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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Event December 9: Coca and Eradication Four Years into Colombia’s “Post-Accord” Phase

Colombia has broken its annual record for forced manual coca eradication, and renewed aerial herbicide fumigation looms in 2021.

We’ll be discussing this with some longtime colleagues in Colombia a week from Wednesday: December 9, at 1:30 Eastern. Here’s the text of the event announcement, where you can RSVP. Please share.

(And also — on Friday December 11 I’m putting together a new discussion of COVID-era civil-military relations, covering six countries. Mark your calendar and join for both events if you’re able.)

Four years after the signing of a historic peace accord, hundreds of thousands of Colombian families continue to rely on the coca crop. The government, with U.S. support, has already broken its annual record for forced eradication, during the pandemic, and little of it has been coordinated with food security or rural development assistance. Now, a revival of a controversial aerial herbicide fumigation program is looming.

How are coca cultivating communities responding? How does all of this relate to the peace accord? What might happen if fumigation restarts? What are the costs of eradication, both financially and in terms of rights? Will pursuing the same strategies pursued during the past 30 years really yield a different result? What happened with the peace accords’ crop substitution program? What would a better coca policy look like? How should the new U.S. administration adjust its assistance programs?

WOLA, Elementa, CODHES, the Instituto Pensar of the Universidad Javeriana, the Alianza de Mujeres Tejedoras de Vida, and the Corporación Viso Mutop look forward to addressing these topics on Wednesday, December 9, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. (U.S. eastern and Bogotá time).

Event Details:
Wednesday, December 9
1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. EST



  • Marco Romero
    CODHES, Bogotá
  • Nancy Sánchez Méndez
    Mujeres Tejedoras de Vida, Mocoa, Putumayo
  • Adriana Muro
    Elementa DDHH, Colombia-México
  • Adam Isacson
    WOLA, Washington D.C.
  • Pedro Arenas
    Corporación Viso Mutop, Bogotá


  • Marcela Ceballos
    Instituto Pensar, Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá

Simultaneous interpretation will be available.

WOLA Podcast: The Transition: The future of Latin America’s anti-corruption fight

Here’s a third WOLA podcast in which, as the United States pivots between two very different administrations, we step back and take stock of things. In this one, I talk to my colleagues Adriana Beltrán and Moses Ngong about the region’s fight against corruption: how unpunished corruption underlies so many other problems, who is fighting it, and how we must support them internationally with all we’ve got.

The .mp3 file is here. The podcast feed is here. And here’s the text from WOLA’s podcast landing page:

The United States is in a transition period between the Trump and Biden administrations. For U.S.-Latin American relations, this will mean a sharp shift between two very different visions of how Washington should work with the hemisphere.

In this episode, a third in a series about the transition, we talk about corruption and efforts to fight it. WOLA Director for Citizen Security Adriana Beltrán and Mexico Program Assistant Moses Ngong call corruption “endemic: a system, a network, a web of relations” that underlies many other problems in Latin America, from insecurity, to susceptibility to natural disasters, to forced migration.

Focusing particularly on Mexico and Central America, we discuss who the region’s anti-corruption reformers are, the challenges they face, and how the United States and other international actors can best support them. A key point for the Biden administration is that other policy goals in the Americas will be impossible to achieve without a determined approach to corruption that upholds reformers.

The work of WOLA’s Mexico and Citizen Security programs often takes on corruption. Resources mentioned in the podcast include:

This is the second of a series of discussions in which the podcast will talk about the transition. Last week, we covered migration, and the week before we talked about U.S. credibility and the tone of relations. Next week, the series’ final episode will take on the state of human rights and democracy.

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

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from La Tercera (Chile).

(Even more here)

December 1, 2020

Argentina, Brazil

El encuentro se realizó manera virtual debido a la pandemia del coronavirus


Se pide la aprehensión inmediata de los nombrados, porque pueden abandonar el país

“En Bolivia no existen cárteles, eso no pasa en el país, porque no tenemos los grados de violencia necesaria para que el crimen organizado genere cárteles”, dijo la autoridad


An area seven times larger than Greater London has been lost in what one activist called a ‘humiliating and shameful’ destruction

Observers called the result a triumph for diversity and a blow to Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who had backed Crivella’s campaign

Bolsonaro has turned that rage inward, against his own employees. They report being intimidated by superiors, threatened with internal investigations, demoted from leadership roles, and even fired

An organized gang besieged Criciúma, on the southeastern coast, robbing banks and briefly taking hostages. The police later arrested four suspects and retrieved some stolen cash


Para Rojas es claro que esa falta de liderazgo y una incompetencia interna no generan confianza en la tropa

“Amanecemos con la terrible noticia de otro compañero asesinado, Anuar Vargas (Naver David López), en el municipio de Maicao, La Guajira”, informó el partido político creado tras los acuerdos de paz

Emilio Archila, quien funge como consejero para la estabilización y consolidación, es considerado uno de los mejores funcionarios del Gobierno y se refiere a la ejecución del acuerdo de paz

Señaló a Edison Bolaños, reportero de El Espectador, alegando que no realizó el trabajo de manera independiente ni diligente y afirmó que las decisiones editoriales tenían como propósito encubrir a Jesús Santrich

La violencia no solo persiste, sino que los actores locales coinciden en que la inseguridad dificulta el desarrollo rural, la reincorporación de los excombatientes y las acciones de la JEP y la Comisión de la Verdad


El escritor y periodista Carlos Manuel Álvarez narra la lucha del Movimiento San Isidro, desarticulado a la fuerza por la policía en un operativo en el que fue detenido


Un General Brigadier y un cabo obtienen suspensiones; fueron señalados por uso excesivo de la fuerza tras enfrentamiento en Tamaulipas donde murieron nueve personas en 2016

Esta tarde, poco después de las 17:00 horas, los sujetos armados se apostaron en Puerto la Judía y comenzaron a desalojar las viviendas para después incendiarlas

U.S.-Mexico Border

That makes 2020 the third deadliest year for migrants at the Arizona-Mexico border since the medical examiner began compiling the data in 2000


La oferta de las empresas Florida Supply (Orlando) y Arista Aviation (Alabama) se orienta a tres helicópteros Sikorsky UH-60L renovados e inspeccionados, a un precio básico de oferta (sin opcionales) para el gobierno de Uruguay de USD 4.950.000 cada uno


Exports of oil surged to more than half a million barrels a day in November, with nearly all of it heading to China

Vanessa Neumann told the Financial Times she had quit because of doubts within the opposition over Mr Guaidó’s future, concerns over strategy and dismay over bureaucratic delays in Washington to the release of frozen Venezuelan government funds

Juan Guaidó no es candidato en las elecciones legislativas del próximo domingo, que denuncia como “un fraude”, y apuesta todo a un plebiscito con el que quiere avalar una prórroga al período de la actual Asamblea Nacional

The day ahead: December 1, 2020

I’ll be quite hard to reach today. (How to contact me)

I have very few windows of uncommitted time today, and my replies to any messages may be delayed. A podcast I’d planned to record got put off until today, so I’m recording two. I also have a border coalition meeting and calls with three other colleagues on the calendar. And I’m writing on a deadline.

It’s going to be a long day, and tomorrow is shaping up to be similar, so I may be unresponsive.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Simone Dalmasso photo at Plaza Pública (Guatemala). Caption: “La agente Leonor Aguilar guarda una rosa blanca en las manos en signo de paz y de respeto hacia los manifestantes por parte de la fuerza policial, al principio de la manifestación en la Plaza de la Constitución”

(Even more here)

November 30, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

De Santiago a Lima o Bogotá, los movimientos estudiantiles cambian la agenda de sus países. Una nueva generación de peruanos desencadenó hace dos semanas la caída de Manuel Merino

Despite a relatively light footprint in terms of manpower and materiel, Russia has managed to maintain and strengthen its military-security relationship with three key states: Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua

“People are really overwhelmed trying to figure out the sheer issues, the sheer number of pieces you have to coordinate. This is the genius of Stephen Miller”


Los dirigentes cocaleros, durante una reunión con el grupo de expertos que fueron enviados por la CIDH, presentaron pericias de balística. Además, declararon que marchaban pacíficamente y no estaban armados

En un año, pasaron de pedir la renuncia del presidente, a participar de la contención de protesta, a escuchar golpes en sus portones y a sentarse en la silla de los acusados. Dicen que es posible que decidan bajar los brazos ante futuras protestas


A popular president who has failed to create his own political party — and currently has no political affiliation — was not only unable to help those he endorsed, but in some cases might have contributed to their downfall

“I have sources and they said there was a lot of fraud,” Bolsonaro said of the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3


Ayer el general William René Salamanca, inspector de la Policía que inició una investigación contra el director de la institución, aseguró que le estaban haciendo seguimientos y que incluso habían abordado a su empleada para pedir detalles de sus movimientos

Desde que se firmó el Acuerdo han asesinado a 249 excombatientes y la cifra va en aumento todos los días. Esperemos que al Gobierno no le siga dando dislexia con esos números

Así de contundente es el excomisionado de Paz Sergio Jaramillo, en el análisis que hace tras cuatro años de la firma del Acuerdo del Teatro Colón entre el Gobierno y las Farc

Between 400 and 600 hectares of coca could be destroyed daily with aerial fumigation, he said, compared with just 170 hectares with manual eradication

La economía de guerra en muchos lugares de Colombia, las desmovilizaciones de grupos armados, el actual proceso de paz torpedeado por el gobierno actual, permite un ejército de reserva criminal

El Espectador conoció los 24 informes de Medicina Legal, así como detalles de las investigaciones que buscan esclarecer lo que ocurrió la noche del 21 de marzo

Solicitamos a las autoridades que garanticen la seguridad de nuestro reportero Edinson Bolaños, quien fue sujeto de falsos señalamientos por Martínez que han puesto su vida en riesgo

En una mirada de largo aliento, la pregunta es sobre cómo seguir la trayectoria de desactivación del conflicto armado y de reducción de la violencia

Colombia, Venezuela

Aunque son un poco menos del 4% de la población, ellos han puesto a lo largo del 2020 el 5% de los muertos por ese delito


The Friday stakeout around the culture ministry of around 300 creatives was sparked by authorities’ crackdown on the San Isidro Movement of dissident artists and activists

El mayor logro de ese largo viernes 27 no fue la promesa de dejar de reprimir –cosa que jamás cumplirá un Estado como el cubano–, sino haber obligado al poder a negociar


El fuego creció al lado de manifestantes pacíficos ¿quién prende las mechas en las protestas en contra del gobierno?


El expresidente fue retenido en posesión de 18 mil dólares en efectivo; él aseguró que ese dinero no es de su pertenencia


De acuerdo con este documento, los hechos fueron informados en ese momento a la comandancia de la sexta zona militar de la secretaría de la Defensa Nacional y al Centro de Investigación y Seguridad Nacional

La misma declaración de este testigo protegido es la principal prueba contra el capitán José Martínez Crespo, el único militar detenido. El uniformado dice ser un “chivo expiatorio”

Once they viewed the boat chase video, the algorithm began to offer them a trickle, then a flood of clips that appeared to come from drug trafficking groups in Mexico


El Estado-partido-familia, El Estado como prótesis del FSLN, y la dinámica de la militarización

U.S.-Mexico Border

Advisers involved with the transition team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss planning for the incoming administration, rejected the notion that there would be any attempt to dismantle the existing border wall, with one adviser calling the wall a “distraction”


Aunque Maduro asegura que la unidad élite de la Policía Nacional continuará en funciones, las presiones internacionales podrían obligar a transformarla

Acerca de las ejecuciones extrajudiciales, 2017 fue el peor año, pues documentaron 103 casos

The day ahead: November 30, 2020

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

I’ve got a long internal meeting this morning and will be recording a podcast mid-afternoon (which I’ll post near the end of the week). Otherwise I should be reachable as I organize an upcoming event and do some light writing about Colombia.

Weekly email update is out

I just sent off another e-mail update to those who’ve subscribed. I left a trail of content last week, and it’s all captured here: a podcast, a newspaper interview, a brief Colombia peace update, a brief border update, video of a great panel discussion, alerts about events I’m putting together on the 9th and 11th, some recommended “longreads,” links to online events that I know about this week, and a few funny tweets.

Here’s the page with past editions and a blank to add your e-mail address.

Latin America-related online events this week

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

  • 7:00–8:15am at ¿Qué papel puede tener Japón en la recuperación post-Covid-19 de América Latina? (RSVP required).
  • 12:00–1:30 at La digitalización de las Pymes: Propuestas de solución para la recuperación económica post-COVID (RSVP required).

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

  • 9:00–10:15 at Leveraging Japan-LAC Relations Post-Covid-19 (RSVP required).
  • 10:00 at Hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission: Charting a New Path Forward (link should be posted soon to Committee website).
  • 10:30–11:30 at US Foreign Aid to the Northern Triangle 2014–2019: Promoting Success by Learning from the Past (RSVP required).
  • 11:00–12:30 at Latin American Trade Alliances (RSVP required).
  • 1:00–2:30 at Democracy in a Post-Pandemic Latin America (RSVP required).

Thursday, December 3, 2020

  • 11:30–12:45 at Venezuela’s Assembly Elections (RSVP required).
  • 4:00–5:15 at LGBTQ Rights and US Foreign Policy: A Need to Lead (RSVP required).

Friday, December 4, 2020

  • 10:00 at CRIES Zoom: Los actores globales y el (re) descubrimiento de América Latina (RSVP required).
  • 12:00 at Family Separation and Reunification Efforts (RSVP required).

5 links from the past week

  • The U.S. Department of Justice ordered the arrest (and then the release) of former Mexican Defense Minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos because it believed the General was tied to a regional drug trafficking group based in Mexico’s Pacific state of Nayarit. At the Mexico Violence Resource Project, Nathaniel Morris tells the recent story of drug trafficking in Nayarit, a principal source of illegal opioids, and the extreme complicity of local government.
  • On a related topic, Dolia Estévez at Mexico’s SinEmbargo talks to Craig Deare, a defense academic who specializes in Mexico, about the Cienfuegos case. Deare finds it unlikely that the General would throw so much away just for a relationship with a minor narco group. The article also includes a long transcript of a 2018 interview Gen. Cienfuegos gave to Deare. Cienfuegos says much that I disagree with, but it’s a rare glimpse into the worldview of Mexico’s top-level military.
  • The quarterly “metering updates” from the University of Texas’s Robert Strauss Center have become an essential document for understanding what’s happening to asylum-seeking migrants at the border. The latest edition finds that, eight months into the pandemic, 15,690 asylum seekers are STILL on waitlists in nine Mexican border cities, hoping to present at U.S. ports of entry.
  • A long, fascinating, but ultimately inconclusive investigation by Israel’s Ha’aretz reveals a host of details about the Mexico operations of NSO, the Israeli company that makes and sells the super-controversial Pegasus phone-hacking software.
  • One link that’s not about Mexico: Fernando Silva at ContraCorriente details how even in the capital, Tegucigalpa, the Honduran government’s response to victims of hurricanes Eta and Iota has been improvised, politicized, and far from sufficient.

Colombia peace update: Week of November 22, 2020

Cross-posted from WOLA’s site. Between now and the end of the year, we’re producing weekly sub-1,000-word updates in English about peace accord implementation and related topics. After that, we will evaluate the experience—both audience response and our own time commitment—before deciding whether to produce these permanently.

Fourth anniversary of the FARC peace accord

On November 24, 2016, President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño signed a revised peace accord at a ceremony in Bogotá’s Teatro Colón. Four years later, analysts tend to note an intensification of violence in the past year or two, especially compared to the immediate pre- and post-conflict period. Most find Colombia’s armed conflict fragmenting into a collection of regional conflicts with different dynamics. Some contend that the government has not adapted to this new reality.

Here are some analyses published to coincide with the fourth anniversary:

  • An infographic from the Fundación Ideas para la Paz counts 65% more armed-group actions (318) in the fourth year after accord than it counted in the last year before the accord (192). The ELN, in first place, slightly exceeds dissidents’ activity.
  • “The question beginning to be asked is whether the window of opportunity opened by the accord has closed and we are in the midst of a new cycle of political-military violence, or whether we are just going through a difficult patch in a transition to peace,” notes Juanita León, director of La Silla Vacía.
  • CERAC, which maintains a database of conflict events, finds a slight increase in conflict-related violence so far in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
  • Sergio Jaramillo, the Santos government’s high commissioner for peace during the FARC dialogues, praised some aspects of the Duque government’s accord implementation, but voiced concern about rising violence in “post-conflict” territories.
  • El Espectador published a timeline widget highlighting major peace and conflict events over the past four years.
  • Oft-cited political scientist Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín talked about his new book warning of “A New Cycle of War in Colombia.”
  • “The country has improved a lot in many political and social areas, but there has been a huge deterioration of security in the last two years. We’ve had over 70 massacres and a rise in killings and illegal economies in various areas,” Ariel Ávila of the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación told Al Jazeera.
  • “Strengthening the state’s presence in conflict-affected areas is a work in progress, which needs to be accelerated,” wrote former European Union Special Envoy Eamon Gilmore.

JEP hearing on ex-FARC protections

On November 25 the post-conflict transitional justice tribunal (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP) held an 8-hour hearing about threats and killings of demobilized guerrillas. The day before—the 2016 peace accords’ fourth anniversary—Paula Osorio, whose body was found in Yuto, Chocó, became the 243rd former FARC member to be murdered.

Just over 13,000 FARC members demobilized in 2017. At the current rate of one killing every five days, 1,600 ex-combatants will be dead by the end of 2024, said the director of the JEP’s Investigation and Accusations Unit (UIA), Giovanni Álvarez.

The JEP had ordered the government to take “precautionary measures” to protect former FARC members among its defendants. If they are killed or intimidated from testifying, ex-combatants will neither be able to clarify their crimes nor provide restitution to victims.

Álvarez summarized a JEP report about attacks on ex-combatants. Nearly all victims were rank-and-file guerrillas: only 10 of the dead had leadership positions. All but six were men. All of the killings have been concentrated in 17 percent of the country’s 1,100 municipalities.

Martha Janeth Mancera, the acting vice-prosecutor general, testified that as of November 11 the Fiscalía had “clarified”—identified the likely killers—in 108 of 225 cases (48%) it had taken on. She said that of these 108 cases, 44% were likely carried out by FARC dissident groups, 11% by the ELN, 10% by the Gulf Clan neo-paramilitary group, and 6% by other criminal structures. Mancera did not specify the likely killers of the other 29 percent.

The dissident groups, Álvarez pointed out, should not be considered as a monolithic bloc. There are two main networks—Gentil Duarte’s group active in 155 municipalities and Iván Márquez’s “Segunda Marquetalia” active in 44—plus “openly narcotized and lumpenized” groups active in 38 municipalities.

The acting vice-prosecutor said that to date, the body had managed to bring 33 cases of ex-combatant killers to sentencing. She blamed the lack of greater progress on a lack of specialized judges “so that we can manage to advance.” She added that the Fiscalía had identified likely masterminds, rather than just “trigger-pullers,” in 52 cases of ex-combatant killings, attempts, threats, or disappearances.

She added that, when ex-combatants receive threats, the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit has been too slow to respond. “We send the alert to the National Protection Unit, but, it must be said calmly, this process is very slow. The most agile thing is to report to the Agency for Reincorporation and Normalization (ARN), which carries out the relocation of the ex-combatant.” In some cases, she added “we’ve had to send more than 10 official requests in which we say that this is an extreme risk case.”

Somos Defensores report

Somos Defensores is a non-governmental organization that documents attacks and killings of human rights defenders and social leaders. It takes care to verify cases, and its numbers are usually similar to those kept by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The group’s latest report, covering the third quarter of 2020, hasn’t yet been posted to its website, but summaries appear at El Espectador and Verdad Abierta. They indicate that:

  • 40 human rights defenders were killed, in 15 departments of Colombia, between July and September.
  • The number of murders stood at 135 by the end of September. Somos Defensores’ tally surpassed its figure for all of 2019, 124, in August.
  • Counting all types of aggression for which a responsible party can be alleged, neo-paramilitary groups are believed responsible for 54 attacks, FARC dissidents for 20, the ELN for 11, and the security forces for 8.

The organization noted that it may be undercounting, as the pandemic has made it difficult to verify killings in the remote territories where they often happen.


  • Human Rights Watch asked Colombia’s Senate not to promote Army Generals Marcos Evangelista Pinto and Edgar Alberto Rodríguez, who commanded units alleged to have committed large numbers of “false positive” killings in the 2000s.
  • HRW also released a report on March prison protests, just as the COVID-19 lockdowns began, that led to the killing of 24 prisoners in Bogota’s La Modelo jail. According to coroners’ reports, the wounds on the prisoners’ bodies indicated that prison guards were shooting to kill.
  • Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said that forces have eradicated 111,131 hectares of coca so far in 2020, on track for the government’s goal of 130,000 hectares by year’s end.
  • On November 24, the fourth anniversary of the final peace accord, a FARC party senator for the first time presided over a meeting of Colombia’s Senate: Griselda Lobo Silva, once the romantic partner of deceased maximum FARC leader Manuel Marulanda, is the Senate’s second vice-president during the chamber’s 2020-21 session.
  • A November government decree allows lands seized under Colombia’s asset forfeiture laws to be handed over to ex-combatants for approved productive projects. Transferring land to former guerrillas who sought to become farmers was a question the peace accord had omitted.
  • A La Silla Vacía investigation finds 7,491 complaints of police abuse or brutality since 2016, not one of which has even reached the indictment phase.
  • Kyle Johnson and Juanita Vélez, of the recently founded Conflict Responses think tank, map out the FARC dissident group phenomenon around the country.
  • The New York Times published a feature about the arduous journey of Venezuelans leaving Colombia because the pandemic dried up economic opportunities. Once they find that Venezuela is “in free fall,” many are going back to Colombia.
  • The U.S. Air Force sent two giant B-52H Stratofortress bombers to Colombia for “Brother’s Shield,” a Colombian Air-Force-led exercise. The planes, which ceased production in 1962, also participated in the annual regional UNITAS naval exercise, hosted this year by Ecuador.
  • The government’s High Counselor for Stabilization issued a statement reminding the FARC that it has until December 31 to turn over all promised illegally acquired assets.
  • WOLA’s latest human rights update documents 28 cases and developments of concern since mid-September.
  • The Bogotá daily El Espectador ran a wide-ranging interview with WOLA’s Adam Isacson.

December 11 event: Civil-military relations in Latin America after nine months of pandemic

I continue to be very concerned about what COVID-19 is going to mean for the role of militaries in Latin America’s democracies, many of which were already having a hard time consolidating.

We had an event about this in September with experts from five countries, with our friend Claudio Alonso, an Uruguayan defense expert, moderating. (English highlights video here.)

Camilo will be back with us on December 11 at 12:00 noon Eastern for another round of conversations, this time with experts from six different countries. Please join us. The event will be in Spanish. Here’s the “save the date” information from WOLA’s site:

Las relaciones cívico-militares en América Latina después de nueve meses de pandemia

La Oficina en Washington para Asuntos Latinoamericanos (WOLA) cordialmente le invita a un webinario:

WOLA auspiciará una discusión necesaria de los últimos cambios de las relaciones cívico-militares regionales. Escucharemos presentaciones breves de expertos sobre cinco países, seguidas por una discusión abierta.

Detalles del evento:
Viernes, 11 de diciembre de 2020
12:00 p.m – 2:00 p.m.
Hora Este de los Estados Unidos
(EST – Washington DC, UTC−05:00)

Este webinario se transmitirá en la página de YouTube de WOLA.


  • Lilian Bobea
    Fitchburg State University
    Presentando sobre la República Dominicana
  • Iduvina Hernández
    Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM)
    Presentando sobre Guatemala
  • Francine Jácome
    Instituto Venezolano de Estudios Sociales y Políticos (INVESP)
    Presentando sobre Venezuela
  • Leticia Salomón
    Centro de Documentación de Honduras (CEDOH)
    Presentando sobre Honduras
  • Ricardo Soberón
    Centro de Investigación Drogas y Derechos Humanos (CIDDH)
    Presentando sobre Perú
  • Loreta Tellería
    Observatorio de Democracia y Seguridad
    Presentando sobre Bolivia

Claudio Alonso
Exdirector general de política de defensa
Ministerio de la Defensa Nacional de Uruguay

Adam Isacson
Director del programa de veeduría de defensa en WOLA

La discusión se hará en español.

Weekly border update: November 27, 2020

There’s so much happening at the U.S.-Mexico border—much of it outrageous, some of it heroic—that it’s hard to keep track. With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments in 900 words or less. We welcome your feedback.

Hurricanes expected to bring a rise in migration

In the aftermath of Hurricane Eta, which made landfall in Central America on November 3, and Hurricane Iota, which hit in almost the exact spot on November 16, aid workers and community leaders are telling media to expect a new wave of migration as many of the storms’ hardest-hit victims head north.

The hurricanes come on top of a COVID-19-related economic depression, which added to some of the world’s highest levels of criminal violence, in one of the world’s regions most susceptible to the impact of climate change.

Resulting migration “is going to be much bigger than what we have been seeing,” Jenny Arguello, a sociologist who studies migration flows in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, told the AP. “I believe entire communities are going to leave.” Added Mauro Verzeletti, director of the Casa del Migrante in Guatemala City, “They’ve already started to come, it has begun.”

Journalists from Mexico and Honduras wrote in a Washington Post column that the phrase “we’re taking a trip in January” is being heard in northern Honduras neighborhoods hit by the hurricanes. Alberto Pradilla and Jennifer Ávila recommend that President-Elect Joe Biden offer or expand Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to citizens of the affected countries, and end the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” (or Migrant Protection Protocols, MPP) policy, which has sent more than 70,000 asylum-seeking migrants back across the border to await their hearings in Mexico.

Migrants who seek to travel in “caravans” are unlikely to succeed: Mexican and Guatemalan forces have dispersed all attempted caravans since 2019. Those who pay large amounts to migrant smugglers are more likely to make it across Mexico to the U.S. border. But then, it’s not clear how quickly the Biden administration will dismantle MPP or the blanket CDC quarantine order that has quickly expelled most asylum seekers since March.

“If Biden hits reverse too hard, it could cost him politically,” observes Bloomberg Opinion columnist Noah Smith. Already, publications like the archconservative Washington Times have begun using the phrase “Biden surge” to describe increases in undocumented migration that actually began during the summer. CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan alleged that “perceived and or anticipated shifts in policies” once Biden takes office are a factor driving the increase.

Alejandro Mayorkas, DHS secretary nominee, may go slow on border and asylum

The Biden transition announced its choice of Alejandro Mayorkas, the Cuban-born son of Jewish parents who headed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) during the Obama administration, as its nominee for Secretary for Homeland Security. The Washington Post described Mayorkas as “a savvy department veteran” whose choice “thrilled immigrant advocates.”

Mayorkas oversaw the rollout of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, while gaining a reputation for, former acting DHS secretary Rand Beers told The New York Times, balancing “a vigilance of security threats with an interest in helping immigrants in need.”

Bloomberg’s Smith expects a Secretary Mayorkas to take a go-slow approach to dismantling the Trump administration’s curbs on asylum for Central American migrants. “Biden may even negotiate new, though less rigid, agreements to keep some asylum seekers at home as the administration tries to improve living conditions in those countries,” he noted. Much, too, will be up to Biden’s choice to head the Department of Justice, which has jurisdiction over the immigration court system and its interpretation of asylum criteria.

Mayorkas sits on the board of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which has played a central role in the humanitarian and legal response to “Remain in Mexico” in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and elsewhere. Still, observers caution that MPP may not disappear immediately after the inauguration. Fernando García of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights told NBC that it remains unclear what will happen to those who have been “remaining in Mexico” for many months already, or how it might apply to a new wave of migrants. “To end it doesn’t mean now we have the capacity to bring everyone back right away and I’m very concerned. How are we going to handle it?”

McAllen processing facility closes for renovation

Processing capacity is the most crucial short-term need when a large number of protection-seeking migrants appears at the border. Border authorities need the ability to receive migrants at ports of entry, then quickly take personal and biometric information, scan for health issues, begin asylum paperwork, and enter people into refugee resettlement or alternatives-to-detention programs.

In Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, a warehouse-sized Central Processing Facility (CPC) played that role since the Obama administration’s CBP established it in 2014. Though migrants’ stays there rarely exceeded 72 hours, the facility gained notoriety for dehumanizing images of the cheap chain-link “cages” the facility used to separate groups.

The Washington Post reports that the CPC is to undergo renovation, in part using funds for upgrades in a 2019 emergency supplemental appropriation. This time, the Post notes, the chain link will be replaced “with clear plastic dividers,” with “more recreation and play areas for children, as well as more permanent kitchen, infirmary and shower facilities.”

The renovation will take a year and a half—which means no processing infrastructure will be available in the Rio Grande Valley if there is a wave of protection-seeking migration early in the Biden administration. The most likely solution will be to construct something temporary, like a “soft-sided” or tent-based facility.


  • Laura Weiss at The New Republic and Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post explore transitional justice or other non-repetition guarantees that a Biden administration might pursue to hold Trump officials accountable for “one of the largest-scale, ethnically motivated human rights abuses perpetrated by the U.S. government since Japanese internment.”
  • The latest in a two-year series of quarterly reports on “metering” at border ports of entry, published by the University of Texas’s Strauss Center, finds approximately 15,690 asylum seekers, in 9 Mexican border cities, currently on waitlists to have a chance to ask officials for protection.
  • The Trump administration, reversing itself, agreed to delay the imminent deportation of as many as a dozen women who alleged medical abuse at the Irwin County ICE detention center in Georgia.
  • NBC News reports on 28 migrant children and their asylum-seeking parents who are now facing deportation after months in a family detention center, where they refused an ICE offer to allow the children to stay in the United States, in custody of the office of Refugee Resettlement, if they separated from their parents.
  • A new GAO report on the status of eminent domain cases for wall construction, mostly in South Texas, detailed plans to acquire 1,016 tracts of private land totaling 3,752 acres.
  • The Hill reports on a “coming showdown” between the Trump administration and House Democrats about whether border wall money will be in the 2021 federal budget. Congress needs to pass a budget—or approve a continuing resolution— by December 11 to avoid a “government shutdown”, and the House and Senate bills differ wildly on border wall funding. There is some likelihood, though, that Joe Biden, who has pledged to stop wall construction, would be able to transfer any wall-building funds in the 2021 budget to other priorities.

“Measuring the drug trafficking problem by cultivated hectares is a mistake”

On Sunday evening I posted this tweet in response to a statement from Colombia’s Defense Minister that, while red meat for his political base, is just incredibly off-base as a strategy.

Juan Sebastián Lombo, a reporter from the Colombian daily El Espectador, reached out to me about this. We had a good conversation, and the newspaper did a good job of translating my gringo Spanish in a piece posted last night. Here’s a quick English translation.

“Measuring the drug trafficking problem by cultivated hectares is a mistake”: Adam Isacson

By Juan Sebastián Lombo, El Espectador, November 26, 2020

For Adam Isacson, head of the Defense Oversight Program at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), we must also talk about the absence of the state, poverty, inequality, corruption, and impunity.

Last Monday, Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo again referred to drug trafficking as “Colombians’ main enemy” and asked to restart glyphosate spraying to avoid clashes with growers protesting forced eradication. Amid many different responses, from the United States came a questioning of Trujillo’s position, pointing out that the Colombian government should see the real causes of drug trafficking.

The criticism came from Adam Isacson, director of the Defense Oversight Program at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). For most of Isacson’s career, he has focused on Colombia as a subject of study and has even accompanied several peace processes with different organizations, including that of Havana with the FARC. In an interview with El Espectador, Isacson discusses his criticisms of the Defense Minister’s position, gives WOLA’s perspective on human rights in the country, and even discusses their monitoring of the case of former President Álvaro Uribe.

Why do you say that the main problem in Colombia is not drug trafficking?

They are confusing a symptom with the causes. Drug trafficking is a serious problem in Colombia and has been since the 1970s, but it is much more important to think about why this illegal business thrives so much in your country. It is as if someone had cancer, but only focused on the resulting headaches. Why doesn’t the Minister of Defense talk about the vast territories where the state doesn’t reach? That is where coca is easily planted and laboratories are located. Why doesn’t he talk about poverty and inequality? Why doesn’t he talk about corruption and impunity? All this is the oxygen that drug trafficking breathes. To speak only of drug trafficking as the cause of all problems is 1980s rhetoric that’s very discredited. No one makes policy nowadays seriously thinking that ending drug trafficking is going to end the rest of the country’s problems.

Is Colombia wrong to continue with the same strategy then?

If prohibition were dropped and drugs were regulated, Colombia would probably do much better. The country has a certain problem of addiction to drugs like cocaine, but not as much as larger consumer countries. What Colombia suffers is that because it’s an illegal business, the cost of cocaine is high and that feeds organized crime, which corrupts everything. If it were a low cost, regulated product like alcohol, it would not cause so many problems. What we don’t know is if in the rest of the world the damage would be greater if it were legalized. How many more people would become addicted? How many would neglect their children? How many would die from an overdose? All these harms aren’t known. In the United States we are experimenting with legal marijuana, which is a drug with fewer health hazards. There is a fear of experimenting with more addictive drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin, among others. That’s why we have to say that one doesn’t know how it would go for the world as a while, but for Colombia specifically there would be a net benefit if cocaine were legalized.

You also talk about the coca growers and the government’s fixation on one of the weakest links.

Measuring the problem in hectares of coca cultivation is a mistake. A more useful figure would be the number of families forced to live off of that crop, that’s the figure that needs to be lowered. The United Nations, in 2017, revealed that there were at least 120,000 families, or half a million Colombians, living off coca, whether they were farmers, raspachines, processors, or others. That figure must be lowered by offering alternatives. The State must also reach the territories to offer services and legal economy alternatives. Eradicating does not reduce much the number of families that depend on coca, because replanting, and migration to plant elsewhere, are enormous. So the hectare number stays high. You have to really think about opportunities for those families. The security and governance situation where these families live is also an important issue.

WOLA has been following the peace process.

As has been documented by foundations, legislators like Juanita Goebertus, and the United Nations, there is a lot of work to be done on implementation. What is most behind schedule is everything having to do with the first chapter: rural reform and the state’s presence in the territory. Of course, Dr. Emilio Archila is doing what he can, with the resources he is given to implement the PDETs, but four years later, too much still just exists on paper, in plans, and in PowerPoint presentations. It has not been possible to implement the accord in many places, much less establish the physical presence of the state. This is a long-term issue, but so far they are far behind where they should be after four years of setting up implementation investment and personnel. The presence of the government in places like Bajo Cauca, Catatumbo, Tumaco, and La Macarena, among others, is not seen. In some places it is limited to the presence of troops, and often not even that. That’s what’s most lacking. In each chapter of the accord there are successes and failures. An important effort has been made in the demobilization and reintegration process, but more needs to be done, although it should be noted that well below 10 percent of ex-combatants have gone to the dissidents. The JEP and the Truth Commission are working, but they need more support and budget.

And with regard to crop substitution…

It’s a mixed picture. It’s something that the Duque government didn’t like. They stopped allowing the entry of new families [into the substitution program]. The current administration complains that the Santos government was making promises that could not be financed, and that is true. But the pace of delivery to families who committed to replacement has been too slow.

Since you were talking about the JEP before, how have you seen its work and the attacks from the governing party?

The JEP has always had the challenge that it is the product of a compromise, which does not satisfy anyone 100 percent. Everyone had to “swallow a toad.” The criticisms of the JEP are also because it was a reason the plebiscite was rejected, it was born weakened. In spite of that I believe that its magistrates have shown great professionalism and have built a fairly robust institution from scratch in only three years. They have not made any major political mistakes. Patricia Linares and Eduardo Cifuentes are upright, serious and professional people. With the last confessions of the Farc (Germán Vargas Lleras, Álvaro Gómez, and Jesús Bejarano) it has been shown that there is hope of revealing unknown truths, and this must continue. The most important challenge is that although most magistrates are great academics, they do not have political heavyweights to defend them. Another important element is that next year the first sentences will be handed down and it has not yet been defined how the ex-guerrillas and military personnel who have been prosecuted will be punished. This will be very important for the credibility of the JEP.

How does the organization view the human rights situation in Colombia?

We are seeing more massacres, more murders of human rights defenders and social leaders compared to the prior 10 years. We knew that the first years after the peace accord were going to be more violent than the last years of negotiation, but one would hope that, after that, institutions would adapt and justice would begin to function so that levels of violence would begin to diminish. But we aren’t seeing this, there is no significant increase in the number of convictions of the masterminds behind massacres and murders of leaders. When this impunity persists, the consequence is that the murderers feel free to continue killing.

The numbers continue to snowball. It is worrying that we see the rights situation worsening. There are elements within Ivan Duque’s government who are concerned, but there is no major action in the Ministries of Defense and Interior, the latter with the National Protection Unit. It remains to be seen whether the new Ombudsman will continue with the same energy as his predecessor, I hope so. We have to say out loud what the United Nations and other governments have said diplomatically: Colombia is not improving in human rights and there isn’t enough political will on the part of the government to do so.

Returning to the issue at hand, President Duque has said that drug trafficking is the main cause for the assassination of social leaders. Is there a possible truth here, or is this another simplification of the problem?

Drug trafficking is a source of funding, probably the main source of funding, for organized crime. That, often in collaboration with individuals in “legal” Colombia, is the main cause of the assassination of social leaders in Colombia. So it can be said that drug trafficking finances much of what Colombia is experiencing, but organized crime also lives from extortion, kidnapping, human trafficking, illegal mining and so many other things that require control of a territory, which the state is not disputing.

I would also add that the organized crime groups behind all these human rights violations are a much more difficult enemy to combat than the FARC. The FARC at least tried to fight the state, but these groups prefer not to do that: they seek to have relations with the State, with local landowners, with local political bosses. They prefer to bribe and coerce the authorities instead of fighting them. This makes them harder for a state to combat, because its own institutions are infiltrated in a way that the Farc never managed to do. That’s why it must be said that to get rid of a few kilos of cocaine, while these organizations live off other businesses and infiltrate institutions, is very simplistic. I don’t know who would be fooled by such facile arguments.

Regarding Joe Biden’s victory in the United States, can this change the Colombian government’s position or actions?

I don’t know, because the Biden government places a high value on the bilateral relationship. It’s going to continue aid as usual and many of the counter-narcotics programs will continue as before. Trade is not going to be touched, it will probably expand. Colombia and the United States, as a country-to-country relationship, will be fine. But the Democratic Party and the Centro Democrático aren’t fine. Colombia saw Biden’s advisors and Democratic Party members calling on members of its ruling party to stop campaigning in Florida and to stay away from the U.S. presidential campaign.

Trump won Florida and two south Florida Democrats lost their seats, so there’s no love lost with the Centro Democrático. While the bilateral relationship will remain close, Biden and the Democrats will find ways to be a nuisance to the Centro Democrático. They are sure to talk more about issues that the Duque government would rather not touch, like implementing the peace accord, protecting social leaders, cleaning up the Army after so many scandals. They might even speak out about the Uribistas’ attempts to weaken the judicial system in the case of their leader.

Speaking of the Uribe case, WOLA announced it would do special monitoring of this judicial process. Why does a judicial action against a former president for alleged manipulation of witnesses have such importance and international relevance?

For Colombia it’s an important case because it is a great test for the independence of the judiciary and the principle that no one is above the law. This process would also answer many questions about the past of Álvaro Uribe and his associations. It is an opportunity to learn the truth about the rumors of his possible relationship, and those of his closest associates, with paramilitarism. All of these things must come out through a legal process. It is a great test for Colombian democracy. We are experiencing something similar here with our outgoing president. We are going to see if the legal and ethical violations he has committed can be prosecuted by our justice system.

In four months of monitoring, what have you observed?

Nothing new has emerged for us. When we say that we are doing monitoring, it does not mean that we have investigators on the ground. Although there is something of concern: that Uribe’s family has hired a lobbyist here. We have seen that a former Florida congressman has published some things attacking Ivan Cepeda. They have sought to educate other Republicans in favor of Uribe. What is worrying about this is that they are looking to create solidarity between politicians with a populist and authoritarian tendency. A “Populist International” is being formed, and we see this in this effort to name a street after Alvaro Uribe or to issue tweets celebrating his release from house arrest. It is a sign that they don’t care about justice but about authoritarianism. The Bolsonaristas in Brazil are part of this too.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Favia Lucero/YoCiudadano photo at Animal Político (Mexico).

(Even more here)

November 27, 2020


El comandante en jefe de las Fuerzas Armadas leyó un comunicado en el que se refieren a la detención del jefe del Comando Estratégico de Operaciones de Cochabamba. Está imputado por asesinato

Mientras, en todas las plazas Abaroa del país, militares en servicio pasivo se concentrarán hoy para protestar


His election broke the mould of Brazilian politics and was in some ways an aberration. Even so, it would be a mistake to write off his chances of a second term

In two months of campaigning leading up to the first round of voting on Nov. 15, there were 200 murders, attempted murders or otherwise injured candidates


Ha pasado más de un mes desde que la periodista y columnista Adriana Villegas denunció los cantos violentos con los que entrenan los militares del Batallón Ayacucho de Manizales y las mujeres de la ciudad siguen esperando sus disculpas públicas

De los 280 casos reportados, 135 han sido esclarecidos con avances significativos así: 34 casos superaron la fase de imputación y están en investigación; en 45 hay órdenes de captura y avanzan en indagación; 20 están en juicio, en 33 hay sentencias condenatorias y tres precluyeron

Esa cifra ya supera los asesinatos registrados durante todo el año 2019, en el que Somos Defensores confirmó 124 casos

“Eliminar los cultivos ilícitos es acabar con la financiación de quienes masacran y asesinan líderes sociales”, añadió en medio de la rueda de prensa

Para Adam Isacson, encargado de la Veeduría de Defensa de la Oficina de Washington para Asuntos Latinoamericanos (WOLA), se debe hablar también de ausencia del Estado, pobreza, desigualdad, corrupción e impunidad

Colombia, Venezuela

As the virus spread, thousands of Venezuelan migrants left Colombia and began trekking home on foot


Los integrantes del colectivo exigen la liberación del rapero Denis Solís. El escritor Carlos Manuel Álvarez, colaborador de EL PAÍS, fue arrestado y liberado antes de medianoche


Dos tormentas consecutivas en noviembre de 2020, desnudaron las debilidades de infraestructura, prevención y capacidad operativa y financiera de Honduras para hacer frente a los desastres naturales

La agresión policial a un autobús privado con más de treinta empleadas de una fábrica textil obligó al Estado a admitir que los agentes aplicaron un procedimiento inadecuado


La familia del agente de la Guardia Nacional lleva más de siete meses sin respuesta de la corporación y de la Fiscalía de Chihuahua que investiga la desaparición

  • Alejandro Hope, Siguen Espiando (El Universal (Mexico), November 27, 2020).

En contradicción con lo afirmado por el presidente, el gobierno federal utiliza al aparato de inteligencia para dar seguimiento a la oposición política

The suspect was identified by a senior Mexican official as Roberto González, who is known as “The 32” and is considered one of the chieftains of Mexican gang La Línea

They kicked the government workers out of the federal Human Rights Commission building in Mexico City. They covered the walls with the names of rape victims and hung posters with the faces of the dead. Then they invited women and children to shelter


La organización advierte que Venezuela ha sido poco diligente en esta materia y que la Comisión Nacional de Derecho Internacional Humanitario, creada hace 5 años, debe comenzar a funcionar

A rigged vote will end the opposition’s control of the last democratically elected institution

The so-called Citgo 6 are employees of Houston-based Citgo refining company, which is owned by Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA. They had been lured to Venezuela three years ago for a business meeting and were arrested on corruption charges

The day ahead: November 27, 2020

I’ll be reachable in the late morning and early afternoon. (How to contact me)

Getting a late start this post-Thanksgiving morning. I’m writing a new border update and updating my news database, reviewing my to-do lists which I haven’t done in a while, then I have 3 calls this afternoon, with a border coalition, a colleague in Colombia, and a defense official.

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