MIAMI is an often intoxicatingly beautiful place, with palm trees swaying in the breeze and South Beach’s famous Art Deco buildings stunning in the warm sunlight. Away from the beaches and the tourists, the gleaming skyscrapers of downtown herald Miami’s proud status as the headquarters of many US corporations’ Latin American operations. Even so, it’s the people, not the climate, the landscape or the cash, that makes Miami so noteworthy. Two-thirds of the two-million-plus population are Hispanic, the majority of whom are Cuban, and Spanish is the predominant language in the cafés, the beachfronts and the cocktail lounges.

Just over a hundred years ago Miami was a swampy outpost of mosquito-tormented settlers. The arrival of Henry Flagler’s railroad in 1896 gave the city its first fixed land-link with the rest of the continent, and cleared the way for the Twenties property boom and subsequent bust after 1924. In the Fifties, Miami Beach became a celebrity-filled resort area, just as thousands of Cubans fleeing the regime of Fidel Castro began arriving here as well. The Sixties and Seventies brought decline, and Miami’s dangerous reputation in the Eighties was well deserved – in 1980 the city had the highest murder rate in America.

Since then, with the strengthening of Latin American economic links and the gentrification of South Beach – which helped make tourism the lifeblood of the local economy again in the early Nineties – Miami is enjoying a surge of affluence and optimism.

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