Why Simon Romero is important to Latin American journalism

by Luisa Anderson

It is unsatisfying to read Simon Romero’s words in only 140 characters, because it simply limits his grace and intelligence. I first came across Romero by chance on Twitter. As the bureau chief of Brazil at The New York Times, his continuous article posts on Twitter made me seek out more of his work.

One article that stands out is “In Brazil, Violence Hits Tribes in Scramble for Land.”  This piece, published on The New York Times site on June 9, 2012, begins with vivid imagery:

   “The gunmen emerged from pickup trucks at dawn, their faces hidden in balaclavas,    and stormed into an encampment surrounded by a field of soybean plants near this town on Brazil’s porous frontier with Paraguay.”

This is the scene that Romero saw. The gunmen shot and killed Nísio Gomes, who was a leader of the indigenous Guarani people of Brazil. Then they put his body in a truck and drove away. In the article, Romero explains that killing of indigenous leaders is an increasing problem, and is linked to tension between indigenous land owners and the expansion of industrial-scale farming.

Romero’s ability to write about complex events and issues, while remaining accurate and eloquent, is a unique skill. He is an analytical thinker with extensive knowledge of the countries he reports and writes about, and yet there is a beauty to his words, even when covering the most painful issues. One thing that sets Romero far ahead of other journalists is his ability to structure articles. The structure of his stories, including the structure of this particular story, is incredibly precise. He understands when to introduce information and facts, and how to tie everything seamlessly together.

A few paragraphs down, Romero writes that during 2011, 51 Indians were killed in Brazil, and 24 of the killings are suspected to be related to land clashes. He continues:

   “The killings have focused attention on a problem that still plagues Brazil ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, a gathering of thousands scheduled to be held in Rio de Janeiro this month. Twenty years ago, ahead of the original Earth Summit in Rio, officials responded to international criticism over killings of Yanomami people by gold miners, creating a 37,000-square-mile reserve in the Amazon.”

Romero is able to write about relevant information with clarity that allows for a deeper understanding of the overarching issue. Further into the story, he inserts more information that delivers another angle of the main issue:

   “A surge in wealth contrasts with the sense of hopelessness among Mato Grosso do Sul’s indigenous peoples, who account for about 75,000 of the state’s population of 2.4 million. Their marginalization has roots in policies put in place in the 1930s, when Brazil’s rulers corralled the Guarani into small reserves with the intent of opening vast areas to settlers.”

He explains that land ownership is an old struggle for Brazil rooted in the wealth gap of the indigenous people and upper class leadership.

Closing the article, Romero delivers another vivid scene with Tonico Benites, a Guarani leader, who was threatened by a gunman due to his involvement in efforts to recover land. Having written several paragraphs worth of facts and information, Romero ends with a quote to give us a last glimpse of one man’s personal struggle:

 “…A thunderstorm ended that encounter, said Mr. Benites, who still shakes when recounting it. “I told myself, ‘I’ll scream until I’m killed; my wife will hear me, maybe someone else,’ ” he said. “They can eliminate me, but I won’t go without a scream.””

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