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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.

FIU Conference Makes Clear U.S. Needs More Hemispheric Strategy Than A Wall

Tim Padgett
Latin America experts discuss the Colombian peace accord at FIU on Thursday.

President Trump’s rough rhetoric toward Mexico suggests his relationship with Latin America could be rocky. But the security challenges there remain daunting. That was the subject of a major Florida International University gathering on Thursday - a conference that made it clear the U.S. will need to summon a more involved hemispheric strategy than just building a wall.

To appreciate how volatile things are in Latin America, you need only look at how many Latin Americans are flocking to South Florida today. There’s the economic disaster in Venezuela. Drug gangs controlling much of Central America. The growing clout of China and Russia in the region.

FIU's  School of International and Public Affairs, including its Institute for Public Policy and its Latin American and Caribbean Center, convened a number of experts from around the U.S. and the hemisphere to examine those growing concerns. None offer easy solutions - especially the crisis in Venezuela, where the dictatorial socialist government has all but destroyed the oil-rich economy.

The U.S. just slapped economic sanctions on Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami for his alleged role in drug trafficking. But Venezuela experts like John Polga-Hecimovich of the U.S. Naval Academy said Venezuelan expats here should nonetheless keep their regime change hopes realistic.

“They should feel encouraged that the Trump Administration is taking an interest in Venezuela in such a public way," Polga-Hecimovich told WLRN. "However, I would urge a bit of caution since research tends to show that unilateral sanction, economic sanctions are rarely effective.”

Another Latin American drama being closely watched in South Florida is the peace accord that just ended Colombia’s half century-long civil war.

Jennie Lincoln of the Carter Center in Atlanta, which helped facilitate the peace talks, said now the hard part begins: implementing peace between the government and Marxist guerrillas known as the FARC.

“Colombians want peace, [but] they’re not sure how to go about that," Lincoln said. "The FARC says the government’s not complying," on a number of peace accord issues. "The government says the FARC is not.”

Most conference panelists urged President Trump to engage Latin America cooperatively so as not to hand China and Russia any more undue leverage there.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.