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In French Guiana, virus exposes inequality, colonial legacy

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Children play soccer in the slum district of Mont Baduel, in Cayenne, French Guiana, July 10, 2020. – AP Photo / Pierre Olivier Jay

Working from Paris, intern Arno Pedram pulled off a thoughtful, enterprising story about how the pandemic was playing out in France’s South American territory, French Guiana. With revealing interviews, Pedram showed how French Guiana’s outbreak exposed deep economic and racial inequality in the overseas department of about 300,000 people where poverty is rampant and health care is scarce. The story hit the two themes that are dominating news agendas among AP clients: the pandemic and racial inequality.

In an AP interview, a representative of French Guiana’s Indigenous communities explained how the appearance of white doctors sent from the French mainland caused alarm, not relief. “There is still in the minds the time of colonization and the havoc wreaked by viruses brought by colonizers,” Jean-Philippe Chambrier, a member of the Arawak tribe, told Pedram. “So when they saw white people from the mainland, they made the link.”

The story was illustrated with by images by photojournalist Pierre Olivier Jay.

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People, some from Haiti, sit outside their homes in the slum district of Mont Baduel, in Cayenne, French Guiana, July 10, 2020. The pandemic is exposing deep economic and racial inequality in French Guiana that residents say the French mainland has long chosen to ignore. – AP Photo / Pierre Olivier Jay
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