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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July 2017

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Federico Parra/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images photo at The Wall Street Journal. Caption: “People queue at polling stations Sunday at Carabobo Square in Caracas during an opposition-organized referendum on President Nicolás Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution.”

(Even more here)

July 17, 2017


El jueves, ante Aguad, Macri admitió que Defensa está “en etapa de vacas flacas”

Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Venezuela, Western Hemisphere Regional

A strong chain of justice, which would include specialized police officers and sufficient independent judges to deal with the volume of cases, would be the first steps


Los cultivos de coca en Colombia sufrieron un fuerte incremento al pasar de 96.000 ha en 2015 a 146.000 ha en 2016. Esto representa un incremento del 52%

“Se podría analizar el impacto del glifosato en el pasado. ¿Realmente sirvió de algo y dio los resultados deseados? Yo creo que no. A mediano plazo siempre hubo resiembra en estas zonas”

El acuerdo de paz no es garantía de una reducción de la violencia y la criminalidad en el país. Sin embargo, las primeras evidencias demuestran que ha sido una estrategia efectiva para salvar vidas

Para el embajador Whitaker, el logro de la paz es algo que todo el mundo debe celebrar, comenzando por los propios colombianos

El director de la Agencia Central de Inteligencia de Estados Unidos, CIA, estuvo en Urabá conociendo detalles de la operación Agamenón 2, que busca desarticular la banda “Clan del Golfo”


De acuerdo con los castrenses “esto”, la violencia, la gente descuartizada, los pueblos abandonados… se genera por la forma de actuar de los defensores de los derechos humanos, y de los funcionarios públicos

En Veracruz hay una deuda de verdad y justicia que reclaman miles de familiares de desaparecidos

The extradition of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, Mexico’s long-dominant drug lord, has led to an explosion of violence in his home state of Sinaloa, the birthplace of the country’s narcotics industry

People who are trying to enter the U.S. illegally across the Mexican border often hide in the cane. It’s not a hospitable environment—the cane scratches and is difficult to walk through—but it is effective cover

The American perambulators enjoying their walk beside the wall would need only peek through it to see drug dealers loading up a medieval siege weapon, allowing them to hastily run for cover

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

Harsh migration enforcement tactics continue to violate the rights of not only migrants but also of Mexican border communities


As Venezuela falls further into turmoil, more of its citizens are leaving a country that once served as a haven

Between January and March, 8,301 Venezuelans requested asylum in the United States, nearly double the number in the same period of 2016

Opposition tactics may include lengthy road blockades and sit-ins, a national strike, or possibly even a march on the Miraflores presidential palace, similar to events before a short-lived coup against Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez

Of the nearly 6.5 million who voted inside of Venezuela on Sunday, 98% rejected the government’s proposal

Whatever the actual numbers say, the optics of a large turnout, especially in longtime Chavista areas in the Western part of Caracas will perhaps be more important

Western Hemisphere Regional

My research on police reform in Latin America shows that such reforms are highly vulnerable to political reversals

The day ahead: July 17, 2017

I should be reachable during the afternoon hours. (How to contact me)

I’m back from vacation and jumping back in to work. Over the next few weeks, my daughter will be at a day camp farther from here. The longer commute has changed my schedule around a bit. I won’t post news clips to this site until later in the day. Instead, I’m devoting the early morning hours to writing.

As a result, earlier today I wrote most of an upcoming analysis of the Trump administration’s $100m request to hire more Border Patrol agents. Now I’m in the office, where I’ve got a staff meeting and a pile of administrative things to attend to. During the afternoon I’ll post a news update and add a bunch of clips to my defense oversight database.

The week ahead

I’m back from vacation. The transition has been smooth so far, in part because I paid too much attention to work while I was out.

I’m here in Washington all week, and I expect to focus mainly, but not exclusively, on border security work. The Homeland Security appropriations bill is in committee in the House tomorrow. While we’ve done all we can to influence the outcome, the Republican majority that drafts the bill is going to accede to the White House’s wishes. This is an opportunity to make noise and strategize for next steps. Expect a written analysis this week.

The House will also mark up the foreign aid bill on Wednesday, so we’ll probably have some analysis of that done as well. The bill will not cut foreign aid as drastically as the Trump administration wants, but the House bill still calls for some painful steps that we can hopefully avoid later in the legislative process.

I also hope to finish a memo on U.S.-Colombia relations following the theme of the podcast I recorded last week. And to do a lot of research. It’s nice to be back on the job.

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Monday, July 17

Tuesday, July 18

Wednesday, July 19

Thursday, July 20

  • 8:30–10:30 at the Inter-American Dialogue: US-Mexico Relations in Flux (RSVP required).
  • 10:30–12:00 at CSIS: The Dangers of the Looming Constituent Assembly in Venezuela: Why the International Community Must Act (RSVP required).

Friday, July 21

  • 8:30 at the Atlantic Council: Venezuela on the Edge: The Time for New International Action (RSVP required).

5 tweets that made me laugh this week

Five links from the past week

The police in Río de Janeiro have already killed almost 500 people in the first five months of 2017. They’re also dying at a stunning rate. A security situation that had made promising improvements is now in free-fall, and the cops aren’t up to it. See also the Igarapé Foundation’s anguished analysis, also in Spanish, of the spike in violence.

Most valuable here are the many quotes from current and former DEA personnel. “‘All the cables out of headquarters, all the intelligence reports, were focused on Chapo,’ the former field agent says. ‘The bosses in D.C. were like, ‘We’ve never heard of [CJNG].’ They didn’t think they were important.’” For a more positive look at security in Mexico, Patrick McDonnell in the Los Angeles Times profiles the successful and disciplined self-defense organizations of Cherán, Michoacán.

  • Catalina Lobo-Guerrero, La Transicion (La Silla Vacia (Colombia), July 10, 2017).

A thoughtful profile of FARC members in a Cauca disarmament zone. It carefully looks at the tension between ex-fighters’ desire to keep following the organization’s orders, and their desire to pursue their own ambitions.

Video interviews, graphics, and well-researched narrative in this view of the current situation in northern Antioquia’s coca-rich Bajo Cauca region. The Urabeños organized crime group is dominant here.

The Venezuelan pro-opposition analyst and civil-military relations expert is pessimistic. She sees Nicolás Maduro as a “transitional figure.” Real power is accruing in the armed forces. The result is a 70% probability of “perpetual government” under the current regime. If that happens, San Miguel sees the military dominating Chavismo’s civilian remnants.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Leonardo Benassatto / Reuters photo at The Wall Street Journal. Caption: “Supporters of former Brazilian President President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva protested in Sao Paulo on Thursday against his conviction on corruption charges.”

(Even more here)

July 14, 2017


The Workers’ Party and Lula have a lot to answer to those they claim to represent. But Lula’s ruin is not, as some couch revelers suggest, an invitation to an out-of-season carnival

The theme of unfair judicial interference has given staunch political rivals common ground

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva lived up to an old Brazilian saying, “rouba mas faz”—“he steals, but he gets things done”


Frente al asesinato de Amaya, Mauricio Jaramillo, uno de los jefes de las Farc, insistió en que se trata de una “arremetida paramilitar”

InSide Colombia’s BACRIM features video interviews with five current or former members of the Bajo Cauca BACRIM

La cifra fue entregada por el defensor del Pueblo, Carlos Alfonso Negret, quien señaló, que la cifra de muertos, desde enero de 2016, asciende a 186

Los municipios mencionados en el panfleto son Dabeiba, Buriticá, Anzá y Armenia Mantequilla, a quienes les ordenan cesar sus actividades económicas, laborales y académicas


De acuerdo con el juez, el soldado tenía derecho a disparar, pues se encontraba emocionalmente alterado y en un “escenario de guerra”, además de que, señaló, los policías son “incapaces y corruptos”

“You have mountains. You have some rivers that are violent and vicious. You have some areas that are so far away that you don’t really have people crossing. So you don’t need that”


Opposition leaders are betting that a mass repudiation of Mr. Maduro’s plan will undermine its legitimacy

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

July 13, 2017


The former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was found guilty of corruption and money laundering on Wednesday and sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison

Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the front-runner for next year’s presidential election, was sentenced to almost a decade in prison for corruption, dealing a heavy blow to his leftist Workers’ Party

Public opinion remains firmly behind Lava Jato. That is why efforts to scotch it are unlikely to succeed

It’s hard not to see in Moro’s words at least a trace of the deference to power, and instinctive preference for compromise, that has long characterized Brazilian political culture – and may ultimately be Lula’s salvation


La Misión de la ONU en Colombia ha logrado recopilar información sobre los sectores de ubicación de 660 caletas, y se completó el planeamiento de 456 para su extracción

Diferentes organizaciones sociales no están de acuerdo con las metodologías y los alcances de las investigaciones

Cuba, Venezuela

Venezuela’s crude and fuel deliveries to Cuba have slid almost 13 percent in the first half this year, according to documents from state-run oil company PDVSA viewed by Reuters, threatening to worsen gasoline and power shortages in the communist-run island


There are currently at least 307 active mining licences in Guatemala, mainly in rural indigenous regions, according to Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) figures. Almost 600 more are under consideration


We are particularly alarmed that the OIGs found that DEA and INL officials repeatedly and knowingly misled Members of Congress and congressional staff. We request that you provide us with a detailed written account of the steps that you intend to take


The contractor says he has never seen a bidding process so chaotic and rudderless as this one

$1.6 billion for physical barrier construction along the Southern border – including bollards and levee improvements – meeting the full White House request


Transferring Lopez to house arrest was not, as the government has insisted, merely a procedural matter that illustrates the health of checks and balances in Venezuela

Western Hemisphere Regional

In some cases, the complaint alleges, CBP officials have told people that “Donald Trump just signed new laws saying there is no asylum for anyone.”

Lawyers and charity groups working on the border documented an uptick in turn-backs and other irregularities with this process beginning in the summer of 2016, and it appeared to worsen after the election

The past week in U.S. border security

Nick Oza photo at The Arizona Republic. Caption: “Hundreds of people came to attend the Mass held on Oct. 8, 2016, by Bishop José Leopoldo González González, during an anniversary vigil for José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, who was shot and killed by the Border Patrol on Internacional Street in Nogales, Sonora, in 2012.”

  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security has drafted its piece of the 2018 budget. The subcommittee’s draft version grants the Trump administration’s full $1.6 billion request (PDF) to build or replace 74 miles of border wall. It also grants the White House request of $100 million to hire new agents.
  • House Republican hard-liners are already threatening to vote against any budget that doesn’t include the border wall money. Democrats have vowed to oppose it. This could set the stage for a government shutdown after the fiscal year ends on September 30. More likely, though, would be a “continuing resolution” keeping the budget at 2017 levels (with no wall funding) through 2018, Bloomberg speculates.
  • Mexico has received 5,464 asylum applications between January and May, outpacing the record 8,794 applications filed in 2016. Nearly all applicants are people fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. “Belize, Costa Rica and Panama also saw a rise to more than 4,300 refugee applications last year,” the AP reports.
  • The Kino Border Initiative (KBI), based in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico, is a Jesuit-run organization that advocates for migrants’ rights. It files complaints with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on behalf of migrants who say they were mistreated or denied rights while in the agency’s custody. The CBP complaints system is badly broken, KBI documents in a new report. Of 49 complaints filed over an 18-month period, only 13 have resulted in a “finding.”
  • The murder trial of Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz continues. Prosecutors accuse Swartz of firing 16 shots through the Nogales border fence into Mexico, killing 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. They are conceding that Elena Rodriguez was probably throwing rocks at the agents before the shooting. (At the site, which I have visited, Elena would have been throwing the rocks over an 18-foot fence that sits atop a ridge at least 10 feet high.) Video shows Swartz firing 13 of the 16 shots after Elena was already on the ground.
  • A new Texas law requires police to inquire about the immigration status of everyone they arrest, and to report undocumented people to federal authorities. The law may harm relations with Mexico, a Washington Post story reports.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Mario Tama/Getty Images photo at The New York Times. Caption: “La Policía Militar entra a una favela luego de un prolongado tiroteo en el barrio Copacabana, en Río de Janeiro, el 12 de junio de 2017. Un joven de 19 años murió y una mujer resultó herida por el fuego cruzado entre los agentes y los pandilleros.”

(Even more here)

July 12, 2017


I found another job that is even more heartbreaking: the United Nations special rapporteur

Sus agentes son los que más matan en Brasil (casi 500 casos en los primeros cinco meses de este año) pero también son los que sufren más bajas en ese país


Son contados los profesionales que se dedican a estudiarla en el escritorio y en el terreno. Uno de ellos es Daniel Mauricio Rico Valencia

En dos históricas sentencias, este alto tribunal condena al Ministerio de Defensa por casos de ejecuciones extrajudiciales y lo exhorta a que no malinterprete más este marco jurídico internacional

El ministro del Interior, Guillermo Rivera, reportó esta disminución, según la cual en junio pasado fueron asesinados dos líderes, mientras que en abril habían muerto de manera violenta cinco y en mayo, tres

Según el informe de Medicina Legal, los homicidios por todo tipo de causas en Colombia también siguen una tendencia a la baja y mientras que en 2015 ocurrieron 11.585 asesinatos, en 2016 se registraron 11.532 (0,4% menos)


For much of Haiti’s history, the army has been used to crack down on political dissent by a series of authoritarian presidents


Such blatant abuse of dangerous technology warrants another international investigation. Mr. Peña Nieto has said he would welcome outside help; this time he should mean it

En promedio ganan 31.3 pesos la hora y trabajan 65.4 horas a la semana, lo que da un total de 2,047 pesos semanales

With El Chapo behind bars, an even more dangerous drug lord has emerged. On the hunt for Mexico’s next-generation narco

With Republican leaders wary of a shutdown, the clash over the border wall is more likely to lead to a stopgap spending bill in September that may end up putting the government on autopilot for a year

Democrats have already signaled they would oppose any funding bill that includes money for the wall

$1.6 billion for physical barrier construction along the Southern border – including bollards and levee improvements – meeting the full White House request

Here, AQ looks at the extent of Mexico and the United States’ economic and demographic connections

Despite some progress in improving the complaint process, KBI found that most complaints were only investigated by management at the local level and not by the independent oversight bodies tasked with accountability


“El EPP se presenta como proveedora de servicios públicos, reemplazando al Estado. Va captando a la gente con solidaridad; crea afinidad y relaciones estrechas”


La Fiscalía de Perú pidió este martes la prisión preventiva del expresidente Ollanta Humala y su esposa Nadine Heredia, por los presuntos delitos de lavado de activos y asociación ilícita vinculados al caso Odebrecht


Cabrera denounced government corruption in Venezuela and the death threats on his family that prompted him to pay bribes, and he expressed support for the protesters

Advirtió que se mantendrá en el cargo aun si la máxima corte la destituye como parte de un juicio planteado por el oficialismo

The secret effort by Mr. Zapatero and others had been going on for months

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