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: September 20, 2018

I’ll be around in the late morning and early afternoon. (How to contact me)

WOLA’s annual human rights awards dinner is tonight. As it’ll be a late night, I’m letting myself get a late start this morning. I’ll be in the office late morning through mid-afternoon, when I’ll probably have to break to help with preparations. While in the office, I plan to finish a Colombia update and do more work for our October 16 conference.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

September 19, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection report obtained by KPBS through a Freedom of Information Act request reveals mock-ups of all eight border wall prototypes were found vulnerable to at least one breaching technique

The facilities only feel cold because migrants are coming from hot conditions or climates and are not accustomed to air conditioning, said Kevin McAleenan

In a rural Texas county, lidar sensor technology is being tested as a way to spot illegal intruders from Mexico. That use could divide workers in Silicon Valley

The House is expected to take up the bill next week, but it remains uncertain whether Trump would sign the measure

The document circulated by the U.S. calls on the states to pledge to develop national “action plans” based on a “four-pronged strategy” — demand reduction; treatment; international cooperation; and cutting the supply of illicit drugs

Brazil

Last month, one of Bolsonaro’s sons announced that Bannon was becoming an informal adviser to Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign

Central America Regional, Mexico

Ramped-up enforcement by the United States and Mexico has pushed migrants onto more invisible, risky paths and put them at greater danger

Colombia

La erradicación voluntaria de coca en este municipio de Antioquia va lenta pero funciona

De 146.000 hectáreas cultivadas en 2016, se pasó a 171.000 en 2017, lo que representa un incremento del 17%. Entre tanto, la capacidad de conversión de la hoja en cocaína también se habría disparado en un 31%

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

Migrants who have been repeatedly victimized are likely so desperate to leave that they are willing to take their chances in the U.S., no matter how hard it seems. These are not the kind of migrants who are likely to respond to measures designed to stem economic migrants

Guatemala

El Cacif pagó US$135 mil (Q1 millón) a dos lobistas en Washington para tener acceso e influenciar acciones del Gobierno de los Estados Unidos. Está en duda si ha sido para desprestigiar a la CICIG

Honduras

Así lo revelan informes de las Fuerzas Armadas (FF AA) a los que tuvo acceso EL HERALDO, que demuestran que la narcoactividad sigue utilizando los recursos que sean necesarios para trasegar cocaína

Yesterday a press release, seen by Press Gazette, began circulating linking Lakhani with various violent activities in the Bajo Aguan region of Honduras

Mexico

El Foro por la Pacificación organizado por el próximo gobierno de la República, se convirtió en ocasión para reclamos de las víctimas y sus allegados, hacia las autoridades y expresiones recurrentes de incredulidad hacia los organizadores

The stopgap measure seemed to be working fine — until the truck, with some 170 corpses on board, was driven off the lot on Sept. 7 and began a strange journey around the Guadalajara area

Venezuela

Maduro says under the deal, Venezuela will increase production and the daily export of oil to China to 1 million barrels a day

“Un general de apellido Báez (…) dice que va a dar un golpe de Estado en octubre. Lo grita a los cuatro vientos (…). Francisco Báez, borrachón, muy borrachón él, está metido en todas las conspiraciones”, declaró Maduro

The day ahead: September 19, 2018

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

I’m deep into two writing projects and will work from home this morning. I have two phone interviews scheduled for mid-day and will be in the office, writing and conference-organizing, in the afternoon.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Federico Rios Escobar photo at The New York Times. Caption: “A group of rebels during their daily training regime.”

(Even more here)

September 18, 2018

Brazil

Mr da Silva, his former childhood friend, summed it up. Mr Bolsonaro was Brazil’s version of Mr Trump, a social media Pied Piper gathering diverse disgruntled followers from across the web

Colombia

These dissident guerrillas invited The New York Times to their camp, hidden among mountains north of Medellín, to tell the story of why they abandoned the peace deal

Tres días después, en el casco urbano de Tumaco, una caravana de motociclistas acompañó los cuerpos de David y su hermana hasta la tumba

Colombia, Venezuela

“No acepto la idea equivocada de que si hay extradición no puede haber verdad. En el caso de los paramilitares extraditados hace una década, hemos montado 3.000 audiencias”

“Ha habido voces sobre operaciones militares unilaterales. Creemos que tiene que haber una respuesta colectiva a esta crisis”, dijo Francisco Santos

Para evitar un retroceso irreparable en Latinoamérica, debemos trabajar con el presidente Duque y aumentar la cooperación entre los Estados Unidos y Colombia en tres áreas críticas

Guatemala

Anti-corruption politics won’t liberate Guatemala from the military, organized crime, and the wealthy. But only elites’ interests will be served by shutting down the country’s attempts to root that corruption out

The president of Guatemala pushed the nation toward a constitutional crisis on Monday, ignoring an explicit order by the country’s top court while testing the bounds of the nation’s fragile democracy

La carta enviada por la canciller Sandra Patricia Jovel Polanco al secretario general de la ONU, António Guterres, constituye todo un desafío. En un lenguaje alejado del diplomático, zanja el debate sobre Iván Velásquez y le “conmina” a elegir a un sustituto del comisionado en un plazo de 48 horas

Honduras

Three hours later than scheduled, the jam-packed courtroom was informed that the trial was suspended until the appeal court decides whether the judges are competent to proceed or not

Mexico

Jan Jarab reiteró que este cambio radical o de raíz en la estrategia del combate al crimen organizado es importante para que no se replique la violencia porque “es contagiosa”

Peru

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra is facing a standoff with legislators over his call for a referendum on anti-corruption measures and has invoked a constitutional procedure that could end up dissolving the Congress

Venezuela

If they enter, U.S. troops must prepare to stay for the long haul. Venezuela’s electricity grids, sewage systems, hospitals, schools, and other basic physical and social infrastructure are decimated

The day ahead: September 18, 2018

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

Through some freak accident of scheduling, I’ve got no commitments on the calendar this Tuesday. I’ll be in the office all day writing our big Colombia report, and helping to plan a big Colombia conference that will take place four weeks from today.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

September 17, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

Within hours of the exhibits being submitted Monday, Trump administration lawyers called on Macdonald to seal the text messages

Brazil

The museum burned down; the country is burning down—that metaphor has been uttered repeatedly, in solemn tones, since the disaster

Colombia

Excesos de formalismos legales; el no reconocimiento de algunas de las víctimas de ejecuciones extrajudiciales; y el reiterado mensaje del excomandante de las Fuerzas Militares de declararse inocente, se destacaron

  • María Jimena Duzán, Sin Pudor (Semana (Colombia), September 17, 2018).

Sin sonrojarse, Montoya quiere convencernos de que los responsables de los falsos positivos fueron unos cuantos soldados rasos, que actuaron como una rueda suelta y que asesinaron a miles de colombianos sin que sus comandantes se hubiesen dado cuenta

Según el relato de su madre, hombres armados llegaron a su vivienda, en la comunidad indígena Orpúa, Bajo Baudó (Chocó), y se la llevaron, a pesar de las angustiantes súplicas de su familia

Es claro que la protesta social es una de las obsesiones del nuevo Ministerio de Defensa, apoyado además por el presidente Iván Duque. Pero convertir la situación en una guerra motivada por los prejuicios es un error que puede tener serias consecuencias

El anillo de seguridad más cercano al disidente advirtió la presencia de las autoridades e iniciaron un tiroteo en el que resultó herido el disidente con dos disparos de fusil en la espalda

Ecuador

Entre el 5 y 11 de septiembre, llega a Ecuador el Orión P-3, aeronave estadounidense con alta tecnología que sirve para detectar actividades ilícitas. Sus operaciones están previstas para sobrevolar el espacio marítimo

El Salvador

En realidad, su suerte quedó escrita el pasado 9 de agosto, después que confesó que mientras fue presidente de la República de El Salvador -desde el 1 de junio de 2004 hasta el 31 de julio de 2009- desvió 301 millones de dólares

Guatemala

The unanimous ruling by the court’s five magistrates marked the second time in as many years that the court has reversed Morales’ efforts to keep commission chief Ivan Velasquez out of Guatemala

Throughout Guatemala last week, independence day marches were riddled with protest signs and banners supporting the anti-corruption commission and calling for Morales’ resignation

Consciente de estar en terreno hostil y protegido por un despliegue de seguridad no visto hace años —integrado por cientos de policías, soldados, kaibiles y antidisturbios militares—, Morales lanzó un discurso amenazante

Honduras

At pre-trial public hearings in Tegucigalpa last week, the court rejected petitions by the family’s lawyers to allow expert witness testimony about the roles, responsibilities and connections between the accused as part of an alleged criminal structure

Mexico

El almirante Vidal Soberón, secretario de Marina, dedicó el desfile al presidente de la República, Enrique Peña Nieto, y prometió lealtad al presidente electo Andrés Manuel López Obrador

He said Asaf will organize 20 civilian assistants who will rotate five at a time to accompany him so he can interact with voters without getting squashed

Este hecho se registra en medio de la polémica generada por la saturación de la Morgue Metropolitana, ante el inusitado número de personas asesinadas en lo que va del año

Nicaragua

El director de LA PRENSA analiza en esta entrevista el actuar de las fuerzas armadas en las protestas contra Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo que iniciaron el pasado abril

Tanta gente que dio su vida por una revolución que quedó en nada. Que quedó peor que Somoza. Eso es lo que más nos duele a los que luchamos contra Somoza

Venezuela

“With respect to a military intervention to overthrow Nicolas Maduro’s regime, I don’t think any option should be ruled out,” Almagro said

Esta es la primera vez que el Grupo de Lima y Almagro discrepan públicamente sobre Venezuela

Ricardo Prieto, 41, and Carlos Varon, 45, were arrested by military counterintelligence officers on Wednesday at the fire station where they worked in western Merida state

El caos, ya sea intencional o accidental, puede ser funcional para los Estados extremistas. Por tal motivo, no deberíamos contar con que el gobierno extremista de Maduro haga algo mínimamente prometedor

The day ahead: September 17, 2018

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

Today I’ll be in an all-hands office meeting in the morning, and in the late afternoon in a meeting of groups that work on Colombia. In the middle, I’ve got a few small tasks that need to get done, particularly having to do with an all-day Colombia conference we’re planning for October 16 (yes, four weeks from tomorrow and we’re just getting started). I also hope to carve out two hours or so to do some writing.

The week ahead

I’m in town all five days, but it’s a bit of a scattered week. Several meetings on the calendar, WOLA’s annual human rights awards on Thursday night, some writing to move forward, and organizing an all-day Colombia conference that we’re planning for October 16th. The writing will mostly be drafting a big report based on our fieldwork in Colombia two weeks ago.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(This covers the week of August 26-September 1; as I was traveling in Colombia during the week of September 2-8, there will be no update for that week.)

Peace Commissioner Lays Out Four “Adjustments” to FARC Accord

In an August 27 interview with El Tiempo columnist María Isabel Rueda, President Iván Duque’s new high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, laid out four modifications that Duque’s government will seek to make to the FARC peace accord. As WOLA noted on its Colombia Peace site, the four proposals “either barely affect the FARC accord, are already in the accord, or will only become law with difficulty.”

The modifications the Duque government will pursue are:

  1. In future peace processes, kidnapping and drug trafficking to finance insurgents’ war effort may no longer be amnestied.
  2. Those who continue to commit crimes after the peace accord lose their right to amnesty for past political crimes, reduced sentences for past war crimes, or protection from extradition to other countries.
  3. Those who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity cannot hold political office.
  4. While the Duque government will respect commitments to coca-growers who signed crop-substitution agreements, eradication will be mandatory from now on.

These adjustments, an analysis in La Silla Vacía contends, “are more symbolic than real.” Indeed, they may change little about the FARC process.

The first change, eliminating drug trafficking without personal gain as an amnesty-able “political” crime, cannot be done retroactively, so it will not impact demobilized FARC members. If implemented, however, it could be a stumbling block for a future accord with the ELN. And the FARC accord already doesn’t amnesty kidnapping: those who held civilians captive must make full confessions to the accords’ transitional justice system (Special Peace Jurisdiction or JEP), make reparations to victims, and serve reduced sentences of “restricted liberty.”

The second change simply repeats the existing terms of the peace accord. Any demobilized combatant guilty of committing crimes in the post-accord period already loses his or her benefits. “This doesn’t touch the accord even minimally,” La Silla Vacía notes.

If Duque gets enough votes in Congress to restrict ex-guerrilla war criminals from holding office—which is far from guaranteed and would involve a bitter fight—it could cause some former FARC leaders to abandon the process. The guerrillas’ leadership commanded a war effort that, over the course of decades, involved numerous crimes against humanity. Despite this, they demobilized with the expectation of practicing peaceful politics while paying the agreed-upon penalties. If their ability to serve as legislators or local officials is barred, some may drop out.

The decision to stop signing up coca-cultivating families for voluntary eradication is unfortunate, as many municipalities where the program hasn’t started up yet may be subjected to an “all stick and no carrot” approach of eradication without assistance, which has failed in the past. WOLA’s earlier post argues, “If by ‘mandatory eradication’ Ceballos means eradication without any governance or assistance, then as in the past, we can expect Colombia’s coca problem to remain severe and unsolved.”

Duque Meets With All Parties, Including FARC, To Discuss Anti-Corruption Measures

On August 26 Colombians voted in a referendum on seven anti-corruption measures, the result of an initiative launched by citizen groups and the opposition Green Party. It came closer to passing than any analysts predicted: 11.7 million Colombian voters participated, less than half a million fewer than the one-third voter participation threshold the measure needed to make it binding. Though it failed, the “Anti-Corruption Consultation” got about 3 million more votes than Iván Duque received in the June presidential elections.

President Duque showed up early on the 26th to cast a vote, marking distance from his political party’s de facto leader, Senator and former president Álvaro Uribe, who had taken to social media to attack the initiative.

Going still further, Duque held a meeting in the presidential palace the evening of the 29th with the Consultation’s organizers and the leaderships of all political parties represented in the Congress. Most notably, “all political parties” included the FARC, which as a result of the peace accord holds an automatic five seats in the Senate and five in the House until 2026. The meeting was only the second time that FARC party leader Rodrigo Londoño had ever been inside the Nariño Palace, and the first time for most other FARC legislators. Semana magazine described the scene:

When he arrived, they greeted him and a “welcome to Democracy” was heard. There was an ex-president, César Gaviria, congressmen from all political parties, including Gustavo Petro, the only senator who has no party. The promoters of the anti-corruption consultation. Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez, Internal Affairs Chief [Procurador] Fernando Carrillo, and outgoing Comptroller-General Edgardo Maya Villazón were already seated.

President Duque congratulated Timochenko for having laid down his arms. The president of the FARC party thanked him for taking them into account and opening the doors to reconciliation. The atmosphere was cordial, although when Timo spoke, some congressmen from the Democratic Center [Uribe and Duque’s party] preferred to listen to him with their heads down.

FARC Conference Marked By No-Shows

At the end of the week, the FARC was to hold its first party-wide meeting in a year, its “National Council of the Commons” gathering 111 members of its political directorate. It did so amid speculation over whether all leaders of the increasingly divided group would actually attend.

They did not. The two most prominent missing leaders were Iván Márquez and Óscar Montero alias “El Paisa.” None of the guerrilla leaders in attendance, in fact, could say with certainty where either of them are currently located. Márquez, the guerrillas’ chief negotiator during the Havana peace talks, a hardliner who represents the party’s radical wing, was the number-one vote-getter when the party chose its 111 leaders. Montero had headed the FARC’s feared Teófilo Forero Column, a unit that carried out some of its most spectacular attacks on civilian targets during the conflict.

Márquez left Bogotá and abandoned his automatic Senate seat in April, when his close associate, FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich, was arrested pending extradition after a U.S. grand jury charged him with conspiring to send cocaine to the United States. He retreated to a FARC demobilization site in Caquetá, south-central Colombia, where Montero was already located. Sometime in June or July, both Márquez and Montero abandoned that site and have since been incomunicado.

FARC Senator Carlos Antonio Lozada told La Silla Vacía that the party’s leadership has tried and failed to locate Márquez, even after sending Senator Pablo Catatumbo to Caquetá. Both Márquez and Montero are awaiting war-crimes trials before the JEP; under the terms of the peace accord, neither may leave Colombia without permission. If it is revealed that they have crossed a border—into Venezuela, for instance—they could lose their benefits under the peace accord.

The situation reveals growing divisions within the FARC party. The main split appears be between the leadership in Bogotá and the rank-and-file, most of which remains in the countryside, at the former demobilization sites and dozens of unofficial gathering points around the country. The Bogotá contingent, represented most visibly by the ex-guerrillas’ ten legislators, who appear to be following a more moderate political line than the middle and lower ranks. The latter are angry about the slow pace of peace accord implementation, worried about facing the same fate as Jesús Santrich, concerned about the election of a president who opposed the accord, and feeling unrepresented by top leadership. Some are contemplating following the path of Iván Márquez and “El Paisa.”

La Silla Vacía reported an illustrative example:

A week ago, La Silla spoke with Iván Merchán, a mid-level commander from La Macarena and a member of the political leadership, who told us that his plan was to disappear.

“It’s not about joining the ‘dissidences,’ like everyone says. It’s about going to a small town, where one has friends, where there are no signs or ways to be located. So one is calmer and less afraid of falling victim to a setup like Santrich,” he told us.

When we tried to communicate with Merchán again for this story, he no longer received calls or messages. According to him, other middle managers in Meta department had already “clandestinized,” as he told us to refer to what Márquez did.

“They (the ex-combatants) feel that those in the FARC Secretariat are happy wearing a tie in Congress, while they continue to have a bad time due to money and security,” a source in Santander told La Silla.

Spain Offers To Accompany ELN Peace Talks

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, paid a visit to Colombia as part of a tour of the region. Meeting with President Duque, Sánchez offered Spain’s assistance to push forward the flagging peace talks with the ELN guerrillas. “Anything Colombia needs from Spain to consolidate and advance peace we will say yes to. We will be with our Colombian brothers so that this will be a reality sooner rather than later,” said Sánchez, a member of Spain’s Socialist Workers’ Party.

President Duque, who announced at his August 7 inauguration that he was taking 30 days to review whether to continue the ELN talks, was circumspect. Duque is demanding that the 2,000-member guerrilla group cease all hostilities, including kidnapping and extortion, as a pre-condition for resuming talks that began officially in February 2017. “If there’s a suspension of criminal activities, a will for peace, we very much welcome the offer that has been made by our good friend President Pedro Sánchez,” the President said at a joint press conference with Sánchez.

Interviewed by El Tiempo, Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos reiterated the demand that the ELN state clearly that it will respect humanitarian standards and cease kidnapping, “which would be excellent news for Colombians and would facilitate the [peace] table’s continuity.” Ceballos said that he had opened up a confidential line of communication with chief ELN negotiator Pablo Beltrán, who is in Havana, but “unfortunately, this confidentiality wasn’t maintained, as several ELN spokespeople have made public my telephone contracts with Beltrán.”

JEP Takes on a “False Positive” Case

The transitional justice system (JEP) called 11 members of Colombia’s army to appear for the so-called “false positive” killings of 13 people in Casanare department in 2006 and 2007. The term “false positive” refers to soldiers’ grim practice of killing civilians and then presenting the bodies, falsely, as those of armed-group members killed in combat, in order to reap rewards for battlefield results. At least 3,000 Colombians may have fallen victim to such killings at the hands of the military between 2002 and 2008.

Major Gustavo Soto Bracamonte, former head of the Army’s GAULA anti-kidnapping unit in Casanare, appeared before the JEP’s Definition of Legal Situations Chamber, the first step for a case in the new system, with ten former subordinates, to answer for the killings they allegedly committed and falsified. All said they are prepared to contribute to clarifying the truth of what happened and to make reparations to their victims. In a dramatic moment, María Isabel Riascos, the mother of victim Darwin Esnin Riascos, demanded to know why the soldiers killed her son.

To date, 1,944 current and former security-force members have requested to have their human rights cases tried in the JEP. Of those, about 90 percent are false-positive cases. The inclusion of “false positive” cases in the transitional-justice system—where perpetrators can receive vastly reduced sentences—remains controversial. Some human rights organizations contend that they were criminal activities—murders for rewards—that had no relationship to the conflict. For now, the killings’ entry into the JEP is being determined on a case-by-case basis under unclear criteria.

The same is true for civilian officials who participated in human rights crimes by aiding paramilitary groups. In April, the JEP had refused to take the cases of Álvaro Ashton and David Char, two former congressmen from the Caribbean coast who had been convicted in the “para-politics” scandal for aiding and abetting paramilitary groups. The Definition of Legal Situations Chamber determined that the former legislators had aided the paramilitaries for political gain, making their crime irrelevant to the armed conflict. Ashton and Char appealed their case, and the JEP’s Appeals Section overturned the earlier decision, making them the first “para-politicians” to enter the transitional justice system.

Military Presents Report to Truth Commission

On August 27 Colombia’s armed forces presented a 50-volume, 18,380-page document to the new Truth Commission, detailing international humanitarian law and human rights violations committed by the FARC over the course of the conflict. Armed Forces commander Gen. Alberto Mejía said that the volumes resulted from an “inter-disciplinary study” involving the Prosecutor-General’s Office and intelligence services. “This isn’t meant to be a smokescreen, it doesn’t seek to hide the errors committed by soldiers in this war,” he added.

Father Francisco de Roux, the president of the Truth Commission, thanked the armed forces. “When you come to us with 50 volumes, this places in evidence what the FARC war was; this shows the meaning of the peace process.”

Asked about the report, FARC Senator Julian Gallo alias Carlos Antonio Lozada said:

We appreciate that all bodies want to contribute to the truth, and we invite not only the Armed Forces, but also businessmen, political parties, the church, the entire Colombian society to go to these bodies and contribute their version of what they consider conflict to have been, so that Colombia might have a complete version of what happened in the conflict and not just a biased version like the one that was told during the confrontation.

Gen. Mejía added a troubling bit of news: the new Duque government is “reviewing” the agreement that the prior administration of Juan Manuel Santos had signed with the Truth Commission regarding the handover of classified information in military policy and manuals. This, along with legislation introduced by members of Duque’s party in Congress, may throw up obstacles to the Truth Commission’s ability to access information in the military’s files that, unlike this week’s 50-volume submission, portrays the armed forces’ behavior in a less flattering light.

In-Depth Reading

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Latin America-related events in Washington next week

Tuesday, September 18

  • 10:00 in Room 342, Dirksen Senate Office Building: Hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee on “The Implications of the Reinterpretation of the Flores Settlement Agreement for Border Security and Illegal Immigration Incentives.”
  • 10:00 in Room 419, Dirksen Senate Office Building: Business meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for ambassadorial nominations (Suriname, Nicaragua, Honduras).
  • 10:00–11:30 at CSIS: Crisis Response: Tracking Venezuela’s Unprecedented Migrant and Refugee Flows (RSVP required).
  • 3:30–5:00 at the Wilson Center: Book Launch—Under-Rewarded Efforts: The Elusive Quest for Prosperity in Mexico (RSVP required).

Wednesday, September 19

  • 10:00–12:00 in Healey Family Student Center, Georgetown University: Responding to Venezuela’s Exodus (RSVP required).
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.