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Stories of migration from some of the best young journalists in Mexico, Central America and the United States

Empty mansions, empty stomachs

Francisco Rodriguez de Leon and Giovanna Dell Orto reporting from Guatemala

Garish mansions dot the hillsides of Cabrican, Guatemala. You would think the people here are doing well. Yet poverty is so high almost three quarters of the population suffers from stunted growth. The houses are built with remittance money sent by family members from the US, but those left behind continue to live on beans and tortillas. Few even live in the houses whose construction they oversee, and although no one wants to admit it, their owners may never return to live there. Find out what motivates migrants to build empty mansions in the middle of poverty.





Starving in McMansions: Big homes in poor Guatemala

by Giovanna Dell Orto


June 10, 2015

The white, two-story villa that dominates the entrance to this hamlet on a volcanic hillside in the Mayan highlands could have been plucked straight from any prosperous suburb in the southern United States.

Under the terracotta-tile roof, classical columns support the house's porch and frame its many paneled windows and spacious rooms. Doors sport curving polished handles and inlaid glass. The two-car garage has an automated door with embossed panels.

Four feet away in the same dirt yard encircled by a concrete-block wall, however, is a dark, single-room adobe shack covered by corrugated metal where the owner of both houses …

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Mansiones Malnutridas

by Francisco Rodriguez de Leon


April 12, 2015

Si las casas en Cabrican, Quetzaltenango, fueran plantas, el municipio seria un prodigioso jardin, regado desde 1992 con abundante agua (remesas) para hacerlo crecer en al menos dos pisos de altura. La regadera parece haber tenido agujeros tapados que dejo algunas flores sin brotar, aunque cada vez son las menos.

El terreno de Alejandro Rojas, en la aldea San Antonio, que esta a cinco minutos del centro de Cabrican, parece haber quedado en la frontera de riego. Al lado derecho, donde no cayo el agua, esta la casa donde el y su familia viven: de paja y techo de lamina …

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From the field


Reporter Francisco Rodriguez de Leon, one half of the reporting team on this assignment, already has lots of experience as a journalist, covering everything from murder to political intrigue. Economic constraints, however, means he and his colleagues at El Periodico's Sunday magazine Domingo rarely get a chance to report outside Guatemala City. Round Earth Media was able to change that. "We really wanted to do this story about the mansions," he said. "It was really great to able to get out there and actually see them."