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.

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.

Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald Staff

Despair wrought by corruption scandals also drives migration to the U.S.

TEGUCIGALPA    |    Hondurans don’t get riled easily. And they’re not known for takin’ it to the streets.

But this has been a year of loud and angry torchlight protest marches in Honduras — and for good reason. The impoverished Central American country is wrestling with perhaps the worst government corruption scandal in its history.

Or as Honduran protesters like Eldan Cruz put it: “Corruption on such a criminal level it’s basically sociopathic behavior.”

Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald Staff

El Edén in Honduras is no paradise for those on trek to the U.S.

SAN PEDRO SULA    |    It seems the entire world is wrestling with immigration emergencies today. And lest you think the western hemisphere’s crisis is over, consider the look on Oscar Ortega’s face.

He just got a WhatsApp message that made his eyes pop.

Gustave Dore / Wikimedia Commons

En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme...

Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember...

-opening to "Don Quixote"

Anyone who’s grown up under communism can appreciate Cuban émigré Erisbel Tavio’s taste in books.

To survive totalitarian governments, and occasionally stand up to them, it helps to be a little insane. And there’s no more heroic nut in all of literature than Don Quixote, the protagonist of the classic novel of the same name by Spanish author Miguel Cervantes.

One look at the Brazilian flag and you think: This must be a space-age, high-tech country. That star-spackled orb in the middle glowing like a planetarium. The banner wrapped around it hailing "Order and Progress." Engineers must be rock stars there, right?

Presidencia de Colombia

“The problem with Colombia is that we’ve been fighting a war for three generations and we simply got accustomed to it. What I’m trying to tell the Colombian people is, ‘Wake up. We have to be a normal country.’”

That was the opening volley from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos during a wide-ranging and unusually frank interview last week in New York. But there’s one slice of our conversation you won’t hear on WLRN.

Pilar Calderon / Presidencia de Colombia

Today’s international affairs quiz: Would you rather see Venezuela denied a temporary seat on the U.N. Security Council, or would you prefer to see an end to Colombia’s eternal civil war?

Pick one. Can’t have both.

That’s at least what Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told me this week during our interview in New York, where he and a host of other heads of state are gathered for the U.N. General Assembly.

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