Rodrigo Abd, global enterprise photographer based in Buenos Aires, and Alberto Arce, freelance reporter, obtained rare access to members of Haiti’s wealthy elite — and to the violent gangs that threaten them — for a deep look at doing business in this failed state. Using contacts and determination and building trust, they explored how entrepreneurs continue to operate in an environment where more than 100 heavily armed gangs control access to the port, the fuel and the food supply chains. Kidnappings and killings are not uncommon in the impoverished capital, leaderless after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
During their reporting, the pair was threatened verbally by people who didn't want to be photographed and with weapons by gangsters who didn't want them there at all. Abd encountered constant hostility toward a white man with a camera. But after many attempts, Abd and Arce finally gained access to Barbecue, the leader of a coalition of gangs who presents himself as a populist fighting the injustices of an economy concentrated in the hands of a few, but who operates as an armed thug instilling fear in the people.
The piece was among AP’s top stories in reader engagement and earned kudos from Pulitzer Center funders: “They avoided all the easy frameworks ... and did a fantastic job depicting the abject inequity that is at the root of Haiti's social/economic collapse,” wrote Executive Editor Marina Walker. Author and Haiti expert Amy Wilentz wrote that Abd and Arce were “savvy and resistant” and said, “I enjoyed it and admired their enterprise.”