Reporting Back

This weekend marked the third anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti.

We asked Orla Ryan to tell us about her trip to the Caribbean country in October last year, where she reported from the capital city Port au Prince, and the coastal town of Jacmel.

Why now? I went to Haiti for the first time in October as part of the FT’s Seasonal Appeal. I was asked to write a series of pieces highlighting the work of the Global Fund for Children, which backs grassroot charities that work with children. It was, in any case, an interesting time to go to Haiti. It was nearly three years since the earthquake had hit, killing more than 300,000 and displacing many more. Big aid organisations had promised a lot but there was a lot of scepticism about what they had actually delivered. It was a chance to see what local organisations did.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Lasting impressions? I was struck by what a beautiful city Port au Prince could be, or people told me, once had been. It is backed into green hills – I was there during the rainy season and am sure it is not always as lush or as muddy – and on a Caribbean island. But mostly, it looked as if it had turned its back on the sea, its residents focused inwards on making a living. Read more

In our Reporting Back series, we ask FT foreign correspondents to tell us about a recent trip.

Andres Schipani, the FT’s Andes correspondent, visited Bolivia, spending time in La Paz, Colquiri (a mining village around 150 miles southwest of the capital) and the salty desert of Uyuni, close to the Chilean border.

Why now? There aren’t many countries that can match Bolivia’s record of venal rulers, coups and indigenous uprisings. But this Andean country, the landlocked heart of South America, has experienced profound transformation since Evo Morales, a former llama herder and coca leaf farmer, became the country’s first indigenous president in 2006. Over the past six years, he has granted sweeping rights to the country’s majority of Amerindians, a majority that has been neglected for centuries (to give you an idea, serfdom was only abolished in 1945, and until early 1952 indigenous people were not allowed to walk around the square by the Presidential Palace).

Evo Morales in La Paz on July 2, 2012. (Aizar Raldes/AFP/GettyImages)

Last month Morales was asked by his party to run for a third term in next year’s elections. But the president once known as the champion of Pachamama, or Mother Earth, has been digging and drilling the country. This is alienating a chunk of his political powerbase, with some indigenous protesters now voicing environmental and other concerns.

What were some of your lasting impressions? I have been to Bolivia many times in the past, but the ethnic, cultural and geographical diversity of the country always amazes me. It is also a lasting shock to fly across the Andes mountain range and then suddenly drop and land at an airport 4,000 metres above sea level. This is the case when arriving at La Paz’s airport stationed in the capital’s satellite city of El Alto – a terribly poor metropolitan area that sprawls across the altiplano, or high plains, and is Latin America’s largest indigenous city. With so much poverty, some believe the only advantage people who live here really have are the views, overlooking the rounded valley that hosts the capital. The downside, of course, is that after a hard day at work selling trinkets in the town centre, the indigenous women, or cholitas, with their bowler hats and layered skirts have to labour up the steep rutted streets back to their shacks or shanties of cinderblock bricks. To my mind, this suggests a broader truth about the country: it sits on top of a stunning wealth of natural resources but is on an uphill rocky road to development. Read more

In our Reporting Back series, we ask FT foreign correspondents to tell us about a recent trip.

Xan Rice, the FT’s West Africa correspondent, visited Mali, spending time in Bamako, and Mopti – a riverside town around 4oo miles northwest of the capital.

Why now? Mali is known as one of west Africa’s more peaceful countries. But now it faces two major crises. The first is political: on March 22, army officers staged a coup. An interim government has been formed, but the junta still wields considerable influence.

An Islamist rebel of Ansar Dine gestures on April 24, 2012 near Timbuktu, rebel-held northern Mali, during the release of a Swiss hostage. AFP PHOTO / ROMARIC OLLO HIEN

A member of Ansar Dine. AFP PHOTO/ Romaric Ollo Hien

The second crisis concerns northern Mali, a vast desert region. Since late March, the area has been controlled by a loose alliance of rebels whose victories over the poorly-equipped army helped spark the coup. One of the groups, the MNLA, is a Tuareg nationalist movement that wants independence. The other, Ansar Dine, or “defenders of the faith”, is a hardline Islamist group with close links to al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), a terrorist organisation. Neighbouring countries and Western nations fear that northern Mali could become a safe haven for jihadis and criminal networks, a “west African Afghanistan”, in the words of France’s defence minister. Read more

In our Reporting Back series, we ask FT foreign correspondents to tell us about a recent trip.

Courtney Weaver, a correspondent for the FT in Moscow, visited Azerbaijan ahead of the Eurovision song contest – the final of which is being held in the country’s capital, Baku, on Saturday.

Why now? The fact that Azerbaijan is hosting Eurovision this year has shone a light on the Caspian country of 9 million people – and in particular, its human rights record. The event itself is typically a festival of kitsch in which contestants from 41 European countries, clad in sequins and tights, sing their hearts out for their nation. Azerbaijan has embraced the contest as a chance to shape the West’s opinion of the country and what defines it. Read more