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

Some articles I found interesting this morning

John Moore / Getty Images photo at Buzzfeed. Caption: “A US Border Patrol agent chases an undocumented immigrant in thick brush near the US–Mexico border on Jan. 3, 2017, near Mission, Texas.”

(Even more here)

January 11, 2018


Este lunes comenzó en firme la Operación Atlas lanzada por el gobierno en octubre para contrarrestar la violencia en Tumaco con la llegada de dos mil uniformados del Ejército, la Armada, la Policía y la Fuerza Aérea

El jefe de la ONU viajará a Colombia este fin de semana para apoyar los esfuerzos de paz, que vacilan tras ataques del ELN esta madrugada y atrasos en la reintegración de exguerrilleros de las FARC a la vida civil. Antonio Guterres se reunirá con el presidente Juan Manuel Santos y con líderes de la exguerrilla de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) y representantes de la Iglesia católica en Bogotá, anunció el miércoles un portavoz de la ONU

Colombia’s fragile peace was shaken on Wednesday as the National Liberation Army, a guerrilla group known as the ELN, attacked a military base and an oil pipeline

El Salvador

El Salvador is in shock. If all the Salvadoreans in the TPS programme were to come back, which is highly unlikely, the country’s population would swell by 3%

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

Volunteers and lawyers along the border say that migrants and smugglers have stopped lying low, deciding that trying to get a foothold in a well-off and safe country was no riskier than in the past


A U.N.-backed Haitian police raid in November ended in the summary execution of civilians. The U.N.’s version of events conflicts with eyewitness testimony


La operación “incrementa la confianza militar entre la Marina mexicana y el Pentágono”

“Roger Stone and I came up with the idea of ‘the Wall,’ and we talked to Steve [Bannon] about it,” on-again-off-again aide Sam Nunberg told Green. “It was to make sure he talked about immigration”

This spring, a new book by powerHouse Books called Undocumented: Immigration and the Militarization of the US–Mexico Border brings together a collection of Moore’s most eye-opening and emotional photographs

Government warns citizens to avoid Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacán and Guerrero amid high levels of crime and cartel violence


Previous rounds of negotiations have left deep fissures in Venezuela’s opposition

Western Hemisphere Regional

There is an out everyone has eyed for weeks — appropriate the President’s $1.6 billion budget request, move it through a mechanism that Democrats can say is for fencing and the President can say it’s a wall, and then have Twitter fights over semantics

Six senators working on immigration issues “have an agreement in principle. We’re shopping it to our colleagues,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told reporters

The day ahead: January 11, 2018

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

Following a Brookings event about border security, I’ll be in the office all day. Much of my time will be devoted to finishing WOLA planning documents ahead of a Friday deadline. But if all goes well I’ll have time to post an update to this site later in the day, too.

At 23 Amazing Things You Can Do for the Cost of a Few Miles of Border Wall

Last week, the Trump administration let drop at least a vague idea of how much it would cost to build its big border wall: 722 miles at $18 billion over 10 years.

That comes out to a very expensive $25 million per mile. Which gave me an idea: what do other items—whether government spending or features of everyday life—cost when expressed as a number of border-wall miles?

We came up with a list of 23, which is here. Some examples:

  1. Jordan Peele made the 2017 smash-hit movie Get Out for a total budget of 0.18 Border-Wall Miles. It grossed over 10 Border-Wall Miles at the box office.
  2. Fully implementing the entire “Illicit Cultivation” chapter of Colombia’s 2016 peace accord—which would do away with most of the country’s coca crop—would cost about 52 Border-Wall Miles.
  3. At the Chipotle franchise nearest to WOLA’s offices, a single Border-Wall Mile could buy 3,125,000 chicken burritos, including sales tax. Laid end-to-end, these burritos would stretch for nearly 400 miles, longer than Arizona’s entire border with Mexico. (Guacamole is extra.)
  4. The 2017 world-champion Houston Astros began the season with a total payroll of 5 Border-Wall Miles.
  5. For budget reasons, the U.S. Navy hasn’t patrolled the Caribbean, or Central America’s Pacific coast, for suspect cocaine shipments since 2015. The Coast Guard has been doing this on its own, with six to ten cutters, that are only able to interdict about thirty percent of known suspected smugglers. It would cost the Navy 17 Border-Wall Miles to deploy a refitted Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate for ten years, as the Navy Secretary has recommended.
  6. The 2017 world-champion Houston Astros began the season with a total payroll of 5 Border-Wall Miles.

See them all here.

The day ahead: January 10, 2018

I’ll be reachable for a while in the afternoon. (How to contact me)

This morning I’ve got a doctor visit and a conference call about Colombia, plus I need to work at  home for a couple of hours on 2018 planning documents for WOLA. I’ll be in the office catching up on smaller/overdue tasks and communication in the afternoon.

The day ahead: January 9, 2018

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

Congress is holding two Latin America-relevant hearings today, but I’ll be unable to attend because of other meetings. I’ve got three different sit-downs with colleagues at work, and will be joining a board meeting of the Andean Information Network. I expect to have a brief out today about Trump’s border-wall proposal, and to do some writing about Colombia.

The day ahead: January 8, 2018

I’ll be reachable around lunchtime and in the late afternoon. (How to contact me)

Not sure why, but I slept through my early-morning writing time today. Not a great start to the week—although I did knock out some words yesterday.

I’ll be spending the whole morning in the first of a few long meetings that are part of WOLA’s annual planning process. I’m on a conference call after mid-afternoon for an upcoming Colombia project. Other than that—early afternoon, the very end of the day—I’ll have a few moments at my desk. But very few, which is why it’s a shame I didn’t get a head start in the early hours today.

The week ahead

The holidays are a fading memory. This week’s going to be busy.

Congress is back, and the Trump administration has sent it a document requesting $33 billion in funding for border security over the next 10 years, including $18 billion for a wall, in return for allowing hundreds of thousands of “dreamers” to stay in the country. If there is no deal on this, the U.S. government could shut down a week from Friday.

I’ll be working on that—expect more written material and a lot of less-visible work—while moving ahead a report on Colombia’s post-conflict challenges. (It’s currently 6,700 words of semi-prose, now I’m filling it in with bits of research and turning it into proper prose.) In addition, WOLA’s annual planning process is now underway, so there will be documents to write, and some long meetings, regarding that.

I may be hard to reach at times this week, due to marathon meetings, urgent border work, or the need to shut the door and write.

Latin America-Related Events in Washington This Week

Tuesday, January 9

Wednesday, January 10

Thursday, January 11

  • 8:30–9:30 at the Brookings Institution: The Wall: The real costs of a barrier between the U.S. and Mexico (RSVP required).

5 links from the past week

  • Jonathan Blitzer, The Teens Trapped Between a Gang and the Law (The New Yorker, January 1, 2018).
    Profiles unaccompanied minors who fled from Central America to Long Island, only to find themselves alongside local branches of the MS-13 gang they were running away from. U.S. authorities are aggressively deporting minors on the mere suspicion of gang membership.
  • Roberto Valencia, Cuatro Claves Que Ayudan a Dimensionar la Violencia Homicida de 2017 en el Salvador (El Faro (El Salvador), January 5, 2018).
    Violence declined in El Salvador last year, but homicides remain above a horrific 60 per 100,000 residents. The much-cited analyst highlights trends here. One notable number: The population of San Salvador has declined by 37 percent since 2005.
  • Alejandra S. Inzunza, Jose Luis Pardo, A Year of Violent Tragedy Through Human Stories: 2017 in Complexo Do Alemao (Agência Pública, RioOnWatch (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), January 3, 2018).
    The authors talk not to cops, politicians, and criminals, but to a large number of residents and activists in Rio’s giant, violence-plagued Complexo do Alemão favela. “They tell a story of violence and of a promised peace that turned into a daily conflict.”
  • CJNG Avanza en 22 Estados (Revista Zeta (Tijuana, Mexico), January 2, 2018).
    A thorough overview of Mexico’s brutal Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which appears to be supplanting Sinaloa’s dominion over criminality in much of the country—a main reason for last year’s alarming spike in violence.
  • Juanita León, ‘Sólo me atrevo a decir quién no será el nuevo presidente’: Coronell (La Silla Vacía (Colombia), January 4, 2018).
    The Univision reporter and popular Colombian columnist gives a frank overview of Colombia’s political situation on the eve of hotly contested March legislative and May presidential elections. He is a master of turns of phrase. One admired presidential candidate is “running a marathon with an anvil tied to his ankle.” A leftist is “the ghost of Castro-Chavismo with feet.” On a politician who has made deals with political bosses: “It’s impossible to be a ‘pure’ Ali Baba if you’re surrounded by 40 thieves.” Another who is reluctant to take strong positions “gets into the shower but won’t get wet.”

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Luka Gonzales/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images photo at The New York Times. Caption: “The former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori leaving a hospital in Lima, the capital, on Thursday. Mr. Fujimori received a Christmas Eve pardon from the current president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.”

(Even more here)

January 5, 2018


La reincorporación social y la arquitectura de la justicia distanciaron a las partes en Cartagena

Presidente de Indepaz y otros 200 académicos enviaron carta para que se prorrogue cese del fuego

Costa Rica

It has used the savings from defense spending to improve education, health care and a durable social safety net


Flagged users have their transaction frozen and get an email from the company asking for “a complete and detailed explanation” of what was paid for

El Salvador

A senior DHS official said Thursday that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has yet to make a determination but that the agency would have an announcement before Monday’s deadline

La capital tenía 363,000 habitantes en 2005 y tiene 229,000 en 2018. Cada año pierde, según la Digestyc, unos 10,000 vecinos


In total, the administration details about $33 billion in desired new border security spending, including funding for technology, personnel and roads

Near Brownsville last week, an agent assigned to the Riverine Unit, which patrols the river by boat, suffered a grazing wound to the back of his head after being shot from Mexico

Guerrero state security coordinator spokesman Roberto Alvarez says that state and federal forces have secured the Chilpancingo police force and begun reviewing personnel, weapons, vehicles and radios

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador presented a team of security advisers that drew both on previous governments and the private sector


“He faces no limitations, he has regained all of his rights”


The Trump administration on Friday slapped sanctions on four current and former high-ranking military officials in Venezuela

The day ahead: January 5, 2018

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

I’ve got a meeting on this very cold day with some colleagues at another organization who are working on Colombia peacebuilding. And lunch with a visiting scholar who’s a Mexico expert. Otherwise I’ll be in the office working on the same long-term writing projects, which I’ve been chipping away at all week: a report on Colombia’s peace challenges, and updates to my database of military aid programs.

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