The old ways are crumbling. Latin America, a lively region in normal times, is rethinking centuries of tradition to create new cultural, technological and sociological paths. Through political turmoil and the pandemic, and bolstered by a fearless rising generation, this is a must-know corner of the globe. Consider today’s Daily Dose your tour guide.
Nick Fouriezos, Senior Reporter
crime and punishment
1. Jumping the Shark
In Honduras, the violent Central American gang MS-13 is making a killing thanks to its newest hit drug called Krispy, or Tiburón (“shark” in English). The chemically altered marijuana strain is as addictive as cocaine, Vice reports, and is now being used by everyone from schoolchildren to the elderly, while selling at two or three times the price of regular pot.
2. Reproductive Rights on the March
Abortion in Argentina, which can carry a decadelong prison sentence, is now being decriminalized, as the Catholic nation becomes only the fourth country in Latin America — and by far the largest — to allow abortion access without restrictions. It’s the result of decades of activism by women’s rights groups and a new push from left-wing President Alberto Fernández, who was elected last year. Who’s next? Look to Brazil, which has held Supreme Court hearings in the past to consider the issue, as well as Chile, which in 2017 legalized abortion in cases of rape and danger to the health of the mother.
3. Could Mexico Legalize Cannabis?
The Supreme Court of Mexico recently hit snooze on a cannabis bill, extending the deadline for legislation passed by the nation’s Senate but is still under deliberation in its lower chamber. Still, nearly 60 percent of Mexicans oppose legalization of recreational marijuana in a recent poll, and legalization likely won’t end the grip drug cartels have on certain Mexican states until the neighboring U.S. ends illegal demand within its borders by fully legalizing as well.
4. What to Do About Maduro?
The International Criminal Court prosecutor’s office yesterday said it has a “reasonable basis” to believe that Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela committed crimes against humanity, laying the groundwork for a full investigation in 2021 into government-backed torture and killings. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s 2018 presidential crisis seems like ages ago: Maduro tightened his grip on power this month with rigged legislative elections boycotted by the opposition, which staged an alternate protest vote. So Venezuela’s brain drain continues, as its doctors flee to save lives elsewhere — including remote corners of Chile
The next El Chapo is coming for your smartphone. Multinational Latin American gangs have long made their cash from drugs, extortion and kidnapping, but they’re increasingly turning to code. The hackers come up with malicious programs and sell them abroad, targeting banks and others.
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Online dating has increased during the pandemic, especially in Latin American countries, where “crushes” — matches on the dating app Happn — have been soaring, according to Happn CEO Didier Rappaport. The Inner Circle reported that Latin Americans were more likely than others to invite their friends to the dating app, were more active and less judicious about talking to partners or making plans to meet. And with many dating apps adding features to allow for intercontinental relationships, expect more border-defying love affairs down the line.
Meeting that special someone is hard enough … and meeting them at 2 a.m., with nowhere to go for a little privacy, is even tougher. Cue MotelNow, which has blown up with young Colombian and Chilean couples trying to avoid their parents’ watchful eyes. In response to the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders, MotelNow has pivoted to marketing sex toys for your “motel en casa.”
South America’s famously conservative culture is getting an update, and Argentina is leading with socially progressive laws that recognize trans rights — from allowing trans people to specify their gender on official documents to giving them access to hormonal treatments and gender assignment surgery through its public health system. It’s coming amid a roiling national conversation around making Spanish gender-neutral.
Generally thought to have an open, accepting society — think Carnival — Brazil has held on to its traditional, macho culture as much as its neighbors. That is now shifting, particularly as a rising tide of musicians are identifying as queer and having an impact on their hetero peers as well. Performers like Gloria Groove and Lia Clark will keep you dancing year-round.
Growing up Mormon, Ronald Digalo was told by the church that he was born to have a family. So that’s what he did, getting married and having two children … before fully realizing that he was gay. Digalo’s coming-out tale, and desire to openly love whom he loves, has been particularly challenging in Paraguay, which has defied the regional shift toward social liberalism as anti-LGBTQ sentiment has increased in recent years.
One of Martín Dominguez’s best bits involves flipping the world on its head by imagining that heterosexuality, not homosexuality, is stigmatized. The Ecuadorian comedian’s biting, smart commentary has blown up into Enchufe TV, a network whose online Spanish-speaking followers number in the millions (at one point, its YouTube channel had more views than the BBC, Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj).
Victoria Ripa was first the audacious frontwoman for Croupier Funk, until she was discovered by famous fashionista Loreley Turielle. Now the XL-size Uruguayan model has headlined for major brands, from Dove to Stadium, becoming a Southern Hemisphere ambassador to the global plus-size movement.
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Bitso, the leading crypto platform in Latin America with more than a million users, just closed a $62 million Series B round that will allow it to break past its Mexico City headquarters into Argentina and Brazil — meaning South America is getting its first major (and potentially addictive) taste of crypto.
2. New Fintech Phase
The crypto boom dovetails with a soaring number of digital banking companies that are breaking up Latin America’s old financial monopolies. These low-fee, mobile-based platforms appeal to the 1 in 2 Latin American adults who lack a bank account — often shut out of the system because of high costs. From Mexico’s Albo to Colombia’s Aflore to Brazil-born Nubank — which has been on an acquisition spree and recently launched a novel life insurance business — these firms are changing the financial game.
Zigzagging down the Andean highlands like silvery serpents, the amunas — ancient stone ditches that are vestiges of pre-Incan technology — are being restored as old tech turned new to save the Peruvian capital from a dearth of fresh water. The canals divert and collect water during the rainy season for use in the desert city’s dry months. Only 1 in 10 Lima residents has access to potable water, meaning these ancient byways are critical.
Entrepreneur Tallis Gomes was originally known for creating Easy Taxi in Brazil — in 2011, years before Uber arrived. Because most drivers didn’t use smartphones, he relied on unconventional tactics like convincing them to upgrade their phones by demonstrating how they could be used to download porn (and his app, of course). Now Gomes has launched Singu, which allows users to hail beauty salon workers with the click of a button. But the company is drawing skepticism after a big investment from cosmetics company Natura, whose co-founder’s stepson is a major investor in Singu.
In the first half of 2021, Colombian lawmakers are expected to debate a tax reform bill — a surprising development in the nation led by center-right President Iván Duque that nonetheless has been made necessary by national coffers drained by COVID-related health measures. The stance has also been influenced by the recent protests in Chile, another nation that has a reputation for conservative economics yet saw its residents revolt amid austerity programs.
Guyana became the fastest-growing economy in the world in December, after discovering new oil and gas reserves off its shores last year. But a different buzz is fueling excitement in tourism and agribusiness. Yep, it’s the bee business. And these sightseeing expeditions are poised to swarm nature travel expeditions once tourism is normalized post-COVID, particularly with massive declines in bee populations across the globe.
Leftist senators sent a letter last month to the International Monetary Fund demanding no new conditions and a five-year moratorium on repaying the $44 billion “biggest-ever bailout” that has broken the back of the Argentine economy, particularly as its COVID layoff ban has backfired and coincided with a sharply rising inflation rate of 40 percent.
food and fun
1. Beautiful and Scary Weavings
Bolivia is world-renowned for its weavings, but the fantastical — and sometimes terrifying — pieces are being replaced by cheap folk art spun by machines and hawked as souvenirs. Only several hundred Jalq’a women still weave the old way, and with none younger than 30, the scariest thing about these weavings is the fact they may soon be extinct.
For decades, indigenous Paraguayan children were reprimanded for speaking Guarani, the native language full of fascinating nuances — the word for “tomorrow,” for instance, translates to “if the sun rises” (not “when”). But Susy Delgado, a former poet laureate of Paraguay, has helped revive appreciation for the language, which is experiencing a renaissance.
Sizzling and seared on the outside. Juicy and chewy on the inside. This is a steak that boasts it’s the best not just in South America, but in the world. Then it must be from Argentina, you say? Nope. The Baby Beef Garcia is the pride of Uruguay. And it is worth changing hemispheres for.
Not long ago, it would’ve been a bribe or a bullet for cattle ranchers who farm high up in the Andes Mountains around the tiny town of Cáqueza, an hour outside Bogotá. But now rustic trails where residents used to live in fear of militants are being reappropriated for good and turned into a mountain biking paradise as the sport has taken Colombia by storm.
Milk, honey, brandy, borojó fruit and … a live crab. Blend and serve. Berraquillo, a Colombian drink with supposed Viagra-like side effects, is something you can find at a café in the meatpacking district in Bogotá. But is it worth it?
Believe it or not, you can go from the heart of a sprawling South American metropolis to a dusty fishing village in less time than your typical Big Apple or Silicon Valley commute. And there, you’ll find yourself in a natural marvel, boating through giant bowls of green leaves so large and sturdy a child can walk on them.