Latin America Report

Tim Padgett

Brazilian investors buy Miami real estate. Haitian earthquake survivors attend South Florida schools. It's clear what happens in Latin America and the Caribbean has a profound effect on South Florida.

WLRN’s coverage of the region is headed by Americas editor Tim Padgett, a 23-year veteran of TIME and Newsweek magazines.

He joins a team of reporters and editors at the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and NPR to cover a region whose cultural wealth, environmental complexity, vast agricultural output and massive oil reserves offer no shortage of important and fascinating stories to tell.

The past year’s been a good one for Miami’s gay community – including gay Latinos. In January they held their first LGBT pride event, the GayOcho! Festival, held on one of the city’s most famous streets, Calle Ocho.

It was a big moment for gay Latinos, who hail from a socially conservative culture that can be tough on homosexuality. And it was especially meaningful for the hundreds if not thousands of gay men and lesbians who’ve come here to escape often violent harassment in Latin America.

Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Jessel Recinos grew up on some of Honduras’ poorest and deadliest streets – and the country's ubiquitous gang violence nearly ended his life when he was still a kid.

DNGUAH / YouTube

If there’s one parcel of waterfront turf South Florida real estate videos love to gush about, it’s the Sunset Islands.

Located just north of the Venetian Causeway, the four isles feature some of the ritziest properties in Miami – a Planet One-Percent where long yachts are docked next to multimillion-dollar mansions.

Superstar celebs like Shakira have digs there.

And until recently, so did the former head of Brazil’s national soccer federation, Ricardo Teixeira.

Al Diaz / Miami Herald

On Saturday, Cuba’s communist leaders will launch their seventh party congress – a gathering to set the island’s future political and economic course. It will run through Tuesday, April 19.

The last congress was held five years ago – but since then, Cuba has normalized relations with its sworn cold-war enemy, the United States.

Tom Hudson / WLRN.org

HAVANA - In his historic speech from Havana last week, President Obama called for a number of changes in Cuba. More human rights. More economic reform.

But the one that seemed to elicit the most applause from Cubans was his call for more Internet – which Obama said “should be available across the island so that Cubans can connect to the wider world – and to one of the greatest engines of growth in human history.”

Tim Padgett / WLRN.org

HAVANA - Rubén Valladares just might be one of the most important entrepreneurs in Cuba.

No, he’s not a tourism tycoon. He’s not a tech titan.

Truth is, he makes…paper bags.

“But we are the biggest provider of bags in Cuba,” says Valladares, a slender, middle-aged man who finishes his sentences with the sort of raspy chuckle that helps people get through each trying day on this island.

Por las Plumas

Costa Rica isn’t widely known for its movies. But three years ago, a deadpan comedy called “Por las Plumas,” or “All About the Feathers,” got shown at prestigious film festivals like Toronto and Cannes.

And it reached those cinematic heights thanks in no small part to a longstanding but lesser known program created by the Miami International Film Festival, which opened over the weekend at Miami Dade College.

Jamaica Information Service/Prime Minister's Office

These days the Caribbean seems better known for debt ruin than for dark rum.

The region – South Florida’s next-door neighbor – is home to some of the world’s most indebted countries. Since 2010, five of them have defaulted. The government of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, may soon shut down thanks to its epic debt crisis.

But Jamaica – whose more than $16 billion debt represents 130 percent of its GDP – may be the Caribbean’s debt champ. And that’s a big reason Andrew Holness is expected to be sworn in this week as the island’s new Prime Minister.

mountainsoftravelphotos.com

For half a century, only charter flights have been allowed to ferry people from the U.S. into Cuba.

But today, the two cold-war foes will agree to let regular U.S. commercial flights land in the communist island: 20 a day into Havana and 10 daily into nine other Cuban cities.

“This means more people-to-people contact,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Transportation Thomas Engle told reporters over the weekend. “All to the good of mutual understanding.”

Alma de Tango

It’s Valentine's Day week – and let’s face it, Latin American music helps you get your romance on.

In South Florida you’d have to be a zombie not to know that. Wait, I take that back. I’ve seen even zombie couples here dancing to bolero, bachata, bossa nova and all the other amorous Latin genres that make Miami a 24-hour telenovela soundtrack.

Tim Padgett / WLRN.org

Mario Stevenson is a respected virus expert. He heads the infectious diseases division at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. He’s done pioneering research on HIV.

But until last year he’d barely registered Zika.

“Four months ago,” Stevenson told me, “I thought Zika was an Italian football player.”

He’s since learned Zika is a mosquito-borne virus – one that’s marauding so badly throughout Latin America and the Caribbean that the World Health Organization this week declared it a global health emergency.

Fernando Llano / AP via Miami Herald

A year ago this week, I wrote an op-ed on this page that said Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was committing economic suicide by clinging to delusional statist policies. At the time, I worried I might be exaggerating.

I don’t anymore.

Courtesy Homewood Suites

These days, if you’re a South Florida business executive like Liane Ventura, chances are you log more business travel time in Latin America and the Caribbean than you do in the United States.

You didn’t miss Haiti’s presidential runoff election on Dec. 27. It was postponed amid accusations that the first round of voting in October was marred by voter fraud and bungling by poll workers.

In other words, just another Haitian election.

Now the runoff will be held Jan. 24 – only two weeks before Haiti’s constitution says a new president must be sworn in on Feb. 7. But given the political swamp Haiti is mired in these days, the odds of an inauguration happening by that date look 50-50 at best.

Carnival Corp.

What would a U.S. tourist invasion of Cuba be without yanqui cruise ships – especially cruise ships owned by the Miami-based Carnival Corporation?

Last summer the Obama Administration gave U.S. cruise lines the green light to drop anchor for the communist island. Pending Cuba’s approval, Carnival plans to have its Fathom brand’s 710-passenger ship Adonia heading to Havana’s port by May. It will mark the first time in more than half a century that a U.S.-owned cruise vessel has docked there.

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