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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April 2017

The day ahead: April 27, 2017

I should be reachable in the morning and late afternoon. (How to contact me)

I have a long-ish meeting today of the selection committee for the Institute for Policy Studies’ Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award. It’ll be nice to see everyone on that group. When not there, I’ll be in the office dashing off dozens of e-mails and messages, for two events.

First, at 9:00 this morning we’re launching our report and database of 107 U.S. military and police aid programs. This is the culmination of a project I’ve been working on for years—it’s been the ultimate “on the back-burner” endeavor for most of those years, but it’s also a resource that, if printed out, totals more than 150 pages. It reflects hundreds of hours of work. You can see the database now; the report is coming this morning. While I don’t expect a giant compendium of military aid programs to make a big media splash today, there are a lot of people out there who are going to find this intensely useful: congressional staff who oversee these programs, journalists who cover defense, human rights and arms control advocates, and even some folks at State and Pentagon. I’ll be sending out a lot of personal notes today to make sure these people see it and know how to use it.

Second, the week of May 8 we’re going to San Diego and Tijuana for more border-security and migration research. We’ve split up our requests for meetings, and I’ve got four people or organizations to track down.

Also I note that after several days of chilly rain, it’s going to be sunny and 85 degrees today in Washington. This makes me happy.

“What Now in Venezuela?”

Screenshot: “Presidente Nicolás Maduro: He ordenado el inmediato retiro de la OEA”

Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Organization of American States deepens the country’s political crisis still further. Meanwhile, at least three people died today in mounting protests against the country’s definitive turn toward authoritarianism.

It’s really hard to predict where this is headed. I found useful, though, a column published Monday by Luis Vicente León, a widely cited analyst who runs Venezuela’s Datanálisis polling firm.

León sees two scenarios. Here’s an English translation of the key excerpt. Highlights are mine.

The government’s “exit costs” are almost infinite, which makes it a sort of “kamikaze.” Added to this is the very low possibility of a successful negotiation to lower these exit costs, because the opposition still needs to perform two tasks in order to get there. First, it needs negotiating power, something to offer in exchange that is compelling enough for the government to either to accede or to find itself obligated to exit from power. Second, it needs a valid interlocutor, someone with enough internal control and power to commit the opposition to uncomfortable accords with a government that has explicitly violated its rights.

The first need can be filled with pressure from the street, which—rather than a single “epic” march—would have to become an unstoppable demonstration in all the country and of all the country, making the nation ungovernable. But this would still leave the second variable without a response: who can negotiate to lower the exit costs?

With this in mind, these are the two most probable scenarios.

1. One in which opposition pressure continues to grow, but the government remains willing to repress it brutally and tirelessly, even amid international repudiation and sanctions, because it sees only one outcome: that its leaders’ heads get cut off if they give in. With a military sector also committed to the government side, this scenario could be prolonged. This would lead to the formation of paramilitary and guerrilla groups around the country, which would become part of the nation’s everyday life—but with the government remaining in power.

2. Another in which pressure from the opposition reaches its maximum level and fractures Chavismo and the military internally, due to fear of what could happen to them in the future, with the likelihood of being held accountable for brutal and evident human rights violations. In this case, it will probably be the military that decides to seek and coordinate negotiations to reduce and control exit costs. That negotiation would take place with an opposition leader who has managed to capitalize on the struggle and become the unquestioned spokesperson for those pressing for change.

Here’s Luis Vicente León discussing this “exit costs” theme on a November 2016 WOLA panel.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Archivo Semana photo from Verdad Abierta (Colombia). Caption: “Líderes indígenas y afros se unieron desde el año pasado para pedir ser escuchados en la Mesa de Negociaciones de Paz en La Habana.”

(Even more here)

April 26, 2017


The demonstration was peaceful until police blocked some of the indigenous people, their bodies painted and wearing colorful headdresses, from climbing a ramp that led into the congressional building

Brazil, Paraguay

the Paraguayan authorities said they suspected a Brazilian prison gang, commonly referred to as the P.C.C., or Primeiro Comando da Capital in Portuguese, of carrying out the crimes


A pesar de los protocolos, reglas de juego, mecanismos de rendición de cuentas, cronogramas, entre otros, establecidos en el Acuerdo Final, quedan sobre la mesa las siguientes preguntas

Uno de los puntos controversiales del Acuerdo con las Farc son las circunscripciones especiales de paz, sobre cuya localización el Gobierno ha mantenido el tema bajo gran sigilo. La Silla finalmente conoció cuáles serán

Varios líderes indígenas han sido abordedados por desconocidos en diferentes municipios de esa región agroindustrial y les repiten como una letanía que si no se van de la región ya saben lo que les pasará

A pesar de que el Gobierno tiene suspendidas las fumigaciones aéreas con glifosato desde octubre de 2015, la Corte encontró necesario prohibir el retorno de la aspersión de esa sustancia


“There is no evidence to say that it came from the government,” he said. “But I have elements to say that it wasn’t a common crime”

La cifra de homicidios dolosos en lo que va de la administración del presidente Enrique Peña se ha incrementado 12 mil 476 casos respecto al mismo periodo del presidente Felipe Calderón

“Tough talk about the wall right now, right after Trump backing down, is low risk and comes without cost”


The MUD may not have succeeded in stopping the government’s march toward authoritarianism and militarization. But to its credit, the MUD has made this march costlier than Chávez or Maduro ever imagined

Two Venezuelan men died on Tuesday from gunshots at political demonstrations, bringing to 26 the number of fatalities

Venezuela is in great danger. This stand-off can only be resolved if both sides make some big and difficult decisions

The fact that the U.S. State Department chose not to take on an assertive, public role at the OAS allowed Latin American countries such as Mexico and Peru to take the lead. It also made it politically palatable for countries usually reticent to pressure Venezuela to get involved

The day ahead: April 26, 2017

I won’t be in my office at all today, except for a brief period in the late afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’ve got an interview with Voice of America, a planning meeting for our border work, a meeting with a journalist, and an event at the National Defense University where Colombia’s military is talking about peace accord implementation. Then I’ve got to run out at 5:00 for a family commitment. So there probably won’t be many updates to this site today.

Podcast: “The Border Wall and the Budget”

The Trump White House came dangerously close to shutting down the U.S. government over funding for its proposed wall along the border with Mexico. Here I explain the budget process, what we know of the administration’s wall-building plans, and why it’s a bad idea.

I think this one came out pretty well.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Alexandre Cassiano photo in O Globo (Brazil). Caption: “Anoitecer no Complexo do Alemão.”

(Even more here)

April 25, 2017


O Batalhão de Operações Especiais (Bope) e o Batalhão de Choque fazem uma operação na manhã desta terça-feira no Complexo do Alemão

Brazil, Paraguay

Paraguayan authorities said the gunmen were Brazilians, and news reports suggested this was possibly the work of a Brazilian criminal organization, First Capital Command


Ya es un hecho que los guerrilleros se quieren quedar a vivir, si pueden, en todas las zonas

“We have a Marxist way of interpreting society, but that doesn’t mean it’s our only reference,” he said. “As to what our new model will be, that’s something we have yet to invent”

León Valencia, director de la fundación Paz y Reconciliación, le entregó al vicepresidente, Óscar Naranjo, y a las Farc un informe que revela que cese al fuego se ha cumplido en un 99%

A new set of Chiquita Papers, made possible through the National Security Archive’s FOIA lawsuit, has for the first time made it possible to know the identities and understand the roles of the individual Chiquita executives who approved and oversaw years of payments

Costa Rica, Nicaragua

Una delegación rusa acordó con el gobierno de Daniel Ortega, la primera semana de abril, efectuar entrenamientos conjuntos para enfrentar el terrorismo

El Salvador

El 62.4 % de los jóvenes que se han unido a las pandillas o maras en El Salvador lo hicieron por “ocio” o “amistad”


Hoy, como desde el 26 de septiembre de 2014, las madres, los padres y los normalistas de Ayotzinapa necesitan del acompañamiento de todas y todos, de nuestro cobijo

Esto ya es una crisis de grandes proporciones. Ojalá el país y sus autoridades no se tarden mucho tiempo en reconocerlo y actuar en consecuencia

Identified as “high priority” in the document are the border sectors of the Rio Grande Valley in the southern tip of Texas — encompassing Rio Grande City, McAllen and Weslaco — as well as El Paso, Tucson and San Diego

“If I were to go to your home and say, ‘you know what … I should build a wall from your home to your backyard and you can’t cross to your backyard unless you come through me’”

Although he thinks eradication in Mexico is important, Quiñones added that the “market has rapidly evolved in the last couple years, as Mexican traffickers have looked for new non-plant alternatives to heroin


When the world stops paying attention and international pressure begins to wane, so too do the crowds and the cycle begins anew. Time therefore is on Maduro’s side

Following a familiar daily pattern, the demonstrations were largely peaceful until mid-afternoon, when scattered skirmishes broke out and the shooting incidents occurred

Western Hemisphere Regional

According to a detailed 15-page State Department budget document obtained by Foreign Policy, the overhaul also includes rechanneling funding from development assistance into a program that is tied closely to national security objectives

The day ahead: April 25, 2017

I won’t be in my office at all today. (How to contact me)

I’m giving a talk about Colombia this morning to a classroom full of diplomats-in-training at the Foreign Service Institute. Then I hope to stop at home on the way to the office and record a podcast.

This was going to be about Donald Trump’s insistence on funding the border wall in the 2017 budget, which Congress needs to pass this week, even if it meant shutting down the government. However, the news last night is that Trump is backing down, which may put off the border-wall funding debate until the 2018 budget, which Congress must try to pass in the summer and fall. (The 2018 budget year starts on October 1, but Congress is nearly always late in approving it.)

So anyway, the podcast needs adjusting. Hopefully I’ll have that done in time to go back to WOLA for a couple of meetings with staff. In particular, we’re going to the U.S.-Mexico border in two weeks and need to start nailing down meetings.


Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 24, 2017


El hallazgo de una caleta de armas de las Farc en Putumayo demuestra que estos depósitos clandestinos serán el gran desafío que tendrá la ONU durante la dejación de armas

No he encontrado un documento sistemático en donde el ELN desarrolle sus argumentos para sostener que el secuestro extorsivo no viola el DIH. Lo que existen son distintas declaraciones, cartas y trinos


Incredibly, an agency under Mr. Kelly’s purview has recommended that some 50,000 Haitians now living legally in the United States be expelled en masse next January


Podemos escribir muchas más alternativas, pero en estas dos se concentran las mayores probabilidades de que se pare en ellas la bolita de esta ruleta rusa

From labor disputes with unions to student demonstrations on university campuses, colectivos are appearing almost anywhere the government sees citizens getting out of line

Colombia, Venezuela

The military desertions are believed to be the first since Maduro came to power in 2013 and could indicate weakening support for the embattled President within the armed forces

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).
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