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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The day ahead: April 25, 2019

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

I’ll barely be in the office today: I’ve got a meeting to talk about the border with a congressional staffer, a long mid-day meeting to help choose a human rights award nominee, and an afternoon medical appointment for my daughter.

The day ahead: April 24, 2019

I’m in the office from late morning until end of day. (How to contact me)

I’m home in the morning, at my computer while repair work gets done on our house. Other than a lunch with the interns and a meeting with some Colombians brought up by a State Department visitors’ program, I’ll be in the office working on two different articles: one about Colombia and one a nearly-done analysis of U.S.-Latin American security relations right now.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 23, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

The America they were told about was a lie. They were not welcomed with open arms

As President Trump renews threats to close the border outright, customs brokers tell me their partners — in cross-border supply chains for aerospace, medical devices and agriculture — are “panicked”

Brazil

The Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC), Brazil’s dominant criminal group with an estimated 30,000 members, controls key territory in major cities and large swaths in rural areas, as well as parts of Paraguay, Bolivia, and beyond

The drop in lethal violence started well before the election of the self-styled crime-fighter-in-chief, President Jair Bolsonaro, who was elected in October 2018. Despite his attempts to claim these successes as his own, there is little evidence that his administration has had anything to do with the drop

Central America Regional, Mexico

As migrants gathered under spots of shade in the burning heat outside the city of Pijijiapan, federal police and agents passed by in patrol trucks and vans and forcibly wrestled women, men and children into the vehicles

Colombia

¿Está el Gobierno dispuesto a gastar más de 8 billones de pesos anuales en una guerra contra las poblaciones cocaleras o mejor debería aumentar los 1,3 billones de pesos que se están destinando al programa de sustitución?

Básicamente, en todos los ETCR los predios están en arriendo y el Gobierno paga ese monto. Esa situación irá hasta agosto, cuando se deberá resolver si se compran los terrenos o si los excombatientes deben trasladarse

Colombia, Venezuela

The $1.7 million facility opened March 8 with 60 family-sized tents and a lengthy waiting list

Colombia

En su nuevo libro, el investigador derrumba afirmaciones que, dice, son erróneas sobre la violencia

Cuba

A full resumption of normal ties between the U.S. and Cuba should indeed require the victims of expropriation to be compensated. A process that could have yielded this result was underway thanks to the warming of relations under President Obama

Nicaragua

A un año del inicio de las protestas contra el gobierno de Daniel Ortega, las autoridades sandinistas se esfuerzan por presentar un país al que ha vuelto la calma y la normalidad. La realidad es muy distinta

El Gobierno de Estados Unidos ha designado sanciones para siete altos funcionarios del régimen de Daniel Ortega, y al Bancorp, relacionado con Albanisa, que administra los millonarios fondos del acuerdo petrolero con Venezuela

Venezuela

The Russian report was approvingly reproduced by Telesur, Maduro’s main international propaganda outlet

The day ahead: April 23, 2019

I’ll be around, but writing, in the afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’ve got a call with an NGO colleague, a dentist appointment, and a mid-day interview on CNN Español to talk about border militias. Then about four hours at my desk this afternoon, where I hope to work on one of four different writing projects, and hopefully finish one today.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from Infobae. Caption: “Los oficiales de la Dgcim se mueven por la ciudad con máscaras truculentas para ocultar sus rostros”

(Even more here)

April 22, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

The Trump administration’s declaration calls for $1 billion being diverted from military projects to build 57 miles of bollard barriers, with 46 of those miles in New Mexico’s Doña Ana and Luna counties

Mr. Hopkins was arrested on charges of firearms possession by a felon

The Trump administration’s approach to Latin America is a house of mirrors and contradictions as it emphasizes relations mainly through migration and crime

Colombia

El Acuerdo de Paz creó una unidad especial para erradicar los grupos sucesores de los paramilitares. Casi dos años después de su creación no parece haber avances ni resultados contundentes

La injerencia del Tío Sam está comenzando a preocupar a algunos y a incomodar a otros. Desde hace mucho tiempo no había tantas decisiones tan estructurales bajo la lupa de Estados Unidos

Guatemala

Leaving for the United States is seen as a last choice, propelled by a cycle of debt that only fuels more migration. And while it’s too soon to predict the long-term impact of family migration, some of these villages are losing their future

As migration from Central America surges, a school funded by the U.S. government in a Guatemalan village aims to give youth the job skills to be successful in their own country. Will it keep them from heading north?

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

The most recent caravan left the bus station in San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras on April 10, and journalists from The Associated Press have been following various online migrant chats since late March

Central America Regional, Mexico

The outpouring of aid that once greeted Central American migrants as they trekked in caravans through southern Mexico has been drying up

Mexico

The towns here in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas have long been a common stop on the migratory route for people heading north. But something began to change last October with the arrival of thousands of migrants traveling en masse

En enero, febrero y marzo de 2019 fueron asesinadas 8,493 personas en México, se trata del primer trimestre más violento del que haya registro (un 9 % arriba del arranque de 2018 que fue récord en su momento)

Nicaragua

En semanas recientes, varias casas de Diriamba han amanecido con pintas en las que se lee: “¡Plomo!”, “¡Te estamos esperando!”, “¡Aquí vive un golpista!”

El poeta y sacerdote nicaragüense Ernesto Cardenal, recuperado tras 16 días hospitalizado con 94 años, celebra la figura del papa Francisco y lamenta la deriva de Ortega

Peru

  • Mario Vargas Llosa, Alan Garcia (El Pais (Spain), April 22, 2019).

¿Fue un político honesto, comparable a un José Luis Bustamante y Rivero o a Fernando Belaúnde Terry, dos presidentes que salieron de Palacio de Gobierno más pobres de lo que entraron? Yo creo sinceramente que no

Venezuela

Infobae conversó con un oficial del ejército que estuvo preso 45 días en la Dirección General de Contrainteligencia Militar de Caracas

Scott has spoken with President Trump, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence about military options

The day ahead: April 22, 2019

I’ll be reachable for much of the afternoon. (How to contact me)

This morning I’m guest-teaching a class at American University and participating in WOLA’s weekly staff meeting. Other than a couple of phone calls in the early afternoon, I plan to be in the office writing; I now have a few active projects running and would like to finish one.

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Thursday, April 25

  • 8:30–10:30 at the Notre Dame University Keogh School: Venezuela: Humanitarian Crisis and Struggle for Democracy (RSVP required).
  • 9:00 at the Atlantic Council: Venezuela After Maduro: A Vision for the Country’s Future (RSVP required).

Friday, April 26

  • 8:30–10:30 at the Inter-American Dialogue: Institutions for Productivity: Towards a Better Business Environment in Latin America (RSVP required).
  • 9:00-10:30 at the Council of the Americas: Beyond Silk and Silver: China’s New Road in the Americas (RSVP required).

The trashing of a once useful State Department report

Every March, the State Department publishes an annual report, required by law, providing a global survey of what countries around the world are doing to reduce supply and demand for illicit drugs. The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) is a bit of a drug-war relic, but it contains a lot of information unavailable elsewhere, such as how much drugs countries seized, and what U.S. aid to their counter-drug forces looks like.

The INCSR gets rewritten every year. While a lot of the same phrasing reappears, you can tell a lot about the U.S. government’s posture by looking at what has changed. A prime example is the report’s discussion of the growth in Colombia’s coca crop, which the U.S. government estimates as increasing from 80,500 hectares in 2013 to 209,000 hectares in 2017.

This paragraph, which appears each year, has undergone a radical metamorphosis from the Obama to the Trump administrations. Once a useful if partial analysis of the phenomenon, it is now hot garbage.

March 2016 report:

Several factors contributed to the overall surge in coca cultivation in Colombia in 2014. First, widespread reporting indicates that FARC elements have been urging coca growers to plant more coca, purportedly motivated by the belief that Colombian government post-peace accord investment and subsidies will focus on regions with the greatest quantities of coca. Second, empirical evidence demonstrates that counter-eradication tactics have significantly reduced the effectiveness of coca eradication efforts. To hamper aerial eradication efforts coca growers: (1) shift fields to areas off limits to aerial eradication, including national parks and indigenous reserves; (2) plant smaller fields in areas where aerial eradication is permitted, to impede coca detection and aerial eradication; and (3) prune coca plants after being sprayed to prevent full absorption of the herbicide and save the plant for future harvests. To combat manual eradication, coca growers: (1) employ blockade techniques to prevent eradicators from accessing fields; (2) place improvised explosive devices (IEDs) around eradication operations to kill, injure, and demoralize eradicators and significantly slow eradication operations by requiring extensive counter-IED detection efforts; and (3) plant fields in remote areas, requiring increased effort to detect, access, and eradicate fields. Finally, Colombia’s manual eradication budget has declined by two-thirds since 2008, resulting in a 90 percent reduction in the number of manual eradicators in 2015 as compared to 2008. In mid-2015, however, the Colombian government announced a plan to dramatically increase the number of Colombian National Police (CNP) personnel devoted to manual eradication operations by about 100 percent to approximately 2,650, and to increase the number of manual eradicators by about 40 percent to approximately 1,050.

Here, State posits four reasons for the increase in coca-growing. (1) The peace accord, whose draft pointed to rewards for coca growers; (2) coca-growers’ resistance to aerial eradication; (3) coca-growers’ resistance to manual eradication; and (4) cuts to Colombia’s manual eradication budget.

As noted in a 2017 report, I would add a drop in the price of gold, which caused a big switch from illicit gold-mining to illicit coca-growing; a big weakening of the Colombian peso against the dollar, which made it look like coca’s farm-gate price was jumping; and declining Colombian spending on alternative development.

March 2017 report:

Several factors have contributed to the overall surge in coca cultivation in Colombia since 2014. First, widespread reporting indicates that FARC elements urged coca growers to plant more coca, purportedly motivated by the belief that the Colombian government’s post-peace accord investment and subsidies will focus on regions with the greatest quantities of coca. Second, the Colombian government reduced eradication operations in areas controlled by the FARC to lower the risk of armed conflict as the parties negotiated a final peace accord. Third, counter- eradication tactics employed by coca growers have significantly reduced the effectiveness of coca eradication efforts. To combat manual eradication, coca growers: (1) employ blockade techniques to prevent eradicators from accessing fields; (2) place improvised explosive devices (IEDs) around eradication operations to kill, injure, and demoralize eradicators and slow eradication operations; and (3) plant fields in areas less accessible to eradication efforts, including national parks, indigenous areas, and remote areas. Finally, Colombia’s manual eradication budget has declined by two-thirds since 2008, resulting in a 90 percent reduction in the number of manual eradicators in 2016 as compared to 2008.

In 2017 the “resistance to aerial eradication” argument goes away, which makes sense since the glyphosate-spraying program was suspended, due to health concerns, in October 2015. The recently signed peace accord gets blamed for a second phenomenon: the government soft-pedaling forced eradication to avoid disrupting the Havana dialogues. (I’ve talked to people in the Santos government who deny this, though the 2016 eradication figure, 18,000 hectares, was historically low.) The rest remains the same.

March 2018 report:

Several factors contributed to the surge in coca cultivation in Colombia since 2013, including the end of aerial spraying and indications that FARC elements urged farmers to plant coca, purportedly to take advantage of the Colombian government’s peace accord coca crop substitution program. Furthermore, counter-eradication tactics employed by coca growers have impeded the government’s manual eradication efforts, including blocking eradicators from accessing fields; placing improvised explosive devices in coca fields to kill, injure, and demoralize eradicators and slow eradication operations; and planting fields in inaccessible areas, including national parks, indigenous areas, and remote regions.

Colombia’s suspension of aerial fumigation gets blamed in this year’s report, even though the report two years earlier detailed several ways that coca-growers had acted to make spraying less effective. The peace accord is again blamed for creating a perverse incentive, but the report doesn’t repeat the charge that the Santos government abstained from eradication to avoid harming the negotiations. The “reduced eradication budget” argument disappears because Colombia ramped up manual eradication in 2017.

March 2019 report:

Several factors contributed to the surge in coca cultivation in Colombia since 2013, including: the end of aerial spray of glyphosate on coca; a crop substitution program that created perverse incentives for coca growers to grow more coca; and the failure of the FARC to comply with the illicit drug provisions of the peace agreement. Drug traffickers employ effective counter- eradication tactics such as protests and the use of improvised explosive devices in coca fields to kill, injure, and demoralize eradicators and to slow eradication operations.

This is the most contentious and poorly documented—we could say, “the Trumpiest”—edition of the report. It blames the peace accord’s entire crop substitution program for incentivizing coca-growing, even though the program caused the UN-verified voluntary eradication of 35,000 hectares of coca by the end of 2018. It claims that coca increased because the FARC cheated on its peace accord commitments: this is an explosive charge, but the report neglects to specify what commitments the FARC reneged on, or whether it is referring to all demobilized guerrillas or to the 10-20 percent who have retaken arms as “dissidents.”

Finally—and ominously, if you care about good analysis—it’s no longer “coca-growers” who take measures to resist manual eradication: it’s “drug traffickers.” At least 119,500 Colombian families live off the coca crop right now. For the State Department, these people are now drug traffickers. Language matters.

Over the course of the Trump administration, we’re seeing a relatively credible and careful report morph into a political document that we can no longer rely on as an accurate depiction of what is happening.

This change in the INCSR report’s language dovetails with President Trump’s and Ambassador Kevin Whitaker’s verbal attacks on the Colombian government this month for “not doing enough” about drugs. It raises the likelihood that, in September, President Trump will “decertify” Colombia as a partner in the drug war, placing Colombia on a small list of uncooperative countries that includes Venezuela and Bolivia.

That was once unthinkable because it would be so counter-productively stupid, given Colombia’s demonstrated willingness to do nearly everything the U.S. government asks on drug policy, trade policy, and Venezuela. But we live in counter-productively stupid times. At the rate we’re going, by next year this discussion of Colombia’s coca crop will probably just be 280 characters ending with “Sad!”

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 19, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

Since January 2009, the bodies or skeletal remains of 642 migrants have been discovered in Brooks County

Members of the group, which calls itself the United Constitutional Patriots, filmed several of their actions in recent days, including the detention this week of a group of about 200 migrants who had recently crossed the border

Brazil

In Rio de Janeiro state, which Bolsonaro represented as a federal congressman for nearly three decades, the number of people killed in confrontations with security officials rose 18 percent to 434 in the first three months of this year

Cuba

The Trump administration has declared the most severe new sanctions against Cuba since President John F. Kennedy imposed an economic embargo banning all trade with the communist island in 1962

Mexico

Amid pressure from Washington, Mexico is backpedaling on promises of better treatment for Central American migrants, leaving hundreds stranded in unsanitary camps near its southern border

Nicaragua

Tres nicaragüenses cuentan, desde distintas trincheras, cómo han vivido el horror

Peru

Critics say prosecutors are abusing the use of preventive detention, a legal mechanism that allows suspects to be jailed for as long as three years without being charged as investigations are completed

Venezuela

Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA has started passing invoices from its oil sales to Rosneft

In his first interview since fleeing arrest and taking refuge in the Chilean diplomatic compound in Caracas, the former deputy head of the National Assembly discusses his country’s autocratic turn

The day ahead: April 19, 2019

I’m off today. (How to contact me)

As the child of a mixed marriage with two religious traditions, it’s always nice when Passover and Easter coincide. Even better when it’s on a weekend. I’ve got family showing up this afternoon, and will not be available for work-related stuff today. Have a good holiday.

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