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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Colombia Peace Update: April 17, 2021

Cross-posted from WOLA’s colombiapeace.org site. During at least the first half of 2021, we’re producing weekly updates in English about peace accord implementation and related topics. Get these in your e-mail by signing up to this Google group.

Decree, issued the day of high-level U.S. visit, signals imminent restart of aerial herbicide fumigation

On April 11 and 12 Colombia received its highest-level in-person visit to date from Biden administration officials. Special Assistant to the President and Senior National Security Council Western Hemisphere Director Juan González and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung were in Bogotá, where they met for two hours with President Iván Duque and other high government officials. It was the first stop on a South America trip that took González and Chung later to Argentina and Uruguay.

According to a pre-trip White House statement, the officials were to “discuss economic recovery, security and rural development, the Venezuelan migrant crisis, and Colombia’s regional climate leadership.” Colombian media reported that issues covered included security, “the fight against drug trafficking and transnational crime,” progress in peace accord implementation, economic recovery, and Venezuelan migration.

While perhaps unrelated, hours after the U.S. officials’ visit the Duque government issued a long-expected decree laying out how it will carry out a revived aerial fumigation program. The term refers to spraying herbicides from aircraft over populated areas where farmers grow coca, the crop used to make cocaine. The U.S. government heavily supported a fumigation program between 1994 and 2015, which sprayed 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) of Colombian territory.

Herbicide fumigation was a key component of the strategy known as “Plan Colombia,” and it was controversial because it rarely came with assistance to smallholding farmers, and because communities denounced environmental and health harms. The government of Juan Manuel Santos suspended the program in 2015, after a World Health Organization study determined that the active chemical, glyphosate, could be carcinogenic.

In 2017, Colombia’s Constitutional Court laid out a series of conditions that a future government would have to fulfill before ever restarting a fumigation program, and in 2018, newly elected President Duque made clear his intention to do that. Sources in the Presidency tell La Silla Vacía that they may meet these conditions, and the spray planes could start working, as early as June.

The required steps—summarized here in a way that omits some nuance—are:

✔️ By decree, set up a system for evaluating health and environmental impacts that is independent of the Counternarcotics Police, which carries out fumigation. The April 12 decree establishes this system, requiring the Counternarcotics Police to report monthly to environmental and other agencies.

✔️ By decree, set up an independent process for receiving and processing claims from individuals who say they were wrongly sprayed. The April 12 decree establishes this process.

✔️ Gain the environmental licensing authority’s (ANLA’s) approval for the spray program’s environmental management plan. The ANLA issued its approval two days after the Presidency’s decree, on April 14. The plan prohibits the planes from spraying from an altitude greater than 30 meters (98 feet), or in conditions when wind might cause more than 10 meters of spray drift.

The 507-page document also notes that spraying may occur in 104 of Colombia’s 1,122 municipalities, in the departments of Antioquía, Bolívar, Caquetá, Cauca, Córdoba, Chocó, Guaviare, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Santander, Valle del Cauca, and Vichada. Planes may use bases in San José del Guaviare, Guaviare; Cumaribo, Vichada; Villagarzón, Putumayo; Larandia, Caquetá; Tumaco, Nariño; Guapi, Cauca; Barrancabermeja, Santander; Caucasia, Antioquia; Cúcuta and Tibú, Norte de Santander; Condoto, Chocó; and Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca. Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz said that Norte de Santander and its conflictive Catatumbo region will come first. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s crop monitoring report covering 2019, Catatumbo has the country’s largest concentration of coca crops.

✔️ Have the National Health Institute (INS, sort of like the United States’ Centers for Disease Control) perform a study finding that the planned spraying poses a low health risk. While this study, commissioned to the University of Córdoba, won’t be made public until the entire process is complete, it is all but finished.

🔲 Gain the approval of the National Narcotics Council (CNE), a body made up of relevant ministers and heads of some other branches of government. The CNE has the authority to undo the spray program’s 2015 suspension. As the Council’s current members are all considered close to the government, this step may happen quickly.

Among the CNE’s members, though, is Health Minister Fernando Ruiz who, when serving as a vice-minister during Juan Manuel Santos’s government in 2015, defended the fumigation program’s suspension on public health grounds. “The main cancer attributed to glyphosate is Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer in the lymphatic organ that can develop 15 to 20 years after exposure,” Ruiz told an interviewer. This puts the Minister in an awkward position. He is seeking to have an alternate take his place in the CNE proceedings as an “ad hoc” minister who might approve the fumigation.

With this week’s decree and environmental approval, and with a decree last week (reported in our last update) seeking to divert challenges to fumigation away from the courts, the fight over fumigation “seems to have tipped in favor of the government,” El Espectador reported.

Critics like María Alejandra Vélez of the Universidad de los Andes Center for Security and Drugs Studies (CESED) contend that the April 12 decree is flawed. It “is focused on reaction and not on prevention, as it explains how complaints of possible damages will be handled, but not how to prevent them,” she told El Espectador. Isabel Pereira of DeJusticia worries that the ANLA and other agencies charged with oversight have almost no presence in remote areas where spraying will occur. Ana María Rueda of the Fundación Ideas para la Paz recalls that the program’s design appears to violate the peace accord: “The spirit of the Accord… was that first, crop substitution should be tried with communities and, if it did not work, then spraying would operate. That was what the [Constitutional] Court asked for, but we do not see it anywhere in the decree.”

A major objection has to do with the Constitutional Court’s requirement that the environmental approval process include informed consultation with communities, especially Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities. The Court has agreed to take up several communities’ complaint that, from remote areas with poor internet service, they haven’t been able to participate meaningfully in “virtual” consultations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Court’s action on the consultation question could be a “roadblock” that prevents fumigation from restarting in June, according to an El Espectador analysis.

If fumigation does restart in coming weeks or months, we can expect a wave of protest across rural Colombia, as happened in 1996 (with heavy FARC encouragement) when the program first got started. The protests might not be massive, though, notes a La Silla Vacía analysis based on interviews with coca growers’ organization leaders in six zones. The investigation finds these organizations weakened by the worsening security situation as new armed groups proliferate, the difficulty of doing organizing work in a climate of constant threats and killings of social leaders, and a social base demotivated by the government’s poor compliance with the peace accord’s crop substitution commitments. “The communities saw fumigation as something off in the distance,” said Pedro Arenas of Viso Mutop.

After the decree’s release, Colombia’s pugnaciously hardline defense minister, Diego Molano, said, “the only ones worried here about precise aerial spraying against coca, which we are about to start, must be the criminals who profit from this criminal business and want to subject our peasant population to a new slavery.”

Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín, a much-cited scholar of rural Colombia, offered a sharply different view in an El Espectador column:

Prioritizing fumigation over substitution is a brutal violation of everything the peace accord stood for. It has two notorious consequences. On the one hand, it affects the core of the agreement (which sought to build a new form of relationship between the central state and the territories). On the other, it carries high legitimacy costs…

What will this country reap if its government persists in sowing poison? These air strikes are perceived—correctly, in my opinion—as an aggression from distant forces that have no regard for the population’s interests. The Duque government responds to territories that have demanded for decades a greater state presence with the “magic formula” of presence through spraying.

Fighting appears reduced, but situation is very tense, in Venezuela border zone

“From Arauquita, Arauca, no explosions have been heard for a week on the other side of the river, on the Venezuelan side,” La Silla Vacía reported on April 12. There has been a notable lull in the combat that began on March 21 between Venezuelan security forces and the “10th Front” FARC dissident group—one of three guerrilla or rearmed guerrilla groups active in Venezuela’s border state of Apure. The official toll of dead and injured has not increased since last week’s update. Security analyst Andrei Serbín (interviewed in this week’s WOLA Venezuela podcast) told Tal Cual there has been a “considerable reduction” in fighting in recent days, but that “doesn’t mean that the threat has been eliminated. The FARC has this ability to lower its profile, avoid confrontation and attack elsewhere.”

The halt in fighting may owe, too, to the steady arrival of more Venezuelan forces into the zone. In addition to regular military units and the feared FAES police shock force, the Maduro regime announced that it would be sending 1,000 members of the citizen militia. This part-time force, which reports directly to the president, is hardly combat-ready—many of its members are middle-aged or older, or more oriented toward political work than fighting—but it may provide logistical and other backup to the Venezuelan forces arrayed near the Colombian border.

Most of the civilian population, meanwhile, appears to have vacated the zone. Colombian Foreign Minister Claudia Blum said that her government had counted 5,737 Venezuelan citizens displaced into Arauca. Though fighting may have slowed, La Silla Vacía reports, “fear of the excesses that their own country’s authorities may commit is the main reason why the displaced still cannot conceive of returning to their homes.” These include “in addition to fleeing the crossfire… detentions, assaults, looting, and even the murder of a family.” Though they have taken a toll on the civilian population, Serbín points out that the Venezuelan military “hasn’t shown a great capacity. It hasn’t demonstrated results.”

On April 10 the 10th Front FARC dissident group’s putative leader, Jorge Eliécer Jiménez Martínez alias “Arturo,” put out an audio message insisting that his group “doesn’t seek problems” with the Venezuelan armed forces, which have singled out the 10th Front for attack even as the ELN and a second dissident group, the “Segunda Marquetalia,” operate in the same region.

The 10th Front is part of the largest network of former FARC guerrillas to rearm, the so-called “1st Front” structure headed by alias “Gentil Duarte,” who rejected the peace accord in 2016 and refused to demobilize. The other main network of dissidents, the Segunda Marquetalia, is headed by Iván Márquez, who was the FARC’s lead negotiator in Havana but rearmed in 2019. Most of both groups’ rank-and-file membership is new recruits with no past membership in the old FARC.

In his message Arturo, a former FARC front leader who deserted in 2004 and spent time in prison, acknowledged that the 10th Front has differences with the Segunda Marquetalia, and called on the Venezuelan Army to stop collaborating with the rival group. He said he is willing to dialogue.

For his part Iván Márquez, whose group is less visible in the zone but purportedly has closer ties to the Maduro regime, released a video on April 13 insisting that the Segunda Marquetalia does not consider neighboring countries’ forces to be “military targets” or “collect taxes” from—that is, extort—their citizens.

On his television program, Diosdado Cabello, a former military officer and legislator who is perhaps the second most powerful figure in Nicolás Maduro’s regime, appeared to issue a warning to all Colombian armed groups inside Venezuela, including the Segunda Marquetalia. “Venezuelan territory is impregnable. This applies to any group, no matter who the leader is, no matter what his name is. If they want to wage war against the Colombian government, they should do it in their territory, don’t do it in ours.”

The border-zone situation continues to highlight the very poor state of relations between Colombia and Venezuela. Blum, Colombia’s foreign minister, said on April 14 that she had communicated to the United Nations about the “serious situation” resulting from “the support given by the illegitimate Venezuelan regime to armed narco-terrorist groups.” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza issued a tweet calling Blum “Doña”—a misogynistic putdown—and demanding that Colombia guard its borders and keep Colombian armed groups out of Venezuelan territory.

Decrees make changes to military justice system

A series of three presidential decrees, made public on April 14, aim to increase the autonomy and performance of Colombia’s military justice system, which is charged with trying and punishing military and police personnel who violate their services’ codes of conduct.

While years of Colombian jurisprudence appear to make clear that violations of civilians’ human rights should be tried in the civilian criminal justice system, many cases still do end up in the military system. Once there, guilty verdicts and punishments are exceedingly rare.

“It’s no secret that citizens have a problem of trust” with the military system, an El Espectador questioner pointed out in an interview this week with the system’s current director, adding that “for most Colombians it is equivalent to impunity.” Shockingly, the system is so untransparent and sluggish—tracking cases with Excel spreadsheets and a written method dating back to the 1960s—that its director cannot say how many cases of “false positive” killings its judges have yet to decide (or to transfer to the civilian system).

The new decrees set regulations to implement reform laws passed in 2010 and 2015. They will move the military justice system out of the Defense Ministry’s purview, creating a new Specialized Administrative Unit within the executive branch. The current head of the military justice system, Fabio Espitia, who served for a time as Colombia’s acting chief prosecutor (Fiscal General), will head this new unit. The unit will have its own prosecutor’s office, investigators, tribunals, and judges. It is to use an oral, accusatory trial system instead of the military system’s current slow, opaque system. This should make it easier to see where cases stand, and what has happened. The president of the civilian Supreme Court will have a seat on its board of directors.

While this is a big step toward autonomy for a justice system that had been within the military chain of command, it is not quite autonomous. While out of the Defense Ministry, the system will still be in the government’s executive branch, under the President, and not the judicial branch. All, or nearly all, of its judges will continue to be active-duty or retired military officers. Espitia defended this to El Espectador, insisting that “in military and police operations there is something called operational law, and this is known to those who are part of the forces. It is only natural that it cannot be known by a civilian.”

The separate justice system, too, still applies to police—which remain part of Colombia’s Defense Ministry—even though police are charged with protecting and serving the population, not confronting enemies in battle. Espitia defended this, too, arguing that Colombia is not a typical country: “the police must be in joint operations with the military to disrupt organized crime groups.”

The unfortunate consequence, though, is that police who abuse human rights may see their cases go to the historically more lenient military justice system even when “organized crime groups” have nothing to do with what happened. An egregious recent case placed before the military system is that of Dilan Cruz, an 18-year-old protester killed in downtown Bogotá in November 2019 by a policeman who clearly appeared to be misusing a nonlethal crowd control weapon.

Another major case of police human rights abuse is the rampage of indiscriminate force against protesters that followed the September 9, 2020 police killing of lawyer Javier Ordóñez. Over two nights, police killed 13 people in the streets of Bogotá. So far, three policemen have been charged, and their lawyers failed to transfer their cases to the military justice system. There was further good news this week, as the civilian Fiscalía decided to transfer the entire September 2020 Bogotá police riot investigation to its human rights unit. That greatly increases the likelihood of a prosecution that takes the entire context into account, rather than treating the cases like individual, unrelated murders.

Links

  • Fr. Fernán González offers a summary of a new book about the ELN published by the Jesuit think tank CINEP. It argues that while the guerrilla group maintains its decentralized, “federated” structure, its center of gravity is shifting toward the front dominated in the eastern department of Arauca, which is the most “successful.” Meanwhile, local organizations that form the ELN’s “social base” are becoming increasingly independent.
  • La Silla Vacía sounds alarms about rapidly increasing violence in rural zones of Valle del Cauca department, whose principal cities, Cali and Buenaventura, get most attention. Actors “include armed groups seeking routes from Cauca and Chocó, criminal micro-trafficking groups, silent narcos, returned extradited persons, and a homegrown [ex-FARC] dissidence in Colombia’s third richest department.”
  • Just to the south, in the department of Cauca, the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación offers an overview of which armed groups are active in which sub-regions.
  • Colombia’s Inspector-General’s office (Procuraduría) called off a longstanding investigation against former chief of police Rodolfo Palomino. Since 2016, Palomino was being investigated for scandals that occurred during his 2013-2016 tenure: revelations of a male prostitution ring using police cadets, wiretaps of journalists, and an irregular land purchase.
  • On April 14 in La Macarena, Meta, Fayber Camilo Cufiño Mondragón became the 264th former FARC combatant killed since the 2016 peace accord.
  • Irregular road-building is feeding a sharp rise in deforestation in Colombia’s Amazon basin, Reuters reports. “According to the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development, more than 280 km [174 miles] of unplanned roads were opened in key areas during the first 100 days of last year. It expects more roads were built in 2020 than in any other year, driven by rising land speculation.”
  • The post-accord transitional justice tribunal (JEP) is calling two senior active-duty generals to testify in May. Gen. Edgar Alberto Rodríguez Sánchez and Gen. Marcos Evangelista Pinto Lizarazo commanded units alleged to have committed large numbers of “false positive” killings. Today, Rodríguez commands the Army’s Education and Doctrine Command, while Pinto commands the Army’s Second Division in northeastern Colombia.
  • FARC dissidents in the Orinoco and Amazon basin departments of Guainía and Vaupés are enriching themselves from illicit mining of the mineral coltan, a source of the elements niobium and tantalum used in the manufacture of mobile phones and other electronics, El Espectador reports.
  • The elements of Colombia’s transitional justice system—the JEP, the Truth Commission, and the Commission to Search for the Disappeared—pledged to assist civil society groups in the search for more than 841 residents of the port city of Buenaventura who disappeared during the conflict. At PRI’s The World, Steven Grattan reports on Buenaventura’s ongoing public security crisis and its impact on social leaders.
  • At Anthropology News, Gwen Burnyeat, a junior research fellow at Oxford, looks at how the Santos government’s rational, unemotional, technocratic “peace pedagogy” efforts got steamrolled by accord opponents’ disinformation campaigns in the runup to the failed October 2016 plebiscite.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters photo at the Washington Post. Caption: “A woman passes by a poster displaying images of Fidel and Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel in Havana this week. The billboard says: ‘We are continuity.'”

(Even more here)

April 16, 2021

Brazil

While Brazil wants to receive money upfront to pay for the protection of the world’s largest rainforest, the United States is insistent on seeing results first

Chile

La Dirección de Inteligencia del Ejército había investigado por medio de escuchas telefónicas a un grupo de funcionarios activos y en retiro -quienes habían denunciado una serie de irregularidades en la institución

Colombia

Con el cambio avanza en la búsqueda de autonomía, pero se queda corto, ya que la unidad seguirá dependiendo del Gobierno. Además, quienes juzgarán a los uniformados seguirán siendo, en su mayoría, militares y policías

Significa un intento de respuesta al desconcierto que algunas acciones, aparentemente contradictorias de este grupo, despiertan en la opinión pública en general

El gran reto de enfrentar la fragmentación del crimen en el Valle, décadas después de la caída de los grandes carteles del Valle, y del conflicto armado, cuatro años tras la firma del Acuerdo de Paz. Las autoridades y analistas están apenas entendiendo qué pasa

Cuba

Fidel Castro’s younger brother has hinted for a decade at an expiration date to his public life; he’s expected to step down as first secretary of the Communist Party when it meets this weekend in Havana

Mexico

Growers expect the price of marijuana to drop further and think their trade will become economically unfeasible

“Espero que hablen, que digan qué hicieron, si lo asesinaron o algo, cualquier cosa que nos diera información de ellos”, dice

Un juez federal de Reynosa, vinculó a proceso a 30 marinos por la desaparición forzada de cuatro personas en Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, en 2018. El Consejo del Poder Judicial informó que los elementos navales permanecerán el prisión al menos 6 meses

Lejos de una vida apacible y de convivencia, la población de Michoacán ha vivido por años el terror impuesto por el crimen organizado. En esa entidad el narcotráfico se ha convertido en un cogobierno

Fiscales estadounidenses dijeron el jueves que tienen más de un millón de páginas en documentos para ser usados como pruebas contra el ex secretario de Seguridad Pública de México, Genaro García Luna

U.S.-Mexico Border

A Texas judge allowed the government this week to take possession of a family’s land because the Biden administration has yet to end lawsuits seeking property along the border

Of the 50 Facebook pages identified in the Tech Transparency Project report, more than half were created since mid-November and of those, a dozen popped up in the last month

Father Pat Murphy blames a combination of migrants’ misinformed asylum expectations, limited shelter space due to COVID-19, and U.S. Title 42 expulsions for creating the present situation

Venezuela

Hasta ahora ni el Ministro de la Defensa ni el jefe del Ceofan se han trasladado a la zona de conflicto

Weekly Border Update: April 16, 2021

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. Since what’s happening at the border is one of the principal events in this week’s U.S. news, this update is a “double issue,” longer than normal. See past weekly updates here.

Tucson Police Chief is CBP commissioner nominee

On April 12 the Biden White House revealed its nominee to head U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agency that includes Border Patrol and all land, sea, and air ports of entry. Chris Magnus, the current chief of police of Tucson, Arizona, would be only the second Senate-confirmed CBP commissioner since January 2017: except for Kevin McAleenan’s 13-month tenure in 2018 and 2019, all commissioners since then have been in an “acting” role.

A native of Michigan, Magnus has served as police chief in Fargo, North Dakota; Richmond, California; and, since 2016, Tucson, a city about an hour’s drive from the U.S.-Mexico border. While heading this 1,000-person department, he has favored community policing, de-escalation, and other law enforcement strategies often labeled as “progressive.” Magnus was the 2020 recipient of the Police Executive Research Forum’s (PERF’s) Leadership Award. (The Obama administration, under then-CBP commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, had hired PERF to perform a 2014 review of the agency’s use-of-force policies.)

Though he opposed a 2019 ballot initiative to declare Tucson a “sanctuary city” refusing to share information with ICE about detained individuals, Magnus has a broadly liberal record, which at times has earned him “frosty” relations with Border Patrol, as the Washington Post put it.

  • In 2014, as chief of the Bay Area city of Richmond, California, Magnus was photographed holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign.
  • In March 2017, he cut short his department’s cooperation with a Border Patrol manhunt for an apprehended migrant who had escaped a hospital, angering the agency. The following year, Border Patrol’s hardline union, which endorsed Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries, called Magnus “an ultraliberal social engineer who was given a badge and a gun by the City of Tucson” in a Facebook post.
  • In a 2017 New York Times op-ed, Magnus argued that the Trump administration’s rhetoric and policies were complicating law enforcement because undocumented communities were less willing to come forward with information.
  • In June 2018 he tweeted strong opposition to the Trump administration’s child separations policy, asking, “Is this consistent with the oath you took to serve & protect? Is this humane or moral? Does this make your community safer?”
  • He opposed the Trump administration’s border wall in December 2018 congressional testimony and a February 2019 NPR interview.
  • In 2019, amid an increase in asylum-seeking migration, Magnus tweeted, “it’s worth being reminded why human beings flee from their homelands in the first place (not unlike a lot of our ancestors).”
  • In 2020, Magnus refused to accept so-called “Stonegarden” grants to local law enforcement from Trump’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS), because the administration was prohibiting expenditures for humanitarian aid to asylum seekers.

Magnus’s nomination received statements of support from both of Arizona’s Democratic senators. If confirmed, he would be the first openly gay CBP commissioner.

The White House also revealed its nominee to head U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, the DHS component that runs legal immigration, including refugee and asylum processing). As expected, it is Ur Jaddou, who was a senior USCIS official during the Obama administration. During the Trump years, Jaddou worked at the progressive immigration reform group America’s Voice, where she ran an oversight campaign called DHS Watch.

The Biden administration has yet to name a director to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Unaccompanied children situation may be easing; family expulsions continue

Data about unaccompanied migrant children in U.S. custody point to a modest easing of the situation, after weeks of concern about children packed into inadequate CBP and Border Patrol facilities. As of April 14:

  • Border Patrol had apprehended a daily average of 431 unaccompanied non-Mexican children so far this week, down from an average of 475 per day the previous week and 489 the week before that.
  • The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has been taking over 700 children per day out of CBP custody during the past two weeks, placing them in its network of shelters and emergency facilities.
  • With more kids leaving CBP custody than entering it, the number stuck in CBP’s holding facilities has dropped sharply, from 5,767 on March 28 to 2,581 on April 14. CNN reported on April 12, however, that the average child still spends about 122 hours in CBP custody, far exceeding the 72 hours required by law.
  • The number in ORR’s shelter network has marched steadily upward, from 11,551 on March 23 to 19,537 on April 14. It should top 20,000 any day now.
  • ORR still faces challenges in getting kids out of its shelters, placing them with relatives or sponsors in the United States. ORR discharged a daily average of 281 children per day last week, which increased only to 283 per day so far this week.
  • Subtracting the number leaving ORR custody from the number newly entering CBP custody reveals the net daily overall increase of children in the U.S. government’s care. That daily increase averaged 194 children per day last week, and 148 per day so far this week. For the population of unaccompanied kids in U.S. custody to fall, this daily number needs to fall into negative territory. On this chart, the green needs to start exceeding the blue:

Getting children out of ORR custody is the most urgent bottleneck right now. While more than 80 percent of children have relatives in the United States, shelters still must perform some vetting to ensure that they are not inadvertently handing children off to traffickers. The agency has also been occupied trying to stand up large temporary facilities around the country to create space to get kids out of CBP’s austere holding spaces.

Reuters reports that White House officials—especially domestic policy adviser and Obama-era national security advisor Susan Rice—are exerting pressure on ORR and its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to move faster. A source tells the wire service that “getting yelled at” in interagency meetings is taking a toll on ORR and HHS staff. “Everyone’s working around the clock, and there’s a big morale issue,” an official said. “These are people who signed up to help kids.”

ORR “has temporarily waived some vetting requirements, including most background checks on adults who live in the same household as sponsors who are close relatives,” according to Reuters, and has reduced the amount of time children spend in its shelters from 42 to 31 days. Still, Neha Desai, an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law, told Reuters that the majority of kids in the emergency shelters still don’t have case managers assigned to them to begin vetting their relatives.

As the number of unaccompanied children newly arriving declines, it’s likely that the number of migrants arriving as intact family units continues to increase. While we haven’t seen numbers from April, this was the fastest-growing category of apprehended migrant at the border in March, growing 174 percent over February.

Unlike unaccompanied children, the Biden administration is endeavoring to use a Trump-era pandemic order to expel back into Mexico, in a matter of hours, as many families from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (the “Northern Triangle” countries) as it can. In nearly all cases, these so-called “Title 42” expulsions happen without regard to families’ fear of returning to their countries.

As the number of family members from the Northern Triangle increases (40,582 in March), Mexico has hit limits. It is accepting expulsions of a larger number, but a smaller percentage, of families: about 31 percent of the total in March. Mexico cites a late 2020 law that prohibits detention of children in adult facilities. Mexico’s law “certainly snuck up on us,” a senior Biden administration official told the Washington Post.

Of the nine sectors into which CBP divides the border, by far the most arrive in south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley region. There, Border Patrol is processing families outdoors under the Anzalduas International Bridge near McAllen and at a nearly adjacent temporary site known as TOPS. Indoor processing happens at a large tent facility in nearby Donna. These sites are mostly off-limits to reporters, but the Rio Grande Valley Monitor shared some drone footage this week showing Border Patrol agents with bullhorns lining families up on benches.

CBP continues to expel large numbers of Central American families, particularly those with older children, each day from the Rio Grande Valley into dangerous Mexican border towns like Reynosa and Matamoros. When Mexico refuses expulsions in this region, DHS puts about 200 family members per day on planes to El Paso and San Diego, from where they expel them into Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana. (100 per day per city appears to be a limit that Mexico has set.)

Expelled migrants interviewed by the New Humanitarian in Juárez and by the San Diego Union Tribune in Tijuana coincide in saying that U.S. agents “tricked” them, lying that they were being admitted into the United States while boarding them on aircraft out of Texas. They only discovered they were returned to Mexico after their U.S. escorts left them there. Both border cities have seen distraught Central American parents forced to ask strangers what city they were in.

In Tijuana, Mexican authorities give the families a 30-day permit to remain in the country with instructions to return to their home countries. They are then taken to one of the city’s very full, mostly charity-run, migrant shelters.

Meanwhile, as last week’s update noted, more than 11 expelled families per day appear to be making the terrible decision to separate while in Mexican territory. Knowing that unaccompanied children aren’t being expelled, parents who find themselves returned to Mexico are sending their children to walk north, across the border, alone. CNN—which reported that Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol had apprehended, in a 28-day period, 435 unaccompanied children who had already been expelled with their parents—spoke to tearful expelled parents who had said goodbye to their children at the borderline.

Mexico’s deployment of forces gets scrutiny

Senior officials revealed this week that the Biden administration recently reached agreements with Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala to deploy more security forces to deter migration, without mention of migrants’ protection or asylum needs. These agreements appear to be informal rather than written.

Tyler Moran, the White House Domestic Policy Council’s special assistant to the President for immigration, told MSNBC on April 12, “We’ve secured agreements for them to put more troops on their own border. Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala have all agreed to do this.” Moran insisted that such action “not only is going to prevent the traffickers, and the smugglers, and cartels that take advantage of the kids on their way here, but also to protect those children.”

Later that day, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki gave reporters a bit more detail.

[T]here have been a series of bilateral discussions between our leadership and the regional governments of Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala. Through those discussions, there was a commitment, as you mentioned, to increase border security.

So, Mexico made the decision to maintain 10,000 troops at its southern border, resulting in twice as many daily migrant interdictions. Guatemala surged 1,500 police and military personnel to its southern border with Honduras and agreed to set up 12 checkpoints along the migratory route. Honduras surged 7,000 police and military to disperse a large contingent of migrants.

Psaki attributed these moves to “discussions with the region about what steps can be taken to help reduce the number of migrants who are coming to the U.S.-Mexico border,” adding, “I think the objective is to make it more difficult to make the journey and make crossing the borders more—more difficult.

This was news in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, where leaders had made no prior reference to agreements with the United States. Honduras’s defense minister, Fredy Díaz, confirmed that an agreement existed. He added that at the moment, his country is not moving new security forces to its border with Guatemala to interdict migrants. Instead, he told the Honduran network HRN, his ministry is working on a plan for military support to police to slow migration, insisting that “the armed forces have stood out for their respect for the law and human rights.”

On April 13 Mexico’s President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, confirmed to reporters that his government had deployed at least 12,000 officials to the country’s southern region, including immigration agents, soldiers and national guardsmen, and health and child welfare officials. Mexico had said on March 22 that nearly 9,000 troops and guardsmen were stationed near its northern and southern borders.

López Obrador portrayed the deployment as an effort to protect migrant children. “We’ve never seen trafficking of minors on this scale,” he said, adding, “To protect children we are going to reinforce the surveillance, the protection, the care on our southern border because it’s to defend human rights.” The president appeared to allege that smugglers are using children to help migrants pass as family units, a practice that occurs, but not frequently.

López Obrador said he will meet next week with the governors of Mexico’s southern states that border Guatemala and Belize, and that the director of the country’s child and family welfare agency (DIF) would relocate for some time to the southern border-zone city of Tapachula. He promised that Mexico would accompany the United States in increasing investments to create economic opportunity and alleviate migration’s “push factors” in Central America, including through aid programs like “Sembrando Vida” and “Jóvenes Construyendo el Futuro,” which to date have devoted very few resources.

Tonatiuh Guillén, a leading Mexican migration expert who briefly headed Mexico’s migration authority (INM) at the beginning of the López Obrador government, lamented to the Guardian that his country’s migration system has “turned into a very strong and very heavy control apparatus, largely due to pressure from the U.S. government.” Reporting from the remote Mexico-Guatemala border crossing of Frontera Corozal, however, Guardian reporter David Agren saw no evidence of a crackdown: “it looked like business as usual” as Central American families crossed the Usumacinta River and began a long walk through the edges of the Lacandón jungle en route to Palenque, Chiapas.

Some Mexican security forces are arrayed along this jungle route, Agren reported, manning checkpoints. “But migrants said they simply paid to pass through – or were robbed by the officers they met.” The prevalence of corruption among the Mexican forces deployed to control movement in the southern border zone is a large unaddressed factor as the López Obrador government sends more personnel. “It’s a cartel. They’re acting in cahoots with smugglers…with taxi and bus drivers. It’s a network taking advantage of migrants,” Father Gabriel Romero of the “La 72” migrant shelter in Tenosique told Agren. Added Guillén, the former INM director: “Governments in Mexico, the United States and Central America have never really put much of an effort into controlling these trafficking organizations.”

No pause to border wall property seizures in Texas

The White House’s 2022 discretionary funding request to Congress, a summary document known as the “skinny budget,” would end border wall construction. It requests $1.2 billion for CBP’s border security infrastructure needs, but specifies that none will go toward border barriers. It also “proposes the cancellation of prior-year balances that are unobligated at the end of 2021,” shutting down any previously funded construction.

That doesn’t necessarily stop border wall construction, however, during fiscal 2021, which ends on September 30. For now, wall-building has been “paused” since Inauguration Day, but contracts have not been canceled. As noted in last week’s update, CBP may have communicated to DHS a preference to continue building in areas where the pause in construction has left “gaps.”

In south Texas, where most land bordering the Rio Grande is privately held, the Justice Department has not stopped eminent domain proceedings to seize more than 215 property owners’ land for wall construction. On April 13 the Cavazos family, which has held riverfront property since Texas was under Spanish rule, saw a court order the condemnation of 6 1/2 acres of its farmland. “We are utterly devastated,” Baudilla Cavazos said in a statement. “We thought President Joe Biden would protect us. Now we’ve lost our land. We don’t even know what comes next.”

In February, the Justice Department had postponed the Cavazos family’s land seizure case, which has been before a U.S. district court. When it came up again in April, Justice did not seek to postpone again, for unclear reasons.

Throughout the border zone, environmental activists and tribal leaders “are urging the government to begin habitat restoration efforts and take down sections of wall that are blocking wildlife migration pathways so that animals can once again move freely,” the Arizona Republic reported in a very detailed piece documenting damage to desert ecosystems. In Arizona, “We watched in horror as construction crews dynamited our ancestors’ gravesites, chopped ceremonial plants to bits and cleaved our sacred lands in two with a deadly mass of metal,” wrote Tohono O’odham Nation community organizer Hon’mana Seukteoma in a Medium column. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, meanwhile, called for a return to the formula of immigration reform with a large increase in border security, which he called “high wall, big gate.”

Links

  • In a new edition of WOLA’s Podcast, four staff experts look at Mexico’s response to the increase in migration, including Mexico’s U.S.-encouraged deployment of security forces and acceptance of more expelled Central American families.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris has been learning about “root causes” of migration from Central America, including a virtual meeting on April 13 with directors of several organizations (including WOLA). She may visit the region “soon.” As the Biden administration’s point person for working with the region, the vice president faces the dilemma of working with Central American leaders who “are considered complicit” in creating some of the conditions causing people to migrate, the Los Angeles Times observes.
  • Local activists ridiculed Republican members of Congress who, on a visit to the Rio Grande Valley, boarded a Texas Department of Public Security gunboat. Wearing tactical vests and with a Fox News crew in tow, the delegation motored past a playground, waterslide, and picnic areas on the Mexican side of the river.
  • Asked repeatedly about the border and migration situation at an April 13 House Armed Services Committee hearing, the general and admiral who command U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Southern Command sought to emphasize the multiple, complex causes of the current large-scale migration and the need for a “whole of government” response.
  • A report and series of working papers from the Migration Policy Institute surveys how “to lay the foundation for a regional migration system that privileges safe, orderly, and legal movement,” evaluating current legal frameworks and asylum capacity in Mexico, the Northern Triangle, Costa Rica, and Panama.
  • At the Intercept, Ryan Deveraux talked to beleaguered humanitarian volunteers helping asylum-seeking families whom Border Patrol, upon releasing them from custody, is leaving in Arizona desert towns with few services.
  • In a key family separation lawsuit, the Biden administration’s Justice Department has decided not to share internal documents revealing the Trump administration’s decisionmaking leading up to the 2018 “zero tolerance” policy that caused DHS to take thousands of migrant children away from their parents. Among the documents that will remain classified, NBC News reports, is “the agenda from a May 3, 2018 meeting, which… included a show of hands vote to move forward with separating families.”
  • Reuters points out that the White House’s 2022 “skinny budget” includes a 22 percent increase in funding for internal affairs offices at CBP and ICE, partially to “ensure that workforce complaints—‘including those related to white supremacy or ideological and non-ideological beliefs’—are investigated quickly.”

The day ahead: April 16, 2021

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

I just realized I didn’t post this this morning. I’m in the midst of eight (8) meetings: 2 with legislative staff, 2 internal, 2 coalitions, 1 with a colleague at the border, and 1 interview in Colombia. Forget about reaching me today.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 15, 2021

Brazil

Some pundits speculate that Mr Bolsonaro, who cheered on the storming of the United States Capitol on January 6th, is arming his base in preparation for 2022, when he will probably face Lula at the ballot box

Central America Regional

Worries over extensive government corruption in the region, particularly in Honduras, underscore the challenge Harris faces in leading the Biden administration’s diplomatic efforts

Central America Regional, Mexico

Mexico and Costa Rica have taken steps to leverage their existing migration institutions to improve operational capacity, though notable challenges remain. Meanwhile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama are at earlier stages

Colombia

More than 280 km of unplanned roads were opened in key areas during the first 100 days of last year

Luego de que el Gobierno de Iván Duque firmara esta semana un decreto con el que regularía la reactivación de la aspersión con el herbicida a los cultivos de coca, la autoridad ambiental aprobó el procedimiento, trámite que estaba suspendido

Colombia, Venezuela

El experto en seguridad y defensa Andre Serbin indica que los milicianos no necesariamente participarán en el conflicto fronterizo en Apure. Ronna Risquez, también especialista en el tema, cree que Apure necesita de oportunidades

Ecuador

Conservative Guillermo Lasso will take office as an isolated president with a weak mandate, tasked with restoring faith in the country’s institutions

Mexico

La Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CNDH) exhortó a la Fiscalía General del Estado de Veracruz y a la Secretaría de Gobernación a que reabran las investigaciones

On a recent morning it looked like business as usual on this remote stretch of the Mexico-Guatemala border, which follows the mighty Usumacinta River

U.S.-Mexico Border

Just when they thought they’d won a reprieve, it was President Biden — not Trump — who would end up defeating the family in their years-long fight for the ranch

“These are really significant, important wildlife areas,” said Babbitt, who was also Arizona governor from 1978 to 1987. “And the idea that it all requires a 30-foot wall just makes no sense.”

White House officials have demanded HHS speed up releases from its overloaded shelter system to free up space for children packed into crowded border patrol stations

The Monitor captured video of the restricted Donna tents and Anzalduas International Bridge sites by flying a drone overhead

WOLA Podcast: “The Border Situation Viewed from Mexico”

The WOLA Podcast continues to cover the situation at the border, this time what’s happening in Mexico. There, the Biden administration has been leaning on the national government to send more security forces and accept more expelled Central American families. I gathered four colleagues for what turned out to be a really informative discussion about the current moment, and it’s not good.

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

As migrants from Central American countries flee instability at home, Mexico is increasingly a final destination for them. COMAR, the Mexican refugee agency, received a record number of asylum requests in March 2021. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has struck deals with Mexico (and other regional governments) to militarize its southern border. The consequences of such deals means migrants will face more dangers in their journey north, including from state actors.

Despite the unfortunate response from regional governments, non-governmental actors are working hard to ensure that migrants lucky enough to make it into Mexico or the United States are supported and treated with dignity. This conversation details what is happening on the ground in Mexico, as well as what civilian groups in the United States are doing to support the first people to enter the United States as “Remain in Mexico” winds down.

We are joined by four WOLA staff experts:

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

The day ahead: April 15, 2021

I’m very booked up today. And tomorrow too. (How to contact me)

I’m back in Washington and trying to catch up on things I couldn’t get to on Monday and Tuesday when I was in New York. We’re recording a podcast today, and I’ve got a couple of coalition meetings, a meeting with some researchers from Colombia’s Truth Commission, and need to set aside time to write our weekly border update. This will all make me hard to reach. With six meetings scheduled, I probably won’t be fast to respond tomorrow, either.

The day ahead: April 14, 2021

I’m very booked up today. (How to contact me)

It was lovely visiting family in New York the past two days, getting to see my father for the first time since the pandemic began (we’re all vaccinated). I got up early this morning and drove to Washington, where I am now. Today is full of internal and coalition meetings, plus an exchange with some U.S. officials. Otherwise I’m trying to catch up on things like news and e-mail after traveling, and only working a few hours per day, on Sunday through Tuesday.

Colombia peace update: April 10, 2021

Cross-posted from WOLA’s colombiapeace.org site. During at least the first half of 2021, we’re producing weekly updates in English about peace accord implementation and related topics. Get these in your e-mail by signing up to this Google group.

Updates on the situation at the Venezuela border

Fighting continued this week on the Venezuelan side of the common border in Apure, across from Colombia’s department of Arauca, between Venezuelan forces and a Colombian guerrilla dissident group. While confirmed information remains scarce, the intensity of combat and number of casualties appeared to be less than in the prior two weeks, since Venezuela’s initial March 21 attack on dissident targets. The combativeness of Colombian and Venezuelan officials’ statements, however, has intensified.

“We’re witnessing the escalation of tensions between the two countries, which is extremely dangerous,” observed defense analyst Rocío San Miguel of the Venezuelan think tank Control Ciudadano, adding, “I don’t remember, in terms of duration, a similar situation in the last 30 years.”

Indeed, Venezuelan forces likely did not anticipate that the 10th Front dissident group—whose leaders, and some of whose members, spent years as FARC guerrillas—would fight back with such ferocity. On April 5 Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino reported that eight Army personnel had been killed since March 21, including four officers. A mortar misfire on April 3 killed three members of an artillery unit, including its commander, a lieutenant colonel, and wounded nine others. Gen. Padrino added that a total of 34 troops had been injured, and that Venezuelan forces had killed 9 rearmed guerrillas and captured 33.

Despite the continued fighting, Venezuelan officials insisted that they are consolidating control of the Apure border zone. Measures include deployment of a temporary military command, an Integrated Operational Defense Zone (ZODI) for the region. (Reuters reports that “Venezuela’s military maintains standing ZODI units for each of its 23 states and the capital Caracas.”) In the zone, military personnel are restricting the population’s movements. Units from elsewhere are being reassigned to Apure and equipped with Russian-made Orlan-10 surveillance drones.

Venezuela continues to face charges that it is focusing its efforts on only one of three Colombian guerrilla, or post-guerrilla, groups active in Apure. Rocío San Miguel, according to Tal Cual, “pointed out that the Armed Forces’ actions do not seem to be similar with respect to all the armed groups present in the area, and that there seems to be a pattern of neutrality with respect to the actions of the National Liberation Army (ELN).”

Colombia’s defense minister, Diego Molano, alleged that Venezuela is deliberately favoring a third group, the “Nueva Marquetalia” FARC dissidents headed by Iván Márquez, who was the guerrillas’ chief negotiator in the 2012-2016 peace talks but rearmed in 2019. “The objective of the operations there is not protection of the border, it’s protection of the drug trafficking business,” Molano told the newspaper.

Security expert Jorge Mantilla told the BBC that something must have happened to cause a breakdown in “arrangements, sometimes tacit, for the distribution of rents and territorial control” between Venezuelan forces and the three Colombian groups, causing Caracas to target the 10th Front.

Venezuelan officials haven’t addressed charges of armed-group favoritism, instead claiming that they are dealing with the effects of Colombia’s failure to govern its side of the border. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called Colombia a “failed state” and a “narco-state” lacking control of its territory. “I’d say it’s Colombia’s ineptitude, but sometimes I think this is in their interest,” added Gen. Padrino.

The humanitarian toll of the fighting continues to be grave. At least 5,000 Venezuelans have fled across the border into Arauca, Colombian officials say. Venezuelan officials claim the number is lower, insisting the border municipality of La Victoria had a total population of about 3,500. They also deny displaced people’s claims that Venezuelan forces extrajudicially executed civilians during the operation.

Javier Tarazona of the Venezuelan NGO FundaRedes said that some residents of the region have remained there amid continuing combat, mainly out of fear of losing their livestock or other property, or having their houses burned or sacked. Tarazona also alleged that elements from the 28th Front FARC dissidents—part of the same “First Front” dissident network as the 10th—were arriving in the region to reinforce the 10th Front in Apure.

Tarazona and FundaRedes don’t have a 100 percent accuracy record, though. The Venezuelan NGO director also alleged that Rodrigo Londoño, the maximum leader of the demobilized FARC’s legal political party, Comunes, had been holding quarterly coordination meetings with leaders of both main dissident networks. This made little sense to observers within Colombia, where Londoño has been a strong advocate of the peace accord and outspoken critic of the dissidents. It’s also hard to imagine the party leader, who is 62 and has had health problems, shaking his police guard for days to meet with dissident leaders in the jungle. “There is absolutely nothing that identifies me with them, and I am not an a**hole,” Londoño said in a video.

Amid concerns about the remote—but not zero—possibility of the border situation escalating into conflict with Colombia, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Arreaza said that his regime would submit a letter to Secretary-General António Guterres asking the UN to mediate or provide good offices, “establishing a direct and permanent communication channel” between the two neighboring countries, whose de facto governments maintain no diplomatic relations, “to resolve all issues related to the border.” This runs along somewhat similar lines to a civil society proposal, issued a week earlier, calling on the UN to name a special envoy to the border crisis.

At the same time, other Venezuelan officials issued more bellicose rhetoric. “The incursions into Venezuelan geographic space should be considered an aggression sponsored by [Colombian President] Iván Duque,” said Gen. Padrino, the defense minister. Diosdado Cabello, a politician often considered the second most-powerful individual in the Maduro regime, was characteristically even more blunt. “Colombia has declared, internally, that it is going to try to set the table for U.S. imperialism to attack Venezuela. They will be making a mistake because if we have a war…with Colombia, we are going to do it in their territory.”

A decree makes it harder to challenge the president, and fumigation, through legal means

With a new decree changing how citizens can seek redress before the presidency, “the government of Iván Duque made an unprecedented display of power,” in the words of the news website La Silla Vacía. While it raises strong concerns about democratic checks and balances and will certainly face constitutional challenges, the decree could open the door to a much faster restart of a controversial U.S.-backed program to spray herbicides from aircraft over territories where farmers grow coca.

The change affects the “tutela,” a figure in Colombian law that gives citizens the right to seek a quick response from courts when government is infringing their rights. Supporters view the tutela as a major victory won in the drafting of Colombia’s progressively worded 1991 Constitution. It has been unpopular on Colombia’s political right, which views it as an obstacle, since it gives minority interests and activists the ability to block policies’ implementation.

Decree 333 of 2021, which Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz issued on April 6, states that from now on (and possibly retroactively—it’s not clear), all tutelas filed against the President, or considered important for national security—like those having to do with coca eradication—will no longer go to courts of law. They are to be considered by the Council of State (Consejo de Estado), a Bogotá-based high court that makes administrative rulings.

Going to the Council of State will make it harder for communities to challenge a re-start of the aerial fumigation program. This program, active since 1994, was suspended in 2015 due to public health concerns about spraying the chemical glyphosate over residential coca-growing zones. In response to a tutela, in 2017 Colombia’s Constitutional Court laid out a series of health, environmental, and consultative requirements that the government would have to meet in order to restart the spraying, as Iván Duque has pledged to do. In 2020, as the pandemic made it difficult for communities to participate in consultations about renewed spraying, another tutela resulted in regional court rulings that paused the controversial program’s restart.

The decree may put fumigation on a fast track to re-starting. First, it appears to offer a way around regional courts that have ruled on the side of affected communities. Second, filing complaints with the Bogotá-based State Council is more challenging for people in the very remote areas where coca is cultivated and spraying may happen. “There is a direct violation of the right to equality,” explained Diana Bernal of the Orlando Fals Borda Lawyers’ Collective, which has represented communities subject to fumigation. “The decisions will fall to judges who lack regional context, and who will not have the same ability to go deeper because the plaintiffs will be in remote areas.”

Either way, if the decree stands, fumigation could restart in as little as a couple of months, once the government determines that it has met the Constitutional Court’s requirements. “The Government believes that the current actions will favor it, and that is why announcements have been made that spraying will begin in a short time,” an unnamed Justice Ministry source told La Silla Vacía.

Beyond coca fumigation, the new decree raises concerns about democratic checks and balances. It presumes that the Presidency can “choose its own judge” on a constitutional issue, cutting out courts that have proved more likely to issue rulings unfavorable to it. “The proposed reform is subtle and may go unnoticed by the general public,” wrote EAFIT University constitutional law professor Estaban Hoyos. “The Duque government is issuing decrees for its own interest, intending to evade judges’ oversight of its actions or omissions that disregard fundamental rights. This is profoundly undemocratic.” Hoyos recalled to El Espectador that President Duque is further weakening checks and balances at a time when he has already named political allies to the leadership of oversight bodies like the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) and Inspector-General’s Office (Procuraduría).

It’s not at all clear that such a change can happen by decree, bypassing the legislature. Law professors and opposition legislators, probably together with legal NGOs, are preparing a legal challenge to the decree. It is not clear when a lawsuit might be filed.

The peace accord’s special congressional seats for victims suffer a new setback

The 2016 peace accord had sought to “place victims at its center,” according to its negotiators. As part of that commitment, it promised to create special congressional districts that would represent 16 regions of Colombia hardest-hit by the conflict. For two congressional terms (eight years), residents of those zones would elect to Colombia’s House of Representatives candidates chosen by victims’ organizations, not political parties.

This never happened, and while Colombia’s Constitutional Court considers whether to make it happen, the special congressional districts plan suffered another setback this week with an unfavorable recommendation from the Inspector-General’s Office (Procuraduría).

The long story begins in 2017, as Colombia’s Congress was passing a series of laws to make peace accord commitments official. Among those was a bill creating the special districts for victims. The measure passed Colombia’s House of Representatives, and passed the Senate by a vote of 50 to 7 at the end of November 2017.

That, apparently, wasn’t enough. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that the measure had failed, arguing that it needed 52 votes to pass, as there are 102 senators. In fact, there were 98 senators at the time, because four senators had lost their seats due to legal problems like corruption. Still, that argument has not prospered in lower court challenges.

In December 2019 Colombia’s Constitutional Court agreed to consider the case of the special electoral zones and the 2017 Senate vote. This week the Procuraduría issued its recommendation to the Constitutional Court, which dealt another blow to the plan to create the special districts for victims. The agency—now headed by a political ally of President Duque, whose party opposes the seats—called for the Court to strike down the measure because it lacks sufficient “immediacy and subsidiarity.”

The Constitutional Court could still decide that the special congressional zones are valid, ignoring the Procuraduría opinion and making this peace accord commitment to victims a reality. It is not clear how the Court might rule, or whether it would issue a decision with enough lead time before Colombia’s March 2022 legislative elections.

Links

  • The UN Verification Mission issued its latest quarterly report, which counted 14 murders of former FARC combatants and 24 killings of social leaders during the previous 3 months. 262 former FARC members of about 13,000 who demobilized, or 2 percent, have been killed since the group demobilized in 2017. The report also noted that “several actors… continue to question the Government’s view of the development programs with a territorial focus [PDETs], claiming that its approach is not in line with the Comprehensive Rural Reform as envisioned in the Final Agreement.”
  • WOLA published its latest monthly alert on Colombia’s nationwide human rights and humanitarian situation.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken placed a phone call to Colombian President Iván Duque on April 5. They discussed “ways to renew our focus on issues including climate change, the protection of human rights, and the regional economic recovery from the pandemic,” as well as “the restoration of democracy and rule of law in Venezuela and Colombia’s efforts to promote democracy throughout the region.”
  • The Colombian government’s State Legal Agency (ANDJE) asked the Constitutional Court to review a Supreme Court order calling on the National Police to curb rights abuses during social protests. It argued that the right to protest should be regulated because “the public will take advantage of it, ‘discrediting the police’s authority,’” El Espectador reported.
  • The ELN carried out 58 percent fewer offensive actions (27), was involved in 30 percent fewer combat incidents (14), and was responsible for 9 percent fewer deaths (19) during the first quarter of 2021 compared to the first quarter of 2020, according to CERAC, a Bogotá think tank.
  • A Bogotá court met on Tuesday and Friday to consider the Prosecutor-General’s (Fiscalía’s) controversial request to drop witness-tampering charges against former president Álvaro Uribe.
  • Colombia’s Defense Ministry signed an 898 million peso (US$245,000) no-bid contract with a public relations firm that Minister Diego Molano “knows very well,” El Espectador reported. The contract seeks “to improve ‘public perception’ and ‘protect the collective imagination’” about the Defense Ministry.
  • As the former FARC leadership decides whether to accept the JEP’s charges of ordering and overseeing tens of thousands of kidnappings of civilians, its members are worried about their historical legacy, reports La Silla Vacía. “They fear they will go down in history as a criminal gang that committed crimes against humanity if they accept the charges against their leaders.”

The day ahead: April 13, 2021

My replies may be delayed today. (How to contact me)

I’m in New York visiting family whom I haven’t seen in a long time, now that we’re all vaccinated. I’m working intermittently, and reachable, but may not be able to respond immediately.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 9, 2021

Central America Regional

For those who remember recent history, the idea that the United States will uphold “security and rule of law” in Central America has an ominous ring

Colombia

Tras pasar 12 años extraditado en Estados Unidos, lo primero que pidió fue obtener el beneficio de libertad a prueba, pero un juez de Bogotá le negó la petición

Además de que centralizó en el Consejo de Estado todas las tutelas en su contra, determinó que todas las acciones relacionadas con la erradicación de cultivos ilícitos recaerían sobre esa misma corte

Honduras

Santos Rodríguez Orellana denuncia que hay un plan del presidente Hernández para asesinarlo

Mexico

For years, Mexico has sought humane treatment of Mexican and Central American immigrants in the United States. But that sort of moral authority has to be earned

El gobierno mexicano debe reorientar su política migratoria a una centrada en el acceso a la protección y avanzar en la cooperación regional para atender las causas estructurales

Lejos de la profesionalización y de una depuración eficaz, las policías del país siguen tan corruptas como antaño; en el Gobierno de la Cuarta Transformación este sector responsable de la seguridad pública está abandonado

U.S.-Mexico Border

President Biden’s discretionary funding request for fiscal 2022 nixed all funding for a border wall, including unused funds previously allocated to the project

Ms. Jacobson said that her appointment as a special assistant to the president and as the border coordinator in the White House was always intended to last for only about 100 days

Desperate immigrants who have sold everything back home to make the journey are trying to cross the border more than once after initially failing

Venezuela

La periodista Sulay García señala que la presencia de grupos militares en la zona no es un hecho nuevo sino histórico y que se debe, en gran medida, a la ausencia de políticas en la región por parte del gobierno

Weekly border update: April 9, 2021

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border.Since what’s happening at the border is one of the principal events in this week’s U.S. news, this update is a “double issue,” longer than normal. See past weekly updates here

CBP reports its March migration data: key trends

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported encountering 172,331 undocumented migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in March. This mostly happened between the border’s official ports of entry, where CBP’s Border Patrol component had 168,195 “encounters” or apprehensions, a 72 percent increase over February’s total of 97,549. This was Border Patrol’s largest monthly total in exactly 20 years, since March 2001.

Of these 168,195 encounters:

  • 101,897 (61 percent) were people who ended up expelled rapidly under the so-called “Title 42” pandemic order issued in March 2020. Mexico has agreed to take Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran migrants expelled back across the border, with some exceptions discussed below.
Download a PDF packet of graphics at bit.ly/wola_border.
  • About 28 percent were people who had been expelled before, or “recidivist” in CBP’s terminology. This means there is quite a bit of double (or triple) counting, and the actual number of people encountered at the border is smaller.
  • 35 percent were from Mexico, 25 percent were from Honduras, 20 percent were from Guatemala, 6 percent were from El Salvador, and 14 percent were from other countries.
  • This means that in one month, Border Patrol encountered 46 citizens of Mexico for every 100,000 Mexican citizens living in Mexico; 146 citizens of El Salvador for every 100,000 in El Salvador; 194 citizens of Guatemala for every 100,000 in Guatemala; and 429 citizens of Honduras for every 100,000 in Honduras.
Download a PDF packet of graphics at bit.ly/wola_border.
  • 96,628, or 57 percent, were single adults, a 40 percent increase over February. This is the largest number of single adults in the 114 months for which we have demographic data (since October 2011). 87 percent (84,545) were expelled under Title 42. The majority (57 percent) came from Mexico, 14 percent were from Guatemala, 11 percent from Honduras, 4 percent from El Salvador, and 13 percent from other countries.
  • 52,904, or 31 percent, were members of families (parents with children), a 174 percent increase over February. This is the fifth-largest number of family members in the 114 months for which we have demographic data. 33 percent (17,345) were expelled under Title 42. 47 percent came from Honduras, 22 percent were from Guatemala, 8 percent from El Salvador, 4 percent from Mexico, and 20 percent from other countries.
  • According to the New York Times, Border Patrol encountered “more than 1,360” family members on March 28 and expelled less than 16 percent (219). On March 26 the agency encountered “more than 2,100 family members and expelled less than 10 percent (200).
Download a PDF packet of graphics at bit.ly/wola_border.
  • 18,663, or 11 percent, were children arriving unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, a 101 percent increase over February. This is the largest number of unaccompanied children in the 114 months for which we have demographic data, significantly breaking the earlier record of 11,475 set in May 2019. Almost no children (7) were expelled under Title 42, as the Biden administration is refusing to expel children alone without giving them access to protection. 47 percent came from Guatemala, 33 percent were from Honduras, 12 percent from Mexico, 8 percent from El Salvador, and 1 percent from other countries.

CBP encountered 4,136 migrants at its official ports of entry, which are generally closed to “inessential” travel and people without documents under pandemic measures. 73 percent were single adults.

As of April 7, a record 20,596 unaccompanied children were in U.S. government custody. Of these, 16,489 were in shelters run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS), including several temporary emergency facilities set up in recent weeks. The remainder—4,107—are stuck in Border Patrol’s inadequate holding and processing facilities, waiting for new ORR space to open up.

The overall trends for unaccompanied children are promising, though:

  • Those newly apprehended by Border Patrol are decreasing, from over 600 per day two weeks ago to an average under 500 per day today.
  • Those in Border Patrol custody fell to 4,107 on April 7, from a high of 5,767 on March 28, as more children have been transferred to ORR’s new facilities.
  • Daily transfers from Border Patrol to ORR have increased from less than 500 per day two weeks ago, to well over 700 per day on most recent days. Still, a child’s average stay in Border Patrol’s holding spaces is more than 135 hours. The law requires that it not exceed 72 hours.
  • As a result, the ORR shelter population of 16,489 represents a huge increase from the 11,551 children in shelters on March 23. ORR is “set to open at least 11 emergency housing sites with 18,200 beds at convention centers, work camps, a church hall and military posts in Texas and California,” CBS News reports.
  • ORR seeks to minimize children’s stay in shelters by placing them with relatives or sponsors in the United States, with whom they stay while their needs for protection or asylum are assessed. Transfers out of ORR custody are increasing, but only exceeded 300 per day for the first time on April 7. The number being newly apprehended by Border Patrol still exceeds the number being transferred to families or sponsors by roughly 150 per day.
Click the image to enlarge. Download a PDF packet of graphics at bit.ly/wola_border.

While the Biden administration is not expelling unaccompanied children under Title 42, it is expelling as many families with children as it can. 80 percent of families Border Patrol encounters are from Mexico or Central America’s “Northern Triangle” (Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala), and Mexico has agreed to take in expelled citizens of the latter countries. Mexico can only take so many, however; as a result—as noted above—about two-thirds of encountered families were not expelled in March.

This contradicts President Biden’s statement at his March 25 press conference that “We’re sending back the vast majority of the families that are coming.” An unnamed Biden administration official—apparently trying to reassure critics—told the Dallas Morning News, “We are doing our best to expel under Title 42 authority, where we can.”

Families whom Mexico does not allow to be expelled get released into the U.S. interior with an order to appear in immigration court. In south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley region, where the largest number of Central American migrants arrive, the demand appears to be overwhelming Border Patrol’s processing capability. The Associated Press reported that “U.S. authorities are releasing migrant families on the Mexican border without notices to appear in immigration court or sometimes without any paperwork at all” in order to save time and ease pressure.

It is not clear which families Mexico will and won’t take back under Title 42. “It doesn’t seem to have rhyme or reason,” Joanna Williams of the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales told the Wall Street Journal, which cited a CBP spokesperson explaining that expulsion decisions “were on a ‘case-by-case basis,’ based on factors including COVID-19 protocols, holding capacity, Mexican law and migrants’ health situations.”

CBP’s data for the fiscal year so far (October-March) show a wide variation across the nine sectors into which the agency divides the border. In the Rio Grande Valley, 32 percent of families get expelled to Mexico. The number is much higher in El Paso (88 percent) or Tucson (76 percent). The Rio Grande Valley may be lowest because authorities in  the Mexican state across that part of the border, Tamaulipas, are generally refusing expulsions of families with children under seven years old.

Central American families who do get expelled into Tamaulipas find themselves homeless in one of the most violence-torn states in all of Mexico. A Honduran mother in the Tamaulipas border city of Reynosa, which is disputed by factions of Mexico’s Gulf and Northeast cartels, told the Dallas Morning News that Border Patrol “dropped [her and her child] off at the international bridge into downtown Reynosa at 1 a.m. Several other immigrants said they had been dropped off in the middle of the night, too.” Under non-pandemic circumstances, this would wildly violate the terms of the U.S.-Mexico repatriation agreements, as it represents a grave threat to the migrants’ security. Under Title 42, though, Border Patrol or CBP simply leave the families at all hours in the middle of the border bridge.

At a park in downtown Reynosa about a block from the border bridge, expelled Central American families have begun to congregate around a gazebo. The scene threatens to resemble a recently disbanded tent encampment in the nearby border city of Matamoros, where over 1,000 Central American family members subject to the now-defunct “Remain in Mexico” program lived for over a year. “I have a big concern that the numbers will increase to the point where we have a refugee camp like in Matamoros,” Sister Norma Pimentel of Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley told the Dallas Morning News.

Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, a cofounder of the “Sidewalk School” that offers lessons to the children of asylum-seeking kids stuck in Mexico, told the Rio Grande Valley Monitor that Reynosa is much more dangerous than Matamoros. While her group accepted U.S. volunteers to support its work in Matamoros, the security situation makes that impossible in Reynosa. “We’re not bringing any Americans into this because of the cartels. We just keep ourselves safe at all times and we keep our heads down and mind our business.”

CNN, meanwhile, reviewed Border Patrol data indicating that many expelled families are separating inside Mexico: Parents are sending their children back across the border unaccompanied, knowing that they will be taken in and eventually placed with relatives inside the United States. The potential number of family separations is jaw-dropping: “From February 24 to March 23, there were 435 incidents in the south Texas region where children were apprehended crossing the border alone after previously being expelled with their family,” CNN reports.

Envoy visits Central America as USAID sends a team

Ricardo Zúñiga, a veteran diplomat who since March 22 has been the State Department’s special envoy for the Northern Triangle, visited Guatemala and El Salvador this week. His purpose appeared to be to get to know some of the key actors in both countries—in government, the judiciary, and civil society—while laying the groundwork for a future U.S. aid package aimed at addressing the “root causes” of migration from the region.

In Guatemala on April 6, Zúñiga and National Security Council trans-border director Katie Tobin met with President Alejandro Giammattei and senior cabinet members, as well as with non-governmental organization leaders and judicial sector representatives, including the country’s special prosecutor against impunity and a judge who has been recognized for her bravery. At a press conference, Zúñiga indicated that, in addition to economic aid and supporting reformers, the Biden administration is seeking means “to create legal means for migration so that people do not have to use irregular and dangerous routes.”

The U.S. envoy’s visit to El Salvador on April 7 was a bit rockier, as the country’s populist president, Nayib Bukele, refused to meet with him. Bukele, who enjoys very high popularity at home, has had chilly relations with the Biden administration and other Democrats:

  • In early February, he paid an impromptu visit to Washington seeking to meet members of the new administration, who refused to see him.
  • On his busy Twitter account, Bukele has objected to El Salvador being lumped in with its neighbors as a “Northern Triangle” country, arguing that its citizens migrate far less than do Guatemalans and Hondurans. While this is true, 1,570 fleeing Salvadoran children—51 per day—did show up unaccompanied at the U.S.-Mexico border in March.
  • Bukele got in an ugly April 1 Twitter argument with Rep. Norma Torres (D-California), the co-chair of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Central America Caucus. Torres told him the migration crisis was “a result of narcissistic dictators like you interested in being ‘cool’ while people flee by the 1000s & die by the 100s.”
  • Two of his aides told the Associated Press that “Bukele was angered by State Department spokesman Ned Price’s comments Monday [April 5] that the U.S. looks forward to Bukele restoring a ‘strong separation of powers where they’ve been eroded and demonstrate his government’s commitment to transparency and accountability.’”

Bukele does, however, place a premium on El Salvador’s relations with the United States. Among several contracts with Washington lobby firms is a new one with the law firm Arnold and Porter, signed on March 25: $1.2 million for the services of Tom Shannon, a former ambassador to Brazil and undersecretary of state for political affairs. “President Bukele is the most successful, politically stable and important leader in Central America,” Shannon said in a statement sent to AP.

In the end, Zúñiga and Tobin met with El Salvador’s foreign minister, its attorney general (who is a critic of Bukele), and private sector and NGO leaders.

Honduras was not on the U.S. delegation’s agenda. On March 30 a U.S. court handed down a life sentence for narcotrafficking to Tony Hernández, the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernández, who was named frequently as a co-conspirator in the prosecution’s case. Evidence presented in court pointed to the depth of corruption at the highest levels of power in Honduras. So while the U.S. envoy skipped Honduras during his first official tour of the Northern Triangle,  the Hernández government’s foreign minister said that she had a “very fruitful” online conversation with Zúñiga during the week of March 24 and that Honduras’s dialogues with the Biden administration, which “started on February 4,” are “more advanced” than its neighbors’.

The Biden administration faces a conundrum of how to assist countries led by corrupt officials, or what National Security Council Latin America Director Juan González calls “predatory elites.” At his March 25 press conference, President Biden said the U.S government would seek to go around the elites where possible and assist communities directly, arguing that he pursued that approach when he was vice president: “What I was able to do is not give money to the head of state, because so many are corrupt, but I was able to say, ‘Okay, you need lighting in the streets to change things? I’ll put the lighting in.’”

This week we saw signs that the administration’s approach may have a shorter-term, faster-moving component. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that its Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance is deploying a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to the Northern Triangle countries “to respond to urgent humanitarian needs.” A USAID release notes that the agency “has provided approximately $112 million in life-saving humanitarian aid—including emergency food assistance, nutrition services, safe drinking water, shelter, programs to help people earn an income, and disaster risk reduction programs. Of this, $57 million is for people in Guatemala, $47 million in Honduras, and $8 million in El Salvador.”

While much past “root cause” discussions of Central America focused on gang violence and insecurity, the issue of the moment is hunger and severe malnutrition. The pandemic economic depression, two hurricanes in two November 2020 weeks, and a five-year climate change-caused drought, exacerbated by feckless government responses, have brought hunger to emergency levels.

“Guatemala now has the sixth-highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world. The number of acute cases in children, according to one new Guatemalan government study, doubled between 2019 and 2020,” the Washington Post reported. “In Indigenous communities in the country’s western highlands, where a disproportionate number of people are leaving, the chronic child malnutrition rate hovers around 70 percent, higher than any country in the world.” A World Food Program “March to July 2021 Outlook” report finds 570,000 Hondurans, 428,000 Guatemalans, and 121,000 Salvadorans facing “emergency” or “phase 4” food insecurity. The only level higher is “phase 5,” which it calls “catastrophe,” or famine.

Some border wall construction could restart

Sources at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told the conservative Washington Times of a conversation in which Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas indicated the Biden administration might allow construction to fill “gaps” in the Trump administration’s border wall.

As a candidate, Joe Biden had pledged that “not another foot” of border wall would be built under his administration. On January 20, he issued a proclamation freezing wall construction for sixty days. That period has passed, and wall construction contractors remain on hold but poised to continue work.

In his conversation with ICE employees, the Washington Times reported, Mayorkas told them that CBP—which manages border fencing—has submitted a plan explaining how it would wish to move forward. “It’s not a single answer to a single question. There are different projects that the chief of the Border Patrol has presented and the acting commissioner of CBP presented to me.”

The Secretary added that there is “room to make decisions as the administration, as part of the administration, in particular areas of the wall that need renovation, particular projects that need to be finished. These could include ‘gaps,’ ‘gates,’ and areas ‘where the wall has been completed but the technology has not been implemented.’”

At a March 17 House committee hearing, Mayorkas had struck a firmer tone. Asked, “Are you going to be asking the president to finish the wall, and the wall that has already been appropriated by Congress,” the Secretary replied, “No, I will not.”

The abrupt January 20 freeze in wall construction has left gaps where the barrier is unbuilt. Environmental groups, community groups, property holders, and Indigenous communities argue that there should be even more gaps, taking down segments of what was already built. This would mitigate environmental damage in fragile ecosystems, reopen wildlife migratory corridors, and protect ancestral and sacred sites. A coalition of 75 organizations (including WOLA) produced a document in February listing priority areas where existing border wall needs to be taken down.

Links

  • Protection-seeking migrants aren’t just coming to the United States. In March Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR, broke its record for most asylum requests in a month, with 9,076. With 22,606 requests in the first quarter of 2021, COMAR is on pace to exceed 90,000 requests this year,  breaking its single-year record of 70,440 requests, set in 2019. As recently as 2015, COMAR was getting only 3,400 requests. More than half of this year’s applicants are Hondurans, followed by Cubans, Haitians, Salvadorans, Venezuelans, and Guatemalans. “We don’t know if it’s their first or their second intention” to remain in Mexico, COMAR director Andrés Ramírez told the New York Times. “What we can tell you is that more and more people are coming to us.”
  • The Department of Homeland Security is examining 5,600 cases of migrant children with the expectation that it will find “a small number of additional [family] separations on top of thousands that have already been reported,” according to Reuters. “There is also a lot of misinformation in the files—wrong dates, confusion in names, doubled up cases,” an official said.
  • Mexico’s immigration authority (the National Migration Institute or INM) has classified for five years its files on the January 22 massacre of 16 Guatemalan migrants, allegedly committed by state police agents, in Camargo, Tamaulipas. Curiously, at the crime scene was a vehicle that the INM (which has gone through numerous corruption scandals and allegations) had seized in a counter-migration operation a few months earlier. Eight INM agents were fired, but now details will not be public until 2026.
  • A March 26-29 AP/NORC poll of 1,166 U.S. adults gave Joe Biden a 61 percent overall approval rating, but only a 42 percent approval rating on immigration and 44 percent on border security. Independent voters disapproved of Biden’s performance on immigration by a 37 percentage-point margin (67 percent to 30 percent). 40 percent disapprove of Biden’s handling of unaccompanied children, and 24 percent approve. The New York Times cites a recent Gallup poll in which immigration tied for third place among issues that respondents viewed as the country’s most pressing problem. It was first place for those who identified as Republicans.
  • DHS Secretary Mayorkas paid a low-profile visit to El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley this week, speaking with border security personnel and community organizations.
  • Asked by Politico what she would like her colleagues to understand about the border, Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who represents El Paso, replied, “Number one, migration doesn’t stop. Number two, deterrence doesn’t work. And number three, the status quo hasn’t addressed anything.” Escobar, a recipient of WOLA’s 2020 Human Rights Award, also gave an interview to the Intercept in which, among many proposals, she called for the imprisonment of former Trump advisor Stephen Miller.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Lynda M. González photo at the Dallas Morning News. Caption: “A young boy played with a single roller skate as expelled migrants sat around a gazebo in a public square in the Mexican border city of Reynosa on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Migrants have resorted to living at the plaza as the U.S. continues to expel them after they cross the border under Title 42 — a pandemic-related public order still in place and left over from the Trump administration.”

(Even more here)

April 8, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

The effort is expected to uncover a small number of additional separations on top of thousands that have already been reported

Brazil

Mr Bolsonaro’s approval rating has fallen below 30%. And the pandemic is still raging: a record 4,211 deaths were reported on April 6th. To the army’s embarrassment, Eduardo Pazuello, a general, was in charge as health minister

Colombia

The recruits are useful. They can collect extortion fees, work in cocaine labs, or be forced into sex work. They can also sell and smuggle drugs, are used as assassins, and are often sent to the front lines of battle

La Andje pide urgente la regulación del derecho fundamental a la protesta pues, a su juicio, la ciudadanía se aprovechará del mismo, “desprestigiando a la autoridad policial”

La propuesta, bautizada también como las “curules de paz”, no prosperó en la plenaria del Senado y tampoco en los estrados judiciales, por lo que la única posibilidad que para sobrevivir depende de la Corte Constitucional

Temen pasar a la historia como una banda criminal que cometió delitos de lesa humanidad, si aceptan los cargos que les fueron imputados a sus jefes

El Salvador

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele refused to meet with a visiting senior U.S. diplomat this week over what he sees as a pattern of slights from Democrats and the Biden administration

Dos meses han transcurrido desde aquel desplante y, lejos de apaciguarse, las aguas no han dejado de estar revueltas entre Washington y San Salvador

Haiti

No longer is traveling Haiti’s already chaotic roadways a question of whether Haitians will reach their destination, but rather will they make it back home alive as armed robberies and kidnapping-for-ransom become almost daily occurrences

Mexico

Las menciones de los organismos internacionales de derechos humanos son falsas. Estas instancias han sido clave para documentar y llamar la atención sobre la crisis de derechos humanos que empezó a cernirse sobre México con el recrudecimiento de la llamada guerra contra las drogas

Mientras tanto la depuración y profesionalización de las fuerzas de seguridad locales – una de las justificaciones para la puesta en marcha de la Guardia Nacional – ha quedado en el limbo

Murieron más civiles de los que fueron lastimados en los enfrentamientos de la SEDENA (por cada civil herido, fallecieron 4.7 civiles)

The encounter between Ms. Salazar, a Salvadoran living in Mexico on a humanitarian visa, and four police officers was videotaped by a bystander. Her death sparked nationwide protests

La FGR exoneró al general Salvador Cienfuegos sin haber interrogado a Jesús Ricardo Patrón, el ‘H3’, único testigo encarcelado en México y quien de acuerdo a la DEA identificó al exsecretario

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

As a result of intensifying pressure from the U.S. to secure the border, the Mexican and Central American governments have cracked down on people trying to make their way to the U.S.

“I have a big concern that the numbers will increase to the point where we have a refugee camp like in Matamoros,” Pimentel said

U.S.-Mexico Border

Conditions on the southwest border represent a serious political challenge to President Biden

Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar reports back from her visit to an El Paso facility housing unaccompanied migrant children

The increase last month was so large that it did not fit on the y-axis of the CBP chart that tracks changes in monthly enforcement data

A record number of people petitioned for asylum in Mexico last month, drawn by family ties and high approval rates — and discouraged by the difficulty of getting into the U.S.

“We are doing our best to expel under Title 42 authority where we can and where there is capacity on the Mexican side,” the official added

Now that we have the official data, it is also clearly true that the administration’s efforts to play down the increase don’t hold up very well

Venezuela

Según el también vicepresidente del Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), los comunicadores sociales cubren las noticias en Apure a la espera de que asesinen a venezolanos para «hacer fiesta»

The day ahead: April 8, 2021

I’m easiest to reach mid-day to mid-afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’m finishing some writing this morning, then I need to silence all alerts while I record an hourlong lecture, which may require a few takes. After that I should be reachable while I work on our weekly border update. I have a Spanish-language TV interview and a meeting with Colombian colleagues late in the day.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 7, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

In the Americas, Amnesty International Report 2020/21: The State of the World’s Human Rights documents how women, refugees, migrants, under-protected health workers, Indigenous Peoples, Black people and other groups historically forgotten by governments have borne the brunt of the pandemic

Colombia

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) received information about 24 killings of human rights defenders and social leaders

La fórmula de negociación de tierras y curules no funcionará con el Eln, pues en cada territorio tiene reclamos diferentes

Vía decreto, el Gobierno dispuso que las tutelas contra la Presidencia que involucran erradicación de cultivos ilícitos o seguridad nacional sean estudiadas exclusivamente por el Consejo de Estado. Se les anuló la competencia a los juzgados regionales

“I ask myself, ‘Maybe if she stayed in school, had some way to keep her mind occupied, maybe we wouldn’t be at this cemetery,’” said her father

Colombia, Venezuela

La presidenta de Control Ciudadano señala que no parece similar la actuación de la FAN frente a todos los grupos armados presentes en la zona y que además parece estarse dando un esquema de neutralidad frente a la actuación del Ejército de Liberación Nacional

A través de redes sociales ha sido revelado el despliegue por parte de la Dirección Conjunta de Fuerzas Especiales, de vehículos aéreos no tripulados (UAV) Orlan-10 de fabricación rusa

Arreaza insistió que la frontera venezolana está representada por la administración de Maduro, mientras que por el lado colombiano no existe la representatividad del Ejecutivo presidido por Iván Duque

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

The White House is looking to create legal ways for Central American migrants to reach the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy Ricardo Zuñiga said

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is deploying a Disaster Assistance Response Team to respond to urgent humanitarian needs in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador

Honduras

Now, in Honduras, the Biden administration’s task has been made even more daunting because of the criminal cases against men linked to President Juan Orlando Hernández

Mexico

Ha de señalarse que entre 2019 y 2020 se incorporó un número de nuevos elementos superior al estado de fuerza total operativo de la extinta Policía Federal.

Paradójicamente, este orden moral justifica el uso de la violencia para la protección de la comunidad y se funda en ella para asentar la legitimidad de las autodefensas

López Obrador expuso que México está dispuesto a colaborar y “sumar voluntades” para que se salvaguarde la vida y los derechos humanos de las y los migrantes, pero especialmente de las niñas y los niños

Paraguay

Ulises Quintana “participó en actos que facilitaron la delincuencia organizada transnacional, socavaron el estado de derecho y obstruyeron la confianza de la población en los procesos públicos de Paraguay”, según dijo Antony Blinken

Peru

Indigenous communities in Peru’s central Amazon are experiencing an increase in violence, threats and harassment as drug gangs target their land to grow coca

U.S.-Mexico Border

Cecilia Muñoz discusses the Biden Administration’s response to the recent surge of arrivals and how conversations about the border have changed during the past thirty years

“We’re not bringing any Americans into this because of the cartels,” she said. “We just keep ourselves safe at all times and we keep our heads down and mind our business. But, we try not to dwell on the cartel part

From February 24 to March 23, there were 435 incidents in the south Texas region where children were apprehended crossing the border alone after previously being expelled with their family as a part of the pandemic health order

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