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.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

July 20, 2018

Colombia

Colombian campesinos in Briceño, Antioquia have voluntarily uprooted their coca plants in exchange for government support to grow new crops. But with much aid delayed, the local economy has collapsed

Como un importante gesto calificó el padre de Roux, quien preside la Comisión de la Verdad, la visita que tuvieron el miércoles con el presidente electo Iván Duque

Los hombres armados se identificaron como miembros de un grupo de disidencias de las Farc, el frente 40, al mando de alias Calarcá

Mexico

Once they’re in Tapachula, the migrants have made it to Mexico, but that doesn’t mean they are safe. For the majority of migrants, especially those continuing north, the real dangers are just beginning

Nicaragua

Despite growing international censure, Nicaragua’s government appears to be digging in

Western Hemisphere Regional

Of more than 2,500 parents identified as potentially eligible for having their children returned to them, 848 have been interviewed and cleared for reunification

Separations that took minutes require weeks to repair, coordinated among multiple federal agencies and layered with background checks and fraud safeguards

The day ahead: July 20, 2018

I’ll be intermittently reachable throughout the day. (How to contact me)

Today’s my first day all week without either a full calendar or an immediate deadline. We’re meeting this morning to finalize the second installment of the border report we posted on Monday. Other than a quick press interview with a Colombian outlet, I’m in the office the rest of the day, finishing that second report, working on a Colombia update, and trying to get through a backlog of unanswered correspondence.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

July 19, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

“Ironically, these policies that claim to be trying to clamp down and secure the border and stop smuggling and stop traffickers… actually empower the traffickers, the cartels, the smugglers”

I’m emotionally raw from the trip. How our country treats immigrants coming to our nation — many fleeing violence and oppression in their home countries — will haunt me for a long time

The most extreme proposal yet would upend the system by eliminating the use of offices along the border, known as “ports of entry,” as asylum processing centers

“The likely alternative — detention of children with a parent — also poses high risk of harm to children and their families,” said the doctors

But the intelligence report and another email from the acting secretary last year to White House chief of staff John Kelly add to other uncovered documents that raise serious questions about whether the Trump administration ignored its own experts’ analysis

Colombia

Con este caso la JEP se juega su legitimidad a futuro

Es más bien el intento de un gran sector de la sociedad de esconder su participación en la guerra y los crímenes que promovieron

Su liderazgo y activismo duró varios años: creó una empresa comunitaria y uno de los primeros consejos de víctimas del Cauca. Estaba al orden para dialogar siempre con el Ejército y evitar acciones violentas

The Commission stresses that the State needs to take urgent action to investigate acts of violence against defenders and to punish their perpetrators and masterminds, as well as to prevent smear campaigns and attacks against them

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

Este nuevo ‘brote’ de detenciones coincide con la crisis’ de niños migrantes de Estados Unidos

Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

These migrants set out walking from Frontera Corozal to Palenque: a five- to six-day journey of 101 miles on the main road

Mexico

Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, El Z-40, exlíder del Cártel del Golfo (CDG) y fundador de Los Zetas, quien se encontraba preso en el Centro Federal de Readaptación Social (Cefereso) 9 de Juárez, Chihuahua, fue trasladado a una prisión en Texas

  • Jorge Carrasco Araizaga, Espias (Proceso (Mexico), July 19, 2018).

Si Osorio e Ímaz advirtieron lo que se veía venir en Iguala, nunca se lo dijeron a Peña porque no se hizo nada. La inteligencia del Ejército tampoco. O tal vez sí se lo dijeron, pero no se hizo nada

Nicaragua

El MESENI constató y documentó el despliegue de operativos y actos de represión en contra de la población de diferentes ciudades con las que se mantenía una diálogo para alcanzar próximamente una disolución espontánea y pacífica de tranques

Tengo 25 años y mi generación creció escuchando las hazañas de un pueblo heroico que derrocó a una dictadura que asesinaba a jóvenes por pensar distinto. Nunca pensamos que esas historias se repetirían

Este aniversario revolucionario es una conmemoración luctuosa en una Nicaragua convulsa por el alzamiento de buena parte de sus ciudadanos contra el presidente Daniel Ortega

Peru

Lo que pasó en menos de siete días empezó confirmando el párrafo con el que terminé la crónica anterior de esta investigación: “Creo que defender la investigación va a ser, en este caso, tan o más difícil que la investigación misma”

Video: Hearing on “Peace and Victims’ Rights in Colombia”

Here’s video, and here’s my written testimony, from this morning’s hearing about “Peace and Victims’ Rights in Colombia” in the House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. It was a great hearing, featuring three social leaders working on the front lines of peace accord implementation and inclusion in Colombia.

My role was to talk about future directions for U.S. policy. I suggested five:

  • Keep the focus on rural areas, especially government presence.
  • Keep victims at the center of programming and diplomatic support.
  • Uphold the justice system, and help make it work better.
  • Be more flexible with the ban on “material support” for ex-FARC.
  • Coca and Venezuela are priorities, but don’t lose sight of the central role of accord implementation.

Video: “The Origins of Cocaine” book event

Here is video of yesterday afternoon’s WOLA event with Paul Gootenberg and Liliana Dávalos of Stony Brook University. They’re the editors of The Origins of Cocaine, a new book that finds a striking overlap between today’s South American coca-growing areas and the zones where governments carried out failed development and colonization projects 50 years ago. I wrote an epilogue to the book looking at the present moment.

The discussion was lively and well informed. Paul is a historian, and Liliana is an evolutionary biologist, which made for a novel combination.

The day ahead: July 19, 2018

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

I’m testifying this morning at a hearing about Colombia in the House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. I’ll be alongside three human rights defenders from Colombia, who deserve the spotlight.

In the afternoon, I’ll be catching up on overdue correspondence and editing the second installment of our multi-part report on the current state of the border and migration.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

July 18, 2018

Colombia

Mine detection technologies have progressed very little since they were first developed in the aftermath of World War II and are still almost primarily based on metal detection

“What were we supposed to write for credit history?” Mr. Villarraga asked with a short, sharp laugh, telling the story a few days later. “Or for employment?”

Desde la selva amazónica colombiana, entre Guaviare y Caquetá, alias ‘Gentil Duarte’ compartió con ‘Guacho’ sus planes para “seguir forjando el auténtico ejército revolucionario de las FARC-EP”

El excomandante del Ejército Mario Montoya es el oficial de más alto rango que ha pedido someterse a la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz

El vicepresidente Óscar Naranjo se reunió esta mañana con los representantes de la organización criminal. En el encuentro, los abogados recibieron los requisitos que deben cumplir

Mexico

Mexico does not focus as much of its migration enforcement efforts at the physical border as the United States does

Seis mil 125 militares vigilaban y combatían la delincuencia en Tamaulipas, Nuevo León y SLP, mientras que 6 mil 119 se encontraban en Guerrero, zonas consideradas peligrosas

Nicaragua

21 países del hemisferio aprobaron este miércoles una resolución que condena la represión y la violencia del régimen contra “el pueblo de Nicaragua”

The resolution exhorts the Government of Nicaragua “to support an electoral calendar jointly agreed to in the context of the National Dialogue process”

For weeks, the town of Masaya in Nicaragua has been the heart of an opposition movement seeking President Daniel Ortega’s ouster

Rubio dijo que tenía esperanzas que la situación de Nicaragua sería distinta al caso de Venezuela, y que Ortega iba a negociar (su salida) con elecciones anticipadas y legítimas

The Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018 requires the imposition of sanctions on Nicaraguan government officials responsible for the deaths of protestors, human rights violations and acts of corruption

Venezuela

“It’s contradictory when asking for this and then in your own backyard they’re separating families,” said one Latin American diplomat

“¿Hay un proceso de resignación, de aceptación de estas condiciones de sobrevivencia? Porque cada día te adaptas a menos, es la cubanización de Venezuela”

Western Hemisphere Regional

We asked Rio Grande Valley attorney Jennifer Harbury why legal entry is so difficult—and what challenges asylum seekers face when they are turned away

At the halfway mark of this year, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM), America’s most elite troops have already carried out missions in 133 countries

The day ahead: July 18, 2018

I’ll be difficult to contact today. (How to contact me)

I’ll be in a meeting with visiting Colombian human rights defenders in the morning. Then attending an event hosted by WOLA’s Colombia program with some of those visitors. Then, at 3:00 today, hosting an event of my own, with authors of a new book on the origins of coca in the Andes.

New report on the border

We’re proud to release “The Zero Tolerance Policy,” the first installment in what will be (probably) 3 reports on the current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

This one covers the incredible institutional train wreck that Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions caused when they decided in April that every person caught crossing the border improperly should be charged in criminal courts, as a 1952 law dictates. The next one will look at all aspects of family separation. The third will go over what has happened at the border’s ports of entry. A possible fourth one will look at the National Guard deployment at the border, but that’s sort of a different theme and I might put it out separately.

I’m very happy that only 24 days passed between flying home from fieldwork in Arizona and releasing a 4,000-word, 54-footnote document about it. Twenty-four days during which we’ve been working on other stuff, too. Spending February in Colombia evaluating a USAID project ended up teaching me a lot of tips and tricks for turning fieldwork into a report very quickly. Glad I was able to apply them here.

The day ahead: July 17, 2018

My responses may be delayed as I’m writing on a deadline. (How to contact me)

Working at home this morning as I scramble to finish testimony about Colombia that I’ll be giving Thursday morning at the Lantos Human Rights Commission in the House of Representatives. I should be in the office after lunch; I have a late-afternoon meeting with my fellow panelists.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Matt York / AP photo at The Washington Post. Caption: “Detainees are seen inside a facility where tent shelters are being used to house separated family members at the Port of Entry in Fabens, Tex., on June 21.”

(Even more here)

July 16, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

Do not misbehave. Do not sit on the floor. Do not share your food. Do not use nicknames. Also, it is best not to cry. Doing so might hurt your case

Colombia

The procedural hearing for “Case No. 001” lasted three hours and was attended by just three of the 31 leaders of the disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia

En la primera audiencia ante la JEP, se entregaron expedientes de casos de secuestros para que Farc los analice y expliquen qué sucedió. A la diligencia asistieron tres exjefes guerrilleros

In the year since the powerful Marxist guerrillas disarmed, drug gangs like this one have battled each other and the state for control of the booming cocaine trade in remote regions

El ‘clan del Golfo’ es una organización de tercera generación, es decir, funciona en red, con nodos territoriales y los mandos son reemplazables fácilmente

Colombia, Venezuela

“Para contribuir a la solución de la crisis en Venezuela, le pido al presidente Trump que le solicite a Putin dejar de apoyar al régimen de Maduro”, indicó el mandatario en su cuenta de Twitter

Cuba

The intention of the proposed reforms is to constitutionally formalise the island’s economic and social opening-up while maintaining this “irrevocable” socialist system

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

Managing this migration effectively and humanely requires a legislative solution outside the asylum system, a solution that establishes a legal process based on the specific circumstances of this migration

Guatemala

Ahora está en curso una investigación penal por el viaje que en el avión de un magnate americano-israelí sancionado por corrupción

With one year remaining in its mandate, now is the time to discuss the strengthening and extension of CICIG’s mandate, not to negotiate its death by a thousand cuts

Honduras

La Fuerza Nacional Antimaras y Pandillas (Fnamp) se conformó hace tres semanas. El anuncio lo hizo el presidente Juan Orlando Hernández

Nicaragua

By 10:30 p.m., the Catholic Church and the U.S. State Department had prevailed upon the Nicaraguan government to allow a convoy of ambulances and negotiators to cross police lines and ferry three wounded students and me out of the church

Venezuela

There is no clear-cut definition of what constitutes a mafia state, but the fact that organized crime touches the daily lives of every Venezuelan, and has penetrated the highest level of state institutions, easily qualifies Venezuela

The day ahead: July 16, 2018

We’ve got an internal staff meeting in the morning. I’ve scheduled a lunch with a longtime colleague from Capitol Hill, and an end-of-day meeting with folks from a faith-based organization who’ve worked on Colombia for years.

In between, we should be releasing a report today about the border and the “zero tolerance” policy, based on fieldwork we did in Arizona a few weeks ago. I’ll also be working on my testimony for Thursday morning’s Colombia hearing in the House’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

The week ahead

The usual work will be bookended this week by three events:

  • The launch of a report on the border, part one of a three-parter. Should be posted today.
  • An event with colleagues who just published a book about coca in the Andes, for which I wrote the epilogue.
  • Testifying in a hearing about Colombia Thursday in the House of Representatives’ Lantos Human Rights Commission.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(This covers the week of June 24-30—a very eventful period. Sorry this is so behind schedule, but there’s no way around it with the present workload. Last week’s update is coming soon.)

Congress Makes Big Changes To Transitional Justice System

On June 27 Colombia’s Congress passed a Procedural Law for the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), the separate justice system that will confer lighter penalties (“restriction of liberty”) on those who committed war crimes during the conflict, in exchange for full confessions and reparations to victims. The new law is necessary for the JEP to function properly, and its long-awaited passage is an important step.

However, the congressional bloc supporting Iván Duque, the rightist president-elect who is a critic of the FARC peace accord, added some last-minute changes that—if ruled to be constitutional—would diverge from the accord’s vision and intent.

Before going into that, a quick overview of the JEP legislative process so far. The new system, enshrined in chapter 5 of the peace accord, requires three laws to function:

  • A constitutional amendment enshrining the JEP within Colombia’s legal system, which Congress passed as part of the post-accord “fast track” legislative process in March 2017, and which the Constitutional Court reviewed and approved, with minor modifications, in November 2017.
  • A statutory law (ley estatuaria) to implement the JEP, which Congress passed in November 2017, adding some controversial provisions contrary to the accord’s original intent. The Constitutional Court has not yet completed its review of this law.
  • An “ordinary law” (ley ordinaria) governing the JEP’s procedures, which Congress passed on June 27, 2018. This law is also certain to undergo a months-long Constitutional Court review.

Even without all of its laws in place, the JEP is starting to operate, though it is a long way from issuing its first verdict and sentence to a war criminal.

  • A five-member panel of Colombian and international jurists named 38 magistrates and 13 alternates in September 2017, as well as JEP director Patricia Linares, a legal expert who had most recently consulted with the government’s Historical Memory Commission.
  • The JEP officially opened its doors in March 2018. It has received a large initial volume of conflict-related case files from the “regular” criminal justice system (the criminal prosecutor’s office, or Fiscalía).
  • It has been required to rule on whether an ex-FARC leader’s potentially extraditable drug-trafficking offense occurred before or after the peace accord went into effect, which will be its first ruling—but it has not done so yet.
  • As of April, 6,094 former FARC members facing war crimes charges had agreed to appear before the JEP, as have 2,159 members of the armed forces (as of June) and 50 civilians accused of aiding and abetting armed groups’ war crimes: 44 who worked in government and 6 private citizens.

Congress passed the procedural law troublingly late, as the JEP has been working without clear regulations. Legislators from the party of President-Elect Duque, led in the Senate by Senator and former president Álvaro Uribe, had been holding up its consideration.

On June 26, with the legislative session nearing its end, the UN Mission in Colombia put out a statement voicing alarm about “obstacles” to the JEP’s functioning: “the victims are still awaiting the first hearings and appearances of those who were involved in serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations.” A harsh reply from Uribe and Duque’s rightist party, the “Democratic Center,” made clear that it “rejects and doesn’t accept their demands.” The party’s proposed modifications to the JEP, it said, “can’t be viewed as obstacles” but as a reflection of “the desire of the majority of Colombians” as reflected in the October 2016 plebiscite rejecting the peace accord’s first version, and by Duque’s June 2018 election.

The following day, though, Colombia’s Senate considered and approved the new procedural law. It passed, though, with two amendments introduced by the Democratic Center, which passed thanks to votes from several senators who until recently had been part of President Juan Manuel Santos’s pro-peace coalition. The uribistas’ (Uribe supporters’) changes are, in the words of La Silla Vacía analysts Juan Esteban Lewin and Julian Huertas, “a first indication that, while [Duque’s party] won’t destroy the accord, it will seek to remove its teeth and make it resemble FARC surrender terms.”

The FARC political party put it even more starkly:

The elites that have historically covered themselves in impunity and made the war into an immense business for corruption and land theft, took advantage of the delayed and chaotic consideration of the JEP’s procedural norms to render ineffective the basic pillars of the peace accord.

“Welcome to the Iván Duque government” is how uribista Senator Paloma Valencia, who led the legislative push for the two amendments changing the JEP, greeted their approval.

Changing the JEP’s role in extraditions of former combatants

The first amendment would restrict the JEP’s role in determining whether a former combatant can be extradited to another country. The JEP is currently required to determine, within 120 days, whether the crime triggering the extradition request happened before or after the November 2016 ratification of the peace accord (if it took place before, it is likely subject to amnesty and non-extradition). It wasn’t clear, though, whether the JEP could actually consider whether a criminal allegation is built on solid or flimsy evidence.

The uribistas’ amendment says that no, the JEP cannot consider the quality of the evidence, only the date on which the crime allegedly occurred. If the alleged crime took place after November 2016, it must send the ex-combatant’s case to Colombia’s Supreme Court, which rules on extraditions. If the Court green-lights an extradition, the President has discretion about whether or not to hand over the accused individual.

This issue has already come up. On April 9, following an indictment by a U.S. grand jury, Colombian authorities arrested Jesús Santrich, one of the FARC’s negotiators in Havana, on charges of conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States starting in 2017. Rather than simply rule on the date of this alleged conspiracy, the JEP had frozen Santrich’s extradition process and asked Colombian criminal prosecutors to provide more evidence. On June 12, the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the regular justice system, “un-freezing” Santrich’s case and ruling that the JEP does not have the power to delay an extradition process.

The new amendment, according to Sen. Valencia, guarantees that “extradition requests won’t be unjustifiably delayed when the Supreme Court is empowered to investigate.” Sen. Roy Barreras, a Santos supporter who led the procedural law’s passage in the Senate, opposed the amendment on grounds that it places U.S. counter-drug interests above the stability of peace. “To extradite those who signed the peace sends a terrible message to those who did the work of breaking up a guerrilla group.” The response from super-hardline uribista Sen. José Obdulio Gaviria: “Don’t distinguish between Colombia’s peace and illicit crops, doctor Roy. You [peace supporters] filled Colombia with the damned manure of coca money. That’s the main result of the peace policy that you all pushed.”

Separating out members of the security forces, and freezing their trials for 18 months

The Democratic Center at first sought to change the procedural law so that members of the military and police could be tried in a new, separate chamber of the JEP. Its legislators argued that soldiers shouldn’t be tried on equal footing, in the same tribunals, as former guerrillas. Critics suspect that they are in fact seeking to protect the armed forces from accountability by delaying and weakening efforts to bring their war crimes to justice.

The uribista legislators didn’t quite get a new tribunal, which would be a change too fundamental to be made through the procedures of an “ordinary law.” Senator Valencia and her colleagues instead got an amendment stating that current and former members of the armed forces and police awaiting judgment before the JEP do not have to appear before the new system until a new “special and differentiated process” exists to judge them, a change that would probably require a constitutional reform. The text gives 18 months to do that, during which the military and police perpetrators’ cases are suspended.

Currently, 2,159 active or former members of Colombia’s security forces have signed up to have their cases tried before the JEP. (2,109 from the Army, 34 from the National Police, and 16 from the Navy.) 1,578 of them have been released from custody pending trial.

Sen. Barreras, the pro-peace legislator who managed the JEP bill in the Senate, called the amendment a “serious error,” as it weakens the “judicial certainty” the armed forces had achieved in negotiating the JEP’s design. The appearance of a “self-pardon,” he said, will attract the attention of the International Criminal Court. Meanwhile, the Senator added,

while the FARC submit now to the JEP and begin to tell the truth in favor of the victims, other victims, like the Mothers of Candelaria [a Medellín-based victims’ organization] for example, have to wait 18 months to be able to know the truth, and the families of the disappeared also have to sit and wait. This is called re-victimization, and it implies that there is an indifference and a lack of consideration for the victims. These 18 months of waiting are truly unacceptable.

The amendment favoring military and police personnel is probably unconstitutional, opponents said, predicting that it will not survive Constitutional Court review. “At the end of last year, the Court stated that the participation of ex-combatants from the FARC and members of the security forces had to be mandatory. On this issue it will be the Constitutional Court that has the last word,” said Interior Minister Guillermo Rivera.

Though it was purportedly designed to favor them, Colombia’s armed forces, in fact, opposed the uribistas’ amendment. On June 26, the Minister of Defense, the Director of the National Police, and the Commander of the Armed Forces sent a letter to Sen. Valencia asking her to allow the procedural law to pass without her proposed language. The officials are concerned that the Democratic Center’s changes prolong judicial uncertainty for more than 2,000 accused soldiers and police, and may cause the International Criminal Court to involve itself more deeply in their cases. “We need the Congress to advance in approving this regulation,” said armed-forces chief Gen. Alberto Mejía. “We need to mark out the playing field of the JEP, because if we don’t do it, we’ll end up being exposed.”

One major who was given conditional release from prison last November so that the JEP could consider his case, told El Colombiano that having to wait another 18 months complicates things for him. “This keeps us in a ‘sub judice’ situation [not yet judicially decided], which worries us, given that nobody is giving us job opportunities because we still have criminal records, which would only be lifted once we pay the penalty that the JEP procedures impose.”

Colombia’s BLU Radio reported that two active-duty generals, who asked that their identities not be revealed, had received pressure from uribista legislators to support the proposed changes to the JEP. “People from the Democratic Center are saying ‘you’re all pro-Santos generals, bought off, fond of the peace process, and you forget that there’s a new president now,’” the radio cited the generals as saying.

Retired officers, who tend to be harder-line and commanded the military during a time of more frequent human rights issues, were more favorable toward the uribista amendment. Retired Gen. Jaime Ruiz, president of the powerful association of retired officers ACORE, praised the Senate’s move:

Ever since the list of [JEP] magistrates was announced, we saw that they were no guarantee of justice because of their ideological leanings. The approval of this provision, to remain within the JEP but not to appear until a new reform is made, favors us. We hope there may not be any problem with the [International Criminal] Court.

The Court in The Hague (ICC) does have Colombia under preliminary investigation, and is alert for any sign that Colombia’s justice system may fail to hold accountable those who committed crimes against humanity during the armed conflict. The ICC’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has shown particular interest in the “false positives,” thousands of military murders of civilians especially during the 2002-2008 period, who were then falsely presented as combat kills in order to claim high body counts. Delaying such cases for 18 months pending the uncertain creation of a new judicial chamber will certainly attract the prosecutor’s attention.

Interior Minister Rivera, as well as at least two Colombian human rights NGOs (the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyer’s Collective and the Colombia-Europe-U.S. Coordination), filed lawsuits before the Constitutional Court to challenge the constitutionality of the amendments that the uribistas inserted.

Duque Visits Washington

President-Elect Iván Duque visited Washington on June 27 through July 5. It is a city he knows well: he did coursework at both American and Georgetown Universities, and worked at the Inter-American Development Bank for 12 years. He was accompanied by veteran politician-diplomat Carlos Holmes, a longtime Álvaro Uribe supporter who is Duque’s likely choice for foreign minister. Senator and ex-president Uribe was not present.

The visit came two days after Duque received a telephone call from President Trump to congratulate him on his victory and to discuss unspecified “security challenges” that Duque’s government is likely to face. No details about that call have emerged, and Trump was outside of Washington for most of Duque’s visit.

According to media reports, Duque’s meetings included:

  • Vice-President Mike Pence
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
  • National Security Advisor John Bolton
  • CIA Director Gina Haspel
  • Acting Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Jim Carroll
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida)
  • Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona)
  • Staff of relevant committees from both the House and Senate
  • OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro
  • Inter-American Development Bank President Luis Alberto Moreno
  • International Monetary Fund (not clear with whom)

Support for peace accord implementation did not seem to be a frequent topic in these meetings. The State Department’s spokeswoman said that “Secretary Pompeo reaffirmed U.S. support for a just and lasting peace in Colombia.” Speaking to reporters while in Washington, Duque reiterated his call for the ELN to agree to a “suspension of all criminal activity” and “a prior concentration of forces with international supervision” as pre-conditions for continuing peace talks begun under the Santos government. The ELN are highly unlikely to agree to the second condition, a cantonment of forces.

The crisis in Venezuela was a frequent subject of Duque’s meetings. Sen. Rubio tweeted that they talked about “regional efforts to help the Venezuelan people put an end to their crisis and restore democracy.” After meeting with OAS Secretary-General Almagro, a vociferous critic of Venezuela’s authoritarian government, Duque recommended that Latin American presidents denounce the Maduro regime before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. (In July 2017, then-senator Duque led an effort to send the ICC a 56-page petition asking its prosecutor to “place Venezuela under observation and open a formal investigation.” The document bore the signatures of 76 Colombian and 70 Chilean senators.) Duque also recommended that South American governments permanently abandon the fading UNASUR political bloc, which he called an “accomplice of the Venezuelan dictatorship,” and strengthen the OAS.

Drug policy was perhaps the most frequent topic addressed at Duque’s meetings. The White House’s June 25 release of its 2017 estimate of Colombian coca cultivation—which showed a further 11 percent increase in the crop last year—guaranteed that this would be the top priority of the incoming president’s Washington discussions.

On June 28 Duque told reporters he had received expressions of support for his anti-drug strategy, which though lacking in specifics would rely more heavily on forced coca eradication than did the Santos government during its second term. “Obviously the backsliding has been very large in the last few years, and that’s why we have to seek effective and fast mechanisms,” he added. “They showed much confidence in the agenda we presented,” Duque said of the Americans, noting that his objective is to show measurable results against the coca crop within two years.

In an interview that El Tiempo published July 1, Duque said his government’s approach to coca would have a large alternative development component. He hinted, though, that unlike the model laid out in chapter 4 of the FARC peace accord, he sees oil palm—a capital-intensive crop favorable to large landholdings—as a promising legal alternative to coca.

In some places, coca is almost the only crop that offers opportunities. Nobody can deny it. But exactly what we want to do is alternative development and productive development. We should begin from this baseline: as it is going to be very hard for a licit crop to be more profitable than an illicit crop, substitution and eradication must be made obligatory, but while opening new opportunities leading to labor formalization and stable incomes. There are important substitutions of coca crops with palm crops.

Asked in Washington whether he would prefer to eradicate crops by spraying herbicides from aircraft or from drones (discussed in the next section), Duque said, “at this moment we have to look at all the options, and they have to be the options that guarantee greater precision, greater effectiveness, and that minimize damage to third-parties to the greatest extent possible.”

US Releases Coca Figure, and Colombian Government Approves Fumigation With Drones

On June 25, about three months later than usual, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released its estimate of Colombia’s coca crop during the previous year. The U.S. government reported finding 209,000 hectares of coca in Colombia in 2017, 11 percent more than the 188,000 measured in 2016. Both figures were the highest the United States has ever reported. The 2017 increase was the fifth annual uptick in a row. However, 11 percent is the smallest percentage increase of the five, which may at least indicate some leveling off in a year that saw forced manual eradication triple from 18,000 to 53,000 hectares, along with the launch of the peace accords’ crop substitution effort, which eradicated at least 7,000 more hectares.

The White House estimated a 19 percent increase in potential cocaine production, from 772 to 921 tons. Both are records, and the 2017 figure is quadruple the U.S. government’s 2013 estimate. This indicates U.S. estimators see a sharp increase in yield—the number of kilograms of cocaine being produced from each hectare—as plants grow taller and more mature.

“President Trump’s message to Colombia is clear: the record growth in cocaine production must be reversed,” the White House release cites ONDCP Deputy Director Jim Carroll. “Even though Colombian eradication efforts improved in 2017,

they were outstripped by the acceleration in production. The Government of Colombia must do more to address this increase. The steep upward trajectory is unacceptable.”

President Juan Manuel Santos argued that the increase owed to short-term factors and will be reversed by the government’s strategy, which includes the National Integral Crop Substitution Plan foreseen in chapter 4 of the peace accord (whose implementation, like so much of the accord, is underfunded and behind schedule). “It’s very easy to come and criticize Colombia because illicit crops increased,” Santos said. “But measure the other circumstances and the other indicators: the effectiveness of drug seizures, how many members of the mafias we have extradited, the immense effort that we have made and will continue making.”

In an interview, Vice-President Óscar Naranjo, a former National Police chief, pointed out that because Colombia’s cocaine seizures—much of them in coastal areas—have increased from 148 tons in 2014 to 432 tons in 2017, the amount of the drug actually making it into world markets has increased only somewhat and may still be less than it was during the early years of “Plan Colombia,” instead of the quadrupling of supply that the U.S. tonnage estimate might indicate. Increased interdiction may explain why data about cocaine abuse in the United States show an increase that is far less steep than data about cocaine supply. Another explanation is greater cocaine consumption outside the United States. In 2000, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s World Drug Report estimated that North America accounted for 50 percent of world cocaine consumption; its 2018 report, released in June, attributed only a 32 percent share to North America.

As past analyses from WOLA, the Ideas for Peace Foundation, InsightCrime and others have pointed out, Colombia’s coca boom owes to several factors. Proponents of vastly increased forced eradication point to the 2015 suspension of aerial herbicide spraying, and to the peace accord’s promise of cash for those who planted coca, as the main reasons for the increase. These undeniably contributed, but the Colombian government’s failure or inability to replace eradication with state presence and development assistance in rural areas—effectively leaving most coca-growing areas in a state of neglect—gets at least as much blame. So does a decline in gold prices, as many coca-growers had turned to artisanal mining in the years following the 2008 financial crisis, when sky-high prices caused the metal to be more profitable than the crop.

Last September, due to rising production statistics, President Trump sought to decertify Colombia for failing to cooperate fully in anti-drug efforts, a move that would cut some forms of aid and place Colombia in the same category as Venezuela or Burma. Top advisors talked him out of it, but the White House’s statement noted that decertification remains “an option.” Despite the unencouraging 2017 numbers, the White House is unlikely to greet Iván Duque with a decertification six weeks after his inauguration.

Two days after the White House announcement, Colombia’s National Drug Council, an advisory body of ministers and high officials, approved the use of drones to apply herbicides to coca plants. The move comes after several months of pilot testing of the remote-controlled craft. Each of the chosen models costs about US$10,000. It flies about one meter above the plants, and can spray about 1 liter of herbicide mixture at a time in 10 minutes of operation between recharges. Spraying began in the final days of June in Putumayo, Meta, Caquetá, Guaviare, and Nariño departments.

For now at least, the herbicide will continue to be glyphosate, marketed by the U.S. chemical giant Monsanto, but at a concentration about 50 percent weaker than that used by U.S.-funded, contractor-flown aircraft during the years of the now-suspended aerial eradication program (1994-2015). Since that program’s suspension, much manual eradication has been carried out by eradicators wearing backpack-mounted herbicide sprayers applying this weaker mixture. This is a dangerous practice, as hundreds of eradicators or their police escorts have been killed or injured in the past 15 years by landmines, booby traps, ambushes, and sniper attacks. The idea is that using drones would curtail that risk, while applying the herbicide more accurately than aircraft flying 50-150 meters above the ground.

The aircraft-spraying program was suspended in October 2015 after a World Health Organization literature review found that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Colombia’s Constitutional Court later ratified this suspension because of the possible risk. However, glyphosate has not been banned for agricultural use in Colombia, and officials expect that application by more accurate drones, which poses less risk of spraying residential areas or legal crops, gets around the Court’s restrictions.

While critics of the drone decision acknowledge a reduced risk to human health, they lament that this method of eradication will probably be carried out with no permanent state presence in abandoned rural areas, little face-to-face dialogue with coca-growing families, and perhaps with little coordination with food security and other assistance. “They’re making decisions from a desk without caring about the territory,” Nariño governor Camilo Romero tweeted in response to the drone decision. “I’ll say it clearly: any anti-drug policy that doesn’t involve the dozens of thousands of families that lack opportunities today, is condemned to failure. You can’t fumigate people only to have them plant again!”

A State Department spokesperson told EFE that the drone plan is up to Colombia: “The choice of eradication methods is a sovereign decision of the Colombian government. However, the United States believes that all tools should be used to turn back the sharp increase in cocaine production.”

In-Depth Reading

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

July 12, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

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