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.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Orlando Sierra / AFP photo at La Prensa (Nicaragua). Caption: “Military Police members patrol a street of Tegucigalpa on November 21, 2017. Honduras will hold elections next November 26 to choose president, three vicepresidents, 128 deputies for the local congress an 20 for the Central American (Parlacen) and 128 mayoralties.”

(Even more here)

November 22, 2017


Chileans did not follow other Latin Americans in making a right-wing turn in the presidential election, and instead voted to stay the course on the ambitious reform agenda that Bachelet put in place


La Mesa Regional de Organizaciones de Putumayo, Meros, que fueron los que lideraron la negociación, lograron apancalarse electoralmente con miras a las circunscripciones de paz del año entrante

Después de que el jefe de la Misión de Verificación de la ONU en Colombia, Jean Arnault, dijera que en las zonas de desarme queda sólo el 45 % de los excombatientes de las Farc, el Gobierno puso el grito en el cielo

Investment in the development of rural areas will determine whether the peace agreement succeeds or fails. It is time for the candidates to address that issue


The administration’s decision to rescind the humanitarian status that allowed so many Haitians to live in the United States amounts to an act of cruelty


Honduras elige este próximo domingo un nuevo presidente con pronósticos de una crisis política por el empeño del mandatario Juan Orlando Hernández de conseguir una cuestionada reelección


It happened after dark in an area that’s known for drug activity and where agents often look for drugs in culverts

Nationwide, 2017 is on track to be the deadliest year in recent Mexican history

Esta es la cuarta vez en el año que se rompe el récord mensual de homicidios y es también el mes más violento en la administración del presidente Enrique Peña Nieto


La poetisa y escritora nicaragüense Gioconda Belli pidió hoy al Ejército de Nicaragua aclarar la muerte de 6 civiles, de ellos 2 menores, la semana pasada durante un incidente armado


“One of the biggest lessons and benefits we’re experiencing is that the most serious, responsible, and rigorous journalism is being recognized by audiences”

Western Hemisphere Regional

The administration has moved to slash the number of refugees, accelerate deportations and terminate the provisional residency of more than a million people, among other measures

“Good to be here”

The deconstruction of the State Department continues in real time.

On Monday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Colombia’s foreign minister. On Tuesday, he met with Peru’s foreign minister.

Why the flurry of activity? You’re not going to learn anything from the State Department.

Here’s the entirety of what the Secretary’s office had the gall to post about the Peruvian visit. What an insult to transparency. What a waste of hard drive space.

The day ahead: November 22, 2017

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

It’s the day before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, so it should be quiet in the office. I’ll be finishing a long draft memo about Colombia’s transitional justice legislation, and updating our border legislation tracker because the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday released its version of the 2018 Homeland Security budget bill, which would fund Trump’s border wall.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from Proceso (Mexico). Caption: “La movilización indígena en Chiapas.”

(Even more here)

November 21, 2017


Among the issues discussed: Brazil’s Integrated Border Monitoring System (SISFRON, per its Portuguese acronym) stood out


En 36 de los 42 municipios de Cauca hay cultivos de marihuana tipo cripa. Los traficantes de Medellín prefieren la que crece en la zona norte

Para afianzar la reincorporación frente a los desafíos de las economías ilegales, agilizar el acceso a la tierra es una prioridad

Significan oportunidades de transformación positiva en muchos asuntos y en particular en lo que se refiere al narcotráfico y sus impactos en la sociedad

Comunidades cercanas al municipio de Riosucio, Chocó, denuncian que el conflicto armado sigue a pesar de la salida de las Farc y el cese el fuego bilateral entre el Gobierno y el Eln

Lo que hace un año fue una ilusión para lograr una rendición de cuentas de todos los perpetradores, y de las responsabilidades que tenemos como sociedad en la creación de una democracia con desigualdad, donde hay más de 8 millones de víctimas, ha quedado hoy en un cadáver insepulto

La ministra de Relaciones Exteriores de Colombia, María Ángela Holguín y el secretario de Estados Unidos, Rex Tillerson, se reunieron para confirmar y fortalecer las alianzas


El momento de la sorpresiva visita del diplomático norcoreano, que no ha sido reflejada en los principales medios oficiales de la isla, ha sorprendido a los analistas

With a return to Cold War-era policies, it is the Cuban people — not their government — who will suffer


Earlier this month, with his approval ratings touching 80 percent, Moreno announced plans for a constitutional plebiscite that will include a proposal to limit presidential re-election – a move that would bar Correa


The protection will permanently terminate July 22, 2019, allowing Haitians living in the U.S. under TPS an 18-month window to return to their struggling homeland

Honduras, Venezuela

Así reaccionó el presidente Juan Orlando Hernández a la advertencia del exsubsecretario de Estado para Asuntos del Hemisferio, Otto J. Reich, sobre la llegada de ciudadanos de Venezuela infiltrados en Honduras


Union officials say Rogelio Martinez was attacked. The FBI isn’t saying

Details were thin, but the episode in a remote stretch of Texas quickly made its way into the national conversation on immigration and border security

Until recently, the Mexican government had only insinuated that security cooperation was on the table. It’s time for Americans to take the warning seriously

Western Hemisphere Regional

In an expansion of the war on drugs, the U.S. Coast Guard is targeting low-level smugglers in international waters — shackling them on ships for weeks or even months before arraignment in American courts

Special Forces trainings in Latin America aren’t declining, despite the reported numbers

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, we obtained (heavily redacted) reports detailing U.S. Special Operations Forces’ training deployments around the world. (Reports since 2014 are here; earlier ones are at Security Assistance Monitor.)

This allowed me to update a table that ran in an August 2016 WOLA commentary about these trainings in Latin America. That piece voiced some of our concerns about this Defense Department-run training program, known as Joint Combined Exchange Training or JCET.

JCET, carried out by U.S. Special Operations Forces (elite units like Green Berets or Navy SEALs), is secretive. It barely seems to involve U.S. diplomats. It seems to lack much consideration of its impact on human rights, its effect on host-countries’ civil-military relations, or its congruence with the recipient security forces’ actual needs. (Many of us learned about JCETs for the first time in a groundbreaking 1998 Washington Post series, which spelled out these concerns.)

Our updated table of JCET training deployments in Latin America is at the top (click it for a more readable spreadsheet). I was surprised to find a sharp drop in these trainings in 2015 and 2016. Both years were below the 2007-2016 average, and 2016 saw the second-fewest JCET deployments of the past 10 years.

But this doesn’t mean that Special Operations Forces are visiting Latin America less often. The 2016 Defense Department report makes that clear (my emphasis):

“The total number of events executed in FY 2016 represented a 22 percent decrease from those executed the previous year. Despite this, the overall level of SOF [Special Operations Forces] engagements in the USSOUTHCOM AOR [U.S. Southern Command Area of Operations] increased due to other SOF training and operational support.”

What is this “other training and operational support”? Probably Defense Department counter-drug aid. JCETs, which usually pay for training in non-drug-related skills, may be getting less emphasis in favor of an aid program that the Defense Department may employ if the training’s mission can be construed as combating drug trafficking or transnational criminal organizations (TCOs).

If a “counter-drug” or “counter-TCO” nexus exists, the Defense Department can pay for Special Forces training that is very similar to JCET—but it may do so using its much larger budget for counter-drug and counter-transnational organized crime assistance. This account provides roughly US$300 million in assistance to the Western Hemisphere each year. Right now, Congress does not require that the Pentagon report on this program in the same way: while we can see dollar amounts by country and category, there is no unclassified listing of Special Forces trainings.

The JCET report, then, isn’t capturing everything or even explaining the trends properly. If U.S. Special Forces teams are spending more time in Latin America—as the report’s text asserts—you can’t tell where they’re visiting if they’re not paying for it with the JCET program.

The table above, meanwhile, seems to show some abrupt shifts in priorities. El Salvador, Honduras, and Colombia, the top three countries between 2007 and 2014, saw no JCETs in 2016. The Defense Department report notes:

“In FY 2016, in response to changes in the operational environment, U.S. SOF shifted the focus of a significant portion of the JCET program from Central America to partner nations in the Caribbean—primarily the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago.”

But it doesn’t explain what those environmental changes were (at a time when Central America was becoming, if anything, less secure), or why Colombia fell off.

Again, the shift might not be as abrupt as it looks. It’s possible that the Defense Department is now funding Special Operations Forces training in Colombia and Central America through its counter-drug account instead of JCET. The trainers may be there in similar or larger numbers, but we can’t say right now how often that is happening.

The day ahead: November 21, 2017

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

No meetings on the calendar today—the Thanksgiving slowdown is upon us. I’ll be in the office, writing about the border wall, writing about transitional justice in Colombia, and nailing down final details for next week’s research trip to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Andrea Moreno photo at El Tiempo (Colombia). Caption: “Los antiguos guerrilleros trabajan en Icononzo en mejoras a sus viviendas.”

(Even more here)

November 20, 2017


ARA San Juan went missing with 44 crew members on board four days ago, in vast potential search area


While the Olympics led to durable gains for Rio de Janeiro — most notably by upgrading its public transportation system — missed opportunities are evident in virtually every part of the city


Though she narrowly missed out on reaching the second round, Sánchez’s supporters could prove decisive

Con el 91,75% de los votos escrutados, el expresidente y candidato centroderechista tenía un 36,62% de los sufragios

The biggest surprise of the day was the surge of the left, representing a shift in Chile’s political map


Lo que el país está viendo hoy es que la reconciliación, principal objetivo de un proceso de paz, será una dura y larga tarea que requerirá de líderes políticos dispuestos a encabezarla

  • Rodrigo Uprimny, Inhabilidades (DeJusticia, El Espectador (Colombia), November 20, 2017).

Su constitucionalidad debe ser revisada por la Corte Constitucional (CC), que no tiene otra alternativa sino anular la inhabilidad, por ser groseramente inconstitucional, al menos por dos razones

El encuentro se produciría este viernes y la intención es evitar que las dudas de la ahora exguerrilla sobre el sistema de justicia transicional pueda golpear la implementación de la paz


By any reasonable measure, Haiti is not ready to take them back


In Mexico, where the drug war’s “disappeared” number in the tens of thousands, some families take up the search for loved ones on their own

When the authorities could no longer be trusted, Nestora Salgado organized a citizens’ police force. Did she go too far?


El defensor de derechos humanos Gonzalo Carrión, explica sobre las inconsistencias que existen en las muertes de campesinos en las montañas a manos del Ejército


A separate UNHCR document from July estimates that there are 300,000 Venezuelans in neighboring Colombia, 40,000 in Trinidad and Tobago and 30,000 in Brazil

Western Hemisphere Regional

Some observers think Mugabe’s overthrow by the Army might be a good thing for Zimbabwe. An Argentinean expert on Latin America’s bloody military dictatorships disagrees

The day ahead: November 20, 2017

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

I’m off to the State Department for a meeting with a human rights official with whom I haven’t spoken in a while. Then it’s back to the office for the rest of the day, where I’ll join the weekly staff meeting, check in with everyone, clear out my correspondence, and hopefully have about four hours to finish a memo explaining last week’s changes to Colombia’s post-conflict transitional justice system.

The week ahead

It’s Thanksgiving week in the United States. This is the second most widely celebrated holiday of the year here, after Christmas. Nearly everything will be closed Thursday, and—except for retail—also on Friday. I’ll be away for the holiday, though not traveling far this time.

Washington will be quiet all week. The House and Senate are out of session. I don’t see any Latin America-related events happening here during this truncated week.

It’s a week to focus on writing and research. We’ve got three drafts in semi-written state right now: a memo explaining what happened last week with Colombia’s post-conflict transitional justice system; a memo about the relevance of the border wall prototypes under construction in San Diego, California; and a big, slow-moving overview of Colombia’s post-conflict challenges.

I hope to finish at least two of those this week, and make progress on the third.

Then on Sunday, a few of us will be getting on a plane for McAllen, Texas. We’ll be spending the first three days of the week doing some research in the Rio Grande Valley sector of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The day ahead: November 8, 2017

I’ll be unreachable most of the day. (How to contact me)

I’m flying to Colombia today, where I’ll be participating in a two-day off-the-record discussion of Colombia’s implementation of illicit crop substitution within the framework of the peace accord. I’ll try to post a bit from Bogotá.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Alexandre Cassiano photo in O Globo (Brazil). Caption: “Megaoperação das Forças Armadas em São Gonçalo”

(Even more here)

November 7, 2017


The investigation listed key evidence that wasn’t mentioned in previous reports: Nisman’s nasal septum was broken. He had suffered blows


The FARC would be left in a highly vulnerable limbo with no confidence in the guarantees for their judicial situation, security, reintegration into civilian life and political participation

Algunos sectores de las Farc le han planteado al Gobierno la necesidad de abrir esas listas, que se cerraron el pasado 15 de agosto, para incluir a más miembros. A esto el Gobierno se ha negado enfáticamente

En menos de una semana fueron asesinados dos labriegos que impulsaban los procesos de sustitución voluntaria de hoja de coca y que hacían parte del capítulo Antioquia de la Cocam

El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua

The Trump administration said it needs more time to determine the fate of some 57,000 Hondurans living in the United States with provisional residency status


The undated government report estimated that the drug trade, tax fraud and other crimes were worth at least 1.13 trillion pesos ($58.5 billion) a year in Mexico, with all of that money susceptible to money laundering

“It would be much more difficult to have the political will in Mexico to continue to further that collaboration which is very much needed”


Si le creemos a los resultados de las municipales que leyó entrando la madrugada de este lunes el cuestionado magistrado del Consejo Supremo Electoral (CSE), Roberto Rivas, el FSLN barrió


We hope well-targeted sanctions of varying degrees combined with coordinated diplomatic efforts may prove effective in pressuring the Maduro regime to hold free and fair elections

Guevara es acusado de estos delitos por la Fiscalía, que le relaciona con su papel en las protestas antigubernamentales

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