Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.

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Latin America-related online events this week

Monday, May 17

  • 11:00 at Zoom: Debt, Austerity and Human Rights in Latin America (RSVP required).
  • 12:00-2:00 at thedialogue.org: Evaluating the Socioemotional Competencies of Students During the Pandemic and School Reopening (RSVP required).

Tuesday, May 18

  • 11:00-12:30 at USIP Zoom: Understanding the Crisis in Colombia: Perspectives from Cali on Dialogue, Justice, and Healing (RSVP required).
  • 11:00-12:30 at canninghouse.org: Life, Livelihoods and Liberty (RSVP required).
  • 1:00 at Zoom: Lynching, Extralegal Justice, and Authoritarianism in Unrevolutionary Mexico: A Book Talk with Paul Gillingham and Gema Kloppe-Santamaría (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-4:30 at thedialogue.org: The Decisions of Facebook’s Oversight Board – Implications for the Global South, particularly in Latin America (RSVP required).

Wednesday, May 19

Thursday, May 20

  • 10:00 at appropriations.house.gov: Member Day for the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.
  • 11:30-12:30 at thedialogue.org: Colombia’s Unrest (RSVP required).
  • 3:30-5:00 at wilsoncenter.org: Chile’s Constituent Assembly Elections: Deciphering the Results (RSVP required).

Friday, May 21

  • 10:00-6:30 at University of Chicago Zoom: Crisis and Conflict in Colombia: Urgent Testimonies, Context and Perspective (RSVP required).
  • 12:00-1:00 at wilsoncenter.org: Nicaraguan Elections and Prospects for Democracy in 2021 (RSVP required).

The day ahead: May 17, 2021

I should be reachable in the afternoon. (How to contact me)

My schedule is largely clear, other than a long internal meeting in the morning and a mid-afternoon check-in with some groups working on the border. I have an article to finish writing and a backlog of unanswered e-mail to wind down, as it’s been very busy lately.

Colombia peace update: May 15, 2021

Cross-posted from WOLA’s colombiapeace.org site. During at least the first half of 2021, we’re producing weekly updates in English about peace accord implementation and related topics. Get these in your e-mail by signing up to this Google group.

Nationwide protest updates

Violence trends

The security forces’ response to Colombia’s nationwide protests became less lethal over the past week. Three people involved in protests were killed in the 8 days between May 7 and 14, increasing the overall confirmed toll from 39 to 42, according to a database maintained by the non-governmental organizations Temblores and Indepaz.

Heavy, and often outraged, international scrutiny of the police and military response has likely contributed to restraint. So has a reduction in the protests’ overall intensity, as formal negotiations begin. While large turnouts continue in Bogotá, Medellín, and elsewhere, they are not consistently large every single day. Colombia’s southwest, though, remains very active, especially the cities of Cali, Valle del Cauca; Popayán, Cauca; Neiva, Huila; and Pasto, Nariño.

As of 11:30pm on May 12, Temblores had counted 39 killings committed by security forces; 1,055 “arbitrary detentions,” 442 “violent interventions in the framework of peaceful protests” including 133 uses of lethal firearms and 30 protesters suffering eye damage, and 16 cases of sexual violence.

Hundreds of people are still missing, with most probably in police custody. Sebastian Lanz, the co-director of Temblores, told Vice that some are being charged with crimes, but others “have ended up in unauthorized ‘clandestine’ detention centers where ‘there is no legal authority to verify the human rights situation there,’” or in “special centers for protection“ where people may be held without charges for up to 12 hours.

Geography of protest

Activity remains widespread geographically. On May 12, the protests’ two-week mark, the Defense Ministry’s “Unified Command Post” counted 170 protest activities in 391 of Colombia’s 1,123 municipalities (counties). That day, Defense Minister Diego Molano said that protesters continued to block 80 roads around the country.

In Cali early in the week, protesters maintained blockades stopping most road traffic in and out of the city. Some of these protesters were members of an Indigenous minga (“coming together”) that brought thousands from Cauca, to the south of Cali, to show solidarity with protesters in Colombia’s third-largest city. The blockades generated reports of shortages of goods in Cali, including gasoline, and an inability to get export cargo to Buenaventura, Colombia’s busiest port.

The Defense Ministry deployed 10,000 police and 2,100 soldiers to Cali. Most road blockades were lifted peacefully, but the military and police used heavy force in Siloé, a neighborhood in western Cali that has seen many casualties. On May 9, assailants in civilian clothes shot at indigenous protesters in broad daylight, wounding eight. The minga pulled back to Cauca on May 12, citing government plans for “an armed police and paramilitary attack against our delegations” if it stayed in Cali.

A road blockade in Buga, along the Pan-American Highway north of Cali, was the site of bitter, prolonged clashes between protesters and a combined police-military force on May 13. No deaths were reported. In fact, the Temblores and Indepaz database shows no new deaths in the Cali metropolitan area since May 7. Still, of the 42 fatalities on this list, 29 happened in Cali or the neighboring municipality of Yumbo.

In Cauca’s departmental capital of Popayán on May 12, police threw to the ground and sexually abused a 17-year-old girl who had been using her phone to record abuse during a protest. The girl was taken to an “Immediate Reaction Unit” (URI)—a facility of the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía)—where she reported what was done to her. After being freed hours later, the girl reportedly took her own life. Popayán human rights lawyer Lizeth Montero said that a total of three underage girls denounced sexual abuse at the hands of police on May 12.

News of the abuse spurred angry protests in Popayán on May 14, during which some protesters burned down the URI where the girl had been taken. During the police response, an ESMAD anti-riot policeman fired a projectile, possibly a tear-gas canister, into the neck of 22-year-old college student Sebastián Quintero Múnera, killing him.

Rural areas appear to be joining the protests in increasing numbers. About 5,000 coca-growers from rural Cauca converged on Popayán to demand that the government comply with peace accord commitments to assist with the transition to licit crops, and that the government abandon plans to restart a program to eradicate coca by fumigating fields with herbicides from aircraft.

Casualties

Lucas Villa, a 37-year-old activist who was known for his ebullient nature—he appeared often in videos dancing during protests—died in a hospital in Pereira, Risaralda, on May 10. A gunman on a motorcycle hit Villa with eight bullets during a peaceful protest in Pereira on May 5.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) is seeking aggravated homicide charges against a Cali motorcycle police officer who, in a much-shared April 28 video, repeatedly shot and killed a 17-year-old who had run up and kicked him. This is the fourth case of a protest-related fatality for which the Fiscalía has filed charges. On May 12 Prosecutor General Francisco Barbosa told Colombia’s House of Representatives that the Fiscalía had counted 14 homicides so far; by that date Temblores and Indepaz had confirmed 41, including 1 policeman.

Investigations haven’t moved in the case of Maycolt Stiven Florido, a Bogotá barber attacked April 30, on video, by 12 police who accused him wrongly of throwing stones. The police knocked out three of Florido’s teeth, among other injuries, while stealing the equivalent of US$135 and his mobile phone.

Negotiations are getting underway

President Duque met on May 10 with the Comité del Paro, the group of mostly union leaders that called for the initial April 28 protests. The three hour exploratory meeting yielded little other than a government announcement that it is willing to open a process of negotiations with the Comité, managed on the government side by High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos.

President Duque announced on May 11 that the government would pay tuition for public university students who come from the bottom three levels of the government’s six-layer income system. The measure would waive tuition for 97 percent of students in public universities.

On May 14 the Comité del Paro, after a long meeting with mediators from the UN and the Catholic Church Episcopal Conference, agreed to the negotiations framework proposed by the government, and the first round of talks is to occur on May 16.

“If the National Government thinks that this process will be managed under the same scheme of the ‘great national conversation’ of late 2019 [after November 2019 protests], consisting of listening, taking notes, and then sitting in front of a computer to see what can be accommodated in the government’s plan and then coming out with what seems feasible, this new dialogue won’t calm things down either,” warned an El Espectador editorial.

An El Tiempo analysis outlines some of the points that a dialogue between the government and protest leaders would be likely to cover. They include basic income guarantees; affordable college education; reopening of schools closed by the pandemic; suspending forced coca eradication, especially fumigation; ending gender, ethnic, and sexual-orientation discrimination; withdrawing a controversial health care reform; and more participation in the national Covid vaccination plan.

La Silla Vacía profiles the 20 members of the Comité del Paro, finding the group to be overwhelmingly male and representative mainly of workers in the formal economy. The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), organizers of the “minga” (coming together) that brought thousands of its members to Cali, issued a statement declaring that it does not feel represented by the Comité del Paro.

134 environmental groups signed a statement supporting the protests. They added a list of demands including securing communities’ prior and informed consent, opposing large extractive projects, and opposing coca eradication with the herbicide glyphosate.

Political fallout

Foreign Minister Claudia Blum resigned after 18 months in office, amid a steady drumbeat of international communications voicing concern about the severity of the government’s response to protests. “The country will reject external pronouncements that do not reflect objectivity and seek to fuel polarization in the country,” Blum had said a week earlier. The comment was not well received. Blum was the second cabinet minister to quit since the protests began. Alberto Carrasquilla, the author of the proposed tax hike that first detonated the protests, resigned as finance minister on May 3.

A Datexco telephone poll of 700 adults found 75 percent in favor of the national strike, 15 percent against, and 10 percent with no opinion. 82 percent disapproved of the government’s management of the situation.

President Duque told the New York Times “he did not believe the police department needed significant reform. He said that the police have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy toward abuse, and pointed to the fact that the police inspector general has opened at least 65 investigations into alleged misconduct.”

Conspiracy hypotheses

National Police Commander Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas is among authorities who insist that the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas, along with both of Colombia’s principal networks of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident bands, are behind disturbances. While members of these groups may be taking advantage of disorder to pursue drug trafficking and other criminality, sources in the security forces tell El Espectador that evidence does not point to them playing a leading or coordinating role.

“What we are seeing here,” Gen. Vargas told El Tiempo’s María Isabel Rueda, “is a systematic attack against the police. This has happened in Chile and in other countries around the world, including the United States. There are organized systematic attacks, platforms in foreign countries, with a lot of false news and disinformation, that want to attack the Police for its role in crime containment, not public and peaceful demonstration.” He added, “In the ELN’s computers, in those of the FARC dissidents, we have found intentions to systematically attack the credibility of the police.”

Former president Álvaro Uribe, the maximum leader of President Iván Duque’s Centro Democrático party, called on May 13 for a greater military role in maintaining order during the protests, during an address before Colombia’s House of Representatives. Uribe warned that people exercising their right to “legitimate defense” might begin “the organization of private justice, with all its cruelty and the deinstitutionalization that the country had overcome.”

El Espectador recounted leaked audio of a Google Meet conversation between legislators from the governing Centro Democrático party and business leaders from Pereira, Risaralda. The CD legislators rejected any negotiation with groups carrying out road blockages and suggested boycotting advertising for all media outlets whose reporting has been unfavorable to the government and the security forces.

Business-sector representatives on this call recalled the “dissipated molecular revolution” thesis, popularized by a Nazi-sympathizing Chilean polemicist and advanced by former president Uribe, which contends that even peaceful protest is part of a dispersed, transnational leftist plot to overthrow the government. “They are looking to take over a government and I feel that businessmen have remained quiet on this issue. We need to support the institutional framework, because they have taken advantage of us, light years, in letting the outside world know what is happening in Colombia.”

Economics

Of the 11 million Colombians between ages 14 and 28, 3 million (27 percent) are neither employed nor in school. These “ni-nis” are heavily represented in the ongoing protests.

The Ministry of Finance said that the protests are costing the economy about half a trillion pesos (US$135 million) per day.

Comments and analyses

55 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the State Department to more forcefully denounce police brutality in Colombia, to freeze police aid and sales of crowd control equipment, and to promote dialogue.

The leads of the Colombian government’s negotiating team during the 2012-16 peace process with the FARC, Humberto de la Calle and Sergio Jaramillo, published a series of 10 recommendations in El Tiempo outlining how dialogue might go forward, suggesting a big role for young members of Congress and the use of mechanisms envisioned in the peace accord. “If we were able to reach an agreement between the government and the FARC, our institutions can do the same with the citizenry. But this requires, in addition to political will and respect for the other side, methods to reach agreements and guarantees for the participants.”

“One way to move forward is to stop thinking about the peace agreement in terms of concessions made to the much-disliked former FARC combatants,” reads an Americas Quarterly analysis from former finance minister Mauricio Cárdenas. “The peace agreement is about building a new social contract, where marginalized groups will have more political representation while bringing the state in, in the form of roads and schools, to some parts of Colombia for the first time in our history.”

“By helping Colombia move toward dialogue,” WOLA’s Adam Isacson writes in a May 12 New York Times column, “the Biden administration would be developing a template for engaging with counterparts throughout Latin America, where several countries battered by the virus are confronting authoritarian populism amid stark social divides.”

In a May 13 WOLA podcast, Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli explains why she’s optimistic that ongoing protests “can allow for more diverse voices to take up leadership in the country” and why she rates the US government’s response so far as “3 or 4 out of 10.”

Government acknowledges outreach efforts to the ELN

The Duque government’s high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, announced that the government has approved or participated in 32 meetings over the past 17 months “to verify the ELN’s true will to seek peace.” Outreach, Ceballos said, has included 22 meetings with intermediaries in the Vatican Nunciature in Bogotá, 6 meetings with intermediaries in the presidential palace, often with President Duque’s participation, and 4 trips to Havana, at which Catholic Church and UN representatives spoke to ELN leaders. The OAS mission in Colombia (MAPP-OEA) also took part in some of the meetings.

A few top ELN leaders remain in Cuba after a January 2019 bombing at Colombia’s police academy in Bogotá brought an end to an earlier peace process. Though protocols for the end of those talks called for their low-profile return to Colombia, the Duque government refused to allow that and demanded their extradition. In the meantime, the ELN ex-negotiators remain in Cuba and available for exploratory talks.

The first Cuba “good offices” trip took place in February 2020, when Father Darío Echeverri, who for years has played an important go-between role in peace efforts, traveled to Havana in representation of the Vatican. Echeverri was accompanied by Carlos Ruiz Massieu, head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia. Subsequent meetings in Cuba took place in September and November 2020 and March 2021.

At the time, the Duque government, with Ceballos playing the most vocal role, was ramping up diplomatic pressure on Cuba to extradite the ELN leaders stranded on the island. This week Pablo Beltrán, a top ELN leader and former negotiator who is among those still in Havana, told El Tiempo that Colombia’s government has been a reluctant participant in the exploratory talks, giving most credit to the Church and the international community.

FARC dissidents still fighting Venezuelan forces, and each other, in Apure, Venezuela

Venezuelan officials say that 16 soldiers and at least 9 FARC dissident fighters have been killed since fighting broke out March 21 across the border from Arauca, Colombia, in the Venezuelan state of Apure. Sporadic fighting continues on Venezuelan soil between Venezuelan forces and a FARC dissident group, which announced this week that it is holding about eight Venezuelan soldiers captive. Though information is spotty, an NGO reports that fighting is also now occurring in Venezuela between the two FARC dissident groups active in the zone.

The panorama in Apure is confusing. In addition to the ELN guerrillas, which are very present but appear uninvolved in the current combat, are “dissidents” led by ex-guerrillas who rejected the FARC peace process. Their rank-and-file includes many new recruits with no FARC background.

The dissidents are affiliated with two national networks. The first, the 10th Front, is part of the “1st Front” structure headed by alias Gentil Duarte, a mid-level FARC leader who rejected the 2016 peace accord and never demobilized. The Gentil Duarte network is the largest FARC dissident organization in the country. The second is the “Segunda Marquetalia” (Marquetalia is the site of the 1964 army attack that led to the FARC’s origin), headed by alias Iván Márquez, who was the FARC’s chief negotiator in Havana and destined for a Senate seat. Márquez rearmed, along with several other hardline FARC members, in 2019.

Numerous analysts cited in past updates have alleged that the Venezuelan regime is targeting the 10th Front—for unclear reasons—and favoring the Segunda Marquetalia.

The Venezuelan NGO FundaRedes reported on May 8 that 10 Venezuelan soldiers had gone missing in Apure following combat with the 10th Front. On May 11 the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that it had received a communication from the 10th Front indicating that it was holding eight Venezuelan soldiers who had been captured during fighting on April 23, and was looking for a way to hand them over. Tarazona posted this letter to his Twitter account, as well as proof-of-life video of some of the captives.

“In addition to a military defeat on April 23, the government today has [suffered] a communications defeat due to its determination to manage the situation in Apure without transparency before the families of the military and the country,” tweeted Marino Alvarado of the Venezuelan human rights group Provea. “Maduro, [Minister of Defense Gen.] Vladimir Padrino, and Adm. Remigio Ceballos [strategic operational commander of the armed forces] owe the country an explanation. A serious minister in the face of such a military and communications disaster would resign.”

FundaRedes also reported that 10th Front and Segunda Marquetalia fighters engaged in combat on May 12 in the town of Bruzual, more than 100 miles inside Venezuelan territory in northwestern Apure. Fundaredes claims that the fighting killed four and wounded several others. Combat between the 10th Front and Segunda Marquetalia has been rare in both Colombia and Venezuela, but appears to be growing more frequent.

Links

  • Citing a failure to provide prior advance consultation, a court in Nariño suspended all forced coca eradication in Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities’ lands in Tumaco and nine other municipalities along Nariño’s Pacific coast. (Tumaco was sixth among Colombia’s largest coca-producing municipalities in 2019.) The ruling prohibits the on-the-ground manual forced eradication that security forces and eradicators have been carrying out. Colombia’s Constitutional Court will soon rule on two other legal challenges (tutelas) to the Duque government’s imminent restart of glyphosate fumigation from aircraft. Those challenges, too, argue insufficient consultation with ethnic communities.
  • On May 11 the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution adding to the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia. The Mission is now charged also with verifying the sentences handed down by the transitional justice tribunal (Special Jurisdiction for Peace, or JEP). These sentences, up to eight years in duration, are likely to be “restrictions of rights and liberties” and/or “works and tasks with restorative and restorative content,” referred by the Spanish acronym TOAR. The Security Council resolution came several days after seven top FARC leaders took the historic step of pleading guilty to the JEP’s charges of masterminding thousands of kidnappings.
  • In testimony before the JEP, retired Army captain Adolfo Guevara told how he collaborated with the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary network’s Northern Bloc while serving in active duty in 2002. “He not only narrated how he executed people to ‘legalize’ them as ‘positives’ in the Gaula [anti-kidnapping unit in] Magdalena in 2002,” El Tiempo reports, “but also assured that his actions were known and required by other military units.” Guevara alleged that Gen. Mario Montoya, who went on to head Colombia’s army in the mid-2000s, collaborated with the paramilitaries.
  • Colombia’s navy reported seizing nine semi-submersible drug trafficking vessels along its coasts and waters so far this year.

Weekly Border Update: May 14, 2021

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here

Migration at the border flattened out in April

Despite spring normally being a time of greater migration, Border Patrol’s “encounters” with undocumented migrants crept up by only 2.5 percent from March to April. The surprisingly slow growth comes after encounters increased 30 percent in February and 73 percent in March.

With 173,460 migrants encountered, April 2021 was still Border Patrol’s heaviest month in 21 years (180,050 in April 2000). That number, though, counts “encounters” and not individual “people.” There is much double-counting: “CBP has reported that about 40 percent of the adults it arrests are ‘recidivists’ or repeat offenders,” according to the Washington Post.

That is a far higher recidivism rate than in recent years: it ranged from 7 to 16 percent between 2013 and 2019. Border Patrol first started reporting this rate in 2005, when it estimated 25 percent; the highest total before now was 29 percent recidivism in 2007.

Repeat crossings are more frequent now because of the pandemic border closure measure, known as “Title 42,” that the Trump administration put in place in March 2020 and the Biden administration has continued (public health experts have strongly criticized the “Title 42” measures as having no basis in protecting public health). In the name of preventing the spread of COVID-19, Border Patrol has been quickly expelling most migrants, usually with no opportunity to ask for asylum. This means most migrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are expelled across the border into Mexico. 

Download a PDF packet of charts and graphics at bit.ly/wola_border.

Border Patrol expelled 63 percent of migrants it encountered in April, the same proportion as March. In December 2020, the Trump administration’s last full month in office, expulsions stood at 85 percent.

Expulsion is a hardship for protection-seeking migrants, who normally seek to turn themselves in to CBP or Border Patrol. For migrants who wish to avoid being apprehended, though, expulsion has made the process easier: if they are caught, they get taken back across the border within hours, usually without even seeing the inside of a Border Patrol station, and in many cases try to cross again.

Single adult migrants are more likely than children or families to attempt to avoid apprehension, and thus to try crossing again after being expelled. Border Patrol’s encounters with single adults increased by 12 percent from March to April, to 108,301. Trying to avoid apprehension often means taking dangerous routes, such as through remote desert areas or by sea, and it appears that more migrants are dying on U.S. soil or in U.S. waters, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.

Encounters with unaccompanied children and members of family units, though, plummeted 10 percent—a result that almost nobody foresaw in March, when children and families increased by 102 percent and 177 percent, respectively.

Border Patrol encountered 48,226 family members, down 5,000 from March. The sharpest one-month decrease was in families from Guatemala (-29 percent) and Honduras (-22 percent), while families from “other countries”—neither Mexico nor Central America’s “Northern Triangle” region—jumped by 34 percent, to 14,448.

This appears to be an outcome of the Title 42 expulsions into Mexico. 48 percent of family members from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were expelled, similar to 47 percent in March (we reported a smaller percentage a month ago, but CBP radically revised its family expulsion data). With a roughly 50-50 chance of being expelled or being allowed to petition for asylum or protection inside the United States, Central American families face a confusing set of outcomes that smugglers are exploiting, reports Lomi Kriel at ProPublica / Texas Tribune. By contrast, Border Patrol expelled just 5 percent of family members from “other countries”—often places like Cuba or Venezuela where sending expulsion flights is not currently possible.

As noted in past updates, numbers of unaccompanied children continue to drop, even though the Biden administration is not expelling non-Mexican children who arrive. Border Patrol encountered an average of 268 non-Mexican children per day between May 9-12. This is a sharp drop from the 387 average of May 2-6, and the high 400s logged in late March and the first three weeks of April. 

The agency encountered 2,268 Mexican children in April, almost identical to March (2,277). While almost none were expelled under Title 42, most were quickly repatriated back to Mexico, as was the norm before the pandemic, because the 2008 law requiring that unaccompanied children go into the asylum system only applies to kids from non-contiguous countries.

Download a PDF packet of charts and graphics at bit.ly/wola_border.

Only a daily average of 493 children were being processed in Border Patrol facilities during May 9-12, down from well over 5,000 in late March and early April. Nearly all were handed over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR) network of shelters within about 24 hours. The population of unaccompanied children in ORR shelters has also dropped to 20,397, the fewest since April 19 and down from an April 29 high of 22,557.

These shelters, which include convention centers, tent facilities, and a military base, face serious challenges of crowding, living conditions, and logistics, the New York Times reported, sharing an internal “senior leader brief” showing a thorough level of data collection. This week, the Dallas Morning News found that ORR had been keeping unaccompanied children for days at a time on buses parked outside a Dallas convention center that it is using as an emergency shelter. Politico reported that the White House has been leaning hard on Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, whose department oversees ORR, to speed the pace at which the agency releases children to relatives or sponsors in the United States.

Late March predictions that ORR would need bed space for 34,000 or more children are now looking too pessimistic. With the drop in child and family migration has come a notable drop in press coverage of events at the border.

Family expulsions have generated a quiet crisis of family separation in Mexican border cities, as expelled parents, aware that unaccompanied children don’t get expelled, make the painful decision to send their children back into the United States alone. “Between January 20 and April 5, Border Patrol agents came across at least 2,121 unaccompanied migrant children who had been previously expelled,” CBS News reported. That is 24 family separations per day—one per hour.

Title 42 is easing, slightly

In April CBP expelled people 111,714 times under the Title 42 pandemic authority. On May 13 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that he did not have a timetable for lifting Title 42. Recent weeks, though, have seen some modest changes to the policy’s application to asylum seekers.

On May 12 CBS News got confirmation from CBP that the agency, citing “operational needs,” has stopped flying families from south Texas, where the bordering Mexican state of Tamaulipas has been limiting expulsions of families with small children, to other parts of the border where expulsions are easier. Since March 8, near-daily planeloads of people had been taking Central American families from McAllen, Texas to El Paso, Texas and San Diego, California. Witness at the Border, which monitors ICE flights, detected 60 of these “lateral” flights in April and 108 between March 8 and April 30, enough to expel about 10,000 people.

Once in El Paso and San Diego, DHS personnel were taking families to the borderline and leaving them in Mexico, often without telling them where they were or what was happening to them. Human Rights First discussed some of the families’ treatment at the hands of Border Patrol and other DHS personnel in a May 13 memo. U.S. media outlets have reported on tearful, disoriented families who had just been flown thousands of miles to be expelled.

The lateral expulsion flights have now stopped, although DHS is still busing some families from south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley region about four hours west to Laredo, in order to expel them into the organized crime-dominated border town of Nuevo Laredo. At a May 13 Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) accused DHS Secretary Mayorkas of canceling the expulsion flights in response to “left-wing groups.”

Another tiny erosion into Title 42 is a small but growing number of humanitarian exceptions for some of the most vulnerable expelled migrants who wish to seek asylum in the United States. “The latest plan is kicking off on a pilot basis,” a source told CNN, “adding that families will be put in immigration proceedings” in the United States. In recent weeks, about 35 vulnerable families a day have been exempted from expulsions, at the recommendation of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is the plaintiff in a lawsuit against DHS seeking to overturn Title 42. It is not clear to what extent that number may expand. On May 13 the ACLU agreed to the latest in a series of delays to that lawsuit; the next deadline is May 25.

Border drug seizure data

Seven months into fiscal year 2021, CBP’s reporting on drugs detected at the U.S.-Mexico border points to big increases in fentanyl and cocaine seizures, a big drop in cannabis seizures, and little change in heroin and methamphetamine seizures. As in past years, nearly all drugs are seized by CBP agents at ports of entry, with the exception of marijuana:

  • Fentanyl: 6,103 pounds seized October-April, 89 percent of it at ports of entry. If this pace is maintained through September, CBP will seize 10,462 pounds of fentanyl in FY 2021, a 130 percent increase over FY 2020.
  • Cocaine: 17,407 pounds seized October-April, 86 percent of it at ports of entry. If this pace is maintained through September, CBP will seize 29,841 pounds of cocaine in FY 2021, a 57 percent increase over FY 2020.
  • Heroin: 3,061 pounds seized October-April, 91 percent of it at ports of entry. If this pace is maintained through September, CBP will seize 5,247 pounds of heroin in FY 2021, a 2 percent increase over FY 2020.
  • Methamphetamine: 99,681 pounds seized October-April, 93 percent of it at ports of entry. If this pace is maintained through September, CBP will seize 170,882 pounds of meth in FY 2021, almost identical to FY 2020.
  • Marijuana: 162,073 pounds seized October-April, 39 percent of it at ports of entry. If this pace is maintained through September, CBP will seize 277,839 pounds of marijuana in FY 2021, a 45 percent decrease from FY 2020.

Links

  • The Senate Homeland Security Committee held a March 13 hearing on the situation of unaccompanied minors, with DHS Secretary Mayorkas the lone witness. Committee Chairman Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) noted the recent decline in arrivals of unaccompanied children and praised Border Patrol agents who were paying for toys out of their own pockets. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada) voiced strong concerns about Title 42 expulsions, including the growing number of family separations discussed above.
  • On the Republican side, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) lamented that, once in the United States, unaccompanied children are infrequently returned to their home countries, calling that an incentive for more children to come. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), and Rick Scott (R-Florida) relied heavily on a prop: a chart of weekly apprehensions that appeared to show a sharp jump in migration after Joe Biden’s inauguration, but was simply wrong—based on a basic conflation of “apprehensions” and “encounters.” Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) said that overwhelmed Border Patrol agents had released 19,000 asylum-seeking family members into the United States without “notices to appear” in immigration court.
  • Disgruntled with the Biden administration’s modest walk-back of the Trump administration’s hardline migration policies, some Border Patrol agents “are considering early retirement” or “are buying unofficial coins that say ‘U.S. Welcome Patrol,’” Reuters reports.
  • A U.S. delegation led by National Security Council Western Hemisphere Director Juan González paid an in-person visit to Mexico on May 13. According to the Mexican Foreign Relations Secretariat’s release, topics covered included arms and narcotics trafficking, organized crime violence and financial flows, and “addiction as a public health problem.” The words “migration” or “border” do not appear.
  • Reuters reports on how as many as 2,000 migrants, apparently misinformed about the Biden administration’s migration policies, have set up an encampment outside the busy El Chaparral pedestrian port of entry in Tijuana, across from San Ysidro, San Diego County, California. “The camp is growing increasingly dangerous, migrants and activists told Reuters, with unsanitary conditions, drug use, and gangs entering the area.”
  • At Rest of World, Jeff Ernst reports on how migrant caravans—which haven’t successfully reached the United States since late 2018—are increasingly being organized by scammers trying to shake down desperate people over social media, especially in Honduras.
  • El Paso Matters reports on the unique challenges faced by Indigenous migrants from Central America, many of whom speak little Spanish. “On a phone call with El Paso Matters, West Texas CBP spokesperson Landon Hutchens said that after hundreds of years since the Spanish colonization of the Americas, ‘you’d think (Indigenous immigrants) would have learned Spanish by now.’”
  • A memo from Mijente and Just Futures Law warns of the civil liberties and migrant safety dangers of deploying surveillance and other technologies along the border—a measure that many border wall opponents in the Biden administration and Congress propose instead of a barrier. The memo lists some of the “Tech-Border-Industrial-Complex” corporations that would stand to gain from a big investment in drone and other surveillance technology.
  • Tijuana municipal police found a cross-border “narco-tunnel” leading under the border wall into San Diego County’s Otay Mesa area. The tunnel began in a building located across the street from a Mexican National Guard barracks.
  • USA Today published a long profile of Rep. Henry Cuéllar (D-Texas), whose district includes a large portion of the Texas border including Laredo. One of the most conservative Democrats in the House, Cuéllar has been a critic of the Biden administration.
  • A Pew Research Center study of news coverage during the Biden administration’s first 60 days found that immigration was the subject of 11 percent of stories: 8 percent of stories in outlets with a “left-leaning audience,” and 20 percent of stories in outlets with a “right-leaning audience.”

WOLA Podcast: Understanding Colombia’s Latest Wave of Social Protest

I recorded a very good conversation with my colleague Gimena Sánchez, who I don’t think has slept since Colombia’s protests—and the government’s crackdown—began on April 28. She does a masterful job explaining what’s going on. Here’s the text of the podcast landing page at wola.org.

Protests that began April 28 in Colombia are maintaining momentum and a broad base of support, despite a heavy-handed government response. Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, WOLA’s Director for the Andes, sees a movement coalescing—and a need for a more decisive U.S. approach.

This conversation, recorded on May 13, explains the different factors contributing to the crisis at the country enters its third week of protests and the number of dead or missing—almost entirely protestors—continues to increase. It also touches on the larger context of protests that were already taking place in Colombia’s more rural/indigenous area, paramilitary responses to the protestors, and contextualizes indigenous frustration in Colombia. The discussion ends with the prospect for change in Colombia, and how the Biden administration has responded so far.

Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotifyiHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

The day ahead: May 13, 2021

It’s a pretty packed day. (How to contact me)

We’re recording a podcast on Colombia this morning, which I’d like to post a transcription and a translation of, so it will take most of the morning. Then there’s a meeting of a coalition of border groups, a conversation with a House committee staffer, and another with a few colleagues in Colombia. And I want to write up a new weekly border update, which will require me to finish processing the April numbers CBP released late Tuesday.

At the New York Times: Colombia Is in Turmoil. Biden Must Push It Toward Dialogue.

Like many of you, I’m saddened and worried to see what Colombia is going through: only four years ago, the FARC were laying down their weapons and it felt much more like a time of possibility. The present crisis offers renewed possibility through real dialogue. The U.S. government can help by isolating some very powerful people in the country who oppose that, especially in the governing party. Read my just-published column at nytimes.com.

The day ahead: May 10, 2021

Today is tough, I should be easier to contact tomorrow. (How to contact me)

I didn’t actually make it to bed last night, I’ve been in this chair since about 9:30pm. So once my two long internal morning meetings are over (mid-day) I may need a bit of a nap before my two mid-to-late afternoon meetings start, one with a few Colombian colleagues and one with a partner organization at the U.S.-Mexico border. I expect to be less scheduled and more able to string words together tomorrow.

Weekly e-mail update is out

I just sent off another e-mail update to those who’ve subscribed. The Colombia and border updates are long because so much is going on. Between that and spending a lot of the weekend away from my keyboard (it was Mothers’ Day and I’m lucky enough to have lots of moms in my life), I didn’t have time to add a lot of bells and whistles to this one, so it’s a bit of a slog to read.

Just a weekly Colombia update, a weekly U.S.-Mexico border update, and some upcoming event listings. Hopefully next weekend I can put more thought and creativity into it.

Here’s the page with past editions and a blank to add your e-mail address if you want these more-or-less weekly missives in your inbox.

Latin America-related online events this week

Monday, May 10

  • 10:00 at Zoom: Pandemia, vacunas y derechos humanos en las Américas (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-3:30 at wilsoncenter.org: Latin America’s Digital Divide: Overcoming Persistent Gaps (RSVP required).

Tuesday, May 11

  • 10:30 at migrationpolicy.org: From a Humanitarian Exodus to Long-Term Growth: Latin America’s Journey Responding to the Venezuelan Exodus (RSVP required).
  • 7:00pm at eventbrite: Canada’s Toxic Legacy: Pan American Silver and Mining Billionaire Ross Beaty in Latin America (RSVP required).

Wednesday, May 12

  • 9:00 at IREE: The Future of Brazil – U.S. Relations under the Biden Administration (RSVP required).
  • 9:00-10:00 at csis.org: Colombia Reacts to New Tax Reform: A Conversation with Colombia’s Minister of the Interior, Daniel Palacios Martínez (RSVP required).
  • 9:00-10:00 at atlanticcouncil.org:What might the year 2035 bring for China’s trade with Latin America? (RSVP required).

Thursday, May 13

Friday, May 14

  • 11:00-12:00 at wola.org: Militarization and Militarism in Mexico: Implications for Security and Democracy (RSVP required).
  • 12:00-2:00 at Zoom: A New Cycle of War in Colombia? (RSVP required).

Colombia peace update: May 8, 2021

Cross-posted from WOLA’s colombiapeace.org site. During at least the first half of 2021, we’re producing weekly updates in English about peace accord implementation and related topics. Get these in your e-mail by signing up to this Google group.

This is a special “protests crisis edition” of the weekly update. It is very long. To shorten it, follow these links to view only items about Dialogues, Human Rights, the International Community, Security Forces, Statements, Statistics, Stigmatization, U.S. Policy, and Vandalism.

April 30

  • Temblores, an NGO that tracks police violence, counts, between April 28 and 10:00pm on April 30, 13 alleged homicides committed by police, 655 arbitrary arrests, 18 uses of police firearms, and 68 victims of police violence including 8 people with eye injuries.
  • Former president Álvaro Uribe, the leader of President Duque’s political party, tweets “Let’s support the right of soldiers and police officers to use their weapons to defend their integrity and to defend people and property from the criminal action of vandalistic terrorism.” Twitter deletes the message as a violation of its terms of use. Bogotá mayor Claudia López accuses Uribe of escalating protests just as they were calming.

May 1

  • After two days of somewhat less participation in protest marches, Saturday May 1—Labor Day in Colombia—sees a much larger turnout on the streets of hundreds of cities and towns around the country. During daylight hours, protests are mostly peaceful, though looting occurs on the margins in Bogotá. After dark, acts of vandalism and confrontations with security forces proliferate. The National Police announces that 330 of its agents were wounded, and 249 people were arrested for alleged acts of vandalism.
  • Temblores, an NGO that tracks police violence, counts, between April 28 and 11:00pm on May 1, 21 alleged homicides committed by police, 672 arbitrary arrests, 30 uses of police firearms, 92 victims of police violence including 12 people with eye injuries, and 4 victims of sexual assault at the hands of security forces.
  • The Campaña Defender la Libertad counts, between April 28 and 9:30pm on May 1, 5 people allegedly killed by security forces, 111 detained, 6 victims of gender-based violence at the hands of the security forces, 56 people wounded, and 9 assaults on human rights defenders.
  • Confrontations with security forces also occur in Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Manizales, Pasto, and Pereira.
  • Temblores, an NGO that tracks police violence, counts 851 cases of violence committed by police in the context of protests between April 28 and April 30, including 13 homicides, 655 arbitrary detentions, 18 cases of use of firearms, 8 cases of eye damage, and 4 cases of sexual violence.
  • The crackdown on protesters appears to be most intense in Cali. The Francisco Isaías Cifuentes Human Rights Network, a Cali-based non-governmental organization, says it has received reports that police have killed 14 people in the city since the protests began, of which it has verified 7. The National Police acknowledge that 10 people in Cali have been killed by unspecified causes.
  • Videos show Bogotá police firing their weapons at protesters in the Kennedy and Cedritos neighborhoods.
  • Brayan Fernando Niño, a 24-year-old employee of a local HomeCenter store, is killed in Madrid, Cundinamarca. An ESMAD tear gas canister fired from an armored personnel carrier hits Niño in the eye.
  • During the evening of May 1 Temblores, an NGO that tracks police violence, warns protesters to go home or find a place to take refuge. “The human rights situation is critical and there are no guarantees for life, integrity or the free exercise of social protest.”
  • Under a legal framework called “military assistance,” President Iván Duque announces that the armed forces will help the police control public order in major cities. “Military assistance will be maintained until the serious disturbance of public order ceases. Our military forces are supporting the work of the National Police,” Duque says. The mayors of Bogotá, Cartagena, Medellín, and Cali , and the governor of Magdalena say that the military does not need to be deployed. Some cite the risk of escalating the protests.

May 2

  • Acceding to one of the protesters’ main demands, President Iván Duque withdraws controversial tax increase legislation, which was opposed both by the left (because it increased regressive sales taxes) and by the business sector (because it raised taxes somewhat on corporations). Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla resigns. Protests continue. The government still faces a budget deficit equal to 8 percent of GDP.
  • Social media videos from the weekend of May 1-2 “showed police firing at protesters sometimes from close range, ramming crowds with motorcycles, and bashing demonstrators with their shields,” the Guardian reports.
  • “11 of the officially confirmed protest deaths occurred in Cali, with deaths also reported in the cities of Bogotá, Ibagué, Madrid, Medellín, Neiva, Pereira, Soacha, and Yumbo,” the BBC reports. “Most of the dead and injured are young people.”
  • Social media video captures the death of Nicolás Guerrero, a 22-year-old artist, from a bullet fired by ESMAD riot police in Cali.
  • Colombia’s Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP) documents 33 aggressions against members of the press in the context of the protests between April 28 and May 1. The majority were carried out by government security forces.
  • The Chief Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía) reports that 278 people have been arrested for involvement in “acts of vandalism, crime, and terrorism.” The Fiscalía counts 167 buses and 22 small police posts (CAI) vandalized, 269 roads blocked, and 399 wounded police.
  • The Global Network Against Police Violence, a group of non-governmental organizations from nine Latin American countries plus Spain, issues a communiqué condemning “repression” of the protests in Colombia.
  • One of Colombia’s most-read columnists, Daniel Coronell, devotes an essay to the case of Dilan Cruz, an 18-year-old participant in November 2019 protests who was killed by an ESMAD agent’s “non-lethal” projectile gun in downtown Bogotá. The case against the agent, Capt. Manuel Cubillos, is being heard in Colombia’s military justice system. The civilian Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) sent a report on the incident to the military judge. This report seeks to exonerate Capt. Cubillos and to portray Cruz as a troubled youth with a history of drug use. “Colombia’s Fiscalía is specializing in justifying perpetrators and prosecuting victims,” Coronell writes.

May 3

  • The police response to protesters and some vandals claims many victims in Cali. “Police began confronting protesters at 8 p.m., opening fire in an attempt to disperse the crowd,” the Washington Post reports. “’They were even firing shots from helicopters,’ said Stiven Soñador, a 27-year-old human rights lawyer who took part in the protests. ‘Police started to fire shots and people ran to their neighborhoods, but inside the neighborhoods, there were more [police] waiting.’” At least five people die the evening of May 3.
  • An account from several Colombian human rights groups details what happened in Cali on March 3 to a delegation of human rights defenders. The delegation included members of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ field office in Colombia. “The police officers surrounded them [part of the delegation] and shouted at them to leave the place, so the defenders accelerated their pace to leave amid threats that they were going to kill them. At that moment, police officers fired their firearms at the humanitarian mission, then ESMAD arrived and threw a stun grenade at them. The Mission was rescued by street inhabitants who acted as human shields and a police officer who arrived on the scene, interposed himself between the Mission and his companions and helped them run out of the area and meet again with officials from the OHCHR and the Attorney General’s Office.”
  • Defense Minister Diego Molano seeks to blame acts of vandalism on Colombia’s remaining armed groups: “Colombia faces a terrorist threat, criminal organizations are behind the violent acts that tarnish peaceful protest. These are premeditated acts, organized and financed by FARC and ELN dissident groups. Thanks to the work of the Special Group against Vandalism and Related Crimes we have identified some of these criminal organizations: JM19 movement, Luis Otero Cifuentes group, Gentil Duarte’s Bolivarian Movement of FARC dissidents, the Blue Shields, the Black Shields, ELN urban cells, June 8 and 9: ELN camilistas.” Molano provides no proof.
  • “There have been 19 deaths so far in Valle del Cauca, Bogotá, Neiva, Cali, Soacha, Yumbo, Ibagué, Madrid (Cundinamarca), Medellín, and Pereira,” notes the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office (Defensoría), adding that it “is evaluating and classifying 140 complaints that include information on deaths, missing persons, police abuse and injuries, among others.”
  • Temblores, an NGO that tracks police violence, counts, between April 28 and 10:00am on May 3, 26 alleged homicides committed by police, 761 arbitrary arrests, 56 uses of police firearms, 142 victims of police violence including 17 people with eye injuries, and 9 victims of sexual assault at the hands of security forces.
  • The Campaña Defender la Libertad counts, between April 28 and May 3, 18 people allegedly killed by security forces, 988 detained, 11 victims of gender-based violence at the hands of the security forces, 305 people wounded including 23 with eye damage, and 47 assaults on human rights defenders.
  • In a statement, Defense Minister Diego Molano shares statistics, omitting reference to civilians killed or injured by security forces. “540 policemen injured and one killed during the protests and 306 civilians injured. Also, 20 public transport buses have been burned, 59 commercial establishments looted, 21 CAI [police posts] destroyed and 43 vandalized. 94 banks, 254 stores, 14 toll booths, 4 statues, 23 institutional vehicles, 69 transport stations, 36 ATMs, 2 governors’ offices and 29 traffic ticket cameras have been vandalized.”
  • In Cali, a mob burns the first floor of a hotel where some police were staying. Others blockade the road between the city and its airport, causing cancellations of flights. Other road blockades start causing food shortages.
  • WOLA calls on the Biden administration and the U.S. Congress “to condemn police excesses, distance the United States from officials’ inflammatory rhetoric, and insist that the Colombian government reform the ESMAD and hold accountable those who violated human rights since the protests began.” WOLA calls for a cutoff of assistance to ESMAD and its members, if any exists, and for a suspension of all sales of crowd and riot control equipment to Colombia.
  • The European Union condemns acts of violence in Colombia’s protests, which target “legitimate rights to demonstrate, freedom of assembly and expression,” European External Action Service spokesman Peter Stano said.
  • “I am deeply disturbed by the brutal Colombian National Police (PNC) response to peaceful protests over the weekend,” tweets U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts). “U.S. aid to the PNC needs strong human rights protections and conditions. We should apply Leahy Law. No U.S. aid to Colombian ESMAD riot units that engage in gross human rights violations.”
  • More than 10,000 academics sign a letter to President Iván Duque urging him to order the security forces to respect human rights, and to avoid deploying the military in response to protests.
  • Eight international NGOs including WOLA call on Colombia to respect and guarantee human rights in the context of citizen mobilizations.
  • An analysis by the daily El Espectador notes that two independent branches of government meant to provide oversight and control, the Inspector-General’s Office and Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Procuraduría and Defensoría), have been “conspicuous in their absence.” Both bodies had new leaders named in 2020, and both are considered close to President Iván Duque or his political party.
  • In response to accusations that his office has been largely absent during the protests, Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo) Carlos Camargo tells W Radio, “I have been dedicated 24/7 with my officials, in permanent contact [and] attending to all the situations of what is happening in Cali, it is of the utmost importance to us.”
  • National Police Chief Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas says that 26 investigations have been opened into police misconduct in the context of the protests.
  • Ex-president Álvaro Uribe, the leader of President Iván Duque’s political party, tweets recommending “Strengthening the armed forces, which are weakened by being held equal to terrorists by Havana [the peace accord] and the JEP,” as well as to “recognize that terrorism is larger than imagined.” In a curious recommendation, Uribe calls to “Resist the Dissipated Molecular Revolution,” apparently a reference to a Nazi-sympathizing Chilean theorist’s notion that dissent is the work of an internal enemy bent on overturning the system and dispersed throughout the population.
  • Accompanied by Defense Minister Diego Molano, Army Commander Gen. Eduardo Zapateiro records a video calling the ESMAD riot police (whom he doesn’t command) “heroes in black” and urges them to stay the course.
  • Police “have developed some strategies to avoid any responsibility,” according to a Verdad Abierta analysis contending that the aggressiveness of police behavior during protests has worsened markedly since 2019. “They hide their last names and internal identification numbers; they cover their faces with balaclavas; they are incapable of pausing to talk to the victim and to verify the data they believe to be rigorous, like name and ID number; and they shoot indiscriminately at the mob, protected by their own companions.”

May 4

  • Nighttime violence erupts in Bogotá, mainly in poorer neighborhoods, as mobs vandalize 25 Immediate Attention Center (CAI) police posts, destroying 3 completely. 104 public buses are damaged, four of them burned. One of the CAI is set on fire with 14 police agents inside. “The level of destruction, of violence, of attack against citizens, against our public property, against our police, is truly unheard of,” says Mayor Claudia López. “What happened to our uniformed officers is unacceptable.”
  • Temblores, an NGO that tracks police violence, counts, between April 28 and 8:00am on May 4, 31 alleged homicides committed by police, 814 arbitrary arrests, 77 uses of police firearms, 216 victims of police violence including 21 people with eye injuries, and 10 victims of sexual assault at the hands of security forces.
  • A communiqué from the Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights voices strong concern about police attacks on civilians in Cali on May 3, when police shot at non-governmental human rights workers participating in a mission that included employees of the UN Human Rights office. “We are deeply alarmed by the events in the city of Cali in Colombia last night, when police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against the tax reform, killing and injuring several people, according to information received.” The statement recalls that “to date, the majority of the protests have been peaceful.”
  • “Since April 28, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has received reports of at least 14 deaths in the context of protests in different parts of Colombia, including that of at least one police officer”, reports the UN Human Rights office.
  • The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría) publishes a list of 87 people who have disappeared amid the protests between April 28 and May 3. On May 5, the National Police claim that 45 of the 87 have been located; La Silla Vacía argues on May 6 that the list “lacks rigor” and 52 have been located. Defense Minister Diego Molano says he knows nothing about that number. The National Unit for the Search for the Disappeared, an agency created by the 2016 peace accord, calls on the government to avoid repeating the experience of the armed conflict, when tens of thousands of people disappeared. The Unit notes that a human rights NGO, the Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination, has a list of 107 missing people.
  • “I want to announce that we will set up a space to listen to citizens and build solutions,” President Duque says in a televised address. He calls for a dialogue “with all institutions, political parties, the private sector, governors, mayors and civil society leaders, motivated by service to the citizenry.”
  • The “Coalition of Hope,” a grouping of centrist and center-left politicians who say they are open to dialogue with the government, rejects a meeting with President Duque, citing widespread evidence of police violence.
  • “I’m extremely concerned by the brutal PNC and ESMAD response to protests in Colombia. I’m particularly alarmed by developments in Cali and call on President Ivan Duque to deescalate the violence and make clear that excessive use of force is inexcusable,” tweets Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-New York), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “It is imperative that U.S. Leahy Law is fully implemented as we make clear that the United States will not support security forces involved in severe human rights violations.”
  • “I’m greatly concerned about the situation in Colombia and extend my sympathies to the families of those killed and injured,” tweets Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas). “Excessive force by police against protestors is unacceptable and authorities have a responsibility to uphold human rights.”
  • The U.S. State Department issues a statement. “All over the world,” it reads, “citizens in democratic countries have the unquestionable right to protest peacefully. Violence and vandalism is an abuse of that right. At the same time, we urge the utmost restraint by public forces to prevent additional loss of life. We recognize the Government of Colombia’s commitment to investigate reports of police excesses and address any violations of human rights. We continue to support the Colombian government’s efforts to address the current situation through political dialogue.”
  • Juan González, the White House National Security Council’s director for Western Hemisphere affairs, tweets: “The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental freedom. Needless destruction is not. Violence that endangers lives is not. And proper observance of use of force standards is NOT negotiable.” On May 6 González tells The Hill, “Police, whether in the United States or Colombia, need to engage by certain rules and respect fundamental freedoms, and that’s not a critique.”
  • Citing “reports of grossly excessive use of police force from several Colombian cities,” a statement from WOLA calls on the U.S. government to urge Colombia to return to internationally recognized use-of-force standards, to suspend all sales of crowd-control equipment, and to encourage dialogue efforts.
  • A letter from more than 900 organizations and thousands of individuals denounces police brutality and government stigmatization and calls for guarantees for peaceful social protest. It notes that the tax reform is one of several reasons why people are protesting: other causes include health care reform, pension reform, stopping murders of social leaders and demobilized ex-combatants, stopping coca fumigation, implementing the 2016 peace accord, and guaranteeing a basic income for the poorest.
  • In a statement, the Colombian legal/human rights NGO DeJusticia “urge[s] police authorities to reaffirm their role as guarantors of the life, honor and property of citizens; the Ombudsman’s and Inspector General’s Offices to wake up from their slumber and fulfill their role in this crisis, and Iván Duque’s government to create mechanisms for dialogue and citizen consultation.”
  • A statement from the OAS Mission in Support of the Peace Process (MAPP-OEA) “condemns and expresses its deep concern for the disproportionate use of public force in the context of the social demonstrations and protests.” The mission “joins the voices of repudiation against threats and violence faced by the Multisectoral Verification Commission members headed by the Attorney General’s Office and OHCHR during the night of May 3rd in Cali, Colombia.”
  • In response to international criticism of the use of force in response to protests, Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Relations “strongly reaffirms” in a statement “that Colombia is a State governed by the rule of law with solid democratic institutions that guarantee citizens’ rights.” The Ministry announces that it will convene a meeting on May 5 with ambassadors to discuss the government’s response. Presidential human rights advisor Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez says she will monitor disciplinary investigations against police. In a passage that raises eyebrows, Gutiérrez adds, “human rights only exist if all citizens observe the duties we all have to be part of society.”
  • Defense Minister Diego Molano insists that, despite much video evidence to the contrary, the National Police have been operating within the confines of the law. Police Chief Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas says that “criminals” have been shooting at police in Cali, and that cases of police using firearms will be investigated.
  • Defense Minister Diego Molano says that 47 police Immediate Attention Center (CAI) posts have been “affected” and 21 have been destroyed.
  • Defense Minister Diego Molano reports that 579 police have been wounded, and 515 people have been arrested, within the framework of the protests since April 28.
  • “Protest must be peaceful and the institutional response to sporadic acts of violence by some demonstrators must be within the framework of the Constitution and international human rights law,” reads a statement from the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), the transitional justice system created by the 2016 peace accord. The JEP notes that the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría) has counted 88 people disappeared amid the protests, while NGO reports claim more than 170.
  • Amnesty International calls on Colombian authorities “to investigate quickly, independently, and impartially all complaints of excessive and unnecessary use of force against demonstrators.”
  • A cyberattack from the “Anonymous” hacker group takes down the website of Colombia’s army. The group publishes the e-mail addresses and passwords of 168 members of the military.
  • The organization NetBlocks registers disruptions in internet connectivity in Cali on the afternoon and evening of May 4.
  • Campesinos and coca growers in Norte de Santander add a rural dimension to protests, blocking roads between Cúcuta, the department’s capital, and other cities like Tibu and Ocaña. One of their main demands is a rejection of plans to re-start the eradication of coca by spraying herbicides from aircraft, a program that was suspended in 2015 due to public health concerns.
  • Colombia’s chief prosecutor (Fiscal General), Francisco Barbosa, tweets “It has been determined that the disturbances and vandalism that have occurred in Cali in the last few days are related to drug trafficking structures, the ELN and FARC dissidents operating in Cauca.” Barbosa provides no proof.

May 5

  • In one of the protests’ largest turnouts, tens of thousands march through Bogotá on May 5.
  • Police confront protesters, many of them throwing rocks, in the Plaza de Bolívar that sits between the Congress and the Supreme Court buildings in Central Bogotá. At one point some protesters charge the steps of the Congress; police quickly repel them with tear gas but the legislative chambers are evacuated. Colombia’s ambassador to the United States, Francisco Santos, tweets to U.S. Democrats that the incident was “like the 6 of january” raid on the U.S. Capitol.
  • Temblores, an NGO that tracks police violence, counts, between April 28 and 12:00pm on May 5, 37 alleged homicides committed by police, 831 arbitrary arrests, 110 uses of police firearms, 222 victims of police violence including 22 people with eye injuries, and 10 victims of sexual assault at the hands of security forces.
  • The Campaña Defender la Libertad counts, between April 28 and 11:50am on May 5, 24 people allegedly killed by security forces, 1,180 detained, 15 victims of gender-based violence at the hands of the security forces, 381 people wounded including 31 with eye damage, and 58 assaults on human rights defenders.
  • “We have received reports of 31 deaths in Colombia,” tweets Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco.
  • Colombia’s Congress names a special committee that might serve a mediating role between the government and protest leaders.
  • The Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) and Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría) agree to form an “inter-institutional table” to provide clearer information about homicides, disappearances, and other crimes committed amid protests. Both institutions maintain numbers of such crimes that are well below what non-governmental organizations like Temblores, Indepaz, and the Campaña Defender la Libertad are counting. Chief Prosecutor Francisco Barbosa cites 24 killings as of May 5, for instance, while Indepaz counts 31.
  • Rumors swirl that President Duque is about to sign a decree declaring a state of siege (Estado de Conmoción Interior), which would limit some civil liberties and increase presidential powers for 90 days, including the power to temporarily suspend laws and detain people on suspicion of committing crimes. The government insists that the rumors are false, and no decree is yet forthcoming.
  • El Espectador reports that Colombia’s Police has sent to Cali members of its elite Special Security Task Forces (Grupos Operativos Especiales de Seguridad or GOES), a unit usually employed for commando operations like takedowns of narcotraffickers.

May 6

  • Protests are smaller on May 6, Reuters reports.
  • Widely shared videos continue to show police surrounding and beating people in Bogotá neighborhoods on the evening of May 6.
  • Videos show a disturbing incident in Cali in which police dressed in plainclothes fire weapons at civilians. Their vehicle is identified as belonging to the National Police. The police commander in Cali says the institution will investigate.
  • Temblores, an NGO that tracks police violence, counts, between April 28 and 10:00am on May 6, 37 alleged homicides committed by police, 934 arbitrary arrests, 98 uses of police firearms, 234 victims of police violence including 26 people with eye injuries, and 11 victims of sexual assault at the hands of security forces.
  • The Campaña Defender la Libertad counts, between April 28 and 3:00pm on May 6, 27 people allegedly killed by security forces, 165 presumed disappeared, 1,251 detained, 15 victims of gender-based violence at the hands of the security forces, 426 people wounded including 32 with eye damage, and 66 assaults on human rights defenders.
  • “We have corroborated the use of tanks with multiple projectile launchers aimed at demonstrators. It is a dangerous and indiscriminate weapon,” tweets Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco.
  • “We have received reports of 36 deaths in Colombia,” tweets Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco.
  • The Unit for the Search for the Disappeared announces that, using information provide by 26 social organizations, it counts 379 people who have disappeared amid the protests.
  • U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) tweets, “Behind much of the violence occurring in Colombia this week is an orchestrated effort to destabilize a democratically elected government by left wing narco guerrilla movements & their international marxist allies.”
  • Police Chief Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas tells El Espectador that, since the protests began, one police agent has been killed and 601 injured. He offers the paper a thorough accounting of vehicles, banks, ATMs, stores, and historical monuments vandalized, destroyed, or looted. Gen. Vargas insists that the ELN and both main networks of FARC dissident groups are involved in acts of violence in Cali: “As director of the Police, I can certify that there are elements that link organized armed groups, the Eln, the dissidents of the FARc with criminals such as ‘Ivan Mordisco’ [of the “1st Front” network] and ‘El Paisa’ [of the ’Nueva Marquetalia’ network]. Likewise, there is evidence about the participation of common organized crime groups.“ Gen. Vargas does not provide proof. “This is not the first time that the government of Iván Duque has pointed to FARC dissidents or the ELN as responsible for serious disturbances of public order,” El Espectador had reported a day earlier.
  • After meeting at the Presidential Palace with leaders of business associations, President Duque calls for “open and excellent” dialogue.
  • About 6,000 indigenous activists and unarmed guards, most of them from Cauca, have arrived in Cali for a Minga (a “coming together”) to demand an end to violence.
  • Wilson Arias, a senator from the left-opposition Polo Democrático party, reports that the Colombian government recently began a purchase of US$3.7 million worth of crowd and riot control equipment and munitions.
  • A statement from the OAS Mission in Support of the Peace Process (MAPP-OEA) hails movement toward “necessary and urgent” dialogue, while calling on “all actors to always guarantee the right to peaceful protest free of disorder and violence, and to facilitate humanitarian corridors.”

May 7

  • The “Coalition of Hope,” a group of centrist and center-left opposition politicians, meets with President Duque. Some show up at the presidential palace wearing t-shirts with the names of people killed during the protests. The group includes, among other well-known politicians, Humberto de la Calle, the Colombian government’s chief negotiator during the FARC peace process; Juan Fernando Cristo, who was President Juan Manuel Santos’s interior minister; and Sergio Fajardo, a former Medellín mayor, Antioquia governor, and presidential candidate. De la Calle says their agenda includes basic income for the poorest, urgent human rights measures, access to public college education, and a more progressive tax package. They also urged Duque to meet with the actual protest leaders—which may happen on May 10. After the meeting, Duque sounded a more positive note than did the “Coalition” members. La Silla Vacía pessimistically notes that “the agenda was imposed from the Palace and all meetings are held in Bogotá.”
  • The Campaña Defender la Libertad counts, between April 28 and 4:50pm on May 7, 32 people allegedly killed by security forces, at least 216 and up to 471 presumed disappeared, 1,291 detained, 15 victims of gender-based violence at the hands of the security forces, 451 people wounded including 32 with eye damage, and 67 assaults on human rights defenders.
  • Temblores, an NGO that tracks police violence, counts, between April 28 and 10:00am on May 7, 37 alleged homicides committed by police, 936 arbitrary arrests, 105 uses of police firearms, 275 victims of police violence including 28 people with eye injuries, and 11 victims of sexual assault at the hands of security forces.
  • A statement from the UN system in Colombia calls on the government to respect the right to peaceful assembly and protest, among other basic human rights, citing the 2016 peace accord as a point of reference. It calls on protesters to abstain from violence and to avoid blockading basic food supplies, medical and humanitarian missions.
  • The OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission and its Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression issue a statement voicing “the deepest concern” for human rights violations caused by excessive use of force during protests. The Commission also condemns vandalism and violence that has wounded at least 676 police.
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) tweets video from her district of a vigil in solidarity with Colombian protesters.
  • 650 Colombian and international non-governmental organizations call on the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission to visit Colombia “to verify the seriousness of the human rights violations” and to “establish an independent mechanism on the ground to collaborate with national authorities in the investigations.”
  • El Espectador talks to 15 protesters released from police custody, who say they were beaten, tortured, and teargassed at close quarters within police installations.
  • The Inspector-General’s Office (Procuraduría), which has the power to fire or suspend but not to convict, announces it is carrying out 32 disciplinary investigations of police misconduct during the protests.
  • 26 U.S. NGOs call for respect for the right to peaceful protest, pulling the military out of crowd control, more vigorous work from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and Inspector-General’s Office, a “respectful and meaningful dialogue” with civil society, a visit from the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission, and for the U.S. government to demand an end to Colombian security forces’ human rights violations.
  • Colombia expelled Omar Rafael García Lazo, the first secretary of Cuba’s embassy in Bogotá. The Foreign Ministry accused García of violating the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations. It provided no further detail on García’s alleged offense, or whether it was related to the ongoing protests.
  • Retired Gen. Rito Alejo del Río, one of very few generals ever to be convicted of human rights crimes, appeared before the JEP on May 5. While he said he was willing to cooperate with reparations to victims, he denied arming or aiding paramilitary groups that carried out large-scale human rights violations when Gen. del Río commanded the Army’s 17th Brigade in northwest Colombia’s Urabá region in the mid-1990s.
  • About five people may have been killed in combat between Venezuelan forces and likely ELN or FARC dissident members on May 2 near a clandestine airstrip in Venezuela’s border state of Zulia.
  • With numerous examples from around the country, conflict analysts Eduardo Álvarez Vanegas, Kyle Johnson, Ángela Olaya, and Juanita Vélez discuss in Razón Pública the confusingly fragmented nature of the FARC dissident networks active around the country nearly four years after the group’s demobilization. “Colombia is going through a new, more fragmented and diffuse cycle of war, limited to local or subregional areas—especially along the country’s borders.”
  • A May 5 speech by Álvaro Uribe at New York University generates controversy because of the former president’s human rights record and his provocative messages during the ongoing protests. Uribe is scheduled to talk about environmental sustainability.

Weekly Border Update: May 7, 2021

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here

Unaccompanied child population declines, temporary shelters pose challenges

Daily reports from the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS) point to a slow month-long decline in arrivals of unaccompanied migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border, after a record-breaking, headline-grabbing increase in March.

Border Patrol encountered an average of 400 unaccompanied non-Mexican children per day over the four days between May 2 and May 5. That is down from 489 per day during the last week of March.

(These numbers don’t include unaccompanied Mexican children, who were 12 percent of all unaccompanied kids encountered at the border in March. A 2008 law mandating that unaccompanied migrant kids be turned over to the HHS refugee agency only applies to those from “non-contiguous” countries. Nearly all children from contiguous Mexico are swiftly returned, as Border Report noted this week.)

The reason for a decline during spring months, when numbers usually increase, is not clear. Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council posits that pent-up demand to migrate may explain the earlier February-March burst of arrivals. It was very hard to migrate from Central America during the COVID-19 pandemic’s initial months, and the Trump administration was implementing its “Title 42” quarantine policy so severely that it was rapidly expelling even unaccompanied children—until a judge stopped that practice last November. It’s possible that some of that pent-up migratory demand is now exhausted, so numbers are dropping a bit. But nobody really knows: it’s entirely possible that arrivals could start climbing again in May.

For now, though, the population of children in U.S. government (DHS plus HHS) custody is starting to edge downward. Over the past 10 days for which DHS and HHS have reported data, 479 more unaccompanied children departed U.S. government custody than entered it. HHS, through its Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), handed over 4,612 children to relatives or sponsors in the United States, with whom they will stay while their protection needs are adjudicated. Border Patrol took a smaller number newly into custody: 4,133.

As of May 5, 749 children were in Border Patrol’s austere holding facilities, awaiting transfer to ORR’s network of shelters. That is down from more than 5,700 at the end of March. Children are now transferred from Border Patrol to ORR in an average of about 24 hours, far less than the alarming 5 1/2 days or more that were the norm a month ago.

DHS posted a series of photos of CBP’s processing facility in Donna, Texas, where children had been occupying virtually every square foot of floor space in mid-March. Now, the holding spaces are nearly empty (though children are still lying on mats on the floor under mylar blankets). “The progress we have made is dramatic,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters on May 2.

The number of children in HHS/ORR’s network of about 200 shelters has also begun, very gradually, to decline, from a high of 22,557 on April 29 to 21,848 on May 5—3 percent over 6 days. ORR is endeavoring to minimize the length of children’s stay in these shelters, speeding up their placement with relatives or sponsors. The Wall Street Journal reports that the agency has cut the length of stay in its custody “from an average of 42 days at the start of the Biden administration to 29 days last month [April].” This owes in large part to “aggressive actions” to speed placements, the Associated Press reports, “such as by putting them on flights to be with their families.”

Normally, ORR’s shelters have capacity to hold about 13,500 children. With an assist from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), ORR set up emergency facilities in at least a dozen convention centers, camps, army bases, and similar large sites. Three administration officials told the Journal that these sites are “a short-term solution while they work to open more licensed shelters.”

While the temporary emergency shelters remain open, though, child welfare advocates worry about conditions. Mark Greenberg of the Migration Policy Institute compared them to “hurricane shelters” in the Journal’s reporting. While FEMA logistical support has been important, the same story reported, its rapid pace left some ORR staff “feeling that it had lost control over the quality of the locations being opened.” Two facilities, in Houston, Texas and Erie, Pennsylvania, were shuttered shortly after being opened in April. ORR places strict limits on access to its shelters, citing both public health and child privacy reasons. While understandable, this makes conditions in the unlicensed temporary facilities impossible to verify.

AP and the Daily Beast reported about some of the corporations and nonprofits that received over $2 billion in quick no-bid contracts to run these shelters and related logistics.

  • Deployed Resources LLC, based in Rome, New York, could receive up to $719 million for a 1,500-bed tent shelter in Donna, Texas. This company assembled the notorious “tent courts” where asylum seekers in the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program were subjected to immigration court proceedings via video conference in 2019 and 2020.
  • Family Endeavors, based in San Antonio, Texas, could get up to $580 million for a facility in Pecos, Texas. Endeavors, whose CEO told AP, “Many nonprofits were asked but declined,” is also executing an $87 million contract from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold asylum seeking families in hotel rooms while their cases are being processed.
  • Rapid Deployment Inc., based in Mobile, Alabama, has received two contracts totaling $614 million to manage the facility at Fort Bliss, outside El Paso, Texas.
  • MVM Inc., based in Ashburn, Virginia, is getting a contract, and expansion of another, totaling $136 million for the transportation of migrant children to, and between, ORR facilities. The company gained notoriety during the 2018 family separation tragedy, when Reveal News reported that it was keeping migrant children, including some separated from their parents, in an empty office building in Phoenix. In July 2020, when the Trump administration was holding children in Texas hotels before expelling them under Title 42, the Texas Civil Rights Project posted a viral video of one of its lawyers being shoved into a hotel elevator by MVM guards yelling profanities at him.

Title 42 remains deeply controversial

The Biden administration’s maintenance of the Title 42 public health policy continued to generate controversy even as DHS began to ease it slightly. The policy, which the Trump administration launched in March 2020, seeks to expel most undocumented migrant adults and families without regard to asylum needs, in an accelerated process. Mexico has agreed to take citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. An April 20 report by Human Rights First, Al Otro Lado, and the Haitian Bridge Alliance documented at least 492 attacks on and kidnappings of expelled migrants since Joe Biden took office in January.

Authorities in Mexico’s state of Tamaulipas, citing a child welfare law that prohibits holding children in immigration detention centers, are not receiving most Central American families with children under seven years of age. Tamaulipas is across from south Texas; DHS has responded by flying daily planeloads of Central American asylum-seeking families to El Paso and San Diego, then expelling them into Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana. “At least a hundred people are returned to Juarez daily” from flights, in addition to those turned back at the border, Juarez’s municipal human rights director, Rogelio Pinal, told Texas Standard.

In March, Mexico appeared to be accepting expulsions of about 32 percent of the Central American families whom Border Patrol was encountering. Those who don’t get expelled are allowed to begin asylum petitions and released into the United States with notices to appear in hearings.

There is still no real rhyme or reason as to which families get to stay, and which are expelled, whether by land or air. “Some families are swiftly expelled without due process while others are allowed to stay in the U.S. because of where they entered, the age of their children, or sheer luck,” reported Camilo Montoya-Galvez of CBS News. “If a person wants to come to the United States right now, the only chance they have is to maybe go through Reynosa [across from McAllen] and be one of the lucky ones that doesn’t get expelled,” Linda Rivas of El Paso’s Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center told the Texas Standard, in an article highlighting the resulting overcrowding in Ciudad Juarez shelters. “That’s not an asylum system.”

While we haven’t seen April data yet, there is some likelihood that Mexico is accepting more Central American families border-wide. Sister Norma Pimentel, who runs the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, told Montoya-Galvez that “she has been receiving fewer families from U.S. border officials in recent weeks, compared to earlier in the spring. She said that is likely due to U.S. authorities expelling more families to Mexico,” including through the lateral flights.

Even while seeking to maximize family and single adult expulsions, the Biden administration has been moving to make exceptions for those whom advocacy groups identify as most vulnerable. Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) told CBS that his organization has been sending a daily list of people stranded in Mexico who are most endangered, so that they might be brought across and allowed to continue their cases in the United States. The definition of “vulnerable” isn’t clear, but El Paso Matters reported that a number of trans women have recently been able to cross to El Paso.

In Reynosa, a city of 700,000 that is probably the most dangerous of all Mexican border towns due to frequent disputes between organized crime factions, a park near the main port of entry continues to fill up with expelled non-Mexican families. Border Report estimates that over 700 asylum-seeking migrants are now in Reynosa’s Plaza de la República. Tents are going up, reviving miserable images of the tent city in nearby Matamoros that had filled up with “Remain in Mexico” subjects in 2019 and 2020. Doctors Without Borders told AP that the improvised site lacks water supplies or health services.

Reynosa’s security situation is a major concern. The Doctors Without Borders coordinator in Reynosa, José Antonio Silva, told AP, “We have reports of people disappearing day and night at the square, which is very worrisome.” A Texas-based charity, the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers—which first began working in the Matamoros camp—is now taking one or two of the most vulnerable families each day and paying to check them in to Reynosa hotels or apartments, says Border Report.

Mexico’s migration enforcement solidifies “buffer” role

On April 12, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had told reporters:

Mexico made the decision to maintain 10,000 troops at its southern border, resulting in twice as many daily migrant interdictions. Guatemala surged 1,500 police and military personnel to its southern border with Honduras and agreed to set up 12 checkpoints along the migratory route. Honduras surged 7,000 police and military to disperse a large contingent of migrants.

As the Intercept notes, Guatemala and Honduras soon backpedaled from that, insisting that there had been no agreement to deploy personnel to block migrants. Mexico, however, did the opposite: “The Mexican government clarified that its efforts involved 12,000 people, though not just troops and not just to the southern border.” Mexico also closed its southern border with Guatemala to all non-essential travel, a more restrictive standard than it maintains at its northern border with the United States.

Along Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, in Tapachula, Yuriria Salvador, coordinator for structural change at the Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Center, told the Intercept that new Mexican migrant interdiction deployments at the United States’ request are nothing new: “The response of the Biden administration is very similar to the response of the Trump administration.”

This reinforces Mexico’s role as an “interdiction state,” or “a buffer zone where enforcement activities are fluid and subject to geopolitical negotiation,” the Washington Post reports. Migration researcher Cris Ramón told the Post that Mexico’s role increasingly looks like that of Turkey, which has received material and diplomatic benefits from Europe by serving as a buffer for Syrian refugees. “In both cases you’re externalizing your borders and making another nation your border authority.”

An increasing number of migrants are deciding to seek asylum in Mexico, where the government’s refugee agency (COMAR) reports receiving 31,842 asylum requests during the first four months of 2021. That sets COMAR on pace to shatter its 2019 record of 70,422 asylum requests. (As recently as 2015, COMAR only received 3,424.) Nearly half of COMAR’s 2021 asylum seekers are from Honduras, followed by citizens of Haiti, Cuba, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Guatemala.

Disturbingly, migrant advocates in Tapachula told the Intercept that Mexico’s National Guard and migration enforcement agency (INM) may have begun carrying out sweeps outside COMAR’s offices during early-morning hours, detaining and presumably deporting undocumented asylum seekers as they begin queueing to fill out applications.

The U.S. National Security Council’s director for the Western Hemisphere, Juan González, told the Post that the Biden administration’s migration agenda with Mexico goes well beyond personnel deployments. “Yes, we talk about enforcement, but also about support for humanitarian programs, addressing the root causes of migration and promoting economic investment.”

Still, reporters Nick Miroff and Mary Beth Sheridan assert that U.S. officials’ dependence on Mexico to crack down on Central American migration, which reduces political pressure at the border, gives Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador leverage to push for U.S. concessions on other priorities. These may include abstaining from criticism of AMLO’s security policies or recent anti-democratic political maneuvers.

Luis Rubio of the México Evalúa think tank told the Post that a basic premise of the bilateral relationship “that dated back to the 1980s” held that the U.S. and Mexican governments would discuss different issues—trade, drugs, migration—as separate items. That way, “a dispute in one area wouldn’t contaminate the entire relationship.” By demanding cooperation on migration in exchange for concessions in other areas like trade or democracy, Rubio argues, Donald Trump undid that “separate lanes” tradition. That in turn allows AMLO to seek concessions on other issues in exchange for helping to push back migrants, including asylum seekers.

Miroff and Sheridan note, though, that a sharp recent increase in arrivals of Mexican single adult migrants could diminish some of López Obrador’s potential leverage.

Links

  • In what it calls a “trial balloon,” the Biden administration’s Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families reunited four deported migrant parents with children whom the Trump administration had separated from them in 2017 and 2018. The plan is eventually to reunify, in the United States, over 1,100 families who remain separated, from an overall total of about 5,500 separations. Deported parents still haven’t been located for at least 445 separated children in the United States. At the New Yorker, Jonathan Blitzer recounts the end of a Honduran mother’s long wait to be reunited with her teenage sons after Border Patrol separated them in 2017.
  • A 40-foot boat carrying 30 undocumented Mexican migrants and one undocumented Guatemalan migrant ran aground and broke up off of San Diego’s Cabrillo National Monument on May 2. Three migrants drowned, the rest are in U.S. government custody, and the boat’s U.S. citizen pilot is facing criminal charges. “Many of the passengers told authorities that they paid $15,000 to $18,000 to be smuggled into the United States,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. “The Border Patrol tallied 1,273 smuggling arrests on the California coast during the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, a 92 percent increase from the same period a year earlier,” according to AP. “Since Oct. 1, it has made more than 900 arrests.”
  • “Currently, the plan is for me to travel to Mexico and Guatemala on June 7 and 8th,” said Vice President Kamala Harris. She is scheduled to have a conversation with Mexican President López Obrador on May 7. This will be her second meeting with AMLO. At a Council of the Americas event, Harris discussed plans for assistance to Central America to address “acute causes” and “root causes” of migration. “If corruption persists, history has told us, it will be one step forward and two steps back,” she said.
  • A challenge to those plans occurred on the evening of May 1 in El Salvador, as a newly seated legislative supermajority immediately fired independent high court justices and the chief prosecutor. “Just this weekend, we learned that the Salvadoran Parliament moved to undermine its nation’s highest court. An independent judiciary is critical to a healthy democracy and a strong economy,” Vice President Harris warned.
  • At Vox, Nicole Narea questions whether “root causes” aid actually reduces migration, noting studies that have found most migrants from Central America, while poor, have some resources and tend not to be among the region’s poorest.
  • The Biden administration officially canceled border wall construction projects paid for with money that Donald Trump, declaring a national emergency, had drawn from the Defense Department’s budget. This money was to build about 466 miles of wall, of which about 123 remained unbuilt when Donald Trump left office. Documents seen by WOLA indicate that of $9.9 billion in money taken from the Defense Department, about $3.5 billion remains unspent, of which perhaps $1.4 billion would go to contract termination and suspension costs. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also announced it would use funds to repair Rio Grande levees damaged by wall construction in Texas, and to undo soil erosion damage caused by wall-building in San Diego.
  • At Roll Call, moderate Senate Democrats Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) voiced support for the Biden administration’s plan to provide CBP’s infrastructure account with $1.2 billion in 2002 for facilities and technology—but not for border walls. “[W]e need to have area vehicles, satellite, the ability to interface with Border Patrol and Customs, and so I’m open to whatever it is. We’re not building a wall,” Menendez said.
  • Two investigations by the Intercept, about anti-drone measures and harvesting data from cars’ onboard computers and mobile phone links, raised concerns about how providing CBP with new border technologies “could lead to further surveillance and militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border.”
  • A strong Washington Post editorial calls ICE “The Super Spreader Agency.” It contends that because the agency ignored foreseeable “red flags” about the spread of COVID-19 in its mostly privately run detention centers, “Nearly 13,000 detainees have tested positive—likely an undercount of the virus’ real spread—and at least nine have died.”
  • A Pew Research Center poll found 68 percent of adult U.S. respondents saying the government is doing a very bad or somewhat bad job of dealing with increased numbers of asylum seekers at the border; 47 percent “say it is very important to reduce the number of people coming to the U.S. seeking asylum; another 32% say this is somewhat important.” A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found a first-place tie among Texas voters: 16 percent ranked the pandemic as the top issue facing the state, and 16 percent chose immigration and border security. A Civiqs poll commissioned by the Immigration Hub found “57 percent of Americans accept illegal immigration when the immigrants are fleeing violence in their home countries,” but the number falls to 46 percent when the cause is poverty or hunger, 36 percent for family reunification, and 31 percent for job-seeking.
  • Dozens of U.S.-bound Haitian migrants were stuck for weeks in Honduras because the government is demanding they pay US$190 each to obtain exit visas after entering the country irregularly, reports the Honduran outlet ContraCorriente.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Oscar Pérez photo at El Espectador (Colombia). Caption: “El protocolo establece que los policías no pueden usar armas de fuego durante las protestas.”

(Even more here)

May 6, 2021

Brazil

Brazil formalized a criminal investigation last week into President Jair Bolsonaro’s response to the pandemic. It could lead to his impeachment

Colombia

Con el testimonio del general en retiro Leonardo Alfonso Barrero Gordillo, la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz completó esta semana 11 llamados a oficiales de alta graduación convocados a rendir versión en el macrocaso 03

El pueblo colombiano tiene derecho a mostrar su disentimiento a través de la protesta social, ya que el ejercicio de este derecho está estrechamente vinculado a la promoción y defensa de la democracia

Si a plena luz del día, en una jornada normal, las mujeres en Colombia están desprotegidas -158 feminicidios en los tres primeros meses del año- el riesgo es mayor si es de noche y la calle está llena de policías

Much criticism has focused on the police response to the disturbances, with warlike scenes in cities across the country as officers in riot gear launch teargas and fire on crowds, sometimes with live rounds

Colombia’s human rights ombudsman says 24 people have died, while local NGO Temblores, which documents police abuse, estimates that 37 have been killed

El motín de La Modelo, las marchas del 9S y la minga indígena son algunos capítulos que el presidente Iván Duque señaló de estar infiltrados por las disidencias de las Farc y el Eln

Lo que dice la Constitución Política de Colombia es que existe una línea de mando muy clara que se debe respetar

La-Lista habló con Emilia Márquez, una de las directivas de Temblores ONG. Asegura que esta última semana de violencia es inédita en el país

Entre las acciones que puede tomar el presidente en el marco de un Estado de Conmoción, está restringir el derecho a la circulación y residencia; utilizar de manera temporal bienes e imponer la prestación de servicios técnicos y temporales; establecer restricciones a la radio y a la televisión

Al menos cinco personas murieron y 33 resultaron heridas durante la noche y madrugada del pasado 3 mayo en el sector

The eruption of anger in Colombia, where at least 24 have died as the government cracks down on the protests, could spread to other countries in the region that share the same combustible conditions

Junto a 22 organizaciones de derechos humanos, le solicitamos al organismo documentar en terreno las denuncias de víctimas y procesos organizativos afectados por expresiones violentas y uso desproporcionado de la fuerza

The Duque administration’s reluctance to implement the peace accord, a resurgence of violence in the countryside and the promotion of generals with questionable human rights records meant a return to the security sector’s war footing

A través de testimonios de heridos, familiares, amigos y testigos, La Silla reconstruyó las historias de algunas de las víctimas de los excesos de la fuerza pública

“Los videos son perturbadores. Lamento la violencia contra los manifestantes”, indicó

El Salvador

We Salvadorans have lost our constitutional guarantees. The coup of President Nayib Bukele and his legislative bloc against the judiciary on May 1 leaves us defenseless

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

Ricardo Zuniga, President Joe Biden’s point man for Central America’s Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, also said the administration was considering further sanctions against officials in the region for alleged graft under the Global Magnitsky Act

Guatemala, Mexico

“Currently, the plan is for me to travel to Mexico and Guatemala on June 7 and 8th. And I’m very much looking forward to that trip,” Harris told reporters while on a visit to Rhode Island

Mexico

Dicho programa cuenta con metas diferentes por cada objetivo prioritario, como la comunidad LGBT+, los menores de edad, mujeres, personas con discapacidad, entre otros, para que en 2024 todo el personal de la Sedena sea de confianza y protección

30, es decir el 0.78%, terminaron en recomendaciones

These may be the first of many indictments stemming from that six-month deployment, which human rights activists said turned into an extrajudicial reign of terror over the city

Lopez Obrador is due to speak to Harris on Friday

¿La liberación de estos grandes capos de la droga va a reconfigurar a los cárteles? Expertos creen que ya no volverán con el mismo poder de antes

U.S.-Mexico Border

Democratic and Republican lawmakers have vastly different ideas of what that funding should look like, teeing up a partisan battle when the narrowly divided Congress considers its annual spending bills

The Biden administration has continued to use a public health authority first invoked under former President Donald Trump to rapidly expel tens of thousands of migrants

In its haste to provide new facilities, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded the largest contracts — worth more than $2 billion — to two companies and a nonprofit without a bidding process

A new exception to a Trump-era border policy has allowed some transgender people and other members of “vulnerable populations” to enter the United States and seek asylum

CBP put out a request for information to private companies, seeking ways to respond to drones, including by radio frequency jamming and “kinetic attack”

Venezuela

Las víctimas arbitrariamente ejecutadas en el año 2020(por las FAES) fueron en su totalidad hombres jóvenes, generalmente no mayores de 50 años, pertenecientes a familias de bajos ingresos y habitantes de zonas populares con altas tasas de delincuencia

I believe that yesterday’s agreement between opposition representatives and the Maduro government marks an important step towards free and fair elections in the country

The day ahead: May 6, 2021

I’ll be hard to reach today, though later afternoon is easiest. (How to contact me)

It’s going to be a busy one. Taking my kid to the dentist in the morning, in-person lunch with a European diplomat, and writing the weekly border update the rest of the afternoon. The Colombia situation has me behind on news, so I’ve got some catching up to do. If—as often happens around this time of month—CBP posts April migration numbers, this will take longer. All of this means I’ll be hard to reach today.

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