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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Some articles I found interesting this morning

AFP photo at Semana (Colombia). Caption: “EE. UU. insiste en reanudación de fumigación”

(Even more here)

October 27, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

Opportunities abound for curbing the worst abuses of the Trump presidency. The work begins today

Bolivia, Western Hemisphere Regional

He has distanced himself from Mr. Morales, saying the former president’s bid for a fourth term was an “error.” He vowed that Mr. Morales would not have a role in his government

Bolivia

Evo Morales sostuvo que se instalará en la región de Cochambamba, para retomar el activismo sindical en el que se inició en los años 1980, y que se dedicará también a la piscicultura

Brazil

Jair Bolsonaro would sign a decree by next week to extend the deployment to protect the world’s largest rainforest

Chile

“Carabineros de Chile depende del Ministerio del Interior. El vínculo no se suspende en el estado de excepción”, insistió el ministro

Tres comunas que concentran buena parte del PBI y del poder político, viven en una burbuja

It’s a dramatic step, but one thousands of Chileans have demanded for years, and especially in recent months

Colombia

El Consejero Presidencial para la Estabilización y la Consolidación, Emilio Archila, dijo que la mayoría de los ataques han sido responsabilidad de las disidencias

Denuncian desfinanciación y estigmatización por parte de la Gobernación del Meta

Se cuenta con 7 aviones Air Tractor – AT802, adaptados recientemente con sofisticadas boquillas para que el líquido caiga directamente sobre los cultivos ilegales

El Gobierno quiere reiniciar las fumigaciones con glifosato, pero necesitará el visto bueno del ministro de Salud, Fernando Ruiz, que en el pasado se opuso rotundamente. ¿Qué hará este?

Los más duros críticos de la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz acudieron a la Corte Penal Internacional para denunciar falta de garantías. Pero, al mismo tiempo, aspiran a defender las víctimas ante el sistema que descalifican

Ariel Ávila, subdirector de Pares Colombia, aseguró que “durante operativo, en el que, al parecer, murió alias Uriel del Eln, había una niña de 10 años y un niño de 6 años que, al parecer, visitaban a familiar dentro del grupo”

Dos capturas y una orden de detención bastaron para que el Fiscal General considerara esclarecido el caso. Pero detrás de este crimen existe una telaraña de crimen organizado que sigue sin despejarse

Vehículos de guerra utilizados por el Ejército estarían recibiendo un mantenimiento con repuestos viejos que pondrían en riesgo las tropas

The tweet came after Republican congressional candidate Maria Elvira Salazar posted a video on Sunday of her on a video call accepting the endorsement of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe

Este pronunciamiento se suma a la dura columna de opinión publicada este sábado por ‘CNN’, de dos congresistas demócratas que le piden a los políticos colombianos dejar de intervenir en las elecciones presidenciales

Colombia, Ecuador, Peru

The white sacks of calcium chloride seized on the ranch carried markings the cops had seen many times before—the blue logo of Tetra Technologies Inc., a chemical company based outside Houston

Cuba

Recent Cuban émigrés, a group that Democrats once thought might help Joe Biden win Florida, have shifted dramatically toward President Donald Trump

Guatemala, Western Hemisphere Regional

The former vice president has spent decades working in the region—and he has a chance to rebuild America’s image there

Mexico

El excomisionado Nacional de Seguridad, Renato Sales Heredia, calificó como una violación a la soberanía nacional y una falta de respeto a los mexicanos la detención del general Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda

In the streets, few can name Democratic candidate Joe Biden, but there’s a general sense that Mexicans are ready to take their chances with someone other than Trump

“He’s bet his presidency on the army and that has been shaken. He has also bet his presidency on not antagonising the US and now the US has delivered a slap in the face”

The day ahead: October 27, 2020

I’ll be hard to contact today, though there’s a bit of time in the morning. (How to contact me)

The schedule is pretty full today. I’m delivering a lecture, in person but socially distant, at the Inter-American Defense College, this afternoon. After that, I’ve scheduled a couple of interviews. This morning I’ll be “attending” an event put on by WOLA’s Colombia program.

Latin America-related online events this week

Monday, October 26

  • 9:30-10:30 at wilsoncenter.org: Going Virtual: Increasing Access to Justice in Latin America (RSVP required).

Tuesday, October 27

  • 10:00-11:00 at wola.org: Two Years into the Iván Duque Administration (RSVP required).
  • 11:00-12:00 at thedialogue.org: Anatomy of MS-13 – Policy Implications for El Salvador and the US (RSVP required).
  • 4:00 at migrationpolicy.org: Un Diálogo con Miembros de Coalición por Venezuela (RSVP required).

Wednesday, October 28

  • 12:30-2:00 at wilsoncenter.org: Lobbying and Corruption in Democratic Brazil (RSVP required).
  • 2:00 at lai.su.se: Latin America and the US Election (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-3:00 at wola.org: Delusions of Grandeur: Bolsonaro and Trump’s Alcântara Deal and its Impact on Afro-Brazilian Communities (RSVP required).
  • 3:00 at atlanticcouncil.org: 2020 road to the White House: Why Latin America and the Latino vote matter (RSVP required).
  • 6:00-7:00 at gwu.edu: Facing Violence in Caracas: What Can We Do? (RSVP required).

Thursday, October 29

  • 3:30 at atlanticcouncil.org: The future of Colombia’s shale development (RSVP required).

Friday, October 30

  • 10:00-12:00 at pbiusa.org: Police violence has no borders: Human rights, land defense and police impunity (RSVP required).
  • 10:30-11:30 at wilsoncenter.org: A Conversation with President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic (RSVP required).

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Ministry of Defense of El Salvador photo at Diálogo (U.S. Southern Command). Caption: “U.S. Navy Admiral Craig Faller (L), along with U.S. ambassador to El Salvador Ronald Jonhson (R), talks with Salvadoran Minister of Defense Rear Admiral René Francis Merino (3rd from L).”

(Even more here)

October 26, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

Taking advantage of the proliferation of anti-U.S. governments in Latin America in the first decade of the 21st century, China and Russia have focused on deepening economic ties within the region, while quietly expanding their military footprints

Argentina

La histórica división entre peronismo y antiperonismo ha dado paso a una fuerte polarización en torno a las figuras de Cristina K y Macri. La pandemia acentuó el fenómeno

Bolivia

EL DEBER consultó a cuatro diferentes fuentes dentro del Movimiento Al Socialismo para sondear los nombres del primer gabinete de Luis Arce

A presidential race that many feared would end in uncertainty or violence concluded quietly, allowing Bolivians to hope that a year of turmoil and threats to democracy may be behind them

Chile

More than 78% of Chileans voted to draft a new constitution

Colombia

Su libro Peace and Rural Development in Colombia da cuenta de las contradicciones internas que hubo en la administración de Santos para sacar adelante la Reforma Rural Integral

Commander of the ELN guerrillas known for media appearances and online videos is described as criminal by president Iván Duque

El comandante del Eln era reconocido por su actividad mediática

El juez Carlos Arturo Cuellar, del juzgado segundo administrativa de Pasto, falló a favor de las autoridades colombianas una acción de desacato que había sido elevada por comunidades afro, indígenas y campesinas

The demonstrations are another sign of public frustration and anger over the pace of peace in Colombia

As Colombian politicians weigh in on the US presidential race, US Reps. Gregory Meeks and Ruben Gallego warn that their side-taking is unwelcome

Ya son 236 exguerrilleros asesinados desde la firma del Acuerdo de Paz

Hay que reflexionar seriamente sobre la situación de la Policía y sus dilemas del día de hoy

Cuba

Mr. Trump could win 60 percent of the Cuban-American vote — surpassing the estimated 50 percent to 54 percent he won in the 2016 election

El Salvador

Security cooperation topics discussed with Rear Adm. Merino included dismantling transnational criminal organizations, counternarcotics operations, and future military engagements

Honduras

Desde la desaparición de los jóvenes, Ofraneh ha denunciado la falta de voluntad por parte de las autoridades para dar con el paradero de los jóvenes y esclarecer los hechos

Honduras por medio de la Secretaría de Defensa Nacional (Sedena) ya negocia con las autoridades de Estados Unidos reparar cerca de 30 aeronaves de entrenamiento y ataque ligero para combatir el narcotráfico

Mexico

El General Gallardo Rodríguez –quien estuvo preso por 10 años [entre 1993 y 2002] por publicar una tesis en la que planteaba regulación de los abusos dentro de la vida castrense– no se muestra extrañado por los señalamientos

A pesar de que el Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM) ha negado públicamente que existan contagios de COVID-19 en sus centros de detención, la Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH) reveló que, tan solo en la estación migratoria Siglo XXI de Tapachula, Chiapas, hay al menos 19 casos

La defensa de Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán dijo que su defendido ha decidido no cooperar con la Fiscalía estadounidense ni testificar en contra del exsecretario de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional

De que Estados Unidos escucha y lee los mensajes de políticos o funcionarios mexicanos, acusados de tener vínculos criminales, no hay duda

Whether you agree with the Trump administration’s policies or not, his tactics in carrying them out have been extremely effective in a Machiavellian way. Mexico has done almost exactly what Trump has asked. Would a Biden administration be so effective?

U.S.-Mexico Border

Donald Trump took a broken system and turned it into a machine of unchecked cruelty

Venezuela

Mr. López, who is 49 years old, left the rambling ambassador’s residence, in a quiet, affluent neighborhood in the eastern end of the city, and made his way to Aruba

The day ahead: October 26, 2020

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

I’ll be in internal meetings all morning, and have a call with a colleague at the border late in the day. In the afternoon I’ll be at my desk researching a report about Colombia.

Video: Civil-Military Relations in Latin America after Six Months of the Pandemic

On September 11 I helped put together an event with experts from six Latin American countries to discuss the worsening imbalance of civil-military relations throughout the region, and how COVID-19 is complicating things further.

Military officers are occupying civilian government agencies, keeping order, handing out food, enforcing curfews, and just generally becoming a daily part of people’s lives to an extent unseen since the military dictatorships of a decade ago.

This is mainly happening at the behest of civilian presidents, but there is real cause for alarm here, and our presenters made the case very clearly. They did so in Spanish, without translation, as seen in the video at the bottom of this post.

The video at the top of this post, though, is new. My excellent intern Elissa Prieto took highlights from that event and added English subtitles, giving you a fast-moving, 14-minute pulse-taking of this increasingly worrisome trend.

Here is the original 2-hour video in Spanish:

Five links from the past week

  • There had been some doubt cast about the real extent of non-consensual surgeries performed on female migrants held at ICE’s Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. There’s less doubt now., as the Los Angeles Times’s Molly O’Toole reports that 19 women have now come forward. Some of the testimonies here are hard to read.
  • A team of reporters from Colombia’s La Silla Vacía did months of follow-up, and has confirmed that 222 social leaders were assassinated in the 602 days between President Iván Duque’s August 2018 inauguration and the end of March 2020. They profile the victims by geography, age, gender, ethnicity, and type of activism, finding a significant correlation with claims involving land tenure or coca.
  • Guatemala’s CICIG is gone, but an office called the Special Anti-Impunity Prosecutor’s Bureau (FECI) is hanging on amid a full-on backlash by corrupt elites. At El Faro, Sandra Cuffe details the FECI’s latest big case: the minister of Communications, Infrastructure and Housing had more than US$15 million stuffed into 22 suitcases.
  • Pablo Solón, who heads the Fundación Solón in La Paz and is the son of noted Bolivian artist Walter Solón, served as Bolivia’s UN ambassador during Evo Morales’s government, but later distanced himself from Morales. His “supportive of MAS but not in the tank for Evo” perspective on Bolivia’s landslide presidential election outcome is a nuanced must-read. “MAS did not win because of Evo, but in spite of Evo.”
  • At the Huffington Post, three reporters talk to former diplomats, members of Congress, and others who should know—and they conclude that if Joe Biden wins on November 3, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro “could find himself quickly isolated on the global stage” if he doesn’t change course on climate change.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Tim Steller photo at the Arizona Daily Star. Caption: “More than 100 people demonstrated on both sides of the border in Nogales on Wednesday, part of a coordinated group of pro-asylum events also taking place in Douglas-Agua Prieta and San Diego-Tijuana.”

(Even more here)

October 23, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

It is absolutely necessary to fully integrate women into defense and security forces to be successful in the 21st century–to be professional, ready for any mission, and legitimate in the eyes of the population

At least 19 women at a Georgia immigration facility are now alleging that a doctor performed, or pressured them to undergo, “overly aggressive” or “medically unnecessary” surgery without their consent

Bolivia

A landslide election victory brings peace to the country, at least for now

Bolivia, Paraguay

The cocaine is thought to have been purchased by Dutch criminals, possibly for distribution elsewhere in northern Europe

Brazil

Warming relations between the United States and Brazil received a boost this week with an update to an existing bilateral trade agreement, along with the commitment of billions of U.S. dollars to boost Brazilian industries

Chile

Any new constitution is likely to make Chile more social-democratic. Advocates of the new charter want to introduce the idea of “equality of opportunity”

Colombia

Después de este ejercicio de reportería de varias semanas y de depuración, logramos identificar a 222 líderes asesinados desde la posesión de Duque

Una docena de territorios fueron priorizados por la Fiscalía por concentrar mayor número de ataques contra excombatientes y líderes sociales

The protestors demands were myriad: killings of human rights activists and environmental defenders, police brutality and education and pension reforms were some of the issues

En su trayectoria se destaca haber sido presidente de la Corte Constitucional y defensor del Pueblo

Colombia, Mexico

Mexico’s Sinaloa, Jalisco Nueva Generacion, Zetas and Beltran Leyva drug cartels are the top buyers and traffickers of cocaine produced by criminal groups in Colombia

El Salvador

“Nunca hemos tenido un peligro tan agudo para la democracia a través del ataque de la libertad de expresión como lo tenemos ahorita en El Salvador”

Guatemala

At FECI’s request, a judge issued an arrest warrant for José Benito, Minister of Communications, Infrastructure and Housing during the Morales administration. He stands accused of money laundering

DHS treats the U.S border as if it extends south to Guatemala and that it has the authority to police and deport migrants on foreign soil. It is unconscionable

Honduras

l 22 de octubre estaba programada una audiencia de examinación de diligencias en el proceso contra David Castillo, ex gerente de la empresa Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA)

The so-called Operation Dominion (Operación Dominio), with Honduran and U.S. authorities participating, “has dealt heavy blows to narcotrafficking and organized crime,” the Honduran government said

Mexico

Más que nunca se hace relevante revisar los alcances de la militarización que, desde que estuvo coordinada por Cienfuegos no operaba solo en las calles en tareas de seguridad, sino también en otras instituciones

Entre 2005 y 2007 ya había comentarios de narcos y de autoridades en los que se señalaba que Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Secretario de la Defensa Nacional durante el sexenio de Enrique Peña Nieto, se reunía con Arturo Beltrán Leyva

Los agentes del Ministerio Público les dieron carpetazo sin esclarecer lo sucedido, la mayor parte de ellas enviándolas a un archivo “temporal” hasta que pase algo que permita retomarlas

Parte de la disputa por el control de la venta y tráfico de droga entre grupos de la delincuencia organizada que antes eran aliados con el Cartel del Pacifico (o Sinaloa)

McCaffrey told me the arrest was “very odd.” “I would have assumed we would have gone to Mexican authorities before the arrest and say, ’Hey, here’s what we’re up to’”

U.S.-Mexico Border

In the central Mexico state of Guanajuato, the color of the meth or the markings on the package in an addict’s pocket may determine whether he lives or dies

President Trump set the goal about a year ago and, to fulfill it, contractors are building largely on land the federal government already owns, including in areas where illegal border crossings have been relatively low

Sasabe, Mexico, has a couple of convenience stores, but there are no taxis or buses, and most migrants who are dropped here have no money or means to get anywhere else

“It’s cruelty, and separating kids from parents goes against natural rights,” the pope says in the documentary “Francesco.” “It’s something a Christian cannot do. It’s cruelty of the highest form”

Venezuela

Diputados y familiares de presos políticos piden a la comunidad internacional hacer algo más para que delitos de lesa humanidad no sigan ocurriendo

The day ahead: October 23, 2020

I have a few commitments on the calendar, but should mostly be available. (How to contact me)

I have an internal meeting and a couple of meetings with colleagues about border/migration stuff. Otherwise I’m taking up work on a report about Colombia that I’d like to finish quickly.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Carlos Ortega / EFE photo at El País (Spain). Caption: “La Plaza de Bolívar de Bogotá, este miércoles durante una nueva jornada de paro nacional.”

(Even more here)

October 22, 2020

Bolivia

The new government should use its remarkable mandate to heal wounds at home and build cross-ideological bridges in its South American neighbourhood

Chile

“Estamos tomando todas las medidas habidas y por haber… no creo le vaya a salir gratis a quien quiera hacerlo”, declaró el ministro de Defensa

he constitution introduced by Pinochet remained in force for decades, safeguarding a market-driven economy at a cost of subsidized healthcare, education and pensions

Colombia

El problema de fondo de desorden interno y falta de liderazgo civil sobre las fuerzas, que es la razón estructural para los múltiples escándalos que han ocurrido este año, sigue intacto

En 2006 la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos condenó al Estado por esa y por la masacre de La Granja, ocurrida meses atrás. ¿En qué el cumplimiento de esas órdenes?

Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities find themselves terrorised by a host of armed criminal groups involved in territorial land disputes, as well as in conflict with government-allied businesses

La movilización pacífica, precedida por la llegada de 8.000 indígenas a Bogotá, desarmó los argumentos de las autoridades sobre infiltración de grupos armados

Guatemala

The announcement came just days after the anti-impunity unit (Fiscalía Especializada Contra la Impunidad — FECI) within the Attorney General’s Office seized 122,351,456 quetzales (around $15.5 million) in cash found in 22 suitcases

Honduras

Las FF AA tienen que informar al sistema de aviación civil sobre la Ley de Protección de la Soberanía del Espacio Aéreo (LPSEA), sus deberes y derechos para evitar incidentes lamentables

En vigencia el Reglamento de la Ley de Protección de la Soberanía del Espacio Aéreo que además contempla la conformación de un centro especial para intervenir las aeronaves sospechosas

Mexico

Hoy fue aprobado en el Senado el dictamen que contiene la eliminación de 109 fideicomisos públicos, incluyendo la eliminación de los recursos del Fondo de Ayuda, Atención y Reparación Integral (FAARI) a Víctimas

Emblemáticos en materia de violaciones a los derechos humanos, ambos casos ocurrieron en la administración de Enrique Peña Nieto, quien dio continuidad a la militarización de la seguridad pública

El 2019, el primer año completo de Durazo en el cargo, cerró con un récord de 34 mil 673 homicidios dolosos y cerca de mil feminicidios

What makes violence in Guerrero distinct, and what lessons can we learn from covering it?

La detención del General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda por agentes de la Administración de Control de Drogas es un evento que deja ver una ruptura crítica en la relación bilateral

U.S.-Mexico Border

Google Cloud will be used in conjunction with Anduril Industries’ surveillance tech on the U.S.-Mexico border

About 60 of the children were under the age of 5 when they were separated, the documents show

Ebbs and flows in migration are common, but after a pandemic that’s taken the lives of thousands in Latin America, border experts expect that upward trend to continue

Venezuela

As long as Beijing needs oil—something of which Venezuela has plenty—it is likely military hardware such as the C-802A will continue to flow to the South American country

El reporte destaca que “no hay donde reclamar por esos atropellos porque los organismos oficiales están cerrados”

A close ally of President Trump quietly met with an associate of President Nicolás Maduro, whom the United States does not recognize as the leader of Venezuela

R2P can only be invoked if it follows the UN Charter, which would require the international community, specifically the UN Security Council, to approve the use of force – a very remote possibility

The day ahead: October 22, 2020

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

I had a very long string of six or seven writing deadlines—some things I’ve published or am about to; some things that will come out eventually; some things for internal consumption. All told, about 25,000 words in both languages. It got so intense between last Tuesday and yesterday, I’ve hardly been posting here.

As far as I can tell, that’s over for a little while, and I don’t have meetings on my calendar today. So I’m digging out: unanswered emails, news I’ve missed, things that should be posted here. And revising my workplan for between now and the moments after Election Day. I should be reachable much of the day, for a change.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from La Tercera (Chile).

(Even more here)

October 21, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

One of the country’s largest federal agencies has instead publicly promoted immigrants, anarchists and smugglers as more dangerous to the United States than a virus

Bolivia

The landslide MAS victory comes as a sigh of relief after signs of voter intimidation and a year of democratic rollbacks and human rights abuses

“He can return to the country whenever he wants, because he’s Bolivian… but in the government it’s me who has to decide who forms a part of the administration and who does not”

The Añez government provided glaring evidence that an opposition government could be even worse than the MAS government whose credibility was in tatters from its own cases of corruption

Brazil

The Democratic nominee has threatened to pressure Brazil over protecting the Amazon rainforest, as part of a pledge to prioritize the climate globally

Chile

La seguridad del referéndum de cinco días más, del cual el gobierno ha de ser “garante”, abre algunas preguntas sobre qué tienen pensado hacer y cómo la policía y las Fuerzas Armadas

Este martes, se desarrolló la primera reunión bilateral entre la Fuerza Aérea de Chile (Fach) y la United States Space Force (Ussf)

Colombia

Casi 20 mil de los 30 mil millones de pesos adicionales que pidió esta justicia serían destinados para proteger víctimas del conflicto armado y testigos de muchas confesiones

Luego del sepelio del exguerrillero Albeiro Suárez, asesinado en el Meta, el ahora partido político arranca la Peregrinación por la Paz y la Vida

Fue capturado el 22 de febrero de 2007 y condenado a 25 años de cárcel, en 2011

It is the highest monthly total researchers have documented since they began tracking the killings in 2017

En América Latina, todo parece indicar, arranca una nueva etapa de movilizaciones. Ya comenzó Chile, y ahora Colombia parece retomarlas

Después de una baja histórica en la violencia el año pasado, desde hace un mes volvieron los tiroteos, las ofertas de plata para matar a integrantes de la banda contraria, el aumento de extorsiones y retenciones en algunas zonas del puerto

Honduras

Las críticas no se han hecho esperar después de que el presidente de Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, se reuniera este lunes en Tegucigalpa, capital de Honduras, con el jefe del Comando Sur de EEUU

Mexico

En América Latina, en la actualidad solo en Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, México, República Dominicana y Venezuela sus titulares son militares en activo

Los viajes en autobús de pasajeros son los preferidos por quienes ordenan los embarques a través de mujeres

Hace un año, el 17 de octubre de 2019, el intento de detención de Ovidio Guzmán López, hijo de Joaquín Guzmán Loera y de Griselda López Pérez, desató la ola de violencia más intensa de que se tenga memoria en Sinaloa

López Obrador tendrá la facultad de nombrar a un nuevo Secretario de Seguridad en los días siguientes, y con ello la disyuntiva de militarizar definitivamente

Investigación de Sergio Aguayo y Jacobo Dayán pone sobre la mesa la coincidencia de objetivos entre diversas autoridades y Joaquín Guzmán Loera, “El Chapo”, durante la época más violenta en La Laguna

El juez consideró que debe permanecer en prisión y que no puede seguir su proceso en libertad, porque hay un riesgo alto de fuga

While U.S. authorities referred to the group as the H-2 Cartel, it’s unclear if they ever actually called themselves that

Al poner en marcha el Complejo Regional de Seguridad Pública en Reynosa, dijo que su administración tiene el respaldo y colaboración de Estados Unidos para combatir al crimen

U.S.-Mexico Border

Many of the more than 1,000 parents separated from their children under the pilot program had already been deported before a federal judge in California ordered that they be found

In September 2020, the Immigration Court recorded 1,133 new MPP cases, up from a low of 136 in May, and the highest since the start of the pandemic in March when 2,282 MPP cases were filed.

The day ahead: October 16, 2020

I’m reachable for much of the morning and the late afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’m (hopefully) recording a podcast this morning, participating in a mid-day discussion with Colombian colleagues, and may have a border-related meeting in the afternoon. I’m writing an article for a Colombian publication and finalizing a chapter for a book. So, another busy one.

The day ahead: October 15, 2020

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

This morning I’ll be giving a long talk about the elections and the state of U.S. policy to a closed-door meeting organized by colleagues in Colombia. I’ll also, if time allows, be updating our database with the fiscal year 2020 border numbers that CBP released yesterday, and producing a quick memo. I’ve got meetings with two border/migration coalitions that will last much of the afternoon. This evening is the annual Institute for Policy Studies’ Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards, for which I was on the selection panel.

That’s all to say I’m pretty engaged all day and will be difficult to contact. Tomorrow I’ll be freer.

At wola.org: Fixing a Culture that Protects and Rewards Abuse at U.S. Border Agencies

This was a hard one to write, it took about two and a half weeks to crank out 3,000 words, even though nearly all the research was already in my database.

The main reason is in the middle of it: the bulleted list of CBP and Border Patrol offenses that have happened so far in 2020, which I copy below.

It was just so damn grim and painful to point out the horrors being committed on U.S. soil, by a U.S. agency, by people who—for the most part—we’d probably genuinely like if we met them at a bar or on line at a supermarket.

Beyond this list, the commentary is about the big challenges that lie ahead in changing the organizational culture of our border and migration agencies. Please read it.

While past abuses like “family separation” and “kids in cages” shocked much of the nation, evidence of a perverse institutional culture persists in the 2020 calendar year.


  • In January, CBP and ICE agents assigned to serve as advisors in Guatemala ended up packing hundreds of Honduran migrants into rented, unmarked vans and shipping them back to Honduras, without even an opportunity to seek asylum. An October report by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff found that DHS lied to the State Department, which was funding the CBP and ICE presence in Guatemala, about the bizarre operational role its agents were playing.
  • In February, a Guatemalan woman reported that while she was in Border Patrol custody, agents ignored her requests for medical attention. As a result, she had to give birth with her pants on, while standing and clutching the side of a trash can in the Chula Vista, California Border Patrol station. She was sent to a nearby hospital, then returned to the Border Patrol station where she spent a night “without an adequate blanket for the baby.”
  • Since March, Border Patrol agents and CBP officers summarily expelled more than 150,000 Mexican and Central American migrants back into Mexico, usually in about 90 minutes or less, with no real opportunity to request asylum if they were fleeing lethal threats. This has been done in the name of COVID-19 protections, but we now know—thanks to AP and Wall Street Journal investigators—that the Centers for Disease Control had recommended against closing the border, only to be overruled by Vice President Mike Pence. 
  • That number includes 8,800 children apprehended while unaccompanied by an adult, then swiftly returned to their home countries while unaccompanied, between March and August. (September data are still pending.) Border agencies made zero effort to ensure these children’s safety upon expulsion or even track their whereabouts. Those to be flown back were warehoused in border-city hotels, guarded by an ICE contractor not certified for childcare, while awaiting their expulsion.
  • In June the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that CBP had broken the law. A year earlier, Congress had appropriated money for the agency to improve its care of children and families in its custody, paying for items like blankets, food, and medicine. Instead, CBP spent much of the humanitarian appropriation on items like computer network upgrades, vaccines for CBP personnel, dog food, and dirt bikes.
  • In June, elite Border Patrol agents were among DHS personnel sent to Portland, Oregon—against the wishes of the mayor and governor—to confront protesters following the killing of George Floyd. While some protesters were violent, the agents’ crowd control tactics—which included grabbing people off of sidewalks into unmarked vans—did nothing to de-escalate the situation, nor did they incorporate best practices for de-escalation. If anything, their aggressive tactics prolonged the confrontations.
  • In July in El Paso, a Border Patrol agent ran over a 29-year-old Mexican man while pursuing him in his vehicle. Though injured, the migrant was deported within 48 hours. Border Patrol refuses to make public its vehicle pursuit policy.
  • In July, Maria Cristina Vargas Espinosa, a 38-year-old mother from Guanajuato, Mexico, died after falling from the border wall west of El Paso. She was at least the second person to die of such a fall this year: a pregnant Guatemalan woman and her unborn baby died of a fall in Clint, Texas, in March. Neither Border Patrol nor other local authorities disclosed Ms. Vargas’s death or bothered to investigate it; her relatives in Mexico only learned of her fate from her smuggler. Asked by El Paso Matters how often such incidents happen, a Border Patrol agent said that “a large number of people…get major injuries.” His main concern, though, was that “those hospital bills are ridiculous.”
  • In July in Arizona, dozens of rifle-bearing Border Patrol agents, accompanied by an armored vehicle and helicopters, raided a desert camp run on private land by No More Deaths, an organization that provides humanitarian aid in an area where thousands of migrants have died in this century of dehydration and exposure. Agents arrested migrants receiving medical attention, seized phones, photos, and records, and “trashed” No More Deaths’ camp.
  • In July, the libertarian publication Reason revealed a 2012 internal affairs report indicating that a CBP instructor had told “a room full of supervisors” that “if Border Patrol agents feel threatened by a migrant, they should ‘beat that tonk like a piñata until candy comes out.’” This was yet another appearance of the word “tonk” or “tonc,” Border Patrol slang for an undocumented migrant. Former agents say that the word originates from the sound a human skull makes when clubbed with an agent’s heavy Maglite flashlight. When an agent uses a weapon, he or she must file a memo about the incident; no paperwork is required for flashlights.
  • By August, only four Border Patrol agents, of unknown rank, had been fired for their involvement in a graphically offensive Facebook group. The group, “I’m 10-15,” whose members included 9,500 current and former agents, was revealed to exist a full year earlier. Twelve months after launching an investigation, “CBP has provided little new information about” the group “or its efforts to address toxic attitudes within the ranks,” reported ProPublica, the outlet that revealed the group’s existence.
  • In August Tianna Spears, a Black U.S. diplomat who had been assigned to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juárez, published a lengthy account in Politico about the blatant racial profiling to which CBP officers subjected her whenever she crossed back into El Paso. “[O]fficers in primary inspection still made sarcastic comments, cruel jokes and belittling jabs implying I was not a U.S. diplomat, not a U.S. citizen and had stolen my own car.”
  • In September Border Patrol used taxpayer money to produce a video depicting a fictionalized Spanish-speaking migrant whose first action after eluding agents is to kill a man in a dark alley. With evidence pointing to lower crime rates among undocumented migrants than among the general population, “The Gotawayvideo reinforces racist stereotypes to which, we hope, most Border Patrol personnel do not actually subscribe.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, local media in El Paso and Arizona have reported about CBP officers and Border Patrol agents going unmasked in their interactions with the public, from checkpoint encounters to the July raid on No More Deaths.
  • CBP’s rapid border wall construction is doing permanent environmental damage: gouging at mountains, draining a fragile desert oasis to mix cement, and sealing animals’ migratory routes. Members of Indigenous communities have been arrested for carrying out civil disobedience against the construction in California and Arizona. But the building continues, with no meaningful engagement with affected communities.
  • While ICE is not the focus of this analysis, any discussion of this year would be incomplete without recalling allegations of non-consensual surgeries performed on women at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia; the deportation of a woman alleging sexual abuse at the El Paso detention facility while investigations were ongoing; the storing of children and families in border-town hotel rooms under questionable supervision; a slipshod, hardline response to COVID-19 that has led to a cumulative total of 6,541 cases in detention, deportations of COVID-19-positive individuals to countries with weak public health systems; and a sharp increase this year in the use of pepper spray and other force against the agency’s detainees.

Beyond all of this are the everyday allegations of racial profiling, roughing up (called “tuning up”) of apprehended migrants, abusive language, maintenance of hieleras and other deliberately uncomfortable custody conditions, and a view that people exercising their legal right to seek asylum are, in President Trump’s words, “scammers” gaming the system.


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