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.

Five links from the past week

Colombia

The best overview I’ve seen of a controversy over victims and memory in Colombia’s conflict. President Juan Manuel Santos recently added Colombia’s Defense Ministry to the governing board of the Center for Historical Memory, an autonomous body that the military has verbally attacked in the past. The article reveals that the Center’s staff fear possible impact on the credibility of its future work as it prepares ground for a future Truth Commission.

El Salvador

Last week the Salvadoran gang, which was founded in the United States, showed up in rhetoric from Donald Trump, the Attorney-General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security. Silva brings up a lot of points about the gang that don’t get enough attention, including the important successes that U.S. law enforcement has had against it over the past 10 years.

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

An idea raised by Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández last July is slowly coming to fruition. Though it’s mostly just mechanisms for improved information-sharing, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are working towards a tri-national unit to combat criminal groups that work across borders. The article notes that the countries’ different approaches to crime are an obstacle, as El Salvador and Honduras use their militaries much more freely. Neither Villatoro nor we have managed to get much information on the U.S. role in this effort.

Mexico-U.S. Border

This citation-filled report from Senate Homeland Security Committee Democrats explains why the per-mile cost of building a border wall is likely to be a multiple of what it was in the past. Even if this report’s grave projections are off by half, the wall’s cost would still be nearly double what Republican leaders are predicting.

Peru

With organized crime hounding honest officials out of the country and political will at the top flagging, illegal logging is rapidly getting worse in the country with the second-largest amount of Amazon-basin forest. “The United States has little to show for more than $90 million in forest-protection aid and other assistance to Peru,” as 80 percent of timber exports are illegal.

(Saturday, 4:23PM)

My daughter’s 2:00 soccer game made us late to today’s March For Science, but it looked like a huge success despite the weather.

My Latin America database now resides at “defenseoversight.wola.org”

Screenshot of defenseoversight.wola.org

I’ve owned the domain defenseassistance.org for several years; I use it for side projects related to work. The largest by far is one I started in mid-2015: a “database of everything” related to U.S. defense and security relations with Latin America.

This mammoth resource is just about complete. So I just took away the little “this site is under construction” warning and moved it to WOLA’s web space. It now lives at defenseoversight.wola.org.

This is a cool site: it’s where I keep everything work-related, except things that other apps do better, like calendar and e-mail. I share most of it with the public, because why not. It’s also super-fast: I used a lot of javascript nerdery so you don’t have to sit around waiting for pages to load.

There are four immense sections. All are searchable, or browsable by topic, country, aid program, and U.S. agency:

  • Data Clips: Whenever I’m reading an official government source and I see something I didn’t know about security in Latin America, I take that bit of information and put it here. I tag it by country, aid program, topic, and U.S. agency, and add all the data about where I got it from. As of this afternoon there are 1,784 such clips. Click on any country or topic and you can get a briefing about it.
  • Reports LibraryFinding out what our government is doing with Latin America’s security forces means getting our hands on official government reports. We keep them all here, and share them. (A private part of this section keeps track of what we’re doing to obtain them.) We have 173 reports in the library as of now.
  • Aid Programs: This part is brand new: we’re officially launching it next week. Many years ago, we set out to figure out all of the programs or “spigots” through which the U.S. government can give aid to foreign militaries. It turns out we identified 107 of them. Here they all are, explained, with the text of the laws that govern them and links to reports about them.
  • News: If you visit this site often, you know that every weekday morning I post links to security-related news coverage around Latin America. I use this part of the database to generate those posts. My database of news clippings going back to May 2015 is here: a ridiculous 8,643 articles. You can’t have the text of the articles—it’s important to respect copyright—but you can search for them and link to the originals.

There’s also two private sections that I use to keep track of contacts and research questions. The rest is public—and now it’s a new subdomain on WOLA’s website.

I’ll keep the information gathered until now at the old defenseassistance.org domain. But that site will have a big warning at the top instructing visitors to go to defenseoversight.wola.org, and it will be hosted on a much slower (and cheaper) hosting plan.

I hope you find it useful.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

Photo from Presidency of Colombia. Caption: “President Juan Manuel Santos greets a FARC member during a surprise visit to the La Carmelita disarmament zone in Putumayo.”

  • Ex-presidents and peace process opponents Álvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana had either a conversation or a brief contact with Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Good Friday. They were guests of one of the resort’s members, and the Miami Herald reports that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) may have helped arrange the meeting, or encounter, or whatever it was. The ex-presidents no doubt had at least a brief opportunity to express to Trump their opposition to the FARC peace accord.
  • Ex-president and sitting Senator Uribe sent a blistering missive to the U.S. Congress, and to much of the Washington community interested in Colombia, attacking the peace accord. The document included many false claims, which were rebutted by WOLA, by Colombia’s La Silla Vacía investigative journalism site, and by 50 members of Colombia’s Congress (PDF).
  • The occupation of formerly FARC-dominated territories by new armed groups was the subject of coverage by The Guardian in Cauca, La Silla Vacía in Chocó, and Rutas del Conflicto in Meta.
  • The dilemma of ex-FARC splinter or “dissident” groups is the subject of reporting by Verdad Abierta in Tumaco, Nariño, and Medellín’s daily El Colombiano, looking at the roughly 110-member “1st Front” in Guaviare.
  • FARC leaders are hinting that the disarmament process may be delayed as much as 90 days beyond the originally foreseen 6 months. They blame government slowness in complying with commitments. The government is reluctant to bear the political cost involved with granting such an extension.
  • The FARC is also hinting that it may want to allow its members to stay in the 26 disarmament zones after the 6-month (or perhaps 9-month) process concludes, or even to settle in them permanently.
  • President Juan Manuel Santos paid a surprise visit to one of those zones, in Puerto Asís, Putumayo, after visiting the site of a massive mudslide that killed hundreds in Putumayo’s capital two weeks earlier. VICE documented a visit to the site in Tumaco, Nariño.
  • Speaking of extensions, Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said that, due to the legislature’s slowness in approving legislation to implement the peace accords, the government may seek to extend “fast track” lawmaking authority for another several months. The six-month authority expires at the end of May.
  • Colombian soldiers and police found a FARC arms cache in Putumayo. Opposition politicians called it a sign of guerrilla bad faith in the disarmament process. Maximum FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño said the guerrillas are working with the UN mission to collect 900 arms caches hidden around the country.
  • WOLA called for the UN’s post-disarmament mission to make guaranteeing human rights, and the security of human rights defenders, a central focus of its work. This should include a prominent and autonomous role for the Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
  • An essay in Semana looks at the international community’s growing concerns about the Colombian government’s continued stumbles in implementing the peace accord.
  • Verdad Abierta asks what will happen if the military’s thousands of “false positive” killings end up being tried by the special transitional-justice system established by the peace accords. Since many involved hiring criminals to murder civilians so that soldiers could win rewards granted for high body counts, these cases’ link to the armed conflict is tenuous at best.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 21, 2017

Brazil

As armas que abastecem à criminalidade do Rio de Janeiro entram pelas extensas fronteiras secas e fluviais do país e depois são contrabandeadas em veículos para dentro do estado

Colombia

Políticamente para el Gobierno sería muy difícil, por la credibilidad del proceso, mover la fecha

El asesinato de Gerson Acosta, gobernador del resguardo indígena que decenas de desplazados crearon en Timbío tras sobrevivir a la masacre que paramilitares cometieron en esa región limítrofe entre Cauca y Valle del Cuaca en 2001

La violencia contra estos miembros de partidos políticos y movimientos sociales se ha salido de control. Cada cuatro días matan a un dirigente

Colombia news media have reported it was arranged by an influential U.S. critic of the plan, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida

Colombia, Venezuela

La situación se agitó desde las primeras horas, cuando Santos, a través de un trino de una sola línea, habló del “fracaso” de la revolución bolivariana

Cuba

Among those who signed the letter are retired Gen. James T. Hill, who headed the U.S. Southern Command from 2002-2004 and retired Admiral Robert Inman, who held senior positions in the intelligence services

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

Tres fiscales generales de Centroamérica expresaron el jueves su preocupación por un reciente anuncio del gobierno de Estados Unidos, en el que asegura que endurecerá sus acciones contra la Mara Salvatrucha (MS 13) y aumentará las deportaciones

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

Esta fuerza policial conjunta propuesta por Honduras, sería la respuesta del Triángulo Norte a la sofisticación de las operaciones de las pandillas y, a la vez, su alineamiento a las políticas de Estados Unidos

Mexico

El Gobernador Quirino Ordaz instaló al ejército en las calles. Lo hizo sin discutirlo ni socializarlo

Mulvaney told The Associated Press in an interview that “elections have consequences” and that “we want wall funding” as part of the catchall spending bill

Central America Regional, Mexico

Derechos humanos, tema clave por obvias razones, brilla por su ausencia. Las ONGs no fueron invitadas

Venezuela

As tensions mount, the government is using its almost-complete control of Venezuela’s institutions to pursue its opponents. On Wednesday alone, 565 protesters were arrested nationwide

El presidente de la República, Nicolás Maduro, acusó al gobernador del estado Miranda, Henrique Capriles Radonski, de difamar a la revolución y al Ejercito, al indicar que son los responsables del asesinato de la joven Paola Andreina Ramírez Gómez

En el Ejecutivo hay la sospecha de que, a la hora de las chiquitas, las tropas profesionales y la oficialidad le darán la espalda a Maduro

Behind the impassive faces of ordinary National Guards troops blocking protesters who chant “No to dictatorship!” during rowdy marches, similar anger sometime lurks

Western Hemisphere Regional

The tone he sets can only encourage abusive behavior among his officers further down the chain of command against immigrants, and also lead to the curtailment of Americans’ civil liberties and privacy

The day ahead: April 21, 2017

I should be reachable much of the day. (How to contact me)

No meetings today. Today’s big project is moving my defense oversight database from my “drafts” domain (defenseassistance.org) to wola.org. No idea how long that will take. I’d also like to record a podcast about border security, but that might get pushed off to the weekend.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 20, 2017

Colombia

Estuvimos en un conflicto y, para salir de él, la memoria debe ser lo más sincera y transparente posible. Esperamos que, como ha dicho el Ministerio de Defensa, su presencia en la CNMH no nos lleve a incumplir

Mientras las víctimas reclaman que sea la justicia ordinaria la que siga juzgando a los militares implicados, entre los jueces hay versiones encontradas

Colombia, Ecuador

Huvelle wrote that in allowing the trial, “there is ample evidence” to suggest that DynCorp and pilots that it briefed and managed “simply ignored (and sometimes mocked) the fact that plaintiffs from specific areas of Ecuador were complaining about the company’s sloppy spraying flights”

El Salvador

The vice president personally carried out activities that the Attorney General’s Office itself describes as “money laundering methods.”

Trump blames former President Obama, but he may have been more correct if he had pointed the finger at Ronald Reagan

Mexico

Governors, who like presidents serve one six-year term, control state legislatures, state auditors and state prosecutors — a dominance that gives them the power of a modern potentate

Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, and Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, are pushing congressional appropriators to include “billions” for their agenda in private conversations

Peru

The United States has little to show for more than $90 million in forest-protection aid and other assistance to Peru

Venezuela

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its alarm at the militarization and call to arm 500,000 civilian militias

Tens of thousands of protesters made an unsuccessful attempt to march to downtown Caracas as security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd

17-year-old boy fatally shot along with woman and National Guardsman as the opposition calls for another mass protest on Thursday

Esta es la quinta convocatoria a la calle hecha por la oposición en los últimos 15 días, en los que ha sido víctima de una escalada represiva por parte de los cuerpos de seguridad del Estado

“We wear our protest on the inside for the fear of losing our bag of food”

Citgo Petroleum, a U.S. affiliate of Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, was one of the biggest corporate donors to events surrounding the swearing-in ceremony

Links From the Last Month About: Civil-Military Relations in Latin America

Colombia

  • A decree has placed a representative of Colombia’s Defense Ministry on the governing board of the Center for Historical Memory, a body of academics that has produced 92 reports since 2008 about what happened in the country’s conflict. Though a governmental body, the Center has had autonomy in how it chooses and carries out its investigations. This has brought strong support from conflict victims, but also strong criticism from the military. Critics, including victims’ groups, are concerned that the addition of a Defense official—who represents the military, one of the main parties to the conflict and the generator of many victims—may undermine this crucial autonomy. The Center’s longtime director, Gonzalo Sánchez, quietly protested the Defense Ministry’s addition, but later told the press that all government ministries have the right to participate in its governing board, the military has a lot of knowledge about the conflict that it should be encouraged to share, and that the Center’s autonomy won’t be affected.
  • The McClatchy news service, using information publicized by Human Rights Watch, reported that Gen. Jaime Lasprilla, a former head of Colombia’s army, has been in Washington as Colombia’s defense attache for nearly two years despite strong human rights concerns about his military record. A decade ago, when Gen. Lasprilla headed the Army’s 9th Brigade in the southern department of Huila, the unit committed a very large number of so-called “false positive” killings: murders of civilians that were falsified as combat kills to boost body counts.

Honduras

  • The U.S. Southern Command’s Diálogo publication discusses, and praises, the Honduran military’s “Guardians of the Homeland” program, which sends soldiers to schools throughout the country “reinforcing a sense of right and wrong and instilling morals and leadership principles among minors.”
  • Soldiers are now protecting seven bus companies’ stations and lines in Tegucigalpa. Bus companies are frequent targets of gangs’ extortion and attacks.

Mexico

  • Late last year, legislators from Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), working with heavy input from the armed forces, drafted an Internal Security Law that would make permanent the Mexican military’s “emergency” role in policing. Now, even the bill’s chief sponsor recognizes that the controversial legislation now appears unlikely to pass in the current legislative session, which ends April 30. The bill had encountered criticism from opposition parties in Congress, and especially from civil-society groups. A coalition of mostly Mexican groups (which included WOLA) put out a highly critical report (PDF) in late March citing the human rights cost that Mexico has paid since the military’s involvement in internal security intensified a decade ago. (There have been at least 3,921 confrontations between military personnel and civilians in Mexico since January 2007, when President Felipe Calderón increased the armed forces’ involvement in security.) More than 120 groups collaborated on an internet effort with a multimedia website, #SeguridadSinGuerra, to pressure the Congress to reject the law and place more emphasis on training better civilian police. Mexico’s usually docile human rights ombudsman’s office (National Human Rights Commission, or CNDH) also came out against the law.
  • The chief of Mexico’s Navy, Adm. Vidal Soberón, said that the military were only playing internal security roles, “it must be said, because in many cases police forces have been surpassed” by criminals.
  • The military responded angrily after a leading opposition politician, leftist former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel López Obrador, opposed the armed forces’ involvement in policing and tied them to the 2014 Ayotzinapa massacre. The Army’s human rights director, Gen. José Carlos Beltrán, called a press conference to criticize “social actors” who present “slander and offenses,” and actually denied that the military commits human rights abuses. “Those who denigrate the labor of our armed forces denigrate Mexico,” said President Enrique Peña Nieto. López Obrador responded that he views the military as “the people in uniform,” and his critics should “calm down.”
  • During the past month, Mexican military personnel were deployed to help keep order in the states of Quintana Roo, Sonora, and Veracruz.
  • Marines allegedly killed a minor, a passenger in a civilian car that went through a roadblock, in Nuevo León not far from the U.S. border.
  • In the border city of Reynosa, a woman who had denounced that her husband died last year in Marine custody said she received death threats from a group of assailants “of military aspect” who rammed her car.

Nicaragua

  • The opposition-leaning daily La Prensa reported on the sudden and unusual retirement of two senior generals in Nicaragua’s army, who normally serve five-year terms in top command positions. A retired general told the paper that the firings owe to the armed forces’ politicization, “ever since the moment when there stoped being a high command able to say to [President Daniel] Ortega, ‘this is illegal, this can’t be done, this goes against the Constitution.’” Security expert Elvira Cuadra said, “Due to the way and the moment [the sudden retirements] occurred, what it shows is that things aren’t going well within the military institution.”

Paraguay

  • During the unsuccessful late-March attempt to change Paraguay’s constitution to allow President Horacio Cartes to run for re-election, local media questioned some irregular military deployments around the capital. These included the appearance of armored personnel carriers at Asunción installations, and the posting of guards and snipers around the Congress, where the amendment was being debated. Paraguay has been very vigilant about signs of military involvement in politics since the end of the dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989).

Venezuela

  • Faced with mounting protests, the government of President Nicolás Maduro launched “Plan Zamora Green Phase,” a “special civil-military strategic plan” to involve the military in preventing a “coup d’etat.” Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino promised the armed forces’ “unconditional loyalty” to the regime against “violent marches.” The government’s disproportionately forceful response to protests, however, has mostly been carried out by police, not soldiers.
  • Maduro also announced that the number of “Bolivarian Militias”—civilians armed with rifles to defend the regime—would expand to 500,000 (out of Venezuela’s total population of about 30 million).
  • Two investigative reports in the past month from InsightCrime (March 22 and April 28) look at drug-trafficking and other corruption in the armed forces.

The day ahead: April 20, 2017

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

Yesterday morning I thought I had no meetings scheduled, but a conversation with a member of Congress got moved to yesterday afternoon, which was great but it’s is the main reason I hardly posted anything here yesterday.

Today I’m meeting a Russian diplomat who asked to talk about Colombia (yes I know but not a big deal), doing an interview with a reporter about Colombia, and planning some of next week’s work with staff: next Friday April 28 is when the federal budget needs to be passed or extended to avoid a government shutdown. It’s also the last weekday before Trump’s 100th day, so there’s going to be a lot of desire to review “what just happened.”

In the afternoon I’m doing a final edit to the introductory essay to our defense programs project, making sure the 28-category table of contents I made yesterday is correct, and adding a bunch of border security research to the database. Based on that, I’d like to record a podcast about border security tomorrow.

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