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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The day ahead: January 20, 2021

I’ll be mostly reachable, but have to do several interviews and watch the inauguration. (How to contact me)

67 months since Trump declared his candidacy. 50 1/2 months since Trump was elected. 48 months since he was inaugurated. 19 months since the first Democratic candidates’ debate. 2 1/2 months since Election Day. Finally, finally, we’re saying goodbye to Donald Trump. What’s left to say, except: that was awful and deeply weird.

Like the U.S. government, WOLA is closed today for Inauguration Day. But it’s not clear what that means anymore. I’ll be at home on my computer just like nearly every day since March. I plan to do some writing, and will probably be reachable if needed. I have several interviews on the calendar to talk about what’s going on, mainly with outlets in Latin America. And I’ll have the TV on—as will you, I imagine—to watch the transition of power and the Biden-Harris administration’s first steps.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Sandra Sebastian/AP photo at National Public Radio. Caption: “Honduran migrants clash with Guatemalan soldiers in Vado Hondo, Guatemala, on Sunday.”

(Even more here)

January 19, 2021

Brazil

Candidates backed by Brazil’s right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro are expected to win control of Congress next month

Colombia

El capitulo de violencia que más se recuerda en esta zona fue la masacre de El Salado cuando 450 paramilitares asesinaron a más de 60 personas en este corregimiento en febrero de 2000

La defensa del policía Andrés Díaz Mercado señaló que el caso debería quedar en manos de la Justicia Penal Militar, dado que la muerte de Germán Smyth Puentes se dio en medio de un acto del servicio

Since FARC fighters disarmed in 2017 as part of the peace deal, a total of 253 have been killed, including four already in 2021

Guatemala, Honduras

Hundreds of police and military forces quickly surged forward, pushing migrants and asylum seekers south along the highway and off the highway itself

Before the pandemic, nationals from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua were able to travel freely across each other’s borders. Officials now are requiring a negative coronavirus test to cross. Some migrant advocates say this requirement is being used to block some refugees

Mexico

¿Qué gobierno va a querer compartir datos sensibles con México si el respeto a la confidencialidad depende del humor del presidente en la mañanera?

Parecería una mala broma: eliminar la institución que por dos décadas se ha encargado de construir el sistema de transparencia

Behind all those perceived slights is a fear that the Democrats are more likely to intervene to promote labor rights and clean energy, getting in the way of Mr. López Obrador’s ambitious agenda

“Queremos control en Estados Unidos de la venta de las armas. Eso de que vamos a tener un equipo para detectarlas y con eso nos vamos a quedar tranquilos, eso no es lo que México está planteando”

“¿Cómo va a ser débil? ¿Cómo la DEA va a fabricar evidencia? Si nosotros fabricáramos evidencia perderíamos nuestro trabajo”

U.S.-Mexico Border

Roberta Jacobson, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, will join the NSC and help oversee an anticipated U-turn in U.S. policy on migration and asylum

The plan calls on the Department of Homeland Security to develop a proposal that uses technology and other similar infrastructure to implement new security measures along the border, both at and between ports of entry

Kerlikowske, the ex-CBP head said, “The public trust issue is pretty tough right now in law enforcement generally. But when you look at (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or CBP, I think it’s even more critical right now”

Venezuela

El regreso demócrata al poder en Washington aviva el recuerdo de unos lazos políticos de hace veinte años que solo han facilitado gestiones humanitarias

The day ahead: January 19, 2021

I should be around for much of the afternoon. (How to contact me)

Happy Final Trump Day. I feel so much older than I did 1,360 days ago.

I’ve got an internal meeting and a meeting with legislative staff this morning, and a coalition meeting mid-afternoon. Otherwise I’ll be around, mainly doing updates to our Colombia website, keeping an eye on today’s nomination hearings, and talking to reporters in the region covering the inauguration.

Weekly email update is out

I just sent off another e-mail update to those who’ve subscribed. It’s got:

  • Two off-topic end-of-Trump-era posts—photos from downtown Washington right now and some comments on that “thin blue line” flag;
  • Full text of this week’s Colombia peace update;
  • Full text of this week’s U.S.-Mexico border update;
  • 5 “longread” links from the past week;
  • A small number of Latin America-related online events for this week;
  • And, finally,
  • An extra helping of funny tweets.

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.

Can we talk about this flag?

I first saw a “thin blue line” flag in person in 2016 or 2017, on a drive through rural Virginia. It was flying outside someone’s home.

Since then, though, I keep seeing it—we all keep seeing it—in places where it really shouldn’t be.

It’s very popular with law enforcement, and with people who claim to support law enforcement. But it worries me. Its design, and the way it’s being instrumentalized, point toward one of the darker, more divisive paths that the United States might follow from here, if we don’t change course.

The flag’s origins are noble: a symbol to pay tribute to police personnel who died in the line of duty. But imagery gets perverted quickly, especially in this very online era.

Pepe the Frog was just a comic character. The Punisher was a Marvel antihero. Both of their creators have since voiced horror at what each has come to represent. The same is happening to this flag design, even as police associations and conservative politicians embrace it.

The problem isn’t whether it’s an emblem of white supremacy, although it sometimes gets used that way. It’s a more fundamental problem with the design. It evokes division, separateness, a country coming apart.

Take a close look:

First, the celebratory red, white, and blue are replaced by somber, forbidding black and white. That’s fitting if the goal is to commemorate fallen officers: it’s solemn and funereal. But it also gives the design a dark, menacing simplicity. The sort of thing set designers would use in a fantasy movie with fascist badguys, like The Last Jedi or V for Vendetta.

Second, though, and far more troubling, is that blue line. “The stars represent the citizenry who stand for justice and order,” reads a site tailored for police, the first Google result for “thin blue line flag.” “The darkness,” it continues, “represents chaos and anarchy.”

This is how many police see themselves, and where the phrase “thin blue line” comes from: a human barrier protecting “good” people from the others.

You can guess the danger, though, can’t you? Who gets to decide who the “good” citizens are? Who gets to be north of the flag’s blue line, with the orderly stars, and who is south of the line, to be kept out and pushed away? And in any case, why slash a dividing line across a flag, the ultimate symbol of national unity?

At the local level, line-drawing is bad policing. Police should be part of a community, and that community’s members—of all races and backgrounds—should feel comfortable working with their local police. A community is secure only when the line is very blurred.

At the national level, to draw a line separating people in a polarized country, between “us” and “them,” is toxic. Right now, “us and them” is the language of the day, voiced at every Trump rally and throughout social media. In unequal societies of Latin America where I’ve worked for years, you sometimes hear of “la gente de bien” and “los sectores populares.” Same thing: a line dividing us and them. It doesn’t work there, either.

Who is on the other side of that line? Because this flag started showing up as a retort to the first Black Lives Matter protests against police killings—during the Ferguson/Colin Kaepernick moment—Black Americans can be excused for thinking that it is they who are the undesirables on the other side of that line. The flag’s appearance at white supremacist gatherings reinforces that.

So can people with left-of-center political views, those who want to expand rights and rein in unbridled capitalism. Donald Trump and other extreme GOP candidates appropriated this image and indelibly associated it with their election campaigns. Those of all races, ethnicities, sexual preferences, and belief systems who don’t belong to what Trump supporters consider to be the “real” America are excused for thinking that they, too, are included among the undesirables south of that blue line.

We’re not going to make it if our society persists in drawing lines between us, glorifying them with flags, and guarding them with armed force. This is how you sleepwalk into an armed conflict.

Police have a very hard job, not least because we ask them to do too many things that they’re not trained or prepared to do. Some, like Capitol Policeman Brian Sicknick, pay the highest price. All Americans should want police to have a professional career path, a dignified income, the esteem of the population, and the accountability that makes that possible.

All Americans should feel pain when a law enforcement professional dies on the job. And it makes sense to have a flag to commemorate it.

But not this one. It’s time for a new design.

5 links from the past week

  • The Justice Department’s Inspector-General released a scathing and detailed report, years in the making, about the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” or family separation policy. It lays blame at the feet of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other top officials, for whom separating asylum-seeking migrant families without documenting the parent-child relationship was a feature—a “deterrent”—not a bug.
  • Investigators at El Salvador’s El Faro find that a healthy top MS-13 leader was taken out of maximum security prison for “medical emergency” reasons, a likely result of negotiations between the gang and the government of Nayib Bukele.
  • At Criterio, Aimée Cárcamo takes a deep dive into Honduras’s disappointing experience with reforming its 18,486-member national police force since 2012. It concludes that police “purification” can’t succeed in the midst of a “narco-dictatorship.”
  • Days after declining to prosecute its former defense minister, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, whom U.S. agents arrested last November in Los Angeles on suspicion of working with drug traffickers, Mexico’s government shared the 750-page collection of evidence that the U.S. Justice Department gathered about the case. Most of it is text messages.
  • Human Rights Watch’s latest World Report found a lot of backsliding throughout the region in 2020.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

EFE photo at Milenio (Mexico). Caption: “Los migrantes fueron detenidos por autoridades de Guatemala.”

(Even more here)

January 18, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

Key Democratic lawmakers and congressional staff have been in “constant communication” with Biden’s transition team and policy writers about the immigration plan

Brazil

Aliado fiel de Donald Trump, Bolsonaro afirmou, após a invasão do Capitólio, que, se não tivermos voto imprenso em 2022, “nós vamos ter problemas piores do que os Estados Unidos”

Colombia

La Fiscalía está llevando cada caso por separado y por eso no esté construyendo una visión judicial unificada de lo que pasó el 9S

El Salvador

Las historias que hemos leído en #ProhibidoOlvidarSV dan cuenta de un país en el que conviven aún el dolor de aquellos años y la determinación por sostener aquellos acuerdos como un logro mayúsculo

Guatemala, Honduras

Guatemalan migration officials estimated on Sunday that about 6,000 migrants were corralled between Chiquimula and the border with Honduras, most of them Honduran

The roadblock was strategically placed at a chokepoint on the two-lane highway to Chiquimula in an area known as Vado Hondo. It’s flanked by a tall mountainside and a wall leaving the migrants with few options

Hundreds of migrants managed to push through military and police lines on Saturday, but when others unsuccessfully attempted to do so on Sunday morning, soldiers responded with batons and tear gas

Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

La persecución e intento por frenar la primera caravana de migrantes del 2021, ha provocado que miles de uniformados de México, Guatemala, El Salvador y Honduras hayan tenido que movilizarse en los pasos fronterizos

Guatemala, Honduras, U.S.-Mexico Border

People in the caravan “will not find when they get to the U.S. border that from Tuesday to Wednesday, things have changed overnight and ports are all open and they can come into the United States”

Mexico

La presencia de elementos de seguridad mexicanos en la frontera sur disminuyó este domingo, luego de que la caravana de migrantes proveniente de Honduras fuera detenida y obligada a retroceder por la fuerza policiaca y militares de Guatemala

El nivel de confianza en las fuerzas armadas de nuestro país en general, y en particular del Ejercito, tiene altos niveles de confianza (alrededor del 70%)

The vigilantes bitterly deny allegations they’re part of a criminal gang, though they clearly see the Jalisco cartel as their foe. They say they would be more than happy for police and soldiers to come in and do their jobs

“It’s evident that the Mexican government is more afraid of its own army than the U.S. government, to which it has been servile”

La incógnita ahora es el comportamiento de México y su mensaje a la Administración de Joe Biden, que toma posesión el miércoles

The United States can take only one message from all of this: the López Obrador administration at its highest levels is not a trustworthy U.S. security partner

U.S.-Mexico Border

Contractors have been working day and sometimes night, effectively racing against the clock to build the border wall in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s term

A week after inauguration day, a coalition of groups across the borderlands will begin a monitoring project in order to assess the damage, and to see what needs to be done. Some hope certain sections can be removed

The 14 -mile span from the rail road bridge north to El Pico Water Plant is 90% complete in its design phase. Surveys are still ongoing, along with engineering, environmental and flood plain studies

Venezuela

Organizaciones nacionales e internacionales defensoras de los derechos humanos exigen la liberación de los detenidos, así como un pronunciamiento por parte del coordinador Residente del Sistema de las Naciones Unidas

Rodriguez, extending an olive branch to the incoming U.S. president, said the ruling socialist party is eager for a new start after four years of endless attacks by the Trump administration

Colombia peace update: January 16, 2021

Cross-posted from WOLA’s colombiapeace.org site. During at least the first half of 2021, we’re producing weekly sub-1,000-word updates in English about peace accord implementation and related topics.

Trump administration, citing the ELN talks’ outcome, puts Cuba on the U.S. terrorist sponsors list

On January 11, with nine days left to the Trump presidency, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. government was once again designating Cuba a “state sponsor of terrorism,” alongside North Korea, Syria, and Iran. President Barack Obama’s administration had removed Cuba from this “terrorist list” in 2015.

The measure carries penalties, like bans on assistance and arms sales, that already apply to Cuba through other laws. The Biden administration can remove Cuba, American University’s William LeoGrande explains, by submitting “a presidential report and certification to Congress, which then has 45 days to reject the certification before it goes into effect.”

The main pretext cited for re-listing Cuba involves Colombia. In May 2018 Colombia’s government, the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group, and the government of Norway asked Cuba to host ELN-government peace talks. At the talks’ April 2016 outset, all involved—including Colombian government representatives—signed a set of protocols. These made clear that, should the ELN talks break down, the ELN’s negotiators would not be arrested—they would have 15 days to leave Cuba and receive safe passage back to Colombia. However, President Iván Duque’s administration, which took office in August 2018, was skeptical about peace talks.

In January 2019, the ELN set off a truck bomb on the premises of Colombia’s National Police Cadets’ School, killing 22 people and forcing an end to the negotiations. After that, the Colombian government rejected the protocols: it demanded that Cuba turn over the ELN’s negotiators for arrest, later formally requesting their extradition. Cuba would not do that, and the guerrilla negotiators remain stranded in Cuban territory. The ELN leaders themselves demand to leave Cuba as detailed in the protocols.

Critics of the State Department decision pointed out that Havana is being punished for assisting a peace process and obeying its rules. “They felt they were doing what they were asked to do, then being accused of being terrorists themselves,” said a source whom The Washington Post described as “a former senior U.S. official familiar with Latin American policy.”

Condemnation came from many quarters, including WOLA.

  • “Efforts to politicize important decisions concerning our national security are unacceptable,” read a letter from nine Democratic senators, led by incoming Appropriations Committee Chairperson Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont.)
  • “I am outraged,” said the new House Foreign Affairs Committee chairperson, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-New York).
  • “If a country risks being placed on a terrorism list as a result of facilitating peace efforts, it could set a negative precedent for international peace efforts,” read a statement from the government of Norway.
  • The Colombian government’s two lead negotiators during the FARC peace process warned “that ideology and partisan interests are being privileged over common sense and international commitments.”
  • On the other side, legislators from Colombia’s ruling rightist Centro Democrático party signed a letter calling on President Duque to consider breaking off diplomatic relations with Cuba. And Colombia’s national security advisor, Rafael Guarín, tweeted that “The Government of Colombia will be forceful against diplomats who attempt to act and interfere within the country.”

Presidency peace and stabilization official reports results, responds to critics

The Colombian Presidency official who oversees most peace accord implementation, Emilio Archila, told El Espectador that he doesn’t know why critics accuse his government of focusing too exclusively on certain aspects of the accord, like the Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDETs). “A very small part of it,” he surmised, “is that it is in the political opposition’s interest that we arrive at [the election year of] 2022 with the idea that not enough is being done, and perhaps the opposition has done better than me.”

Archila had choice words for Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco, who upon the release of HRW’s annual worldwide report said that “in Colombia you turn over a stone and a sicario comes out,” while accusing the government of “a fundamentally military response” to human rights problems. “This is an insulting statement regarding Colombia,” the presidency official replied.

In interviews and in the release of monthly results reports, Archila pointed to a Defense Ministry “intelligence bubble” to follow up on risks and threats against ex-combatants “which has saved the lives of several.” Presidency documents cite 1,134 mostly small development projects delivered in the PDETs’ 170 municipalities (counties). Archila rejected criticism that delivery of these projects has not been as consultative as the accords envisioned. To criticisms that the projects have been too small to bring fundamental change in rural Colombia, he responded that larger projects, like tertiary roads, are coming but take longer.

FARC party spokesman Pastor Alape Lascarro told El Espectador that the PDETs “are not responding to the expectations of the communities, carrying out works that are not within the framework established in the Peace Agreement.” He questioned the long-term sustainability of economic projects offered to ex-combatants, while recalling that 253 of 13,185 demobilized FARC members have been killed since the accords’ signature.

Environmental defender Gonzalo Cardona is assassinated

On January 11 the Fundación ProAves, which seeks to protect birds and other wildlife in Colombia, announced the murder of Gonzalo Cardona Molina, coordinator of a ProAves preserve in Tolima department that provides refuge for the endangered yellow-eared parrot. ProAves had reported Cardona missing on January 8, and confirmed a few days later that he had been killed.

Cardona was a founding member of the environmental group , working in Roncesvalles municipality in west-central Tolima since 1998 to save a bird species whose population in Colombia’s central cordillera, by then, had fallen to 81. His work there during some of the conflict’s most intense years placed him in periodic danger, as rural Tolima was a key battleground between the FARC and government forces. But it made a difference: a late 2020 census counted 2,895 yellow-eared parrots in the preserve.

Cardona’s likely killers are not known. “It is outrageous that the second most biodiverse country on the planet continues to lose its great defenders to violence,” read a statement from Colombia’s Alexander von Humboldt Institute.

In more dismaying news, Francisco Javier Vera, an 11-year-old environmental activist in Cundinamarca, received a grisly threat of death and torture this week in a comment posted to his Twitter account.

Links

  • Sign up for Con Líderes Hay Paz, WOLA’s new digital advocacy campaign in support of Colombia’s threatened Afro-descendant and indigenous social leaders and human rights defenders.
  • Iván Márquez, the FARC leader who headed the guerrillas’ negotiating team in Havana then rearmed in 2019, released a video endorsing the idea of a recall vote to remove President Duque. At the request of Colombia’s National Police, Twitter shut down Márquez’s account, and that of his longtime dissident collaborator Jesús Santrich. YouTube followed suit. National Security Advisor Rafael Guarín tweeted that Márquez will be “taken down” like Pablo Escobar.
  • The Duque government is inexplicably removing the Interior Ministry security detail for Iván Velásquez, the former auxiliary magistrate who suffered extensive illegal surveillance while investigating the “para-politics” scandal, then went on to head Guatemala’s CICIG anti-corruption body.
  • The restart of aerial herbicide fumigation in coca-growing regions, which was likely to begin in the first months of 2021, may be delayed for weeks or months further. A judge in Nariño accepted an injunction (tutela) filed by Afro-descendant and indigenous communities, alleging that required prior consultations have been insufficient.
  • El Espectador produced worthwhile sets of infographics about the reintegration of ex-combatants and implementation of the PDETs.
  • Sixteen women were killed in Colombia during the first thirteen days of 2021, a sharp rise in the rate of femicides.
  • President Duque reiterated his government’s refusal to offer COVID-19 vaccines to undocumented Venezuelans in Colombia, saying it would cause “a stampede.”
  • At War on the Rocks, Andrew Ivey explores “integral action” as a direction for the Colombian military’s post-conflict role. While we don’t share his conclusion that the military should play eminently civilian roles like carrying out development projects, Ivey presents detailed information about the evolution of the armed forces’ thinking.

A walk around downtown Washington on the eve of inauguration

We live close to downtown Washington, the weather was cool but sunny, and my family and I finally had a few hours off. We took a walk to see what our city looks like, 10 days after the riot at the Capitol and 4 days before the presidential inauguration.

Stars and Stripes reporter Bob Reid put it well on Twitter. The city’s center doesn’t quite look like a war zone. Instead, “it looks more like a Cold War frontier zone in the ‘70s. Empty streets, barriers, bored armed troops.”

About half a mile from Pennsylvania Avenue, you walk past the first security perimeter, where National Guard Humvees or dump trucks are parked, along with arrays of jersey barriers, to block vehicles. A block or so before Pennsylvania Avenue, you hit the next ring of security, where pedestrians like us wait in line to be searched, then let in. From there, you can go all the way up to the metal fencing that blocks access to the National Mall and everything about 1,000 yards from the Capitol.

From The Washington Post. Home is several blocks off this map’s northern edge.

Here are some photos of what we saw. It’s grim. We’re so much worse off than we were four years ago.

And may I emphasize: f*** every one of my fellow Americans who has made this happen to my city and my country. You can all go straight to hell.

Click on each photo for full resolution. Like everything else on my site, these photos are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Yours to share and adapt, just give credit.

National Guard at the outer perimeter, 4th and H Streets and Massachusetts Avenue.
The outer perimeter at 7th and I Streets NW.
7th and I Streets, Mount Vernon Square.
Boarding up the Walgreen’s at 7th and H Streets NW.
The National Archives are inside the second security perimeter. Only people who’ve been searched can get there.
Pennsylvania Avenue is almost totally empty.
Even the glass I.M. Pei pyramids outside the National Gallery of Art are boarded up. This measure was not taken at any previous inauguration, nor during the Women’s Marches, the Black Lives Matter marches, the March for Our Lives, the March for Science, or any other recent peaceful demonstration. I hate this so much.
This is usually the inaugural parade route. No bleachers on the sidewalks this year.
A remnant of January 6th.
This is as close as you can get to the Capitol today.
Humvee at the inner perimeter.
National Guardsmen.
Guardsmen are carrying M4 rifles with the magazines stowed in pouches on their vests.
Rifles and a pizza box on Constitution Avenue at 3rd Street.
These wanted notices, with faces captured from videos of the Capitol riot, are on most bus shelters.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Delmer Martinez photo at Associated Press. Caption: “A police officer stands by as travelers fill the back of a truck after revising their documents and allowing them to continue their journey toward the Guatemalan border, on the highway leading to Santa Barbara, after they left San Pedro Sula, Honduras, before dawn Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. The migrants left with little certainty about how far they will make it as regional governments appeared more united than ever in stopping their progress.”

(Even more here)

January 15, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

When Mr Trump took office in 2017, Latin American governments suffered a “fear of coming to his attention”, says a former adviser to his administration. But many grew to like him, largely because he left them alone

La polarización que ha originado la toma del Congreso no se revertirá fácilmente. Chile puede ser un buen espejo

Argentina, Brazil

The Brazilian and Argentine armies carried out Operation Arandu at Barão de São Borja Training Camp, in Rosário do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul, November 14-20, 2020

Argentina, Paraguay

Las dos niñas argentinas que fueron presentadas como “abatidas en combate” por el ejército paraguayo en septiembre pasado, habrían sido detenidas con vida y ejecutadas por los militares de ese país

Colombia

hasta ahora lo que se ha visto de los PDET son pequeñas obras de infraestructura, como arreglos en vías terciarias, en centros educativos, en polideportivos, en casetas comunales, etc., que no necesariamente están generando desarrollo

Una tutela de los pueblos étnicos del Pacífico Nariñense logró que el Tribunal Superior de Pasto suspendiera una resolución del Ministerio del Interior según la cual no era necesario hacer consulta previa

Como parte del control que ejercía en el territorio, violó a cientos de mujeres, lo que llevó a que tuviera unos 21 hijos, según cuentas extraoficiales

  • Sergio Guzman, Damage Control (Colombia Risk Analysis, Global Americans, January 15, 2021).

The Colombian government’s not-so-subtle endorsement of Donald Trump ahead of the 2020 presidential election was a failed risky gambit. After the failed coup attempt on the United States Capitol, however, it turned out to be a huge error of judgment

Colombia, Cuba

De acuerdo con los parlamentarios, mantener relaciones diplomáticas con Cuba significa un “obstáculo real para poder alcanzar esa paz con justicia que anhelamos todos los colombianos”

Cuba

Taking a country off the list requires a presidential report and certification to Congress, which then has 45 days to reject the certification before it goes into effect

El Salvador

“La guerra fue una farsa. Mataron más de 75.000 personas entre los dos bandos –incluyendo los mil de El Mozote- y fue una farsa como los Acuerdos de Paz”, sentenció el presidente

An indictment was unsealed in Central Islip, New York charging 14 of the world’s highest-ranking MS-13 leaders who are known today as the Ranfla Nacional, which operated as the Organization’s Board of Directors

Guatemala

Giammattei añadió que busca incrementar las fuerzas armadas “con seis mil elementos más”

Guatemala, Honduras

Video shared by the Guatemala Immigration Institute showed cheering people streaming in while border agents looked on and tried to keep them from blocking traffic

Haiti

Haiti braced for a fresh round of widespread protests starting Friday, with opposition leaders demanding that President Jovenel Moïse step down next month, worried he is amassing too much power as he enters his second year of rule by decree

Mexico

En la sustracción participaron cuatro sujetos armados, en una camioneta con vidrios polarizados

Conforman esta fuerza de tarea Agentes Federales de Migracio?n, personal de la Secretari?a de la Defensa Nacional (Sedena), Guardia Nacional (GN), Agencia Mexicana de Cooperacio?n Internacional para el Desarrollo (Amexcid) de la Secretari?a de Relaciones Exteriores (SRE); y del Sistema Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (DIF), y las secretari?as de Salud y Proteccio?n Civil del estado

Resguardan la frontera del lado mexicano con elementos del INM, Guardia Nacional y las Secretarías de la Defensa Nacional y de Marina

El embajador Christopher Landau afirmó que EU ofreció a México la extradición de sospechosos de tráfico de armas, sin que el país hubiera solicitado alguna, y tampoco aceptó un donativo de aparatos de detección

His complete exoneration in Mexico came as a shocking about-face after the authorities had promised to bring the full weight of the Mexican justice system to bear

U.S. authorities said Cienfuegos helped a cartel ship thousands of kilos of drugs to America

“Estados Unidos se reserva el derecho de reanudar el enjuiciamiento de Cienfuegos si el Gobierno de México falla”, reveló Nicole Navas Oxman, titular de la vocería del Departamento de Estado, al periodista estadounidense Keegan Hamilton, de Vice News

Document is a large PDF file.

U.S.-Mexico Border

Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued a statement of regret Thursday while former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and current DOJ official Gene Hamilton blamed the president for the policy

Multiple Department of Justice leaders told us that Sessions understood at the time the zero tolerance policy was issued that its strict implementation would result in the Department of Homeland Security’s referral for criminal prosecution of adults entering the country illegally with children

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal agency responsible for housing unaccompanied children, has housed 701 minors whose parents were in Mexico under the MPP program. Most — 643 of them — have been released to family members

It concludes that top Justice Department officials were a “driving force” behind the decision to put in place policies that led to separating families

The logistical report from the resettlement agency HIAS is the latest in a growing push from immigration and human rights advocates to try to hold him to his promise

Venezuela

Los integrantes de la organización no gubernamental fueron encarcelados el pasado 12 de enero y este jueves fueron presentados ante los tribunales ordinarios

Oficiales iraníes están formando a militares en Venezuela “para controlar a la sociedad venezolana”, denunció el jueves la directora ejecutiva de la ONG Instituto Casla ante autoridades de la Organización de los Estados Americanos

There’s certainly a feeling in Venezuela that a new cycle is about to begin as Joe Biden takes over as President of the United States, offering a potential reset in relations. And it’s becoming increasingly apparent that there might not be room for Guaidó in that cycle

The media outlet Efecto Cocuyo, community radio channel Fe y Alegría, as well as the National Press Workers Union, VPI TV, and news journal Panorama, among other media outlets, have become the target of stigmatization campaigns and legal scrutiny

Weekly border update: January 15, 2021

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

You can get these in your e-mail each week by joining WOLA’s “Beyond the Wall” mailing list.

Trump visits border wall in Texas

The Rio Grande Valley border town of Alamo, Texas, whose municipal officials received no official notice from the White House, hosted an abruptly planned January 12 visit from Donald Trump. It was the outgoing president’s first public appearance since the January 6 riot in the Capitol building. There, before an audience made up mainly of Border Patrol agents and DHS officials, Trump commemorated the construction of 450 miles of border wall during his administration.

“450 miles. Nobody realizes how big this is.… We gave you 100% of what you wanted so now you have no excuses,” he told the laughing crowd of assembled agents. Trump autographed a plaque affixed to the wall, then returned to Washington where, that same evening, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence to use the 25th Amendment to remove him. The next day, the House impeached him for a second time.

The previous week, Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan had told reporters that wall-building contractors were completing between 1.5 and 2 miles of new barrier each day, on pace to complete 475 miles by Trump’s likely final day in office, January 20. A CBP/Army Corps of Engineers update reported that 453 miles had been completed as of January 8. From this and past updates we can conclude that, of those 453:

  • 47 miles were built where no fencing existed before;
  • 158 replaced existing, shorter pedestrian fencing;
  • 193 replaced existing vehicle barrier; and
  • 55 miles are new or replacement secondary fencing.

In all, then, the Trump administration built 240 miles of fencing in places where it had previously been possible to walk across the border. Of the 453 miles, roughly 5% are in Texas, the state that makes up about 64% of the border. The topography of the Rio Grande and the predominance of private landholdings along the border complicate express wall-building in Texas, though the Trump administration has begun dozens of eminent-domain processes to seize border-zone land from Texas property owners.

To date, the administration has directed about $16.3 billion for wall construction; the Washington Post reported in December that at least $3.3 billion will be unused as of January 20. Despite Trump’s repeated pledges, Mexico has not paid for any construction.

CBP’s Morgan said that the administration plans to contract out another 300 miles “probably by January 17, 18, 19.” Those hasty arrangements will almost certainly be canceled once Joe Biden takes office; the President-Elect has said “there will not be another foot” of wall built during his administration. It remains to be seen whether Biden will act immediately to exercise “convenience clauses” to cancel existing contracts with private builders, which would involve paying termination fees-and, if so, whether his administration would go still further, downgrading or disassembling segments of Trump’s wall in environmentally sensitive areas and Native American sacred sites.

Security forces mobilize against possible “caravan” in Central America

Since December, social media messages in Central America, especially Honduras, have been calling for a new “caravan” of migrants. Many indicate an intention to depart from the bus station in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s second-largest city, on January 15.

In recent years, migrants have attempted “caravans”-hundreds or even thousands traveling en masse-as a way to migrate without paying thousands of dollars to a smuggler, while using safety in numbers to avoid the extreme dangers of the migrant trail through Mexico.

Under pressure from the Trump administration, security forces in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras dispersed attempted caravans, long before they came anywhere near the United States, in April and October 2019, and in January, October, and December 2020. It has been more than two years since a significant number of migrants traveling by “caravan” has reached the U.S. border. Migrants who pay steep fees to smugglers-whose business depends on official corruption along the migrant trail-continue to reach the U.S. border.

Whether in caravans or not, officials, advocates, and experts expect a steady increase in migration from Central America this year. COVID-19 and two November hurricanes have left millions in desperate conditions. In Honduras alone (population 9.7 million), 600,000 people have lost their employment since the pandemic began. This is on top of the large number of migrants who, as in past years, have fled Central America due to threats against their lives from criminal organizations and a lack of government protection.

About 250 migrants departed the San Pedro Sula bus station ahead of the scheduled date, on January 13. According to press reports, as of January 14 they were stranded on the city’s outskirts as police in riot gear assembled on the highway. An officer told AP “the intention was to stop the migrants from violating a pandemic-related curfew, check their documents and make sure they weren’t traveling with children that were not their own.”

Caravan participants will face similar blockages further along the route. On January 11 officials from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico met in the Honduran border city of Corinto, near San Pedro Sula and the Caribbean, to discuss migration coordination. While they stated that “migration is a right,” the government representatives said that all travelers will require passports, proof of parentage for any children, and proof of recent negative COVID-19 tests. On January 13 an 11-nation body, the Regional Conference on Migration, issued an “extraordinary declaration” pledging to increase cooperation amid “concern about irregular flows of migrants.”

Authorities in Honduras and Guatemala say they are deploying thousands of military personnel to interdict caravan participants. Guatemala, which even plans to use its Air Force, has declared a 15-day “state of prevention” in seven of its twenty-two departments (provinces) east of the central highlands. There, police and troops may restrict freedom of assembly and limit the population’s movements.

Links

  • Katie Tobin, an official at UNHCR’s Washington office with long experience on asylum, will begin work next week as senior director for transborder security on Joe Biden’s National Security Council.
  • Winding down the “Remain in Mexico” program and treating asylum seekers more humanely “requires the active partnership of the Mexican government,” Leon Krauze points out in the Washington Post. Meanwhile Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden’s choice for National Security Advisor, spoke on January 6 with Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard about “a ‘new approach’ to migration issues that ‘offers alternatives to undertaking the dangerous journey to the United States,'” Reuters reported.
  • Border Patrol agents in Texas’s Del Rio Sector recovered the body of a pregnant 33-year-old Haitian woman from the Rio Grande on January 8. They later determined that Mexican authorities had recovered the body of her husband from the river a few days earlier.
  • The Trump administration has rushed through a host of 11th-hour regulations and immigration court decisions further limiting the right to seek asylum in the United States, which may take the Biden administration months to undo if it so chooses.

In response to a FOIA lawsuit filed by El Paso reporter Robert Moore, who was seeking information about a CBP crowd control exercise and metering of asylum seekers at ports of entry, the agency told a judge that “[t]he earliest it could start producing the requested records was June 30, 2021, and it would take up to six years to complete.”

The day ahead: January 15, 2021

Other than a possible window late morning, I’ll be hard to reach today. (How to contact me)

My calendar tells me I’ve got an interview this morning and a four-hour-plus block of consecutive meetings this afternoon with coalition partners, WOLA colleagues, and diplomats. In between, I’m wrapping up a weekly border update and dashing off suggested questions for all of next week’s confirmation hearings for Biden cabinet nominees.

If you try to contact me, I might not be able to get back until at least the end of the workday. (I might not be able to go the bathroom until the end of the workday.)

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Antonio Baranda photo at Reforma (Mexico). Caption: “En el encuentro estuvo el Secretario de la Defensa Nacional.”

(Even more here)

January 14, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

World Report 2021, Human Rights Watch’s 31st annual review of human rights practices and trends around the globe, reviews developments in more than 100 countries

The statement by the 11-member Regional Conference on Migration suggests that Mexico and Central America could continue to turn back migrants on the basis of the perceived risks of the pandemic

Brazil

UNIFIL-MTF, the only U.N. naval peacekeeping mission, is also the first mission led by a nation that is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, since 2011

Chile

El patrullaje y la fiscalización realizados por los efectivos ha dejado a 364.509 personas detenidas por incumplir alguna norma sanitaria

Colombia, Cuba

If a country risks being placed on a terrorism list as a result of facilitating peace efforts, it could set a negative precedent for international peace efforts

Colombia

“We have noticed that when community leaders are threatened they go silent, as well as their organizations, and that interrupts the creation of new groups”

El 21 de noviembre de 2020 la Unidad Nacional de Protección expidió una resolución en la que elimina el esquema de seguridad asignado al exmagistrado auxiliar de la Corte Suprema de Justicia e investigador de la llamada parapolítica Iván Velásquez Gómez

En 2020 se presentaron 227 casos de feminicidio, 33 de estos contra niñas y adolescentes. Hasta el 13 de enero de 2021 van 16

El Salvador

Despite El Salvador’s participation in international anti-money laundering efforts, the SSF’s new regulation legitimizes legal loopholes

Guatemala

El estado de Prevención aplicará durante 15 días en Izabal, Zacapa, Chiquimula, Jutiapa, El Progreso, Petén y Santa Rosa

Precisamente unas 250 personas salieron esta noche desde Honduras en caravana hacia el punto aduanero de Corinto, fronterizo con Guatemala, con la idea de llegar a Estados Unidos

Guatemala, Honduras

The group set out on Wednesday but paused at night before reaching some 75 police officers, dressed in riot gear, who waited along the highway on the outskirts of San Pedro Sula

Guyana

“The acquisition and cross-servicing agreement is fundamentally about logistics. Basic things like parts, things you might need to fix your equipment, or food or fuel and our ability to trade goods and services while exercising or operating together”

Honduras

En los primeros 13 días de 2021, una docena de personas fueron ejecutadas y abandonadas en parajes solitarios con un modelo criminal denominado empaquetados

Mexico

Solo ocho expedientes por tortura contra militares fueron judicializados en la última década. En ellos, únicamente cinco militares recibieron alguna condena

“Vemos nosotros que la parte, digamos, floja de las investigaciones, es la parte que tiene que ver con el Ejército mexicano, es creo donde está el talón de Aquiles de todo el conjunto de la investigación”

Peru

The stigma against the left can be seen in polls as Peru approaches a presidential election in April. Just one leftist is polling above 5%

Venezuela

AZUL POSITIVO is a non-profit organization with 16 years of experience that carries out important actions of preventive health in relation to HIV, gender violence and humanitarian assistance for students, young people, LGBTI communities, excluded and poor people

Elliott Abrams, Trump’s special representative for Venezuelan affairs, held at least one meeting in December with a group of Biden transition team officials

“There will be no softballs or reminiscing about the good old days,” Meeks said in an interview with The Associated Press this week

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