Latin America

Tim Padgett / WLRN.org

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.

Tim Padgett / WLRN.org

Shortly before President Obama arrived in Cuba today, a human rights march turned into an ugly street confrontation - an incident that served to send Obama two opposing messages.

The President's historic visit to Havana this week is largely focused on the opening of economic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. But Cuba’s communist government and its pro-democracy dissidents are making it clear he can’t ignore the island’s political challenges.

Tom Hudson / WLRN.org

Cubans are getting ready for President Obama's historic three-day visit to their country starting Sunday. But the mood of the Cuban government and that of ordinary Cubans seem a bit different.

Agencia Cubana de Noticias

The White House today offered a more detailed look at President Obama's itinerary for his historic visit to Cuba next week and the trip to Argentina that will follow.

Accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters, as well as the President's mother-in-law, Obama will arrive in Havana Sunday afternoon, March 20. With his family he will tour Old Havana, including the Roman Catholic cathedral there, where the President will be met by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who helped facilitate negotiations that led to the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations in December 2014.

Kate Stein / WLRN

 

 

Norteño music developed along the Texas-Mexico border. It blends the instruments of mariachi with the rhythms of polka. And now, one of norteño's most popular bands is hoping its music will get more Latinos to the polls.

Los Tigres del Norte -- The Tigers of the North -- have been putting out norteño hits for four decades. The band performed in West Palm Beach on Feb. 19. A lot of its songs touch on social and political issues: immigration, workers' rights, drug trafficking, political representation.

Tim Padgett / WLRN.org

Polls show most Cuban-Americans agree with President Obama’s normalization of relations with Cuba. But many are nonetheless wary of the historic visit he’s making there this month.

Which is why a top White House official came to Miami today to hear their concerns.

Dieu Nalio Chery / AP via Miami Herald

Haiti still doesn’t have a real President. One is supposed to be elected next month  –  but don't hold your breath.

WLRN spoke today with the leading candidate, Jovenel Moïse, about whether that’s actually going to happen – and the consequences if it doesn’t, as Haiti's food crisis worsens.

Haiti’s presidential runoff election has been called off twice since December amid charges of electoral fraud. When President Michel Martelly left office last month, Haiti’s Congress chose a temporary president, Jocelerme Privert.

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.

Collin Reid / AP via Miami Herald

Jamaica will soon have a new Prime Minister. In yesterday’s parliamentary elections, Andrew Holness and the Jamaican Labor Party scored an upset victory.

Which means they will now have to deal with the Caribbean country's heavy economic crisis.

Jamaica’s debt situation is among the world’s worst. To rein in the problem, current Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller has imposed strong economic austerity measures. Economists say she’s made progress. But political observers say Jamaicans are weary of the belt-tightening.

Jose Goitia / AP via Miami Herald

Ramón Castro, the lesser known older brother of Cuban leaders Fidel and Raúl Castro, died Tuesday morning at age 91 in Havana.

The Cuban communist party newspaper Granma did not give a cause of death.

According to Granma, Ramón Castro was jailed by the Batista dictatorship in 1953 and helped supply the militants of the Cuban Revolution, who were led by Fidel. But after the revolution took power in 1959, Ramón largely shied away from politics and spent the rest of his life as a farmer.

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.

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