Latin American Cities

Portraits of a Region Struggling with Economic Woes, Corruption

Listen: Part 2: Guatemala City

Listen: Part 3: Caracas

Listen: Part 4: Sao Paulo

Listen: Part 5: Buenos Aires

Listen: Part 6: Santiago

A Mexico City a traffic policeman inspects a driver's documents.

A Mexico City a traffic policeman inspects a driver's documents. The city has been working on reforms to combat police corruption. © Reuters/CORBIS hide caption

itoggle caption © Reuters/CORBIS
A luxury high-rise in São Paulo.

One of São Paulo's residential high-rises, which attract upscale residents craving luxury and security. Martin Kaste, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Martin Kaste, NPR
Buenos Aires' waterfront Puerto Madero district

Buenos Aires' waterfront Puerto Madero district of chic restaurants and glassy condominiums is often the target of protests by those who see the development as a symbol of corruption. © Pablo Corral V/CORBIS hide caption

itoggle caption © Pablo Corral V/CORBIS

Mexico City's residents have learned to live with police corruption. Buenos Aires, once regarded as Latin America's most prosperous city, is still reeling from Argentina's 2001 economic collapse. Santiago is covered in grime from air pollution, an unfortunate byproduct of Chile's free-market success.

On Morning Edition, NPR's Gerry Hadden and NPR's Martin Kaste present a series of profiles on some of the region's biggest cities:

Mexico City

Justice has long been hard to come by in Mexico City. From court workers to street cops, authorities often respond more favorably to payoffs than to jurisprudence. The city's roughly 20 million citizens have largely learned to live with the corruption, paying bribes to keep their cars from being towed or their loved ones out of jail. Police say they couldn't survive without the bribes because they're underpaid. But Mexico City is working on reforms. Hadden reports. Monday, March 22, 2004

Guatemala City

For nearly two centuries Guatemalan history has been marred by bloodshed, coups and authoritarian governments led by populist strongmen known in Spanish as "caudillos." Throughout Latin America caudillos have left deep scars on the region's societies, and nowhere is that more visible than in Guatemala's capital. Hadden reports. Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Caracas, Venezuela

It wasn't that long ago that the Venezuelan capital Caracas was considered one of Latin America's most up-to-date cities. Petrodollars powered the local economy, and the city fathers built a tropical version of an American downtown. But as the oil money tapered off, Caracas ran headlong into the same economic reality that afflicts the rest of Latin America: scarce jobs. Much of the middle class now tries to make a living on the black market. Kaste reports. Wednesday, March 24, 2004

São Paulo, Brazil

São Paulo is South America's premiere megalopolis. The heart of Brazilian industry and commerce, its population has doubled since 1970: Nearly 18 Million people now live in the metropolitan area. But while better-off residents live in luxury high-rises, many find homes by squatting in abandoned hotels, vacant lots and under bridges. Kaste reports. Thursday, March 25, 2004

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, has long been regarded as the most cultured and prosperous city in Latin America. But Argentina's 2001 economic collapse cast a shadow over that prosperity, and caused many Argentines to wonder how much of the city's opulence was based on corruption. Kaste profiles a city trying to regain its moral bearings. Friday, March 26, 2004

Santiago, Chile

Santiago, the capital of Chile, is the envy of Latin America. The U.S.-inspired formula of privatization and free markets worked much better there than elsewhere on the continent, and Santiago is now seen as the most "first-world" capital in the region. But Santiago's enthusiasm for capitalism also comes with drawbacks — in particular, severe air pollution. Kaste reports. Sunday, March 28, 2004, on Weekend Edition

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