Due to renovations in the office, I’m working at home today. While here on the couch with my laptop, I plan to finish two articles. One a new draft of a piece written for an edited volume, and one for an online foreign policy site.
I stayed up way too late last night working on my upcoming Colombia report, too, so I may have to take a break during the day. Which I can do, because I’m at home.
EFE photo at ABC Color (Paraguay). Caption: “Manifestantes se enfrentan con policías antimotines hoy, miércoles 24 de mayo de 2017, en la Explanada de los Ministerios, en Brasilia”
Because they’re governed poorly by corrupt elites, Brazil and Venezuela have seen long recent periods of massive street protests. But now, the energy is fizzling in both countries. That’s a common theme in the past few weeks’ reporting, anyway.
“Everywhere you go in Brazil, it’s the same thing. Circles under the eyes, hushed voices. A shrug. ‘Fazer o que?’ … The anger is gone. These days, Brazilians are just tired.” — Brian Winter, Americas Quarterly
“Many… opposition supporters, however, are exhausted after four months of street demonstrations and disruptions to daily life, which ultimately failed to make Maduro accept opposition demands. Turnout at marches called by the opposition has fizzled in the last few weeks, and some people just want to return to work quickly in the country plagued with empty food shelves, runaway inflation and a fourth straight year of recession.” — Alexandra Ulmer, Reuters
“In the days ahead, keeping its [the opposition’s] supporters on the streets may become increasingly difficult, because of both increased repression and likely popular disillusionment. It is already showing signs of severe internal strains over issues such as the formation of a parallel government and whether or not to participate in regional elections.” — Phil Gunson, International Crisis Group
This is disheartening and worrying. The implication that should gnaw at all of us: political oppositions are easy to beat. Once a bad government gains control of the levers of power, it can wait out protesters and carry on. The opposition will go home, and the regime will hang on for decades, like Mugabe, Putin, Khamenei or al-Bashir.
If dissipating opposition energy is a thing, could we see that happen to the vigor the United States saw at January’s Women’s March and airport protests? Fatigued with corruption, coddling of white supremacy, and failed checks on power, will exhausted Americans stay home in 2018, relegating “Resist” to a played-out hashtag?
Julia Michaels at Brazil’s Rio Real blog says no. There’s no need to yell “get back out there.” People are just taking a moment to figure things out.
“It’s tough to read the lack of noise, after years of great activity. But the silence in Rio, both this blogger’s as well as that of many others, is no hollow space. We’re lost in thought. How did we get here? What are the important questions? What works? What gets you nowhere?”
I hope she’s right—and it makes sense: maybe 20th century-style street demonstrations aren’t the most effective tactic. I don’t know what else is, but some reflection may reveal a better path.
Note added 8/15: in the current New Yorker, Nathan Heller argues that public protests tend to fizzle unless there’s a careful strategy guiding them, and at least some elite outreach and allies.
I also hope Brian Winter is wrong. In Brazilians’ current moment of fatigue, he wonders whether they might turn to a “savior” on the extreme right in next year’s elections.
[T]here is only one politician who is being mobbed at airports, whose supporters speak with an almost religious fervor and conviction. He is Jair Bolsonaro (pictured above), 62, a congressman and former army captain currently running second or third in most polls for president.… Many insist Bolsonaro’s views are too extreme for Brazil. They cite his support for beating gay children, for torturing leftists, or his 2014 comment to a fellow legislator on the floor of Congress that “I won’t rape you because you don’t deserve it.” … Bolsonaro is running first among Brazil’s wealthiest and most educated voters, and he has 4.4 million followers on Facebook – 1.5 million more than Lula, Marina Silva or Doria (and 10 times more than Temer).
Success, in the long term, will depend not only on the viability of the new crops, but on the state’s ability to transform its relationship with the marginalised regions where the 50-year armed conflict raged
El vicepresidente Pence le respondió que seguirán realizando acciones hasta que “el régimen de Maduro restablezca la democracia”, aunque destacó que el presidente Donald Trump confía en que se logrará una solución pacífica
“Ni Colombia ni América Latina, desde el sur del río Grande hasta la Patagonia, podrían estar de acuerdo (con una intervención militar). América es un continente de paz. Mantengámoslo así”, le dijo Santos a Pence, en tres ocasiones
The ex-leader of the 18 Revolucionarios gang testified that the FMLN paid a total of $250,000 to the three principal gangs in El Salvador to help procure the victory of president Salvador Sanchez Ceren
También incluye hospitales de campaña, morteros, un misil Sam-7 y lanzacohetes rusos, así como lanchas interceptoras, entre ellas la Nor Tech que Estados Unidos entregó para luchar contra el narcotráfico
Today I have a couple of morning phone meetings, and in the afternoon I have to pack my office into boxes in advance of a re-carpeting / re-painting. (WOLA is being renovated this month.) In between, I’ll be writing a column about Colombia for another publication, forging ahead with research for a big upcoming Colombia report, and nailing down a couple of meetings for an end-of-month visit to Colombia.
This is an odd week: WOLA is undergoing renovation, and I’ll be working from home after Monday. I’ll also be off Friday and next Monday—the family is taking a long weekend to see the solar eclipse somewhere near the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
While I’m here, I’ll be working on a big upcoming Colombia report and continuing to organize an end-of-month visit to Colombia. I expect that my work will be 90% focused on Colombia, other than a meeting or two on Capitol Hill to talk about border security. And this afternoon, when I pack up my office in advance of the work crew.
It’s taken me 2 1/2 months, as it was one task among many. But I’ve now given a close read to all 400 pages of the report on DEA activities in Honduras that the State and Justice Departments’ inspectors-general put out on May 24. It discusses three incidents in 2012 involving an elite DEA team assigned to interdict drug traffickers in rural Honduras, an effort called “Operation Anvil.” In all three there was loss of life. In the worst incident, four innocent civilians were killed, including two pregnant women.
Mistakes happen in tense situations, and the right thing to do is admit them, take care of the victims, and figure out how to keep something like that from happening again. Yet the report details a shameful, pathetic pattern in the DEA’s and State Department’s efforts to get to the bottom of what happened, to keep Congress and the U.S. ambassador informed, and to attend to the victims.
So much of this report rewards a close read. But here are some quotes that stood out to me, in the order they appear. Highlighting is mine.
Honduras was OK with active-duty Guatemalan Air Force pilots running law-enforcement missions over its territory
To carry out interdictions, Operation Anvil included the temporary relocation to Honduras of [redacted] INL helicopters stationed in Guatemala, which were flown by U.S. contractor pilots employed by DynCorp International (DynCorp) and co-pilots from the Guatemalan Air Force. (Page 9)
According to the Country Attaché and the Assistant Regional Director, Ambassador [Lisa] Kubiske and her representatives were privy to discussions concerning the security concerns implicit in the planned drug interdiction missions. The Assistant Regional Director told us that the Ambassador would often state, “If there’s a shooting…,” and DEA officials would interrupt her and state, “[N]ot if. There will be several fatalities here. There will be shootings.” (Page 16)
Top diplomat would not have approved Operation Anvil
John Feeley, who was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) for Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA), told us that he did not become involved in Operation Anvil until shortly before the May 11 shooting incident took place. However, he said that based on his experience in other countries, he would not have approved the concept of operations for Operation Anvil had he been the Chief of Mission because the risk of an officer losing his life was too great. (Page 16)
Herding and controlling the “Hondos”
The initial drafts contained a provision near the end of the order stating that the Honduran TRT [National Police Tactical Response Team] would be the “supported command,” that arrests and seizures would be conducted in accordance with local law, and that FAST [DEA Foreign-Deployed Advisory and Support Team] would provide an advisory role to the Honduran TRT. During this early drafting phase, the FAST Team Leader told FAST and INL officials that “[e]ach FAST Agent will be assigned X number of Hondo’s to herd/control.” (Page 18)
State/INL runs a foreign assistance program—the largest military-police aid program active in Latin America. It’s not supposed to be paying for a DEA operation.
[A]n INL [State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs] attorney raised concerns with INL officials that the language in the CONOPS [Concept of Operations for Operation Anvil] reflected an operation that could not be supported with INL funds: “…It has been the Department’s long-standing policy not to provide operational support with foreign assistance funds, but if we are going to provide it, we need to be clear that the support is for Honduras law enforcement. INL is not authorized to be DEA’s air taxi, and host nation involvement must be real and not simply a fig leaf.” (Page 18–19)
DEA officials responsible for Central America opposed these operations, but were overruled by DEA leadership in Washington
The [DEA] Assistant Regional Director [for North and Central America] told the OIGs [Office of Inspector General] that she and RD [Regional Director Joseph] Evans recommended against Operation Anvil and the use of FAST. She said that interdictions are very difficult and dangerous, and she did not believe the planned interdiction effort was going to improve the situation in Honduras. She said she believed the focus instead should have been on training Honduran prosecutors and professionalizing the police force. (Page 20)
“That’s just not the way it’s going to happen.”
The [DEA] Assistant Regional Director told the OIGs that RD [Regional Director Joseph] Evans had raised his and her concerns about the operation with DEA Headquarters, and they were effectively overruled. In addition, she said that she thought the notion of DEA leading from behind, as stated in the Ambassador’s e mail, was unrealistic. She said that in the event of violent confrontations with the DTOs [drug trafficking organizations], which she expected, the idea that armed DEA agents would wait for the Hondurans to take the lead was not practical. “That’s just not the way it’s going to happen.” (Page 24)
They didn’t. Speak. Spanish.
During Operation Anvil, there were approximately [redacted] FAST personnel on each interdiction mission, plus at least one medic. The Bravo and Delta Team Leaders told us that they were both conversant, but not fluent, in Spanish. With respect to their team members, it appears that none of the Bravo and Delta Team members were fluent in Spanish, but half of the Bravo team members and only one Delta team member were conversant to different degrees. (Page 25)
No training on use-of-force, but…
Training materials and other documents provided to the OIGs do not indicate that FAST and the TRT provided training or instruction to the other on their respective deadly force policies. The OIGs were provided with a FAST training PowerPoint slideshow the FAST agents viewed prior to leaving for Honduras. The slideshow did not include a description of the Honduran use of force policy; however, it did include a slide describing the sexually transmitted diseases prevalent in Honduras. (Page 30)
They knew that they had probably wounded or killed people. But they didn’t bother to help them. (This might be the most monstrous revelation in the report.)
[T]he facts in this chapter demonstrate that no effort was made, or even considered, to search for and render aid to the people who may have been injured. We found that at a minimum the FAST members on Helicopter [redacted] who witnessed the encounter on the river knew or should have known that there would be individuals injured. We found no evidence that Honduran authorities were contacted by FAST or TRT during or immediately following the interdiction to render aid to any injured. This was a flaw in both the planning and the execution of the operation, regardless of whether the officers believed at the time that the people in the passenger boat may have been innocent bystanders or suspected targets of the operation. (Page 80)
The U.S. Ambassador was stonewalled by DEA and State/INL.
The SID [State Department Diplomatic Security Special Investigations Division] Agent told us that the Ambassador looked to SID to investigate these incidents because “she asked DEA for information. Get nothing. She asked INL for information. Get nothing. So she asked that we look into it and give her … what transpired.” (Page 217)
“Brownfield was not happy about the initial findings because of their potential to create problems for INL.”
According to notes taken at the meeting, AS [Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William] Brownfield inquired as to why DEA was not cooperating with the [State Department Diplomatic Security, or DS] investigation and stated that he felt that DS was as much to blame for the impasse as DEA. According to the DS participants in the meeting, AS Brownfield was not happy about the initial findings because of their potential to create problems for INL. They also told the OIGs that Brownfield expressed his opinion that DS should not be involved in the investigation at all and that he compared the dispute to a juvenile competition. (Page 229)
A useful explainer about the corruption scandal rocking several Latin American nations. The Brazilian company’s pattern of cynicism and shamelessness is so much more shocking when you take the examples together.
The plan to carve out little libertarian enclaves in Honduras is still going ahead. Externally encouraged libertarianism in Latin America is also the subject of an Intercept piece this week about the U.S.-based Atlas Network.
Referring to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida): “The foreign policy of a superpower really should be conducted through the institutions built for that purpose, and not by random, ambitious legislators with an axe to grind.”
In 2012, investigators unearthed 565 bodies buried on a Guatemalan army base. Many if not all were civilian victims of the armed conflict in the 1980s. This article explores why the case has since foundered in Guatemala’s justice system, amid questionable judicial decisions and interminable delays.
I’m in the office all day. Other than a couple of Skype conversations scheduled with people in the region, I should be at my desk. I’ll be doing a bit of writing, continuing to set up an end-of-month visit to Colombia, and continuing documentary research for an upcoming report on Colombia.
Maybe Rio is doomed to take one step forward and one step back for the rest of its life. Call it a kind of pennance for their political class that squandered opportunity when the city was drowning in oil money
InSight Crime takes a deep dive into the nature of Odebrecht’s corrupt activities in Latin America, the extent of its illicit practices, the state of the various ongoing investigations into the company and its projects, and the web of corruption
After months of investigation, U.S. officials concluded that the diplomats had been exposed to an advanced device that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences
Failure to respond to the Commission could result in a default judgment for the complainants, and would break with the United States’ decades-long history of active and robust engagement with the IACHR
I’ve got a couple of scheduled phone calls this morning and a press interview after lunchtime. After that I plan to be in the office into the evening, writing and planning an end-of-month visit to Colombia.
De acordo com a proposta, crimes dolosos contra civis praticados por militares do Exército, da Marinha e da Aeronáutica na vigência da Operação de Garantia da Lei e da Ordem devem ser apreciados e julgados apenas pela Justiça Militar
Mientras la población presenciaba el hecho, los hombres armados amenazaron con “matar a todos los que vienen a hablar de sustitución y a todos los campesinos que estén de acuerdo con eso de la sustitución”
Reynosa, Ciudad Victoria o Nuevo Laredo parecerían un jardín de niños comparado con lo que ha ocurrido en esa zona del estado donde se han cometido crímenes masivos que ya alcanzaron la categoría de exterminio
I’m meeting a longtime foundation supporter this morning, then have an internal meeting and a board meeting for another organization. By 3:00 or so I’ll be at my desk, probably spending the rest of the day answering a backlog of email. The rest of the week promises to be more productive.