Lourdes Garcia-Navarro

If you want to get a sense of how complex racial identity is in Brazil, you should meet sisters Francine and Fernanda Gravina. Both have the same mother and father. Francine, 28, is blond with green eyes and white skin. She wouldn't look out of place in Iceland. But Fernanda, 23, has milk chocolate skin with coffee colored eyes and hair. Francine describes herself as white, whereas Fernanda says she's morena, or brown-skinned.

Unlike most art exhibitions, this one starts with a prayer.

A heavyset 77-year-old woman with girlishly pinned blond hair stands behind a table. An array of colored chalk and oil paints fan out in front of her. She puts her head in her hands and concentrates.

Her demeanor changes.

Then, to the sound of eerie music, she begins to draw. Her hands are nimble and decisive, and very quickly, something begins to take shape: a face with a bright green 19th century hat.

After 18 minutes and change — they timed it — she is finished. She signs the work, "Renoir."

Brazil is the largest country in Latin America, and it's expanding, if you look at waistlines. Almost half the country is now considered overweight. Compare that to 30 years ago when the rate was half that.

It's a common problem in the developing world, where rising prosperity often means greater access to processed food.

One woman in Brazil is trying to change the direction the country is going. But it hasn't been easy.

Bela Gil is the daughter of one of Brazil's most famous singers, Gilberto Gil. She's quick to say she has zero musical talent.

Brazil hosted the World Cup last year. Next year, it will host the Summer Olympics. On Sunday, though, the country played host to another international gathering of talented competitors: the Rubik's Cube World Championship.

This past weekend, hundreds of "speedcubers," as they're known, descended on Sao Paulo from over 40 countries, to take part in three days of intensive competition.

It's summer right now and I'm sure you've noticed them: small, insidious buzzing — mosquitoes. In Brazil, they are potentially deadly. It's the place where the mosquito-born virus dengue fever is most prevalent.

Enter the Zapping Racket. As the name implies, it is an electrified tennis racket that kills mosquitoes.

I know, right? Genius.

There is a joke among Brazilians that a Brazilian passport is the most coveted on the black market because no matter what your background — Asian, African or European — you can fit in here. But the reality is very different.

I'm sitting in café with two women who don't want their names used because of the sensitivity of the topic. One is from the Caribbean; her husband is an expat executive.

"I was expecting to be the average-looking Brazilian; Brazil as you see on the media is not what I experienced when I arrived," she tells me.

A typical Uruguayan asado, or barbecue, is made up of vast racks of prime cuts of beef, pork or chicken roasted on a grill next to — not on top of — a wood burning fire.

At parilla restaurants across the capitol Montevideo, the asados are pretty epic; the fatty cuts sizzle and then get slapped onto your plate, oozing with juice.

But if you want to grab a salt shaker and add a bit of extra salt to your meal these days in the Uruguayan capital, you can't.

The tiny nation of Uruguay is fighting a big opponent – the tobacco giant Philip Morris. Their legal battle is over tough anti-smoking legislation enacted in Uruguay which Philip Morris is trying to overturn.

But Uruguay has found some unlikely allies – a group of former Philip Morris workers.

When six Middle Eastern prisoners were freed from Guantanamo Bay prison and given refuge by the tiny South American country of Uruguay in December, they were grateful.

But four months later, four of them are camping outside the U.S. Embassy protesting as inadequate the deal they've been offered in exchange for permanent asylum.

Three small tents have been pitched on the smooth green lawn in front of the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo, Uruguay's capital.

Known for her outrageous costumes and beautiful voice, Brazilian performer Carmen Miranda was the highest-earning woman in Hollywood in the 1940s.

I meet Joao Jesus outside the local labor tribunal in the Brazilian town of Itaborai, east of Rio de Janeiro.

"This morning I wasn't able to give my kids breakfast," he says, in a way that suggests he can hardly believe it himself.

Financial crises often get spoken about in the nameless, faceless lingo of "world market downturns" or "changing patterns of consumption" — but the crisis engulfing Brazil and its state oil company, Petrobras, has names and faces.

A badly abused Peruvian bear named Cholita is coming to a sanctuary in Colorado. Animal Defenders International announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expedited the request and she will be on her way next month.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This week, President Dilma Rousseff descended the famous ramp designed by Oscar Neiymeyer in the presidential palace of Planalto to a crowd of women chanting her name.

The carefully choreographed ceremony was intended to show Rousseff — who was signing into law a ban on femicide — as a leader who has broad support.

But the night before the scene was a very different one. While she was addressing the country on TV, people grabbed their pots and pans and banged on them in protest.

The locksmith. The journalist. The computer technician. The waitress. The carpenter.

They are a rotating cast of characters connected to prosecutor Alberto Nisman and the deepening mystery surrounding his death last month. Famous for a moment, they have fed Argentina's obsession with conspiracy.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Last Sunday, hundreds of Paulistanos, as the residents of Sao Paulo are known, dressed up and danced on the streets at one of the dozens of block parties that happen in advance of the annual celebration known as Carnival.

Except this year – among the pirates and Viking bumblebees — some costumes had a more serious, if still not entirely sober, theme.

Antonio Passareli was dressed as a water fountain — with the spigot placed strategically on his waist. But it's no laughing matter, he said.

Sitting under the shade of a tree on a hot, cloudless day, a group of young protesters has set up camp across from what will be the golf course for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Until recently the area was a kind of informal nature reserve, undeveloped and populated with animals, in a part of the city crowded with gated communities and high-rise buildings.

The group, which calls itself "Occupy Golf," says the massive Olympic golf course has taken away a public area.

Shortly before Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead with a bullet in his head, he accused Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez, and others in her government of covering up what he said was Iran's involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center.

Nisman claimed that those involved in the cover-up included Foreign Minister Hector Timerman — a particularly sensitive accusation not only because of his position but because of his background.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In more normal times, the annual Holocaust remembrance ceremony would have drawn the Jewish community to a somber ceremony at Argentina's Foreign Ministry. But a large part of the community decided to boycott the event Tuesday and hold its own on the site of a deadly bombing two decades ago.

The speakers, including the treasurer of the Delegation of Argentine Israeli Associations, Mario Comisarenco, wanted to make clear why.

It was a terrible Christmas season for stores in Brazil. For the first time in more than a decade — since 2003 — sales went down.

Roberta Pimenta owns a small shop selling children's clothes at the Butanta mall in Sao Paulo, which is aimed squarely at the middle-class shoppers who live in the area.

"It was the worst drop in sales since I've had this store," Pimenta says. "In seven years it was the worst year I had. And every year you have a 10 percent increase of employees' salary, 10 percent increase in the rent, 10 percent in everything, so it is horrible."

Kelly Brenner ushers in guests at the Adentro Dinner Club. This is a "​puertas cerradas"​ restaurant — meaning behind closed doors. It's a culinary movement where people cook for paying guests in their homes. Adentro is the most well-reviewed in Buenos Aires​.

​Brenner, who is originally from Boulder, Colo., acts as the host, and her Argentine fiance, Gabriel Aguallo, does the cooking, focusing on grilled meat.

Brazil's national truth commission on Wednesday delivered a damning report looking at the abuses committed during that country's military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1985.

The 2,000-page document details for the first time a history of arbitrary detention, torture, executions and disappearances.

Until now, Brazil has sought to bury its difficult past.

President Dilma Rousseff, who was herself tortured during Brazil's dictatorship period, broke down when she addressed the nation Wednesday. She said the report had fulfilled three important objectives.

Leonel Kaplan, an Argentine jazz musician, often has to travel abroad.

Before a recent trip to Europe, he went to a bank in Buenos Aires to change money and then went to get a haircut. Kaplan felt happy and relaxed and took the bus home after what had been an uneventful trip.

That, however, was about to change.

"As I get down from the bus, a motorcycle with two people wearing helmets cuts me off," he recalls. "One gets off and takes out a gun and says to me directly, 'Give me the 500 euros you got in the bank.' "

For an American, it probably would be a really hard Jeopardy question, but in Argentina, pretty much anyone you stop can answer this: Who is the judge in New York at the center of Argentina's default crisis?

Pablo de Luca, a systems engineer walking along a downtown Buenos Aires street recently responded easily: Judge Thomas P. Griesa.

"Griesa is an enemy for us," he says.

Georgina Segui, an office secretary stopped while she was doing errands, also knew the answer.

To gauge international interest in Uruguay's legal cannabis market, spend just a few minutes at a small marijuana shop called Urugrow in Uruguay's capital, Montevideo.

In a period of about 10 minutes, owner Juan Manuel Varela gets a call from Brazil. A man from Canada shows up to see what the market would be for his company, which sells child-safe packaging for marijuana products. Shortly after, two American travelers stop by looking to score weed.

Culinary superstars gathered in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo this month at an event organized by the Basque Culinary Center. But they weren't there to cook. Instead, the the famous chefs were talking about biodiversity.

On June 11 — one day before the World Cup started — two policemen picked up three black teenagers in Rio de Janeiro. The three hadn't committed any crime — but they did have a history of petty offenses.

The officers drove them up to the wooded hills above the city. One was shot in the head and killed. One was shot in the leg and the back and left for dead. Another escaped.

Brazil is teeming with law schools and lawyers. But the wheels of justice in the country turn slowly — most cases take years to resolve and sometimes even decades.

To understand why, we visited the musty offices of Judge Laurence Mattos in Sao Paulo. Mattos' suit is gray; his smile is thin. He seems as if his job has flattened him somehow. He's not very verbose either, and when he does speak, it's in a monotone. For 22 years, Mattos explains succinctly, he's been a judge dealing with financial issues in Brazil. End of story.

What is extraordinary is his workload.

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