories of Brazil. Telling good stories is the easy bit, telling bad stories is invariably the much harder part. But both are vitally important, now more than ever. And both are, well, the job. That’s what we sign up for. To borrow a well-worn, kinda cheesy yet pretty apt line from the toy department, we don’t do walking away. At least we’re not supposed to.


Kevin Raub

I guess when it comes to cushy topics to report on from Brazil, being a travel journalist based here surely tops the list. I won’t pretend the trials and tribulations of my professional work comes even within a goal kick of some of my colleagues here, having to navigate the police, the politicians, the World Cup host city organizing committees. Me? I might miss a long-distance bus on occasion; or maybe I have to deal the devastation of craving a maracujá caipirinha when all they have is lime; or those days when I get a little sand in my sunga (I’m kidding. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a sunga!), so life is pretty good considering.

Six years in, Brazil’s raw beauty never ceases to amaze me as I scour the land for Lonely Planet Brazil travel guidebooks and a host of US and UK travel publications. But regardless of why you are here or what you are reporting on, Brazil is no smooth ride. The high cost of living, crippling bureaucracy and the often daunting task of getting the simplest things done on a daily basis can be paralyzing to the point of wanting to tuck yourself away at home, never to be heard from again. Another Brazil-based journalist once told me the story of a friend who said, “You leave the house and the battles begin.” I can’t disagree.

But then I do leave the house and Brazil rewards: It could be something as simple as refreshing agua de coco on the beach or the right ice-cold chopp at the right boteco or as grand as discovering that Brazil really does have a strikingly beautiful wine country in Vale dos Vinhedos or taking in the otherworldly views from the mirante overlooking Dois Irmãos in Fernando de Noronha. Brazil may not be the easiest, but no sooner after beginning to contemplate leaving, the saudades set in with the heaviness of a heart attack. One day I’ll go – and I’ll miss it so.


Lise Alves

I arrived in Brazil in 1989, and have covered news since Eco-92. Back then there were reports of busses in the middle of the night gathering the homeless from Rio’s streets and dropping them off far away so that foreign tourists would not see them during the conference.

There have always been social problems in Brazil, but that is expected from a country this large, whose public officials were never really taught how make long-term future plans. Foreign correspondents show the contrast between the first-world Brazil and the third-world Brazil, and with their stories pressure officials to take action and improve the lives of those who need it most. Media outlets (foreign or local) give these people a voice to express their concerns.

The government will always try to sugarcoat problems, and it is up to journalists to distinguish between long-lasting policies and ‘cheap make-up’ and report what is actually happening. Not covering an event will not make it go away. We are not ‘part’ of the conspiracy and it is not for our benefit the ‘show’ is on.


Lucy Jordan

I’m a British freelancer living in Brasilia since May 2012. Brazil is a wonderful country that, like all countries, has its problems. Undeniably, we reporters in Brazil see, daily, stories of heart-breaking poverty, of corrupted power, of services that are inadequate to help those who desperately need them and officials who seem to shrug their shoulders in response.

What is clear is that those stories need voices to tell them. Isn’t reporting that kind of thing what we’re here for? If reporters left a country every time they saw something unsavoury, we’d have nothing but puff pieces and PR releases left to read.

The story related by Mikkel Jenson, that street kids are being killed to clean up for FIFA, is an extraordinary one. Is it plausible? Perhaps. We know from experience that where poverty and extreme inequality exist, children are always at risk. But we can only be skeptical, until another reporter goes to Fortaleza and does a thorough job of reporting and fact-checking the story. What we do know is that, whatever problems the World Cup brings – the over-spending, the evictions, the corruption – it also offers a period of intense international scrutiny that offers a perfect opportunity for getting stories like this out into the light.


Sam Cowie

Reporting from Brazil is not for the faint hearted. Mikkel’s gripes about Brazil and the World Cup are well founded. It’s unfortunate for him that he wasn’t able to take the pressure and had to return home- for that, he doesn’t deserve to be ridiculed.

But why are his Facebook posts being paraded around in certain sections of the Brazilian press as if he is a world renowned expert, as opposed to an amateur freelancer?

It’s as if Mikkel, from Denmark, is some kind of spokesman from a more civilized society.

While I doubt Mikkel himself has much of an ulterior motive, it seems that his story- the young honest, hardworking boy, whose dreams were shattered upon arriving in Brazil and seeing the shocking inequality, is merely being used to advance the omnipresent ‘Ó que vergonha Brasil’ narrative.

We live in times of dubious, unreliable and opportunistic viral internet campaigns- from Kony 2012 to Don’t go to the World Cup! to #SOSVenezuela!.

It’s unfortunate that this episode may smear young MikkeI’s career. Where will he be in 6 months? Probably long forgotten for the latest Facebook craze.

If you are an international freelancer who isn’t afraid to work in Brazil, send your story to


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What does the Brazilian military do now?

(originally published in Folha de S. Paulo’s blog, edited by Vincent Bevins)

Fifty years after the coup that overthrew progressive President João Goulart and installed a military dictatorship, Brazil’s Armed Forces are nowhere near the centers of political power. The few that want them back in charge can’t get more than 1,000 people to their marches. In recent weeks, Brazil has remembered the 50th anniversary of the golpe, and criticism for the generals who occupied the presidency during military rule was so overwhelming, that a key question has returned to the public debate:

What should the role of the military be in South America’s powerhouse?

First, a look back at history.

Since the Paraguayan War (1864-1870), Brazil’s Armed Forces have rarely been in demand. But the Air Force’s effective participating in Italy during World War II kept their popularity just high enough for Air Marshall Eduardo Gomes to run as a conservative presidential candidate against Eurico Gaspar Dutra, in 1945. He lost, and ran another time in 1950, against former (non-military) dictator Getulio Vargas. Gomes lost again, but the military remained a key player.

In 1955, another general lost the race for the presidency to a civilian: Juarez Tavora – who is known for opposing the creation of state-run oil company Petrobras and the legacy of the Vargas government. He was beaten out by Juscelino Kubitschek, the man that would go on to move the capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasília. Many historians claim Kubitschek spent freely in order to keep the military from overthrowing him. It worked.

In 1960, a more liberal general attempted to get into the Presidential Palácio do Planalto. Henrique Lott, a big fan of the political marketing machine pushed by Dwight Eisenhower, eventually lost to conservative Janio Quadros. In a separate election for the vice-presidency, left-of-center João Goulart won. What no one expected was for Quadros to resign a few months later – some say he did so because wanted to be returned to power by the people. That never happened.

After taking power, Goulart eventually had to flee the country after the 1964 coup, and the rest is history. The military regime was a mess. A brutal mess. After it ended, and after the failed presidencies of friends of the dictators, like José Sarney and Fernando Collor de Mello’s, opposition to the dictatorship has dominated mainstream politics. In a country with no clear outside enemies and a revived democracy, what could the Armed Forces do?

Brazil spends about US$ 8 billion of its GDP on defense every year – the least of its BRIC counterparts – despite worries about protecting its huge pre-salt layer oil reserves, its enormous border with ten nations as well as the largest Atlantic coastline in the world. Minister of Defense Celso Amorim, like his predecessors, says Brazil’s military strategy is based on diplomacy and dissuasion. That means, it seems, that ideally those 350,000 men should just be available for backup. Or, to go to Haiti for United Nations missions.

Others want more out of the government’s investment in the military. Having the Armed Forces on the streets has surely worked during huge political conferences, general elections and sporting events, such as the 2007 Rio Pan American Games. They will be used similarly in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. But many Brazilians want the Armed Forces to act as backup police forces, especially against heavily armed drug dealers hidden in favelas all over the country.

We saw this demand manifest in one favela complex in Rio de Janeiro last week. The Complexo da Maré was occupied by 2,700 troops from the Army and Navy, who will stay until the World Cup is over.

But in general, Armed Forces higher-ups don’t want their troops mingling with the police forces, due to the concern that criminals would embed themselves in the Armed Forces. Their concern stems from the corruption of this nature that exists in the police force; and the Armed Forces have even better weaponry and more resources than the local police. In exceptional conditions, they can act. But that will happen only if a governor recognizes he can’t control violence in the state. Rio’s Sergio Cabral has signed that deal and many others want to follow. Not for now.

President Dilma Rousseff, who was tortured and unlawfully arrested by military forces during the dictatorship, has not been active in the use of the Armed Forces. She rejected putting the military on the streets during the June protests and left everything up to the police. This week, her administration demanded the military chiefs look into human rights abuses in their facilities during the dictatorship. It’s unclear if, or how, Rousseff wants to use her soldiers.

The stalemate is likely to last as long as the political establishment reduces the military to the dictatorship and the military rejects having a more active role in the country’s security issues with security.

This is unlikely to be resolved soon. But the 50th anniversary of the coup has re-started the debate.

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