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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5 links from the past week

  • The Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff published a photo-heavy look at how drug traffickers, often flying and abandoning expensive jets from Venezuela, have penetrated an ecologically fragile national park in Guatemala’s Petén region.
  • The Cruel Road North” is the result of a collaboration among numerous media outlets in several countries, under the umbrella of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. The multi-part, multimedia presentation explores the journey of extra-continental migrants across Latin America to the United States, and the attendant criminal, smuggling, and corruption networks.
  • Another multi-part, multimedia presentation comes from the Colombian Commission of Jurists and the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective. “The Silence of the Flutes” lays bare the Colombian military’s responsibility for historically brutal paramilitary massacres that took place in the northern Montes de María region in 2000 and 2001.
  • The International Crisis Group looks at El Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s curious success in curbing gang violence. “While the public celebrates” the authoritarian-trending leader’s “well-known ‘iron fist’ policies, the reasons for success might lie in quiet, informal understandings between gangs and the government.”
  • Back to Guatemala: at Boston Review, Kirsten Weld tells the story of the police archive that became a crucial source of information about human rights abuses committed during the country’s 36-year civil war. Amid a hardline backlash and the Trump administration’s silence, access to the archive is now impossible.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from El Universo (Guayaquil, Ecuador). Caption: “Militares realizan patrullajes con armas neumáticas que disparan municiones de pintura con talco.”

(Even more here)

July 10, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

Migrants travelling through Latin America usually start their journey in the region’s largest economy, Brazil, whose relatively loose refugee laws and visa requirements, as well as good flight connections, make it a natural landing place

OCCRP and our Latin American partner Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística (CLIP), along with 16 media outlets in 14 countries, worked together on the largest ever journalistic investigation into these little-known routes

Immigrant advocates said the government’s filing sets up a potential separation of children from their parents in ICE custody

Even as lockdowns and other measures have been taken around the world to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, ICE has continued to detain people, move them from state to state and deport them


Opposition demands answers after death of key witness in high-profile corruption inquiry


Las Fuerzas Armadas han demandado a la Asamblea Legislativa Plurinacional que apruebe los ascensos de la gestión 2020, que se hallan paralizados desde el mes de enero del presente año

Ms. Añez is the second Latin America leader this week, after President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, to disclose an infection


Rodrigo Londoño, leader of what was Latin America’s biggest guerrilla army, claims to enjoy his new life as a father and politician

A través de un trino, el exministro de Defensa Juan Carlos Pinzón, los acusó de estar relacionados con grupos armados y de tener una visión sesgada

Desde el 25 de junio, un grupo de líderes indígenas, afrodescendientes, campesinos y excombatientes partió desde Popayán con destino a la capital del país para denunciar la grave situación de seguridad del Cauca

Efforts to implement the agreements, including initiatives to address the root causes of the conflict by fulfilling the needs of historically marginalized communities, have stalled in part because leaders of these communities have faced unprecedented levels of threats and violence

Agentes estatales de la Brigada Primera de Infantería de Marina (BRIPRIMA), bajo la comandancia del entonces Contraalmirante Rodrigo Quiñones Cárdenas, actuaron conjuntamente o con aquiescencia y complicidad, bajo la expresión de una política de Estado de apoyo a la consolidación del paramilitarismo

Dos recientes allanamientos en Bogotá pusieron al descubierto cuáles son los lazos de su poder en la capital. Algunos de los pactos criminales son los mismos que tuvieron los bloques Capital y Centauros de las Auc.

Lo que dicen es que ellos no sabían que la tierra estaba manchada de sangre y, por ende, son inocentes

En el primer semestre del año se registró un aumento del 55%, en el número de muertes por violencia política frente al mismo periodo de 2019, al pasar de 60 a 93

Dominican Republic

Mr Abinader’s victory unseats the Dominican Liberation Party (pld), which has ruled for 20 of the past 24 years. Although power transfers in the country are rare, they do not necessarily bring change


Militares realizan patrullajes con armas neumáticas que disparan municiones de pintura con talco

El Salvador

Testimonios revelaron una conspiración para encubrir el crimen en la que habrían participado el diputado Rodolfo Parker y agentes del gobierno de Estados Unidos


Fifteen years old this week, Guatemala’s National Police archive has helped prosecute numerous officials for their roles in the country’s civil war. Now shuttered by a Trump-backed government, its dramatic history illustrates the crucial role of state archives in protecting democracy


“In 2019, we conducted 1,882 intelligence exchanges with strategic partners, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and Joint Interagency Task Force South, both from the United States”


Whenever Trump has mentioned amlo, he has tended to speak favorably of him, and amlo has gone out of his way to thank Trump for his kind words

U.S.-Mexico Border

The American Civil Liberties Union said the incident raises questions about the Border Patrol’s commitment to thorough investigations and transparency

U.S. border authorities made 32,512 arrests and detentions along the southern border in June, double the number recorded in April


President Nicolas Maduro said on state television Cabello would need several days of treatment and recovery, but that “he is already resting, he is fine”

El jefe de la diplomacia estadounidense, Mike Pompeo dijo que el gobierno de Trump continuará haciendo “todo lo que podamos hacer” para propiciar la salida del poder de Nicolás Maduro

Official June data from the border: single adults are migrating in the desert heat

U.S. Customs and Border Protection did its monthly data dump yesterday, reporting on how many people the agency, which includes Border Patrol, apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border last month. As the Washington Post noted, the most notable trend was a 40% increase, over May, in the number of undocumented migrants that Border Patrol encountered—even as the border is mostly shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A year ago, the big story at the border was children and families from Central America seeking asylum. The Trump administration has illegally ended asylum at the border for nearly everyone, so numbers of kids and parents have dropped sharply.

Instead, graphing the data out shows that all of the increase is in single adults, mainly from Mexico. Adults are blue in the charts below.

Keep in mind that adults are less likely to be seeking asylum. This means they’re probably trying to avoid being apprehended by Border Patrol. That in turn means many are probably migrating through some of the remotest, most treacherous parts of the border—at the very height of summer, when the desert heat is at its worst. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, there may be a spike in migrant deaths on U.S. soil, from dehydration and exposure, as a result of the COVID-19 border crackdown. Already, official Border Patrol Twitter feeds are full of accounts of rescues.

These graphics, and a few dozen others, are always available as a big PDF file at Also of interest there are the ones showing a pretty big June jump in drug seizures, again “despite the pandemic.”

The day ahead: July 10, 2020

I’m most reachable in the morning and early afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’ve got a couple of border-related calls in the afternoon, but am otherwise at my desk researching, writing, and updating websites.

Latest Table of Aid to Colombia

(Cross-posted from

Click to enlarge. If you’d prefer this as a spreadsheet for easier copying-and-pasting, go here.

The House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee finished work on the 2021 State Department and Foreign Operations bill on July 9. In addition to offering some language very supportive of peace accord implementation, the narrative report accompanying the bill provides a table explaining how the House appropriators (or at least, their strong Democratic Party majority) would require that this money be spent.

The table above shows how the House would spend the 2021 aid money, and how it fits in with what the Trump White House requested, and what aid has looked like since 2016, the year before before the outgoing Obama administration’s “Peace Colombia” aid package went into effect.

If the House were to get its way, less than $200 million of the $458 million in 2021 U.S. aid to Colombia would go to the country’s police and military forces. However, the bill must still go through the Republican-majority Senate, whose bill may reflect somewhat more “drug war” priorities. A final bill is unlikely to pass both houses of Congress until after Election Day.

Sources for most of these numbers:

Not reflected here is assistance to Colombia to manage flows of Venezuelan refugees.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Jabin Botsford photo at The Washington Post. Caption: “President Trump with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico at the White House on Wednesday.”

(Even more here)

July 9, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

CoreCivic, the company contracted to run the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, said 127 of about 300 total CoreCivic employees at Eloy have tested positive since the start of the pandemic, although some have recovered


As infection rates have risen in Brazil, a clearer picture has emerged of which lives the President apparently deems disposable

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday vetoed provisions of a law that obligated the federal government to provide drinking water, disinfectants and a guarantee of hospital beds to indigenous communities


Buenos Aires (Cauca), Puerto Asís (Putumayo), Ituango (Antioquia) y Mesetas (Meta) son las cuatro zonas donde la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz evaluará si debe emitir una medida cautelar

El Gobierno expidió un decreto que establece la nueva ruta para el sometimiento de miembros de los Grupos Armados Organizados (GAO), quienes en caso de dejar las armas y reincorporarse a la sociedad civil podrían recibir beneficios jurídicos y económicos

El gobernador, Juan Guillermo Zuluaga, denunció que las disidencias impusieron a cada campesino tumbar dos hectáreas de bosque para sembrar coca y a los presidentes de las juntas comunales, cobrar vacunas

El Salvador

The murder rate in El Salvador, once the world’s highest, is falling fast. President Nayib Bukele attributes the good news to his harsh anti-gang crackdown, but other factors are likely also salient. The government should explore policing and socio-economic reforms


The Guatemalan Congress’ ability to select an independent judiciary is a measure of its commitment to democracy, respect for the rule of law, and standing in the country’s fight against corruption


The National Migration Institute (INM) said in January that it had supported 601 trafficking and smuggling victims between December 2018 and November 2019. Yet data obtained by the Thomson Reuters Foundation revealed the true figure was 167

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel has become Mexico’s most powerful criminal organization, dominating the trade in fentanyl and methamphetamines and protecting its business by attacking Mexican security forces and public servants directly

Guanajuato no está en una zona de producción de cultivos ilícitos ni en una ruta tradicional de trasiego de drogas. Es, además, un estado que ha experimentado un acelerado crecimiento industrial desde hace 25 años

López Obrador leaves Washington empty-handed, having praised the most actively anti-Mexican U.S. president in recent memory

You have not tried to treat us as a colony; on the contrary, you have honored our condition as an independent nation. That’s why I’m here to express to the people of the United States that their President has behaved with us with kindness and respect

Cuando López Obrador era candidato a la presidencia fue muy crítico con su actual socio en Washington, promovió demandas ante la ONU y la CIDH en su contra, e incluso escribió un libro, “Oye Trump”

U.S.-Mexico Border

The new rules, posted by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security on Wednesday, would make migrants ineligible for asylum if they come from or pass through a country where a widespread infectious disease, such as Covid-19, is present


El Raytheon Hawker 800 habría realizado un vuelo el martes en la tarde sobre la península de Yucatán, entre Ciudad del Carmen y Comuzel. Autoridades venezolanas aseguraron que es una ruta habitual del narcotráfico con destino a Estados Unidos

El anuncio lo hizo durante el acto de graduación conjunta de Oficiales Comando y Técnicos egresados de la Universidad Militar Bolivariana y pase a Reserva Activa de la promoción de 1987, misma promoción en la que se graduó Diosdado Cabello, gran ausente en este acto

A string of recent court rulings dismantling three influential opposition parties along with growing citizen disillusionment — not to mention the coronavirus pandemic — have thrown a new wrench in the opposition’s efforts to oust Maduro

Más de 250 voces, que incluye 105 organizaciones de la sociedad civil y de defensa de Derechos Humanos además de 152 ciudadanos, respaldaron a través de un comunicado conjunto la necesidad de un acuerdo nacional que garantice, entre otros, atender la situación política, económica y social

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Sashenka Gutierrez/EPA, via Shutterstock photo at The New York Times. Caption: “President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico alongside officials charged with human rights and the Ayotzinapa case. The president promised to resolve the painful mystery.”

(Even more here)

July 8, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

The great power threats that exist in the Western Hemisphere look different than those in other parts of the globe, U.S. Southern Command’s Adm. Craig Faller told the Washington Examiner


Saab Aeronáutica Montagens, a new manufacturing plant located near Sao Paulo, has begun producing Gripen E/F aerostructures, including the tail cone and front fuselage for the single-seat Gripen E version of the jet

“It came back positive,” a mask-wearing Bolsonaro told a hand-picked group of reporters

Brazilian police are among the world’s deadliest, and Rio’s are the country’s most lethal

Caribbean Regional, Western Hemisphere Regional

The Navy has had more warships operating in the Caribbean and the Eastern Pacific in the last three months than it has in the last five years


Han pasado cinco años de esos anuncios para un municipio que fue escenario de guerra y después pasó a ser llamado “el laboratorio de la paz”, y parece que todo se hubiera derrumbado

The report covers the period from 27 March to 26 June 2020

La propuesta de esa guerrilla era “crear un clima de distensión humanitaria” para reiniciar los diálogos de paz, pero no hizo mención alguna a la posibilidad de liberar secuestrados o algún otro gesto humanitario

La ONG Temblores armó, con base en datos de Medicina Legal, un extenso listado sobre víctimas que denunciaron haber sido violadas por policías o militares entre 2017 y 2019

El Salvador

En diciembre de 2015 el actual ministro de Gobernación y pre candidato a alcalde de San Salvador por Nuevas Ideas, Mario Durán, se reunió en persona con uno de los más influyentes líderes de la Mara Salvatrucha-13


The attempt to strip immunity from the Constitutional Court judges is the latest salvo by Guatemala’s elites and their political allies in their assault on independent bodies that have taken on corruption investigations


This report draws conclusions about the legacy and lessons of MACCIH, analyzing the political, juridical, social, and institutional impact of the OAS Mission

Honduras, Venezuela

A commission including representatives from Honduras, the United States, and Venezuela’s interim government traveled to Gracias a Dios department to assess the modus operandi of the Cartel of the Suns


The identification of one victim’s remains is the first sign of progress in years in a case that traumatized Mexico and became a symbol of corruption and injustice

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will meet in the White House this week with President Trump, and he said he planned to praise the administration for its “respectful treatment” of Mexicans

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, visiting the White House Wednesday, has avoided fighting the Trump administration. Critics say he is too willing to bend to the American president’s will

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” asylum policies have put migrants at risk of cartel violence and human trafficking and coronavirus infection, Castro said

U.S.-Mexico Border

Ora DeKornfeld and Isabel Castro’s short documentary “USA v Scott” highlights the moral questions facing an Arizona community when Scott Warren was prosecuted for bringing water to migrants in the desert

Indigenous peoples tend to understand and talk about the U.S.-Mexico border in different terms from those who understand the border to be an agreement between governments, often describing the border as artificial or “imaginary”

Joe Biden is deeply committed to fair treatment for those who have made the painful decision of leaving their countries behind in hopes of finding the American Dream. As president, he will restore asylum protections and make sure that children are kept safe with their families


Padrino desató esta semana las críticas de la oposición, que le tildó de “cobarde”, “indigno” y “violador de la Constitución”

When measured solely by income levels, some 96% of the population lives in poverty, a figure unmatched elsewhere in the region and comparable to poor African countries like Nigeria or Chad

Los opositores a Nicolás Maduro todavía no deciden si participarán en las elecciones para la Asamblea Nacional del próximo 6 de diciembre, con el cuestionado Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) como árbitro

The day ahead: July 8, 2020

I’m most reachable in the morning and mid-day. (How to contact me)

With several co-workers on vacation this week, a couple of regular internal meetings are not happening today, so I’ve got a stretch of uninterrupted work time before getting on a couple of calls with researchers and border groups.

I want to spend it doing updates to features of our Colombia Peace website, which were just too painful for me to do in June after I broke my wrist. (Lots of writing and—even harder—selecting lots of text with a mouse.) Sections of that site are falling behind and will take several days to catch up.

I’ve also got an eye on the House Appropriations Committee’s drafting of 2021 budget bills, though we probably won’t get to see the details in the relevant explanatory reports until at least tomorrow.

As many as six civilians have been killed during coca eradication operations amid the pandemic

Every couple of weeks, we get another alert that someone has been killed in Colombia by security forces carrying out coca eradication operations. Those operations are happening under U.S. pressure to go faster, and with lots of U.S. funding, even in the pandemic. And they’re getting more aggressive and violent.

Last Friday, someone else was killed in Putumayo. That appears to be the sixth civilian death since the COVID-19 lockdown began. So I wrote and distributed this commentary on WOLA’s Colombia Peace site.

That dramatic expansion is being helped along by a quarter of a billion dollars in 2020 U.S. assistance for drug interdiction and eradication: $125 million in this year’s foreign aid appropriation, and another $124 million that the Trump administration slashed from aid originally appropriated for Central America, and delivered to Colombia last October. The strategy is being reinforced by a large deployment of military trainers who arrived in the country in early June.

While we don’t have visibility over what is happening inside the Colombian security forces’ eradication teams, it is quite possible that their increased aggressiveness this year is tied to their rapid, U.S.-backed expansion. It’s difficult for any organization to expand this quickly without experiencing managerial issues or slippages in training—including use-of-force training.

Read the whole thing there.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from Nicaragua Investiga. Caption: “Civiles progobierno en Nicaragua portaban armas de uso exclusivo militar.”

(Even more here)

July 7, 2020


The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Argentina of twenty-seven (27) M1126 Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicles and related equipment for an estimated cost of $100 million


Bolsanaro has previously downplayed the risks posed by the coronavirus, once telling supporters because of his history of athleticism, he would not worry if he became infected

The Brazilian president’s supporters are more than ready to turn his words into action


Una campaña de desinformación a través de Twitter se viene desarrollando en contra de la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz

Colombia, Venezuela

Saab’s capture was thwarted in Colombia in 2018 after an attorney for the office of his lawyer, Abelardo de la Espriella, and an assistant to Saab, secretely received information about the imminent arrest


Cuando las peores expresiones de violencia criminal se instalan de forma sistemática en una entidad federativa, lo que suele haber es una profunda negligencia, y muy probablemente complicidad, de las autoridades estatales y municipales

Lockdown exacerbated addiction in the U.S., while in Mexico, cartels dig into their turfs with charity and curfews, and put violent pressure on a vulnerable government

The Wednesday night event will be the closest thing to a state dinner that can be organized during the Covid-19 outbreak


El Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, está en la mira como una estructura terrorista que quedó descubierta para el estallido social de 2018

The day ahead: July 7, 2020

I’ve got a few scattered calls/meetings, but should be mostly reachable. (How to contact me)

I’m at the desk at home all day today, the first time that’s been true in a week. I’ve got an interview and an internal meeting in the morning, and a coalition meeting of border groups in the mid-afternoon.

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