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.



Get a weekly update in your email

The day ahead: November 14, 2018

I’m around much of the afternoon. (How to contact me)

Other than two internal WOLA meetings (this morning and mid-afternoon), I’m in the office today. My father is in town, so I’ll be breaking a bit early. Otherwise, I’ll be here writing a Colombia update.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Flickr-Policía photo at Verdad Abierta (Colombia). Caption:“Durante 2017 se erradicaron forzadamente más de 50 mil hectáreas.”

(Even more here)

November 13, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

  • Rafael Croda, Ni Izquierda Ni Derecha, en 2018 America Latina Giro a la Ultraderecha (Proceso (Mexico), November 13, 2018).

    Los grandes polos ideológicos de la región serán México y Brasil, con López Obrador y Bolsonaro. Pero la capacidad de estos dos líderes de conducir la política latinoamericana estará determinada por las alianzas que logren hacer con el bloque de centroderecha


  • Rights Commission Expresses Deep Concern About Brazil (Associated Press, ABC News, November 13, 2018).

    “Killings committed by security forces must end. They must protect people, not kill them,” the commission’s president, Margarette May Macaulay, said at news conference

Brazil, Uruguay

  • Andrea Barretto, Brazil Donates 25 Armored Tanks to the Uruguayan Army (Revista Dialogo (U.S. Southern Command), November 13, 2018).

    The M-41C vehicles that the Brazilian Army used through 2009 will be part of the Uruguayan Army’s 13th Armored Infantry Battalion Brazil purchased the M-41 armored vehicles from the United States in the 1960s. EB used the vehicles equipped with cannons for almost five decades for training purposes

Central America Regional, Mexico



  • Olga Patricia Rendon, “No Estan los Recursos para el Posconflicto”: Archila (El Colombiano (Medellin Colombia), November 13, 2018).

    El alto consejero asegura que hubo una mala interpretación de la cifra de $170 billones para financiar el posconflicto en los próximos 15 años, por lo que destacó que la cifra establecida es de $129,5 billones

  • Programa de Sustitucion Voluntaria de Hoja de Coca, en Estado Critico (Verdad Abierta (Colombia), November 13, 2018).

    Aunque el alto funcionario pide “paciencia”, las deudas en materia de desarrollo son de larga data y las demoras en la implementación han empezado a deteriorar la confianza que las comunidades depositaron en el Acuerdo de Paz

  • Juan Camilo Montoya, Ataques Alejan el Dialogo Con el Eln (El Colombiano (Medellin Colombia), November 13, 2018).

    Según información de Ecopetrol, este año van 79 atentados contra la infraestructura petrolera del país, lo cual representa en promedio uno cada cuatro días

Dominican Republic, Haiti

  • Jonathan M. Katz, What Happened When a Nation Erased Birthright Citizenship (New America, The Atlantic, November 13, 2018).

    As Dominicans have ably shown, the most extreme rhetoric has a way of becoming real. And the consequences of inciting millions of people against vulnerable groups of immigrants are impossible to control



  • Ezequiel Flores Contreras, Grupo Armado Toma Poblado en la Sierra Amapolera de Guerrero (Proceso (Mexico), November 13, 2018).

    Ahora, aunque ese precursor de la heroína está a la baja, la zona sigue siendo un territorio que se disputan los grupos del crimen organizado, pues además de la droga controlan la producción minera y la explotación forestal



The day ahead: November 13, 2018

I’ll be in and out all day, a bit hard to reach. (How to contact me)

Yesterday was a holiday here in the United States, which gave me time to add edits, photos, footnotes and other touches to a monster-sized forthcoming report on Colombia, based on our early September research trip. That is out of my hands for now, I’m happy to say, as colleagues here add their parts to it. I’m pleased with how it’s turned out.

I’m in and out today. I have an on-camera interview this morning here in the office, a lunch with a visiting Colombian colleague, and a visit from some Bogotá-based U.S. officials. This evening, the president of Colombia’s Truth Commission arrives in Washington, where he’ll be for the rest of the week, and I’ll brief him about his visit.

In between, I hope to post items here.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Even more here)

November 12, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional


  • Andres Schipani, Joe Leahy, Brazil’s Generals Vow to Stay Out of Politics (The Financial Times (UK), November 12, 2018).

    General Villas Bôas said the country was “politically mature” with strong institutions. “Brazil will not turn into a fascist country. That’s not in our nature,” he said

Central America Regional, Mexico

  • Alberto Pradilla, Caravana Migrante: Frio y Tos en Medio de la Nada en Queretaro (Plaza Publica (Guatemala), November 12, 2018).

    Cientos de migrantes centroamericanos pasaron la noche del sábado 10 de noviembre al raso en el exterior del estadio Corregidora, en Querétaro. Están enfermos. Todo el mundo tose


  • Edinson Arley Bolanos, Viaje a los Archivos de Inteligencia del Das (El Espectador (Colombia), November 12, 2018).

    Reposan en más de 12.000 cajas. ¿Cómo llegaron ahí? ¿Por qué la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz (JEP) dice que los archivos están en riesgo? ¿Por qué este tribunal transicional pide su custodia? ¿Están completos? ¿Qué dicen?


  • Adam Entous, Jon Lee Anderson, The Mystery of the Havana Syndrome (The New Yorker, November 12, 2018).

    After the State Department’s presence was diminished, what remained of the C.I.A. station was closed down, on Pompeo’s orders


  • Alejandra Guillen, Mago Torres, Marcela Turati, El Pais de las 2 Mil Fosas (A Donde Van los Desaparecidos (Mexico), November 12, 2018).

    En México 37 mil 485 personas están reportadas como desaparecidas entre diciembre de 2006 y octubre pasado, según los registros oficiales. Se desconoce cuántas de ellas están en fosas


The day ahead: November 9, 2018

I should be reachable from late morning to the end of the day. (How to contact me)

I have less on the schedule today: attending a discussion with a visiting Colombian official first thing in the morning, then I’ll be in the office. I need to catch up on correspondence, especially from yesterday when I wasn’t near a keyboard at all. I’ll probably help with WOLA’s response to Trump’s rule, being released today, illegally rolling back access to asylum. I’ll give a thorough revision to our draft report on Colombia, based on fieldwork done two months ago.

Also I’d like to post here several things that we’ve produced over the last few weeks—writing, podcasts, graphics—that I haven’t shared here because it’s just been too busy.

The day ahead: November 8, 2018

I’m hard to reach today. (How to contact me)

I’ve got six events on the calendar today, including two speaking events. I’m guest-teaching a class of visiting Latin American officials at the National Defense University’s Perry Center, talking about U.S. security aid programs. I’m talking at a small event about Colombia at WOLA. Then a couple of meetings with a scholar and an activist. Then seeing Colombia’s peace commissioner, who is in town, at the country’s embassy. Finally, a dinner meeting with WOLA supporters.

So I don’t expect to be posting here, or really even able to answer the phone.

The End of One-Party Rule is the End of Trump’s Border Wall

Sorry, but no.

Even before the Democratic Party won majority control of the House of Representatives, it wasn’t clear how Donald Trump was going to be able to get his border wall through Congress, which must approve the funding for it. Senate rules make it possible to block big budget outlays—like $25 billion for a wall—if 60 senators don’t first allow a vote to proceed. The Senate’s Republicans were (and still are) well short of that “filibuster-proof majority,” and Trump had been threatening to shut down the government to try to break the inevitable logjam of opposition.

His bargaining position just got far weaker. With the result of Tuesday’s midterm elections, Trump’s border wall has hit a wall of its own. With a Democratic majority, there is no way that a piece of legislation with border-wall money can pass the House of Representatives. Full stop.

Democrats will now write the first draft of all funding legislation. The Homeland Security appropriations bill will be drafted by a subcommittee headed by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, who strongly opposes Trump’s wall. “I am acutely aware of America’s security funding priorities,” she said in January. “We will not address our security needs by building this wall.” In July 2017, when the appropriations subcommittee that she will now preside met to approve the 2018 Homeland Security budget bill, Rep. Roybal-Allard introduced an amendment that would have cut Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Assets and Infrastructure funding by $1,571,239,000—the exact cost of the border wall—and to use it for other purposes. The amendment failed by a party-line vote of 22 to 30.

Democrats will also decide ahead of time which bills and amendments may be considered on the floor of the House of Representatives. Because there are so many representatives, the House has a Rules Committee that acts as a gatekeeper. It meets before any major legislation comes to the House floor, to decide which bills and amendments will be “in order”—that is, permitted to be considered—during the next day’s debate. Republicans have used the Rules Committee to prevent much legislation and amendments from coming to the floor, ruling it “out of order.” As of January, though, this powerful committee will be chaired by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), a longtime advocate of human rights in Latin America.

It is very hard to imagine a scenario in which President Trump gets his border wall through this House of Representatives. And if it doesn’t get through the House, it doesn’t get through Congress, and it doesn’t get funded.

Unless: if the president really wants his border wall, Democrats might be open to a deal if it includes big concessions to their agenda. President Trump would have to give the Democratic Party something very big to win their approval for his wall. That “something” would probably have to do with immigration policy.

In 2017, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) reportedly offered not to filibuster a package of border-wall money if the White House and Senate Republicans supported legislation allowing “Dreamers” to stay in the United States. That deal fell through, and now that judicial decisions have preserved Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for now, the Democrats would probably demand much more for border-wall funding. Their demands would probably extend to preserving access to asylum, strict limits on family detention and separation, non-deportation of migrants with Temporary Protected Status, reforms to CBP and ICE, and probably other demands that strike at the heart of Donald Trump and Stephen Miller’s anti-immigrant crusade.

If the White House isn’t willing to concede a lot on immigration—and after the over-the-top campaign rhetoric we’ve just heard, it probably isn’t—then Trump’s border wall is dead and done with. We are now “beyond the wall.”

The day ahead: November 7, 2018

I’m most reachable in the latter part of the afternoon. (How to contact me)

I was up way too late last night watching election returns. I’m not at my cognitive best, but I’m delighted that one house of the U.S. Congress will be run by some people whose views of U.S. policy toward Latin America at least sometimes resemble mine. And that there will now be a meaningful check on presidential power. Let’s just enjoy that for a moment.

Otherwise, I’ve got meetings this morning with a journalist and some European diplomats, and an after-lunch strategy/debrief meeting with staff here at WOLA. When not there, I’ll be at my desk, fighting sleepiness and catching up with news and correspondence. Also, a bit of writing: yesterday, I finished a first draft of a behemoth report on Colombia (19,000 words! 171 footnotes!), and now it’s time to tighten up the prose.

Live updates of my House vote spreadsheet

I’ll keep updating this all night. Keep refreshing this page, or better yet, the Google Sheets page is here.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

John Moore/Getty Images photo at The Texas Tribune.

(Even more here)

November 6, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

  • Alberto Manguel, Colm Toibin, Deborah Eisenberg, Et Al., Maaza Mengiste, Margaret Atwood, Concentration Camps for Kids: An Open Letter (The New York Review of Books, November 6, 2018).

    This generation will be remembered for having allowed for concentration camps for children to be built on “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” This is happening here and now, but not in our names

  • Kate Morrissey, Ice Moves to Silence Detention Center Volunteer Visitors (The San Diego Union-Tribune, November 6, 2018).

    The confidentiality sections of the new forms require volunteers to agree not to share information they learn inside without written permission from the warden

Central America Regional, Mexico

  • Mariano v. Osnaya, Monica Wise Robles, Mustafa Khalili, Tom Silverstone, Video: La Caravana: On the Road With the Migrant Caravan (The Guardian (Uk), November 6, 2018).

    Thousands of migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala head north hoping to find work and a better life in the US. The largest Central American caravan in decades keeps growing as thousands more join this journey – but when they reach Mexico, the migrant caravan starts taking different directions

  • and Maria Verza, Mark Stevenson, Sonia Perez D., Migrants Straggle Into Mexico City to Shelter at Stadium (Associated Press, ABC News, November 6, 2018).

    Authorities counted more than 2,000 migrants entering the Jesus Martinez stadium by midafternoon Monday, and a steady flow continued into the night


  • Duro Pulso en el Congreso para Cambiar Acuerdo de Paz (El Tiempo (Colombia), November 6, 2018).

    Ya no se creará la sala especial para los militares que proponía Paloma, sino que habrá 14 magistrados más en la JEP elegidos por instancias como la Judicatura y el Procurador, entre otros

El Salvador

  • Molly o’toole, Can Megachurches Save el Salvador? (The New Republic, November 6, 2018).

    Gang bosses are increasingly granting those under their command desistance—a status change from “active” to “calmado,” meaning “calmed down”—if they convert to evangelicalism


  • Ricardo Barrientos, Presupuesto 2019: Quitarle a la Justicia para Darle al Ejercito (Plaza Publica (Guatemala), November 6, 2018).

    Pese a una reducción del techo presupuestario global, el Ejército estaría recibiendo en 2019 casi 800 millones de quetzales más a costa de recortes al sector justicia y al gasto social


The day ahead: November 6, 2018

I’m reachable anytime except mid-day. (How to contact me)

I voted early, and my kid’s school is closed, so I’m working at home this morning. Mainly preparing a talk I’ll be giving to a class of Latin American officials at the National Defense University on Thursday. Then I’m off for some mid-day parent-teacher conferences, after which I’ll spend the rest of the day in the office. I expect to draft several more pages of a big Colombia report (almost done, I can almost taste it), then go home this evening, where I’ll anxiously watch the midterm election returns on at least three screens at once.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

John Moore/Getty Images photo at The Washington Post. Caption: “U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents take part in a training exercise at the U.S.-Mexico border on Monday in Hidalgo, Tex.”

(Even more here)

November 5, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

  • Paul Sonne, Trump’s Border Deployments Could Cost $200 Million by Year-End (The Washington Post, November 5, 2018).

    The total price of President Trump’s military deployment to the border, including the cost of National Guard forces that have been there since April, could climb well above $200?million by the end of 2018 and grow significantly

Bolivia, Peru

Central America Regional, Mexico


  • Ramiro Bejarano Guzman, El Peor Remedio (El Espectador (Colombia), November 5, 2018).

    Estos 14 nuevos magistrados quedarían estratégicamente distribuidos en las demás salas de la JEP, como quintacolumnistas o caballo de Troya

  • Rodrigo Uprimny, Reforma a la Jep y Pacto por la Paz (El Espectador (Colombia), November 5, 2018).

    Este proyecto malo e inconstitucional podría tener efectos positivos si hace parte de un pacto público y serio de todas las fuerzas políticas, incluida la FARC, para implementar, con ajustes que no toquen su esencia, el Acuerdo de Paz

Colombia, Venezuela


My pessimistic (or perhaps realistic) House spreadsheet

I hesitate to share this because it reveals how unhinged the midterm elections have made me. But here’s a spreadsheet of 70 House districts that could conceivably go either way in tomorrow’s vote.

To win a majority of the House of Representatives, Democrats will have to carry 33 of these 70. Nearly half. That is, they need to hold the ten Democrat-held districts listed here, and take 23 more.

After an unhealthily obsessive study of polls and coverage, I’ve given each of the 70 districts a score.

  • If it looks like a likely Democratic pickup, it gets a 1.
  • If it’s too close to call but I think it’s a plausible Democratic win, it gets a 0.5. That way, every two “plausible” districts equals one Democratic pickup.
  • If it’s a longshot, it gets a 0.
  • If it’s close but there’s a plausible chance that a Democratic seat could flip Republican, it’s a -0.5.
  • If the Democrat is likely to lose, it’s a -1 (that’s Radinovich’s seat in Minnesota, and a result of court-ordered redistricting in Pennsylvania-14).

I’ll update this through election night. But as of 5:00PM on Monday the 6th, I see the Democratic Party just barely squeaking by with a net gain of 23 seats, giving them a bare 218-217 majority:

You may score these districts more optimistically than I do. But I’ve been burned before, and by my reckoning, the Democrats will just barely make it.

Most analysts seem to be expecting the Democrats to pick up about 35 seats. (I’m closer to the RealClearPolitics map, which predicts a 26.5 seat Democratic pickup, for a 221.5-213.5 majority.) Sorry, but I just don’t see 35 seats.

There’s no wiggle room. This spreadsheet explains why I’m feeling pretty anxious about the Trump administration being subjected to any meaningful oversight and accountability over the next two years.

If I’m wrong and it’s a blowout, I’ll be delighted to admit how cracked my crystal ball is on Wednesday.

The day ahead: November 2, 2018

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

I’ve got an internal meeting in the morning and a lunchtime meeting with a Senate staffer. Otherwise I’m writing: trying to finish a huge Colombia report and getting a start on a memo for a funder. I plan to work at home in the afternoon.

Older Posts
Get a weekly update in your e-mail:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.