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Carrie Kahn

Cuba has promised its citizens better Internet access in this New Year. The few Cubans who now manage to get online find it expensive and slow.

Warming ties with the U.S. have stirred hope for improved telecommunications. But until then, many residents have devised an ingenious work-around, or should we say walk-around.

On Havana's Malecon, roaming guitarists play for the crowds resting against the iconic sea wall. In this nightly gathering spot, it's old fashioned interacting. No one is on a cell, no eyes glued to smart phones.

In Havana, two religious communities are celebrating the holiday season but have taken very different approaches to the news that relations between the U.S. and Cuba are warming.

For Jews who belong to Temple Beth Shalom in Havana, their numbers may be small, but size doesn't matter.

On Sunday night, a couple hundred people filled the temple's sanctuary to light six Hanukkah candles, watch teens put on a play, and clap to a group of toddlers dancing to the holiday classic "Eight Little Candles," sung in Ladino, a Judeo-Spanish language.

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If you want to give your taste buds a gustatory tour of Mexico, then Margarita Carrillo is ready to be your guide.

The Mexican chef and food activist has spent years gathering hundreds of recipes from every region of the country for Mexico: The Cookbook, her new, encyclopedic take on her country's cuisine.

This is the story of the murder of two aid workers in Mexico. The men fed Central American migrants traveling north through Mexico on a freight train that stopped near their home.

They were critical of both corrupt police, who abused and extorted the migrants, as well as the organized crime gangs that kidnapped and robbed them.

It wasn't hard to find the two men — they were never far from the train tracks — but there were no witnesses to their deaths, and police won't comment about the case. The double homicide didn't even get a mention in the local press.

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Mexican families are celebrating the Day of the Dead this weekend, a festive holiday, where relatives remember deceased loved ones with grand, floral memorials in their homes as well as at cemeteries.

But in the southern state of Guerrero, the mood is decidedly different. Authorities there are still searching for 43 students abducted last month by police working for drug traffickers and crooked politicians in the town of Iguala.

In front of Iguala's City Hall, Maria de Jesus Rodriguez, 68, slowly sweeps the patio.

Mexico's top prosecutor says a mayor and his wife ordered the attack on 43 students who have been missing for nearly a month. The couple — of the town of Iguala in the southern state of Guerrero — are now fugitives.

Thousands of protesters marched down Mexico City's grand Reforma Boulevard on Wednesday night, banging drums, carrying pictures of the 43 students who went missing on Sept. 26, and demanding the resignation of the governor of the state of Guerrero and even of President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Mexico's banking regulator has slapped a nearly 30 million peso ($2.2 million) fine on the Citigroup subsidiary Banamex, for failing to provide sufficient accounting controls. The regulator said the lack of oversight allowed the Mexican firm Oceanografia to allegedly dupe the bank out of $400 million.

Banamex had lent the money to Oceanografia, an oil services firm contracted by the state petroleum monopoly, PEMEX, based on invoices that turned out to be fake.

Six more clandestine graves have been found in Mexico near the town where 43 students allegedly were abducted by local police working for a drug gang. Relatives and supporters of the students have vowed to hold a week of protests to pressure authorities into finding the disappeared.

On the second story of the municipal palace in Iguala, Mexico, Mayor Jose Luis Abarca occupied the large corner office. His wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, head of the city's family welfare department, occupied the one right next door. From there, residents say, the two ruthlessly ruled over this city of 150,000 in the southern state of Guerrero. A national newspaper dubbed the duo the "imperial couple."

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Nicaragua's gigantic transoceanic canal, if it gets built, will dwarf the neighboring Panama Canal. Ground-breaking is set to begin before the end of the year.

The $50 billion mega project would bring an economic boom to the poor nation — and a political bonanza for its president, Daniel Ortega.

Ortega is not the bombastic revolutionary of years past. He shies away from public appearances and has left day-to-day operations to his wife, an eccentric former revolutionary poet.

The number of Central Americans reaching the U.S. border has dropped dramatically. According to the U.S. Border Patrol, 60 percent fewer unaccompanied minors were apprehended in August than at the height of the migration crisis earlier this summer.

One factor leading to the drastic decline is an unprecedented crackdown in Mexico. Under pressure from the United States, Mexico has begun arresting and deporting tens of thousands of Central Americans long before they reach the U.S. border.

Stepped-Up Deportations

The number of Central American children and families being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexican border has dropped dramatically in recent months, according to the U.S. Border Patrol. There has been a 60 percent decline in apprehensions of minors since the record numbers making the illegal trek earlier this summer.

A lot of factors may be contributing to the dramatic drop, including heavy rains along the migrant route and media campaigns in home countries dispelling rumors that kids can stay in the U.S.

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Like the United States, Mexico is dealing with a substantial increase of Central American migrants, including unaccompanied minors, crossing its borders. Earlier this month, Mexico's president announced plans to crack down on the illegal flow and strengthen security along the southern border with Guatemala.

As you plan — or even go — on your summer vacation, think about this: More and more Americans are no longer taking a few weeks off to suntan and sightsee abroad. Instead they're working in orphanages, building schools and teaching English.

It's called volunteer tourism, or "voluntourism," and it's one of the fastest growing trends in travel today. More than 1.6 million volunteer tourists are spending about $2 billion each year.

Outside the northern Guatemalan town of Olopa, near the Honduran border, farmer Edwin Fernando Diaz Viera stands in the middle of his tiny coffee field. He says it was his lifelong dream to own a farm here. The area is renowned for producing some of the world's richest arabica, the smooth-tasting beans beloved by specialty coffee brewers.

"My farm was beautiful; it was big," he says.

But then, a plant fungus called coffee rust, or roya in Spanish, hit his crop.

"Coffee rust appeared and wiped out everything," he says.

The Obama administration says it will try to speed up deportations of tens of thousands of children who have illegally entered the U.S. from Central America in recent months. It's part of a stronger message the administration is hoping gets back to would-be migrants contemplating coming to the U.S.

But the message isn't getting through, and even those who have recently been deported say they will try again.

FIFA, the governing body of the World Cup, says it has zero tolerance for racist and homophobic conduct by players and fans at this year's international soccer event.

Late last week, FIFA opened an investigation into the display of neo-Nazi banners by both Russian and Croat fans at the World Cup. And Brazil and Mexico face possible sanctions for chanting a homophobic slur during their match last week. But soccer fans say the world is misinterpreting the use of the word and their team spirit.

Mexico took to the field on the second day of the World Cup, and the nation shut down to watch. Nearly everyone, from vendors to politicians, took the day off to watch their team beat Cameroon 1-to-0.

Six Americans remain in a rural Honduran prison after being arrested last month on suspicion of smuggling weapons into the country. The men arrived in the Central American nation by boat, ready to begin work on a salvage project along the northern Honduran coast. The men say the guns were on the boat for protection from pirates.

Six Americans have been detained in Honduras for the last month, jailed on suspicion of smuggling arms. The Americans claim the guns they carried were for personal protection against pirates as they cleared logs to give locals better access to fishing sites.

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Mexico City health official launched a new campaign this month to boost the image of nursing mothers. But posters of topless toned actresses weren't exactly the message women's groups and health advocates had hoped for.

"We were very surprised once the campaign was launched," says Regina Tames, of the reproductive rights group GIRE.

She was taken aback by pictures of topless actresses and one of the female boxer known as "La Barbie." She was shirtless, too — although she did have on her boxing gloves.

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