Latin America Report

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.

Tim Padgett

El Nuevo Herald

Leonys Martín was the first Cuban baseball player Paul Minoff ever represented. Minoff, an attorney with GrayRobinson in Fort Lauderdale, was astonished by the scary stories Martín told him about being smuggled out of communist Cuba by human traffickers.

Tim Padgett / WLRN.org

Immigrant caravans – and family separation. Venezuela and Nicaragua rocked by refugee and human rights crises. Someone not named Castro becoming president of Cuba; Brazil and Mexico electing populists as presidents – one of them with a big reputation for sexism. But women surging big at the polls, too.

Tim Padgett / WLRN.org

Turns out Kathy Ann Paul – aka Sweet Hand Kathy – is as capable a DJ as she is a baker.

Right now, when you walk into her Miami Gardens restaurant – called, of course, Sweet Hand Kathy – you’re likely to be regaled with “parang,” a festive blend of music like Trinidadian calypso and Venezuelan gaita. That’s because parang season means Christmas season in Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean island country where Paul grew up.

YouTube

The U.S. just slapped heavier economic sanctions on the Nicaraguan government for its violent repression of protesters. Among the Nicaraguans denouncing that regime here in South Florida is the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Luis Enrique. Known as the “Prince of Salsa,”  Luis Enrique today lives in Miami – where his new protest anthem “Mordaza” is a popular hit.

Manuel Rueda / WLRN News

ABOARD THE USNS COMFORT | A few years ago, Dr. Juan Manuel Zambrano was a family physician in Mucuchíes, Venezuela, in the country’s mountainous western Andes region. That is, until the day he realized Venezuela’s medicine and medical equipment shortages made it all but impossible for him to practice anymore.

Eraldo Peres / AP via Miami Herald

This month Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro took a hard line against communist Cuba. The right-wing congressman said when he becomes President in January, he’ll take aim at a program that pays thousands of Cuban doctors to work in Brazil.

Tim Padgett / WLRN.org

José Ignacio Valenzuela is one of Latin America’s most popular authors. His “Malamor” trilogy is among the best-selling young adult novels in the Spanish-speaking world today. The trilogy’s first part – “To the End of the World” – was just translated into English.

Valenzuela was born in Chile and often goes by the nickname “Chascas.” He now lives here in Palmetto Bay with his husband – and he sat down with WLRN’s Tim Padgett to talk about his romantic, magical-realist fantasy novels and their bilingual appeal.

Brazilian Expeditionary Museum

Would America have won World War II if hadn’t won Latin America over to its side? Veteran foreign correspondent Mary Jo McConahay answers that question in her new book, “The Tango War: The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds and Riches of Latin America During World War II.”

Tim Padgett / WLRN.org

Earlier this month, thousands of Brazilian expats converged on downtown Miami to vote in the first round of Brazil’s presidential election.

It wasn’t hard to figure out who their favorite candidate was. Most erupted in cheers when a truck passed the polling station with an electronic billboard flashing the picture of right-wing Congressman Jair Bolsonaro.

Christian Palma / AP via Miami Herald

Mexico was in the news a lot last week. It hailed a new trade agreement with the U.S. and Canada to replace NAFTA – and President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador and President Trump even spoke by phone about ways to improve Mexico’s economic development in order to reduce illegal immigration.

“We estimate joint investments of more than $30 billion toward that effort,” López Obrador said then in Mexico City. It was a major break from the animosity that’s existed between Mexico and the U.S. since Trump was elected two years ago after running a campaign that insulted Mexico – and Mexicans – at about every stop.

So this feels like a big moment for Mexico, which is economically and politically the most important country in Latin America for the U.S. Yet in this part of the U.S. – Florida and especially South Florida – we’re so focused on Cuba and South America that we rarely think about Mexico.

The University of Miami thinks that has to change.

Keith Dannemiller/Photo courtesty of the International Organization for Migration ©2014 IOM

Central America is now the largest source of undocumented migration across the U.S. southern border. The U.S. government has ramped up deportations of Central Americans to deter people from coming. In June, Vice President Mike Pence even traveled to Guatemala to warn Central Americans: "Come to the U.S. legally or don't come at all."

And yet they keep coming. A new study by researchers at Vanderbilt University says that’s because the U.S. is in denial about the real reason Central Americans continue leaving home. It's not poverty, they say, but violence.

Courtesy Ernesto Morales

President Trump astonished people across the country last week when he denied 3,000 Puerto Ricans died as a result of Hurricane Maria. He insisted (falsely) that Democrats inflated the death toll to make him “look bad.”

For Ernesto Morales, Trump’s tweets exacerbated his awful memories of the storm, which demolished Puerto Rico a year ago this Thursday.

Ariana Cubillos / AP via Miami Herald

Over the weekend the New York Times created hemispheric buzz. It reported that U.S. officials talked privately this past year with rebellious Venezuelan military officers. Those officers wanted U.S. help to overthrow Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolás Maduro.

Apparently nothing came of the talks; the Trump Administration declined to help the rogue militares. But the Times story was more evidence that President Trump is exploring unusually strong action to topple Maduro. At the White House last summer, he'd already displayed that impulse.

“We have many options for Venezuela," Trump said then, "including a possible military option if necessary…”

Courtesy Guerda Nicolas

Haiti’s misfortunes – extreme poverty, political crises, natural disasters – are more than just material. They’ve also led to mental health issues. And until recently those were rarely adequately addressed in Haiti. That’s changed – and Guerda Nicolas is a big reason why.

Nicolas is a professor of psychology at the University of Miami’s School of Education and Human Development, and the American Psychological Association just awarded her its international humanitarian award for her work promoting mental health services in Haiti.

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