Brazilians are having the biggest impact among the new kids in town. The present wave dates from the financial crisis; while both US real estate and the US dollar took a nosedive, quite the reverse happened in São Paulo. Real estate and the real soared. Miami prices were suddenly a quarter of those in Brazil. All manner of money—hot, cold, funny, silly, serious, old, nouveau—began pouring in, encouraged by relaxed visa requirements for Brazilians. Real estate agents brushed up on “Portuñol”—a mix of Spanish and Portuguese that Brazilians can understand— to welcome fortunes forged in agribusiness, mining, real estate, and banking, and, as one Brazilian diplomatically put it, from “hard-to-name sources,” that now account for 20 percent of all real estate sales in Miami.

Gil Dezer, president of Dezer Development, estimates that Brazilians have mopped up 85 percent of Miami’s excess inventory. “They made the way for new [residential condo] towers to be planned and built,” he says. Helping enormously was the fact that the majority of condos were paid for with cash.

With their increased wealth and buying power, Brazilians naturally have been eager to diversify out of Brazil, says Paulo Melo, director of real estate at Integra Solutions, a fund for high-net-worth Brazilians looking to invest in Florida property, who has been living in Miami for eight years. “There are other places in the US where investment is favorable, but I think Brazilians believe Miami has geographic, climatic, and economic conditions that make it poised for long-term growth.”

Brazil highlights an important feature of the shifting economic relationship between the United States and its Latin American neighbors: It’s no longer a one-way street. US businesses now look to Latin economies as potential markets, not purely as a source of raw materials. Miami, often described as the only South American capital in North America, is the stepping stone. Any multinational that does business in South America now has an office in Miami, causing Brickell Avenue to be dubbed the Wall Street of the South. To support this two-way trade, a bilateral banking sector of US and Brazilian institutions has sprung up in Miami, led by J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Banco do Brasil, and Itaú Unibanco.

So what has this meant for our city? The stores and nightlife are humming. “It used to be the Russians walking out of Bal Harbour Shops with tons of bags, having dropped $50,000 per store,” says Dezer. “The activity is [the same], but the language has changed to Portuguese.” You hear Portuguese wafting about hotel lobbies, the luxury label shops, and South Beach restaurants. While many Brazilians have and continue to scoop up condos and shorefront property, others come to town for a few days to stock up on luxury labels and the latest tech gadgets. “If you live in São Paulo and want to buy a handbag, it’s cheaper to buy a ticket to Miami, stay in a hotel, and purchase the bag in Bal Harbour,” says Patricia Borges, of the nonprofit BrazilFoundation, whose annual gala is one of the city’s big glamour events. But it’s not all about shopping, at least not in a strictly retail sense—Brazilians now lead the Latin charge at Art Basel Miami Beach, knowing full well the contemporary art circuit is the one to travel to access some of the city’s coolest power centers.

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