Adam Isacson

Defense, security, borders, migration, and human rights in Latin America and the United States. May not reflect my employer’s consensus view.


July 2017

Here’s an archive of U.S. documents about the border wall

Going back to January 20. Especially important or useful ones are bold.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Carlos Jasso/Reuters photo at The New York Times. Caption: “Activists and journalists protested in Mexico City last month after a report that smartphones had been infected with spyware sold to the government to fight criminals and terrorists.”

(Even more here)

July 20, 2017

Bolivia, Nicaragua

“El sistema capitalista ya no puede resolver problemas financieros, sociales y por eso necesitamos más fuerza más unidad y esta enorme concentración en Nicaragua da fuerza al pueblo de América Latina y del mundo”, dijo en la concentración por los 38 años de la Revolución Sandinista


In this (southern) winter of Brazil’s discontent, there is only one politician who is being mobbed at airports, whose supporters speak with an almost religious fervor and conviction. He is Jair Bolsonaro


En el capítulo sobre Latinoamérica del documento anual no aparece una frase que formó parte, con ligeras variaciones, de los informes emitidos por el Departamento de Estado al menos desde comienzos de esta década


“It was assessed that there was not sufficient information there to provide a report this year on Cuba”


The disputed Agua Zarca hydroelectric project has garnered international attention and concern since the March 2016 assassination of Berta Cáceres


The drilling and testing come as Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency of the Border Patrol, continues to evaluate dozens of proposals that have been submitted by vendors

By limiting the case to the attorney general’s office, the Mexican government is investigating itself with no outside oversight, the four United Nations experts said

Republican leaders have relied regularly on Democratic votes to pass those bills and prevent government shutdowns — a dynamic that’s given the Democrats plenty of leverage


Many businesses were staying shut as the opposition organized a 24-hour national shutdown from 6 a.m. in a civil disobedience campaign they are dubbing “zero hour”

While starving Venezuela of oil revenues could debilitate the Maduro government, it could also produce something resembling state collapse in Venezuela, where armed men already roam with impunity and tens of thousands have been fleeing

The day ahead: July 20, 2017

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

It’s a day in the office, mostly. I’ve got a morning meeting to talk strategy with another NGO that works on border security and migration. In the afternoon I expect to write an explainer piece about what the House appropriators’ homeland security and foreign aid bills would affect Latin America. I will also start putting together a late August visit to Colombia.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

U.S. Air National Guard photo/Senior Airman Megan Floyd at U.S. Air Force. Caption: “Guests watch aerial demonstrations at José María Córdova International Airport during Feria Aeronautica Internacional—Colombia 2017 in Rionegro, Colombia, July 15, 2017. The U.S. Air Force is participating in the four-day air show with two South Carolina Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcons as static displays.”

(Even more here)

July 19, 2017


Faced with unpaid salaries, shuttered schools and failing hospitals, not even the sight of former Governor Sérgio Cabral in prison is enough to lift the mood


Las estructuras de las FARC operaron en 242 municipios, se esperaba que estos espacios fueran ocupados por la institucionalidad estatal, sin embargo, hacia estos territorios se han estado desplazando otras estructuras ilegales

Se podrían perder el 30 por ciento del apoyo económico, que equivale a 82,8 millones de dólares

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

Here are seven facts about the MS-13 that are crucial to understanding the threat the group poses, followed by recommendations for how to best address the problem


In the year since President Enrique Peña Nieto signed an anti-corruption system into law, the government and its allies have undermined it, activists say

The conflict is neither just crime nor civil war, but a new hybrid type of organized violence. We will never understand its nature until Mexico truly investigates how these mass graves came about


The events at Marina Cué and their aftermath, in short, proved to be a watershed moment in Paraguay’s recent history. Yet the families of the victims and campaigners now hope to overturn the controversial ruling


In order for the law to fulfill its potential in promoting public health and reducing the black market, robust and independent scientific evaluation will be essential

They developed an onerous registration process and ruled out marketing the country as a mecca for pot tourism


“Todos los funcionarios e integrantes de la Fuerza Armada están obligados a no colaborar con el Poder Electoral en la materialización del fraudulento proceso constituyente por el cual se pretende derogar por la vía de los hechos la Constitución de 1999”

“We can promise that whatever actions we choose to take after July 30th will be strong, swift and deliberate,” the official said

The day ahead: July 19, 2017

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

I’ll be in a mandatory staff training all morning and into the early afternoon. After that I’ve got a meeting in Congress to talk about Colombia. I’ll be back in the office, and perhaps somewhat reachable, during the latter part of the afternoon.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

EFE photo at El Colombiano (Medellín, Colombia). Caption: “La disminución en las muertes violentas coincide con el proceso de paz con las Farc.”

  • The Colombian government has begun implementing “Development Plans with a Territorial Focus” or PDET. This effort, foreseen in the FARC peace accords’ first chapter, is to manage large-scale rural development investments in 170 municipalities most affected by the conflict. (Colombia has about 1,100 municipalities, or counties.)
  • The UN verification and monitoring mission published its latest monthly report (PDF). It found that Colombia’s government has finally built most guerrilla disarmament sites, after months of delays. It reported having extracted 94 FARC arms caches around the country. Almost 900 more remain in remote areas around the country. The UN has information about approximately 660, including the 94 that the mission has emptied.
  • Juan Fernando Amaya, in Ituango, Antioqua, became the sixth former FARC member to be assassinated since the peace accord’s signing. A local human rights group said he had been receiving threats. Ituango’s mayor called it “an isolated act.”
  • Colombia’s Interior Ministry reported a drop in murders of social leaders and activists since April. Colombia’s human rights ombudsman counted 52 such murders during the first six months of 2017. The Prosecutor-General’s office said that 51 percent of cases since 2016 have been “clarified”—a claim human rights groups rejected. On Friday Héctor Mina of the Marcha Patriótica, a leftist political movement, became the latest victim. Four assassins shot him in the center of Guachené, Cauca.
  • The UN mission issued an “urgent call” on the government to release FARC members who remain in Colombian prisons six months after passage of an amnesty law for political crimes. FARC leader Jesús Santrich ended up in intensive care after an 18-day hunger strike to pressure for prisoners’ release.
  • Colombia’s government and leaders of the ELN guerrillas will launch a third round of talks next week. The stated goal is to arrive at terms for a ceasefire (which the ELN wants) or a full cessation of all hostilities (which the government wants). The round is to continue until just before Pope Francis’s scheduled September 6 visit to Colombia.
  • The Ideas for Peace Foundation published a very detailed mapping of Colombia’s current and upcoming organized crime and “armed saboteur” groups.
  • The New York Times published a largely optimistic assessment of Colombia’s post-conflict coca substitution effort in Putumayo, where the FARC appear to be cooperating. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime published its detailed annual report documenting coca cultivation in Colombia in 2016 (PDF). It found a 52 percent increase in the crop over 2015.

UNODC’s Colombia coca estimate is out

Chart of coca and eradication in Colombia since 1994

On July 14 the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released (PDF) its 2016 estimate of coca cultivation in Colombia (the dark blue line). It shows a lower estimate than the U.S. government’s (the green line), but a sharper rate of increase over 2015.

UNODC identified four reasons for the increase:

  1. Some coca farmers “have a perception of reduced risk associated with illicit activity due to the suspension of aerial spraying and the possibility of avoiding forced [manual] eradication through blockades of the security forces.”
  2. Increased expectations of receiving compensation for substituting coca within the framework of the peace accord.
  3. “A general reduction of alternative development efforts in all of the country due to transition to a strategy centered on the elimination of crops to a strategy centered on transformation of territory.”
  4. Coca-leaf prices shrunk somewhat, but remain “at a high level.”

In an interview with Colombia’s daily El Tiempo, UNODC’s representative in Colombia, Bo Mathiasen, made clear that renewing aerial herbicide spraying—the preferred strategy of many in the U.S. government—is not the solution.

It’s a sovereign issue for Colombia. But the past impact of glyphosate [the herbicide that is sprayed] could be analyzed. Did it really work for anything and give the desired results? I don’t believe so. In the medium term, there was always replanting in these zones. Spraying happened, and they planted again. The desired change was not achieved.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

July 18, 2017


It is not booby traps and snipers that are now blocking eradication efforts, but angry woman and children preventing the eradicators from working. This has proven to be extraordinarily effective

The rebels now appear in civilian clothes alongside government officials, selling farmers on crops like black pepper and heart of palm

Two key flaws were included in Constitutional Amendment 1 of 2017: (1) an overly broad provision on political participation for FARC guerrillas; and (2) an indefensibly rigid definition of “command responsibility”

El último homicidio fue en el norte del Cauca, mientras el líder desayunaba con sus compañeros de Marcha Patriótica. ¿Quién era Héctor Mina?

Esta radiografía nos permite visibilizar las enormes diferencias entre grupos y su presencia en los territorios, así como su fragmentación

Colombia, Cuba, Venezuela

Havana could usefully offer safe haven exile for Mr Maduro’s senior officials who, with a bolt hole to flee to, would no longer need to fight to the last


Correa called his successor “disloyal” and “mediocre,” and warned of the danger of “crossing red lines.” On Twitter Moreno parried that “we continue committed to reconcile the country”


The hearing on July 19 is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. Guatemala time. It will be an important barometer of the status of grave crimes cases in Guatemala


The creativity of the tunnels is consistent with Mexican drug cartels’ way of overcoming the border fence above-ground


If fewer than 7.2 million people turn out to elect the government’s Constitutional Assembly on July 30, the body’s lack of legitimacy will be obvious from day one

The opposition’s new strategy came as the Trump administration said it would impose “swift economic actions” if Mr. Maduro goes ahead with a planned election on July 30

Statement on the House’s Homeland Security Appropriations Bill

The House Appropriations Committee meets at 10:30 to “mark up” (approve the draft of) the bill that will fund the Homeland Security department in 2018. The bill includes the Trump administration’s full request of $1.6 billion to build 74 miles of border wall, 60 of it new. It also has $100 million to hire 500 more Border Patrol agents, and money to start building up a huge ICE deportation force.

Needless to say, we oppose this bill. Here is WOLA’s statement laying out why this is a huge and cruel waste of money.

As an organization with decades of experience in human rights in the Americas and U.S.-Latin America migration, WOLA (the Washington Office on Latin America) opposes this version of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill. We urge Members of Congress to oppose this bill and speak out against it as long as it includes the harmful provisions listed below.

Read the rest here.

The day ahead: July 18, 2017

I’ll be intermittently reachable throughout the day. (How to contact me)

The House Appropriations Committee is marking up the Homeland Security Appropriations bill at 10:30 this morning, and I’ll be covering what happens. The bill includes the Trump administration’s full request for 74 miles of border wall and 500 new Border Patrol agents.

After that I’ve got lunch with a colleague at USAID, a call with a journalist, and a late-afternoon meeting to make a hiring decision (new assistant). In between all of that, I’ll be in the office and theoretically reachable.

Links from the Past Month About: Politics and Security in Latin America


  • Meeting in Cancún, Mexico, the OAS General Assembly failed to pass a resolution on Venezuela. The resolution called on the Venezuelan government to release political prisoners, end violent repression of protests, and desist from holding a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. The votes of small Caribbean states, and low-energy U.S. diplomacy, get some blame.
  • A rogue police pilot flew a helicopter that dropped grenades over Venezuela’s Supreme Court building. He also released a video attacking the Nicolás Maduro regime. Some suspected a government stunt to justify a further crackdown.
  • Security forces stood aside as a pro-government mob went on a rampage in Venezuela’s opposition-majority National Assembly. The mayhem injured at least 15 people, including some legislators.
  • The government suddenly transferred Venezuela’s best-known political prisoner, opposition leader Leopoldo López, from jail to house arrest.
  • Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who has become a vocal critic of the Maduro regime, faces trumped-up criminal charges. She refuses to vacate her position.
  • The opposition held an unofficial vote opposing the government’s planned constituent assembly. More than 7 million ballots were cast.
  • Venezuelan major-league baseball players are becoming more vocal about the political situation in their homeland.


  • Brazil’s attorney general accused President Michel Temer of taking a bribe from a meat-packing corporation.
  • Despite Temer’s 7 percent approval rating, the Wall Street Journal reported that most Brazilians are “too weary to protest.”
  • An anti-corruption judge sentenced ex-President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva to 10 years in prison. The case involves a construction company and improvements to a beachfront apartment. The popular politician is appealing the charges and aspiring for reelection next year.


  • The New York Times broke the story that Mexico’s government used spyware to hack the phones of corruption investigators, journalists, human rights defenders, and their families. Later, the Times revealed that the government even tried to hack members of an OAS commission investigating the 2014 disappearance of 43 teacher’s college students.
  • “[President Enrique] Peña Nieto’s presidency has been marked by exposed acts of corruption, incompetence and negligence; the country has been battered by shocking crimes that remain unsolved,” author Francisco Goldman wrote in the New York Times.


  • Peruvian prosecutors asked that ex-President Ollanta Humala be jailed pending trial for corruption. The case involves the notorious Brazilian infrastructure firm Odebrecht.
  • Peru is rife with speculation—and alarm—that President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski might pardon jailed ex-President Alberto Fujimori. The octogenarian authoritrarian is serving sentences for human rights crimes.


  • The daughter of Berta Cáceres, the environmental leader murdered in her home in March 2016, survived an armed attack on a rural road.


  • With no overwhelming frontrunner for Colombia’s May 2018 presidential elections, Holly Sonneland looks at the latest polls and the main candidates at Americas Quarterly.
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