Americas

Carolyn Kaster / AP via Miami Herald

Back in December, in an interview with Yahoo! News, President Obama said this about the possibility that he'd visit Cuba in 2016:

“I am very much interested in going to Cuba, but I think the conditions have to be right.”

Most people thought he meant he first wanted to see more democratic and economic change on the socialist island. Since then, Cuban President Raúl Castro hasn’t announced any sort of reforms like freer political speech, multi-party elections or full Internet access.

Dario Lopez-Mills / AP via Miami Herald

COMMENTARY

The last time I reported from Juárez, Mexico, about five years ago, it was the most murderous city in the world – a desert slaughterhouse for drug lords like Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán.

One evening a colleague and I popped into Juárez’s most famous bar, the Kentucky Club (supposedly the birthplace of the margarita). We had the place to ourselves. A homicide rate of more than 200 per 100,000 residents tends to depress nightlife.

There are bills in both the U.S. House and Senate to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo against Cuba. They haven’t gotten too far. But yesterday the co-sponsors of the House measure were in Miami after a visit to the socialist island - and they were guardedly optimistic their bill might generate enough support this year to bring a vote.

U.S. Representatives Tom Emmer of Minnesota and Kathy Castor of Tampa introduced the Cuba Trade Act of 2015 last summer. The bill would repeal the half-century-old ban on U.S. companies doing business with Cuba.

The White House

President Obama plans to make a historic, if controversial, visit to Cuba next month in an effort to accelerate normalized relations with the socialist island. He confirmed the news Thursday morning.

Sources say Obama will visit Havana the week of March 21, most likely March 21 and 22. From there, according to media reports, he will travel to either Chile or Argentina.

According to ABC News, a National Security Council official will formally announce the President’s Cuba visit tomorrow at the White House.

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.”

Colombian Military

Colombia is close to a peace agreement to end its 50-year-long civil war  –  and this week the guerrilla army known as the FARC promised to stop recruiting children. But a Miami-based group that rescues those kids is meeting the pledge with skepticism.

"We're extremely cautious about what this means," says Philippe Houdard, who heads the Developing Minds Foundation – whose most important work may be helping child soldiers in Colombia return to normal lives.

At its facilities in Medellín, Colombia, Developing Minds has rehabilitated more than a thousand of those children.

Dieu Nalio Chery / AP via Miami Herald

COMMENTARY

Thirty years ago this week, Haiti had no president.

The country’s chubby churl of a dictator, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, had just been ousted and flown into exile with his Cruella de Vil wife. He left a power vacuum, but in those heady days hope ruled Haiti – a faith that democracy would emerge in his blood-stained wake.

But this week, Haiti has no president.

Franklin Reyes / AP via El Nuevo Herald

The U.S. and Cuba may have normalized relations, but the cold war-style defection is still common for Cuban baseball stars who want to ditch communism for the U.S. big leagues. Another one took place yesterday – and it was a double-header.

Many Major League Baseball scouts consider Yulieski Gurriel one of the best players Cuba has ever produced. Even at the age of 31, he’s a coveted power-hitting infielder. So is his 22-year-old brother Lourdes, who can play just about anywhere on the field.

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.

Fernando Vergara / AP via Miami Herald

COMMENTARY

Today, Washington’s diplomatic gaze is on Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who’s meeting President Obama at the White House.

But as Santos and Obama discuss what looks like an imminent peace accord to end Colombia’s half-century long civil war, I hope the Beltway keeps another Latin American head of state in mind: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

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.

AP via Miami Herald

Has President Obama’s policy of engaging Cuba succeeded or failed? It’s probably much too early to say – but the fundraising efforts of groups on both sides of the issue indicate something important is working.

The New Cuba PAC (political action committee) was launched last spring in Miami and is based in Washington D.C. It supports President Obama’s year-old project to normalize relations with Cuba – including efforts to repeal the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

On Thursday New Cuba announced it had raised an impressive $350,000 in its first six months.

Fernando Vergara / AP via Miami Herald

COMMENTARY

In response to Latin America’s sudden outbreak of Zika – the insect-borne virus tied to a serious fetal brain defect – some of the region’s countries are telling women to shun pregnancy for months if not years.

We can debate whether that strategy is appropriate. Rights groups, for example, have a point when they say it puts an unfair if not unrealistic onus on women when the focus should be eradicating mosquitoes.

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.

Dieu Naleio Chery / AP via Miami Herald

This afternoon Haiti once again postponed its presidential runoff election.

The vote – originally slated for last month – was going to be held on Sunday. But Haitian election officials said they canceled it because it was too hazardous. Street protests have gotten violent in recent days, with demonstrators condemning what they call a fraudulent and incompetent electoral process.

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