Jul 1, 2021

Axios Latino

¡Muy buen jueves! This week we dive into legal cannabis, Amazonian deforestation, the perils of poor sleep, and the chaos of family reunifications in the U.S.

🚨 Situational awareness: The State Department has released the names of Northern Triangle officials whose visas will be yanked over suspicion of corruption.

  • Thank you, Betita Martínez, for devoting your life to the civil rights of Latinos in the U.S. Descanse en paz.
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Today’s newsletter — edited by Michele Salcedo — is 1,318 words, about a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Building collapse felt in Latin America

A memorial near the 12-story building that collapsed in Surfside, Fla., with photos of the missing or confirmed dead. Photo: Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images

The collapse of a 12-story condominium near Miami Beach a week ago has reverberated throughout Latin America.

Why it matters: Miami is more than 70% Latino and has historically offered refuge from some of the hemisphere’s turmoils.

  • Several residents of the Champlain Towers South, which collapsed in the middle of the night, had fled oppressive regimes in Cuba and Venezuela. Others were seeking protection from the COVID-19 virus. At least one was on her first trip abroad.

Details: So far, 139 people have been accounted for, but 145 are still missing. Among the 18 dead are:

  • Hilda Noriega, 92, who fled Cuba right after the Revolution in 1960. She had lived in the condo for two decades.
  • Antonio Lozano, 83, also had fled Cuba and lived on the 9th floor with his wife Gladys, 79. The couple died after celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary.
  • Puerto Ricans Luis Bermúdez, 26; his mother, Ana Ortiz; and her husband, Frank Kleiman, who were on the seventh floor.
  • Christina Elvira, 74, and Leon Oliwkowicz, 80, were Venezuelan emigrés who had recently moved to Florida from Illinois.

The missing include:

  • Luis Barth, his wife Catalina Gómez and their 14-year-old daughter Valeria. The family had flown from Colombia to Miami for vaccinations against COVID-19, as many throughout Latin America have done.
  • Maricoy Obias-Bonnefoy, 69, and Claudio Bonnefoy, 85, who is related to former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
  • Sophia López Moreira, the sister of Paraguay’s first lady, is missing along with her husband, Luis Pettengill, their three children, and Leidy Luna Villalba, 23, the children's nanny. The trip to Surfside was Luna's first abroad.

Of note: Myriad problems in Champlain Towers South have been made public since the collapse, including structural damage first identified in 2018.

  • Florida’s state attorney announced a grand jury investigation yesterday.
  • Rescue efforts have been hampered for the past week by rain and structural instability and were suspended early today.

The latest: President Biden is meeting with the families and loved ones today in Miami.

Keep reading.

2. Mexico moves closer to legalizing cannabis

Proponents of legalizing marijuana have set up an improvised greenhouse in front of Mexico’s Senate. Photo: Héctor Vivas/Getty Images

Mexico’s Supreme Court has ruled that prohibiting the recreational use of marijuana and THC is unconstitutional because it violates the right to a “free development of personality.”

What they’re saying: “Criminal organizations are currently the ones who determine when and how one can have access to the active substance,” drug policy lawyer Frida Ibarra tells Axios Latino. “And that can only be changed if the government builds on the court’s decision and Congress votes to regulate the legal who, when and where.”

The big picture: Mexico would become the world’s largest legal cannabis market if Congress approves a proposed decriminalization bill.

  • Both chambers have voted yes on the measure in the past year, but each made significant changes to the proposed text that need to be resolved.
  • A final vote on a conference measure is expected in the fall.

Where it stands: Now Mexicans can get a permit from the regulatory agency and cultivate cannabis for personal use, although the details on how to obtain a permit are unclear.

  • There are still no set rules on how many ounces are legal to carry or how a seed or plant can be obtained legally.
  • Regulations would come from the legislation under consideration in Congress.

The bottom line: Legalizing marijuana could reduce cartel involvement in trade to U.S. markets along with the violence over transportation routes that has left at least 250,000 Mexicans dead and another 80,000 missing over the past decade, Ibarra said.

3. SCOOP: The chaos behind family reunifications

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Migrant children who were detained after traveling to the border without family are being left at gas stations, convenience stores and airports with little to no prior notice to their parents, as the formal process to reunite immigrant families affected by former President Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy begins.

Why it matters: Families tell Noticias Telemundo they’ve received instructions in the middle of the night on where to pick up the kids, sometimes hundreds of miles away.

  • Many parents or guardians are awaiting their own immigration hearings, so they don’t have driver’s licenses and can’t easily get a hold of a car to pick the children up.
  • The Biden government paid $112 million to contractor MVM Inc. to take the kids from holding centers in Texas to the cities where their legal guardians live.

The whole process only worsens the trauma the children have experienced from being separated from their parents, in some cases for over two years, families say.

  • There are documented cases of young adults reverting to wetting the bed or becoming mute.
4. The higher price Latinos pay for poor sleep

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Poor sleep patterns can cause more long-term harm for Latinos than for other U.S. adults, per the results of a seven-year study.

Details: Verbal memory, concentration and processing speed are greatly reduced for Latinos who have conditions like sleep apnea that affect sleep or who sleep more than nine hours.

  • “We were surprised that the cognitive decline was worse for those who weren’t obese,” researcher Alberto Ramos explained to Axios Latino, since metabolic issues are greater cognition risk factors than sleep issues for non-Hispanic adults.
  • “This could heighten the risks of developing dementia,” Ramos added, which means the timely treatment of sleep disorders is likely key in lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s for Latinos.

Of note: As more U.S. Latinos age, they face Alzheimer’s or dementia, yet they remain under-enrolled in U.S. clinical trials for treatments.

5. U.S. Latino lawmakers focus on the hemisphere

Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica protest against the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Photo: Ezequiel Becerra/AFP via Getty Images

The detention of opposition members in Nicaragua and unrest in Colombia are generating concern from Latino members of the U.S. Congress on both sides of the aisle.

Why it matters: Some senators and House members are drafting bills and asking for diplomatic pressure on Nicaragua and Colombia after 20 years of U.S. foreign policy focus on the Middle East.

The bottom line: The lawmakers want to make sure the U.S. has influence in the region as China continues to invest in Latin America.

Go deeper.

6. Stories we’re watching

Members of the Brazilian armed forces on a mission to combat environmental and border crimes in the Amazon, in October 2020. Photo: Nelson Almeida/AFP via Getty Images

1. Brazilian troops have been deployed again to protect the Amazon rainforest, just two months after President Jair Bolsonaro’s government had ordered them out.

2. Thousands of Venezuelans who’d fled years ago to neighboring Latin American countries are now heading to the U.S. to seek asylum, due to pandemic-driven economic slumps.

  • Why it matters: More than 18,000 Venezuelans were apprehended at the southern border from January through May 2021, compared to 1,355 for the same period of 2020.

3. Colombian President Iván Duque’s security detail is being revamped after the Black Hawk helicopter he was in was shot at in Cúcuta, near the Venezuelan border, last Friday.

  • Why it matters: The attack came two weeks after a car bomb injured 34 soldiers at the military base in Cúcuta. Meanwhile, the country’s security forces are being investigated over excessive use of force against Colombian protesters.
1 empowerment to go: Cholitas train to fight back

The Warmi Power project says it has already been able to help 20,000 Bolivian women with personal defense training. Photos: Noticias Telemundo

A project called Warmi Power is giving some Aymara women of Bolivia, known as cholitas, self-defense training in taekwon-do to use in cases of psychological mistreatment and domestic violence.

Why it matters: The project continues the fight for gender equality that has also gotten cholitas their own wrestling league.

  • The highest possible sentence in Bolivia’s criminal code is for femicide, up to 30 years in prison, but the women say it is rarely enforced so other means of protection are needed.
  • Last year only 12 of the 113 cases of violent murders of women resulted in a prison sentence for the murderers.

Hasta la próxima semana, have a safe one.

Editor's note: The third item of Axios Latino published on July 1 has been clarified to show that the process of reuniting parents with their children who crossed the border unaccompanied by family has been chaotic.