In 2009, Mennonite women in a far-flung Bolivian colony reported mass rape. Now leaders of this insular Christian community with its roots in Europe are campaigning to free the convicted men. More than 100 women and children were attacked in the colony of Manitoba, and their courage in telling their stories secured penalties of 25 years for the rapists. But within Mennonite circles, doubts continue to be aired about the imprisonment of the men. They too protest their innocence, claiming their initial confessions in Manitoba were forced under threat of torture. The culture of abuse in the old colonies – physical and sexual – has often been commented on. And, as Linda Pressly reports, it’s partly this that gave the impetus for the foundation of one of Bolivia’s newest Mennonite communities. Hacienda Verde has been hacked out of virgin forest, and is home to 45 families. These are people who were excommunicated in their old colony homes, often because they rejected the harsh rules of conservative Mennonites – rules that govern every facet of life, from the clothes and hairstyles that are allowed, to the rejection of any kind of technology.
Presenter / producer: Linda Pressly
(Photo: Bolivia Mennonite colony, Belice, Girl at school. Photo Credit: @jordibusque)
Abandoned in the Amazon
The dangers of flying in the great wilderness of the Brazilian rainforest. When a light aircraft carrying two families from a local Indian tribe disappeared over the Amazon in December, relatives scoured the rainforest for weeks until hunger and sickness forced them to give up. The Brazilian authorities ignored appeals for an official ground search – just as they’ve ignored appeals over many years to regulate local flights in the Amazon. Without air traffic control, pilots must fly clandestinely – making already-hazardous travel between the tiny landing strips even more dangerous. Now, Brazil has a new right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has spoken out against the communal rights of indigenous people – and, as Tim Whewell reports, tribal leaders fear the failure to find the missing plane may be a sign of growing official indifference to their needs. Producer in Brazil, Jessica Cruz.
(Image: Before the tragedy - Jeziel Barbosa de Moura, pilot of the vanished plane, minutes before he took off on the doomed flight. Credit: Family archive)
Empty Spain and the Caravans of Love
How does a lonely, Spanish shepherd find love when single women have left for the city? Antonio Cerrada lives north of Madrid, in the heart of what’s been nicknamed the, ‘Lapland of Spain’ because its population density is so low. With only a handful of families left in his village, and people continuing to leave for the cities, Antonio struggled to find a partner. Then Maria Carvajal arrived. She came in a bus full of single women – a ‘caravana’ - to attend an organised party with men like Antonio.
The Caravans of Women - or Caravans of Love as they are known - began as a response to Spain’s epic story of rural depopulation. More than half the country is at risk, and in nearly 600 municipalities there isn’t one resident under the age of 10. But as Linda Pressly finds out, there are many initiatives now to reverse the decline of the Spanish countryside, including a movement of young people – the ‘neo-rurales’ – who have begun to occupy abandoned villages.
Presenter and producer: Linda Pressly
Producer in Spain: Esperanza Escribano
(Image: Antonio Cerrada, a shepherd who found love. Credit: BBC, Esperanza Escribano)
Bangladesh versus Yaba
Thousands of Bangladeshi addicts are hooked on Yaba - a mix of methamphetamine and caffeine. It's a powerful drug that gives big bangs for small bucks. The Yaba epidemic has ripped through the population of Bangladesh, urban and rural, poor, middle-class and rich. This is a drug that's manufactured in industrial quantities in the jungles of neighbouring Myanmar. As the economy of Bangladesh has boomed, drug lords have worked to create new markets for their product. And the Rohingya crisis - when nearly a million fled Myanmar for Bangladesh - has created further opportunities for the traffickers, as desperate refugees have been employed as drug mules. The Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, declared a 'war on drugs' last May. Thousands have been arrested. But critics see a disturbing trend - hundreds of suspected Yaba dealers have been killed by law enforcement.
Presenter / producer: Linda Pressly with Morshed Ali Khan
Restoring Brazil's National Treasure
Brazilians wept when their 200-year-old National Museum went up in flames last September. Twenty million items, many of them irreplaceable, were thought to have been reduced to ash when it was gutted by a massive fire. Staff said the loss to science and history was incalculable - and the tragedy, possibly caused by faulty wiring in the long-underfunded institution, led to much national heart-searching about the country's commitment to its heritage. The museum, housed in Brazil's former Imperial Palace in Rio de Janeiro, held unique collections of fossils, animal specimens, indigenous artefacts, as well as Egyptian and Greek treasures - and the oldest human skull found in the Americas.
Some scientists, who saw their entire life's work go up in flames, were in despair - but others vowed to work to rebuild and restock the museum. Now, months on, painstaking archaeological work in the debris has uncovered items that can be restored, while other specialists are setting out on expeditions to acquire new specimens. Tim Whewell reports from Rio on the agonies - and occasional small triumphs - of the slow, exhausting effort to bring a great national institution back to life.