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.

The day ahead: April 24, 2017

Other than a narrow window around mid-day, I am in meetings all day today. (How to contact me)

I’ve got a weekly staff meeting, and there’s a lot to plan for this week, with Trump’s border wall playing a central role in the debate over the federal budget, which expires Friday. (That’s the last weekday of Trump’s first 100 days, and we have a lot to say about his border security policies so far.) We have a visit from a Latin America-based International Committee of the Red Cross official whose work overlaps a lot with ours. We’re bidding farewell to our interns. And we’re joining the team of Security Assistance Monitor to brainstorm improvements to their revamped website.

When not in meetings today (which is about 2 hours), I want to sew up the introductory text of our military and police aid programs publication and website. If there’s any time left over, I’ll work on a podcast about border security and also a “links” post on this blog.

On the home front, this evening an exchange student from Spain (in whose home my daughter stayed in February) arrives to stay with us for the next two weeks. So if posting here is less frequent over the next several days, it’s because I’m out showing off the wonders of Washington instead of sitting in a chair typing into a computer.

The week ahead

It’s going to be one of those weeks: it’s Monday morning and there’s already nearly 20 hours of meetings and events on the calendar. These include a visit from the ICRC, giving a talk at the Foreign Service Institute, a National Defense University event on Colombia’s military and the post-conflict, and a meeting to nominate recipients of an annual human rights award.

I expect the border security work to be big this week, as the federal budget expires on Friday and a fight over Trump’s wall proposal may bring the U.S. government to (or close to) a shutdown. We’ll have a lot to say as the week progresses. First, by tomorrow, I hope to put out a personal podcast explaining where all of that stands.

For now, though, my first priority is getting our giant compendium of military and police aid programs out the door. This also requires me to iron out some bugs from the transfer of our website to (which, frustratingly, have kept me from posting news links this morning).

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Monday, April 24

  • 11:30–1:30 at the Inter-American Dialogue: Fighting Corruption and Improving Business Climates in Latin America (RSVP required).

Tuesday, April 25

  • 1:00–5:30 at the U.S. Institute of Peace: Demining War Zones: Opening Space for Building Peace (RSVP required).

Wednesday, April 26

  • 9:00–10:30 at the Washington Post: 2017 World Press Freedom Index (RSVP required).
  • 10:30–12:00 at the Wilson Center: Feeding the World in a Sustainable Way: Brazil’s Agricultural Challenge (RSVP required).
  • 1:30–3:00 at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies: Command Update: Military and Police Operations During the Colombian Peace Process (RSVP required).

Thursday, April 27

  • 10:00 in Room 2154, Rayburn House Office Building: Hearing of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security on “The Border Wall: Strengthening Our National Security.”
  • 1:45–2:30 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies: Argentina at a Turning Point: An Address by President Mauricio Macri of Argentina (RSVP required).

Friday, April 28

  • 10:00–11:30 at the Brookings Institution: Crime, conflict, and regime transitions: Colombia, Nigeria, and Myanmar (RSVP required).
  • 12:00 at the Inter-American Development Bank: D.C. Political Economy Seminar: Voting Corrupt Politicians Out of Office in Paraguay (RSVP required).

5 tweets that made me laugh this week

Five links from the past week


The best overview I’ve seen of a controversy over victims and memory in Colombia’s conflict. President Juan Manuel Santos recently added Colombia’s Defense Ministry to the governing board of the Center for Historical Memory, an autonomous body that the military has verbally attacked in the past. The article reveals that the Center’s staff fear possible impact on the credibility of its future work as it prepares ground for a future Truth Commission.

El Salvador

Last week the Salvadoran gang, which was founded in the United States, showed up in rhetoric from Donald Trump, the Attorney-General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security. Silva brings up a lot of points about the gang that don’t get enough attention, including the important successes that U.S. law enforcement has had against it over the past 10 years.

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

An idea raised by Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández last July is slowly coming to fruition. Though it’s mostly just mechanisms for improved information-sharing, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are working towards a tri-national unit to combat criminal groups that work across borders. The article notes that the countries’ different approaches to crime are an obstacle, as El Salvador and Honduras use their militaries much more freely. Neither Villatoro nor we have managed to get much information on the U.S. role in this effort.

Mexico-U.S. Border

This citation-filled report from Senate Homeland Security Committee Democrats explains why the per-mile cost of building a border wall is likely to be a multiple of what it was in the past. Even if this report’s grave projections are off by half, the wall’s cost would still be nearly double what Republican leaders are predicting.


With organized crime hounding honest officials out of the country and political will at the top flagging, illegal logging is rapidly getting worse in the country with the second-largest amount of Amazon-basin forest. “The United States has little to show for more than $90 million in forest-protection aid and other assistance to Peru,” as 80 percent of timber exports are illegal.

(Saturday, 4:23PM)

My daughter’s 2:00 soccer game made us late to today’s March For Science, but it looked like a huge success despite the weather.

My Latin America database now resides at “”

Screenshot of

I’ve owned the domain for several years; I use it for side projects related to work. The largest by far is one I started in mid-2015: a “database of everything” related to U.S. defense and security relations with Latin America.

This mammoth resource is just about complete. So I just took away the little “this site is under construction” warning and moved it to WOLA’s web space. It now lives at

This is a cool site: it’s where I keep everything work-related, except things that other apps do better, like calendar and e-mail. I share most of it with the public, because why not. It’s also super-fast: I used a lot of javascript nerdery so you don’t have to sit around waiting for pages to load.

There are four immense sections. All are searchable, or browsable by topic, country, aid program, and U.S. agency:

  • Data Clips: Whenever I’m reading an official government source and I see something I didn’t know about security in Latin America, I take that bit of information and put it here. I tag it by country, aid program, topic, and U.S. agency, and add all the data about where I got it from. As of this afternoon there are 1,784 such clips. Click on any country or topic and you can get a briefing about it.
  • Reports LibraryFinding out what our government is doing with Latin America’s security forces means getting our hands on official government reports. We keep them all here, and share them. (A private part of this section keeps track of what we’re doing to obtain them.) We have 173 reports in the library as of now.
  • Aid Programs: This part is brand new: we’re officially launching it next week. Many years ago, we set out to figure out all of the programs or “spigots” through which the U.S. government can give aid to foreign militaries. It turns out we identified 107 of them. Here they all are, explained, with the text of the laws that govern them and links to reports about them.
  • News: If you visit this site often, you know that every weekday morning I post links to security-related news coverage around Latin America. I use this part of the database to generate those posts. My database of news clippings going back to May 2015 is here: a ridiculous 8,643 articles. You can’t have the text of the articles—it’s important to respect copyright—but you can search for them and link to the originals.

There’s also two private sections that I use to keep track of contacts and research questions. The rest is public—and now it’s a new subdomain on WOLA’s website.

I’ll keep the information gathered until now at the old domain. But that site will have a big warning at the top instructing visitors to go to, and it will be hosted on a much slower (and cheaper) hosting plan.

I hope you find it useful.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

Photo from Presidency of Colombia. Caption: “President Juan Manuel Santos greets a FARC member during a surprise visit to the La Carmelita disarmament zone in Putumayo.”

  • Ex-presidents and peace process opponents Álvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana had either a conversation or a brief contact with Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Good Friday. They were guests of one of the resort’s members, and the Miami Herald reports that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) may have helped arrange the meeting, or encounter, or whatever it was. The ex-presidents no doubt had at least a brief opportunity to express to Trump their opposition to the FARC peace accord.
  • Ex-president and sitting Senator Uribe sent a blistering missive to the U.S. Congress, and to much of the Washington community interested in Colombia, attacking the peace accord. The document included many false claims, which were rebutted by WOLA, by Colombia’s La Silla Vacía investigative journalism site, and by 50 members of Colombia’s Congress (PDF).
  • The occupation of formerly FARC-dominated territories by new armed groups was the subject of coverage by The Guardian in Cauca, La Silla Vacía in Chocó, and Rutas del Conflicto in Meta.
  • The dilemma of ex-FARC splinter or “dissident” groups is the subject of reporting by Verdad Abierta in Tumaco, Nariño, and Medellín’s daily El Colombiano, looking at the roughly 110-member “1st Front” in Guaviare.
  • FARC leaders are hinting that the disarmament process may be delayed as much as 90 days beyond the originally foreseen 6 months. They blame government slowness in complying with commitments. The government is reluctant to bear the political cost involved with granting such an extension.
  • The FARC is also hinting that it may want to allow its members to stay in the 26 disarmament zones after the 6-month (or perhaps 9-month) process concludes, or even to settle in them permanently.
  • President Juan Manuel Santos paid a surprise visit to one of those zones, in Puerto Asís, Putumayo, after visiting the site of a massive mudslide that killed hundreds in Putumayo’s capital two weeks earlier. VICE documented a visit to the site in Tumaco, Nariño.
  • Speaking of extensions, Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said that, due to the legislature’s slowness in approving legislation to implement the peace accords, the government may seek to extend “fast track” lawmaking authority for another several months. The six-month authority expires at the end of May.
  • Colombian soldiers and police found a FARC arms cache in Putumayo. Opposition politicians called it a sign of guerrilla bad faith in the disarmament process. Maximum FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño said the guerrillas are working with the UN mission to collect 900 arms caches hidden around the country.
  • WOLA called for the UN’s post-disarmament mission to make guaranteeing human rights, and the security of human rights defenders, a central focus of its work. This should include a prominent and autonomous role for the Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
  • An essay in Semana looks at the international community’s growing concerns about the Colombian government’s continued stumbles in implementing the peace accord.
  • Verdad Abierta asks what will happen if the military’s thousands of “false positive” killings end up being tried by the special transitional-justice system established by the peace accords. Since many involved hiring criminals to murder civilians so that soldiers could win rewards granted for high body counts, these cases’ link to the armed conflict is tenuous at best.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 21, 2017


As armas que abastecem à criminalidade do Rio de Janeiro entram pelas extensas fronteiras secas e fluviais do país e depois são contrabandeadas em veículos para dentro do estado


Políticamente para el Gobierno sería muy difícil, por la credibilidad del proceso, mover la fecha

El asesinato de Gerson Acosta, gobernador del resguardo indígena que decenas de desplazados crearon en Timbío tras sobrevivir a la masacre que paramilitares cometieron en esa región limítrofe entre Cauca y Valle del Cuaca en 2001

La violencia contra estos miembros de partidos políticos y movimientos sociales se ha salido de control. Cada cuatro días matan a un dirigente

Colombia news media have reported it was arranged by an influential U.S. critic of the plan, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida

Colombia, Venezuela

La situación se agitó desde las primeras horas, cuando Santos, a través de un trino de una sola línea, habló del “fracaso” de la revolución bolivariana


Among those who signed the letter are retired Gen. James T. Hill, who headed the U.S. Southern Command from 2002-2004 and retired Admiral Robert Inman, who held senior positions in the intelligence services

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

Tres fiscales generales de Centroamérica expresaron el jueves su preocupación por un reciente anuncio del gobierno de Estados Unidos, en el que asegura que endurecerá sus acciones contra la Mara Salvatrucha (MS 13) y aumentará las deportaciones

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

Esta fuerza policial conjunta propuesta por Honduras, sería la respuesta del Triángulo Norte a la sofisticación de las operaciones de las pandillas y, a la vez, su alineamiento a las políticas de Estados Unidos


El Gobernador Quirino Ordaz instaló al ejército en las calles. Lo hizo sin discutirlo ni socializarlo

Mulvaney told The Associated Press in an interview that “elections have consequences” and that “we want wall funding” as part of the catchall spending bill

Central America Regional, Mexico

Derechos humanos, tema clave por obvias razones, brilla por su ausencia. Las ONGs no fueron invitadas


As tensions mount, the government is using its almost-complete control of Venezuela’s institutions to pursue its opponents. On Wednesday alone, 565 protesters were arrested nationwide

El presidente de la República, Nicolás Maduro, acusó al gobernador del estado Miranda, Henrique Capriles Radonski, de difamar a la revolución y al Ejercito, al indicar que son los responsables del asesinato de la joven Paola Andreina Ramírez Gómez

En el Ejecutivo hay la sospecha de que, a la hora de las chiquitas, las tropas profesionales y la oficialidad le darán la espalda a Maduro

Behind the impassive faces of ordinary National Guards troops blocking protesters who chant “No to dictatorship!” during rowdy marches, similar anger sometime lurks

Western Hemisphere Regional

The tone he sets can only encourage abusive behavior among his officers further down the chain of command against immigrants, and also lead to the curtailment of Americans’ civil liberties and privacy

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