Adam Isacson

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

January 2018

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Monday, January 22, 2018

  • 10:00–12:00 at the Inter-American Dialogue: Bridging the Divides at the Summit of the Americas (RSVP required).

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Thursday, January 25, 2018

  • 9:00–11:00 at the Inter-American Dialogue: Remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean in 2017 (RSVP required).
  • 1:30–4:00 at the Wilson Center: A World without NAFTA? (RSVP required).

The day ahead: January 18, 2018

I’ll be out of contact nearly all day. (How to contact me)

I have a day of meetings with USAID officials to learn about their ongoing “helping Colombia’s government establish itself in former conflict zones” program. In a future post here, I’ll talk about the evaluation of this program that I’m helping to carry out. No time for that today, though—I’ll be hard to contact all day.

The day ahead: January 17, 2018

I’m especially hard to contact today due to a full schedule of meetings. (How to contact me)

I’m in meetings for 12 hours today, between WOLA’s planning process and preparations for an upcoming evaluation of a USAID program in Colombia. Any writing or posting here today will have to happen later at night, if at all.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Brazilian Army photo at Diálogo (U.S. Southern Command). Caption: “M113 BR armored vehicles during Operation Steel (Operação Aço). The 5th Armored Cavalry Brigade conducted the exercise in September 2017, to wrap up a year of training for its troops.”

(Even more here)

January 16, 2018


We believe that well within 20 years from today the drug trade will be dominated by a mafia run by former members of the FARC

Los 31 magistrados posesionados inician labores para terminar de ajustar el sistema de justicia transicional que permitirá juzgar a los principales responsables de las miles de atrocidades

Sigue la lucha de Doris Tejada, la única de las Madres de Soacha que no ha podido recuperar los restos de su hijo desaparecido, asesinado y a quien hicieron pasar por guerrillero

El Salvador

En El Salvador, el Organismo de Inteligencia del Estado vigila a políticos para chantajearlos y a periodistas como un medio para llegar a sus fuentes


La fiscal general del Ministerio Público dijo que el presidente no es un aliado contra la corrupción y criticó el informe de gestión


The organization Reporters Without Borders said it believed Dominguez was targeted because of his controversial columns

It’s a burgeoning practice across the world, also known as “refugee offshoring,” and in line with the Trump administration’s goal

“The main issue right now with the power struggle is Sinaloa and the CJNG battling for street dealers, narcomenudeo,” said an official with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Neza’s secret was breaking from the Mexican party system, which is what made Mr. Amador’s hiring and reforms possible


Caracas’ relationships with Moscow and Beijing are often exaggerated, including by the governments themselves

Venezuela Awareness, con sede en Miami, afirmó que durante el operativo “se violaron los derechos humanos del grupo liderado por Óscar Pérez”

“They don’t want us to surrender, they want us dead!” the rebel leader, Óscar Pérez, shouts in one of a series of videos posted on Twitter

Western Hemisphere Regional

Americans should be particularly concerned when a soldier-diplomat like Feeley feels “honor bound to resign” from a life of public service

The day ahead: January 16, 2018

I’m somewhat reachable in the latter half of the afternoon. (How to contact me)

WOLA’s beginning-of-year planning process is occupying half the day today and tomorrow. Today I’m explaining, and listening to suggestions about, the current moment in my program. (My presentation draws in part on a late-December post here.)

I have a lunch with a Colombian colleague, and dinner with members of a team I’ll be working with on an evaluation of a USAID program. In between, I hope to post updates to our tracker of U.S. border-security legislation—though this is complicated by the fact that, three days before a possible government shutdown, nobody really knows what the hell is going on.

The Week Ahead

There is almost no time during the next four days when I won’t be in a meeting.

WOLA’s annual planning process is in full swing. At the same time, I’m in a series of initial meetings for a project that will have me in Colombia for the entire month of February: I’m on a team evaluating a big USAID post-conflict assistance program. It’s going to be a fascinating experience that will have me in several remote areas of the country. I’ll explain more about that later in a separate post, probably next week.

All of this activity will limit what I can post to this site this week. But I’ll do my best.

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Wednesday, January 17

  • 9:00–12:30 at the Wilson Center: A Decisive Year in Brazil: Speaker Rodrigo Maia and Experts to Address Crucial Choices Facing the Country in 2018 (RSVP required).

Thursday, January 18

Last week in Colombia’s peace process

I’d like to post these all year without missing a week. Travel plans may complicate that, but I’m going to try.

ELN ceasefire breaks off

For 102 days, while peace talks proceeded in Quito, the Colombian government and ELN guerrillas mostly honored a cessation of hostilities. That period saw 33 possible ceasefire violations committed by the ELN—of which 12 were verified—killing 26 noncombatants and involving the kidnapping of 13 people and forced recruitment of 14. Still, this was a much lower tempo of violence than normal. And there were zero incidents of combat between the ELN and Colombia’s security forces.

The cessation of hostilities ended on January 9, when the parties failed to agree to extend it. Overall analysis of the non-renewal placed most blame on the ELN, which appeared to lack internal consensus, or even unity of command, about whether to continue the truce.

The ELN’s standing in public opinion plummeted further as the group immediately launched a series of attacks on security forces and infrastructure, mostly in the northeast of the country. The week saw approximately 13 attacks, leading to the deaths of at least two police and at least three bombings of the 485-mile-long Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline.

The Colombian government pulled its negotiating team from Quito, and appeared to suspend talks until the ELN agrees to a new ceasefire. This is a reversal of the 2012-16 FARC negotiations, when the guerrillas repeatedly demanded a bilateral ceasefire but the government preferred to keep fighting while talks proceeded.

France, the European Union, the “guarantor countries” of the ELN talks (Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Norway, and Venezuela), and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño all called on the parties to return to the table and agree on a new cessation of hostilities. The UN noted that it cannot keep its monitoring and verification structure in place very long with no ceasefire to monitor.

The U.S. government issued a travel warning for four departments where the ELN is most active: Arauca, Cauca, Chocó, and Norte de Santander.

Other coverage: Washington Post, New York Times, El Tiempo

Visit of UN Secretary-General

The need to restart the ELN talks and ceasefire was a main message of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during a January 13 visit to Colombia. Guterres visited Bogotá and Meta to get a sense of how implementation of the FARC accord is going, to give political support to the ELN process, and to support the work of the UN verification mission in Colombia.

That mission’s latest 90-day report to the Secretary-General, made public on January 5, voiced concern about the government’s implementation of the FARC accord: “Overall, the implementation of the peace-related legislative agenda has progressed unevenly, compounded by events relating to the presidential and parliamentary elections, to be held in the first semester of 2018.”

Military sets up giant task force in Nariño

Colombia’s Defense Ministry has set up a joint task force, “Hercules,” with about 9,800 soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen, and police stationed in Nariño, on the Pacific coast in the southwestern corner of the country. Nariño is Colombia’s number-one coca-growing department and a heavily used corridor for cocaine shipments into the eastern Pacific. It has very active FARC ex-militia dissident groups and a growing presence of the ELN. Not all of the 9,800 personnel are new: many are already stationed in Nariño but now form part of this joint command structure.

“This plan has had a big media deployment in the region and in Bogotá,” writes Laura Soto in La Silla Vacía. “But four sources who know the zone (members of the Tumaco mayor’s office, two human rights defenders who have worked closely with Caritas, and a social leader) aren’t hopeful that the panorama will approve, at least not in the short term.”

Lowest homicide rate in 40 years

President Juan Manuel Santos celebrated that Colombia’s 2017 homicide rate reached the lowest point in 42 years: 24 violent deaths for every 100,000 inhabitants (about the same as Washington DC). Security analyst Hugo Acero cast some doubt on the statistics, though the overall trend points to declining homicides.

Nastiness between Santos and Maduro

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro told his countrymen that “thousands of Colombian patients cross the border to get operated on here, to treat a flu, to clear up a cataract, to seek medicines in Venezuela” where the health system is “free.” (Venezuela in fact suffers from severe shortages of most medicines, while Colombia’s healthcare system is also theoretically free.) President Santos called this comment “cynical,” pointing out that the reverse phenomenon is happening with Venezuelans recurring to Colombia’s border-zone hospitals. “President Maduro, don’t try to use the Colombian people to hide the enormous shortcomings of your failed revolution,” he said. Maduro responded that Santos “has his country in chaos” and isn’t complying with the FARC peace accord.

In-Depth Reading

Some articles I found interesting this morning

James Fredrick photo at NPR. Caption: “A Mexican soldier piles poppies for incineration near the town of Tlacotepec, in Guerrero state, Mexico. The army says it slashes and burns poppy when fields are too difficult to access by helicopter or when they want to protect fruits and vegetables growing nearby.”

(Even more here)

January 15, 2018


Los documentos, conocidos por EL COLOMBIANO, clasificaron a estas organizaciones en tres tipos

La inmensa mayoría de las preocupaciones del No encontraron una respuesta adecuada en la renegociación, incluyendo la mayoría de los temas más difíciles

El edificio tendrá salas de audiencia circulares, alta tecnología e integrará todos los órganos de la justicia transicional

Apenas un 2, 3 por ciento de esfuerzo fiscal de la nación se dedicaría a “construir la paz estable y duradera”

El ELN no tiene la intención de hacer la paz porque sus jefes saben que no pueden hacerla: no mandan sobre sus propias fuerzas

El Salvador

Hundreds of young women are killed every year and many face sexual violence in the world’s most dangerous land. Now the president wants to send 200,000 more Salvadorans back home


Desde 2015 se preveía que aumentarían las incautaciones de droga, debido a una sobreproducción de cocaína en países suramericanos

“Nosotras no buscamos dinero, buscamos que se conozca el dolor que tuvimos”

Last December, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned Juarez under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act for his alleged role in the attack


The United States has an obligation to stand up for free and fair elections even when it is not convenient. Not only did it not do so in Honduras, but it also undercut an effort by the Organization of American States


The Mexican army mostly destroys poppy fields via helicopter fumigation with a chemical called Uproquat. But it’s difficult in these lush mountains

Tamaulipas state, in the north-east corner of the country, has turned especially violent in the last decade, around a split between the Gulf Cartel and its one-time ally Los Zetas

El Ejército Mexicano y la Gendarmería Nacional patrullarán con policías estales las calles de esta capital, luego de los hechos de violencia de este fin de semana


Venezuela in 2018 is not 1989 Panama, and an invasion would not be a surgical strike

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Natalie Keyssar photo at The Intercept. Caption: “A Salvadoran police officer’s weapon bears the name of his country.”

(Even more here)

January 12, 2018


The exercise—second to happen on U.S. soil—took place from October 18th–November 3rd, 2017, in several training camps

Pamphlets left at the sites of the first three bombings alluded to several issues, including the plight of the Mapuche, an indigenous people who have been battling loggers and farmers


  • Eduardo Alvarez Vanegas, Tatiana Prada Collazos, Suarez, Cauca: La Punta del Iceberg (Fundación Ideas para la Paz (Colombia), El Espectador (Colombia), January 12, 2018).

Una de las grandes preocupaciones es la incertidumbre que hay sobre la presencia de supuestos nuevos grupos armados, cuya identidad es aún muy difícil de establecer por su constante recambio interno

Los papeles se invirtieron: ahora es el Gobierno el que condiciona la mesa de negociaciones a que haya un cese el fuego bilateral, solicitud que ha sido durante años una premisa de las guerrillas

El más positivo resultado del Cese ha sido la cesación completa de combates entre el grupo guerrillero y la fuerza pública desde su inicio y la suspensión de acciones ofensivas por parte del ELN en contra de la infraestructura

The so-called Hercules task force, the largest military unit activated in two decades, will have 9,000 troops with the mission of regaining control of a broad region bordering the Pacific Ocean and Ecuador

Con cifras confiables, transparentes y públicas es más fácil solucionar los graves problemas de violencia y delincuencia que tiene el país. Para esto se impone un trabajo conjunto

El Salvador

Poor youth are rounded up on suspicion of being gang members, hassled, imprisoned, and, in some cases, killed

Revoking the legal status of some 200,000 law-abiding Salvadorans will likely push a massive group of Salvadorans into the shadows of undocumented America, where gangs are king

Para cada uno de esos 200.000 salvadoreños, ha comenzado una tragedia personal

El Salvador, Honduras

We unpack the ongoing risks and deterioration of conditions that deported migrants face upon their return to El Salvador and Honduras


Las élites en el poder ya han estado moviendo los hilos para manipular la conformación de la comisión y sus recomendaciones en un intento de obstaculizar una iniciativa anticorrupción

Guatemala, Mexico

“Border commanders from the Guatemalan and Mexican armies, navies, and air forces planned a strategy for land, air, and sea patrols that both countries will roll out in the coming months”


“The Haitian government condemns in the strongest terms these abhorrent and obnoxious remarks which, if proven, reflect a totally erroneous and racist view of the Haitian community and its contribution to the United States”


No one much minded business people acting like politicians because, he said, the real problem was politicians acting like business people

Lamentó que el gobierno de Héctor Astudillo expuso “una narrativa de los hechos violatoria de la presunción de inocencia de las personas detenidas y no aporta ninguna garantía de que una investigación independiente e imparcial esté siendo llevada a cabo”


“My instructors made clear that if I believed I could not do that, I would be honor bound to resign. That time has come,” Feeley said


Maduro also wants to control the distribution of the food donations — so far denied entry by the government despite growing food shortages and looting

Los saqueos están siendo acompañados por un elevado número de protestas emprendidas por ciudadanos desesperados por el hambre. Entre el primero y el 11 de enero, éstas han sumando 386

Rather than encouraging the pipe dreams of military invasions and coups, the overriding priority of Venezuela’s opposition should be to convince voters that it would do a better job of leading the country

The day ahead: January 12, 2018

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

With all my WOLA planning documents drafted, today I expect to update our tracker of what’s up with border legislation (a lot, but it changes constantly) and post an update here about Colombia’s peace process. Both topics need research. So I’ll be at a computer all day, perhaps working from home in the afternoon.

Newer Posts
Older Posts
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.