Carrie Kahn

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Voters go to the polls in Honduras to elect a new president on Sunday. It's the first open election with all parties participating since a coup overthrew the left-leaning government in 2009.

The elections come at a difficult time for the longtime U.S. ally. Two-thirds of its people live in poverty, unemployment is soaring and the murder rate is one of the highest in the world due to drug traffickers and gang violence.

The Gang Tax

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For the first time in nearly a century, Mexico is considering letting foreigners own land outright along the coast and near international borders. Right now, only Mexicans can hold the title to land in the so-called restricted zone. The president and many lawmakers want to relax the ownership laws in hopes of spurring a wave of foreign investment in the country.

But others are crying foul and reviving nationalistic fears of foreign invasion and domination that incited enactment of the law so many years ago.

Nearly a third of all Mexicans are obese, putting Mexico at the top of the list of overweight nations — ahead of the United States.

In the battle against the bulge, lawmakers are taking aim at consumer's pocketbooks. They're proposing a series of new taxes on high calorie food and sodas. Health advocates say the higher prices will get Mexicans to change bad habits, but the beverage industry and small businesses are fighting back.

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In the central State of Mexico, officials are trying a new approach to fight corruption.

Authorities have hired hundreds of women and put them in charge of issuing all traffic violations. They're trying to crack down on the famous mordida, or bribe — a favorite among Mexico's crooked traffic cops.

Authorities say women are more trustworthy and less corrupt than men. But the plan has run into a few snags.

Choosing Female Cops

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto says his nation is undergoing a major change — one his country should not fear. Pena Nieto gave an upbeat assessment of his nine-month-old administration in his first State of the Union address on Monday.

Despite his positive review of Mexico's condition, the new president is dealing with chaotic protests in the capital, intractable levels of violence and a less favorable economic outlook than predicted.

He campaigned on the promise of creating a modern and prosperous Mexico. And according to his appraisal, he's done just that.

For the last in a summer series of grilled food from around the world, we head to Mexico, where a small doughy treat is found everywhere from street corner grills to high-end restaurants. It's called a tlacoyo (pronounced tla-COY-yo) and although it may sound novel, it's an ancient food that's older than Hernan Cortes.

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In the fight against drug trafficking, Central America has become a large recipient of U.S. aid, receiving nearly half a billion dollars over the past seven years. The money is being spent on strengthening police and military forces that are outgunned by the narcotics traffickers.

The goal is to repeat the kind of success that took place over time in places like Colombia.

Josephina Garcia Rodriguez and Leticia Ponce Ramos sip coffee and console each other at a restaurant in front of Mexico City's prosecutor's office. They're about to head into a meeting with the lead investigator in the case of their kidnapped sons.

"We're going on three weeks since they were kidnapped," Garcia says. "It's been some difficult days, really hard for us mothers. We just want our sons back home with us."

Latin America is riddled with crime, and no place is more violent than Honduras. It has just 8 million people, but with as many as 20 people killed there every day, it now has the highest murder rate in the world.

It would be easy to blame drug trafficking. Honduras and its Central American neighbors have long served as a favored smuggling corridor for South American cocaine headed north to the U.S.

On her daily route delivering laundry in her working-class neighborhood in southern Mexico City, Maria Carlotta Santa Maria, or Mari, as she is known, seems to know everyone: the mailman, the woman on the corner selling salty nuts, and her favorite greetings are for the guys at the corner gas station.

Mari is the kind of person that can make this inhospitable and overwhelming megacity seem almost small and friendly. But as a single mother, she says raising her 10-year-old daughter Jimena alone hasn't been easy.

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William Ordonez and his wife, Carolia, thought that starting a new business in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, was a great idea.

But just two weeks after they started selling chips, candy and soda, gang members showed up and ordered them to pay about $25 a week.

"We tried explaining to them that we just opened, we aren't making that much, we can't pay you," Ordonez says.

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In a Guatemalan courtroom Tuesday, prosecutors will present their case against a former military dictator who ruled during one of the bloodiest periods in the Central American nation's 36-year civil war.

Efrain Rios Montt is accused of genocide in the murder of tens of thousands of Guatemala's Indians. Human rights advocates and the families of victims have struggled for years to bring him before the court, and they say it is the first trial in Latin America of a former president in the country where he ruled.

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Venezuela's late president, Hugo Chavez, was a tremendous supporter of Latin American countries, especially those sympathetic to his socialist ideals.

The country's vast oil reserves are a key source of economic aid, but the Chavez didn't just help out his ideological peers like Cuba and Nicaragua. He was also a great benefactor to key U.S. allies in the Caribbean — many of whom now worry whether their vital oil lifeline is about to be shut off.

As Pope Benedict XVI left the Vatican and his papacy, he slipped out of his trademark red shoes and put on a pair of Mexican leather loafers. The shoes, actually three pairs, two burgundy and one brown, were a gift to the Pope during his trip last year to Mexico.

Maximina Hernandez says she begged her 23-year old son, Dionicio, to give up his job as a police officer in a suburb of Monterrey. Rival drug cartels have been battling in the northern Mexican city for years.

But he told her being a police officer was in his blood, a family tradition. He was detailed to guard the town's mayor.

In the U.S., farmers and farm workers alike say the current system to import temporary workers, especially in agriculture, is slow and fraught with abuses.

But the shape of a new guest-worker program is still being hashed out. Some say the U.S. should import temporary workers the same way Canada does. For nearly four decades, the governments of Canada and Mexico have cooperated to fill agriculture jobs that Canadian citizens won't do, and that Mexicans are clamoring to get.

On the main road into the Mexican town of Ayutla, about 75 miles southeast of Acapulco, about a dozen men cradling shotguns and rusted machetes stand guard on a street corner. Their faces are covered in black ski masks.

The men are part of a network of self-defense brigades, formed in the southern state of Guerrero to combat the drug traffickers and organized crime gangs that terrorize residents.

The brigades have set up roadblocks, arrested suspects and are set on running the criminals out of town.

Taking Control

In Mexico, a country plagued by drug cartel violence, the mayor of the capital city is offering residents cash, new bikes and computers in exchange for their guns. He says the buyback program will get dangerous weapons out of the hands of residents and make the streets safer.

But not all mayors in Mexico — where it's extremely difficult to legally buy a gun — are rushing to replicate the program. In fact, in cities overrun by drug traffickers, some say law-abiding citizens should be able to have them for protection.

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It has been a busy year in Mexico's war on drugs. The administration of former President Felipe Calderon struck major blows to the country's largest cartels, slowing the violence that has claimed more than 50,000 lives.

The Mayan people of Mexico and Central America received quite a bit of attention this month thanks to a misinterpretation of their calendar. Word spread all over the globe that the ancient culture had predicted the world would end on Dec. 21.

The news attracted tens of thousands of tourists, who flocked to Mayan sites to await the prophecy. Since the world didn't end, the tourists went home. And now the modern-day Mayas go on with their lives marked by high rates of poverty and dependent on migration.

It's Inauguration Day in Mexico, and President Enrique Pena Nieto inherits a country with a mixed record.

Most of Mexico is embroiled in a deadly drug war that has claimed the lives of as many as 50,000 people, but Pena Nieto is also taking over an economy that is doing surprisingly well — thanks, many say, to the outgoing head of state.

Calderon's Violent Legacy

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