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

(Even more here)

January 4, 2018


The violence began when prisoners linked to the São Paulo gang First Capital Command (PCC in Portuguese) broke into a wing controlled by the rival Red Command (Comando Vermelho)


El documento considera como un fracaso el período legislativo durante el que funcionó el “fast track”, señalando que de 24 iniciativas de paz sólo fueron aprobadas 10

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

I can’t help but think that the U.S. government might use these statistics to argue that Honduras and El Salvador no longer need Temporary Protected Status


The Trump Administration’s decision to recognize President Hernandez as the winner of the election – despite the overwhelming evidence of widespread irregularities documented by the OAS and European Union electoral observation missions – marked yet another American diplomatic misstep


Para que el recurso tenga validez, debe ir precedido por la firma de cuando menos 165 legisladores, esto es, 33% de los integrantes de la Cámara de Diputados

Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he might offer amnesty to drug criminals, leading one of the country’s most famous poets to respond with a scathing history lesson

Mexico’s prison population has fallen by a fifth from the peak in 2014 as fewer people are locked up under a new criminal justice system, with experts saying that cases are falling apart

Western Hemisphere Regional

Negotiators are somewhat confused by what Trump means when he calls for a wall

The day ahead: January 4, 2018

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

Like yesterday, a meeting-free day, but the last one for a while. I’ll be using the time to continue writing a big report about Colombia, and to keep updating my database of military aid programs to reflect recent legislative changes. I’m breaking in some new equipment for my home office (big monitor, laptop dock, backup drive) and will probably work at home in the morning.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg via Getty Images photo at Americas Quarterly. Caption: “Members of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) attend a news conference detailing the upcoming drills being prepared in response to U.S. President Trump’s warning of possible military action in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. The U.S. is increasing pressure on the Venezuelan government in response to its President Nicolas Maduro’s moves to seize more authority amid a crippling recession and months of violent protests.”

(Even more here)

January 3, 2018


Many think the image is emblematic of Brazil’s acute inequality, an interpretation that has prompted others to push back with questions about how black and mixed-race people are seen and stereotyped in Brazil

The walls of Complexo do Alemão remember the dead, the police threats, and the feats of the traffickers. They tell a story of violence and of a promised peace that turned into a daily conflict


La vida e integridad de nuestra dirección partidaria, así como de la masa de nuestra militancia, está siendo garantizada por los soldados y policías que antes combatimos. Un ejemplo para la comunidad mundial

Se crearon cuatro nuevos Batallones de Operaciones Terrestres; No.8, No.9, No.10 y No.11 – que reemplazaran a las Brigadas Móviles, 23, 30 y 33- Un Batallón de Fuerzas Especiales Urbanas y un Comando Operativo Energético


“By the middle of my six-year term, there will be no war, and the situation will be completely different,” López Obrador told reporters

Four of the five politicians killed were affiliated with the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)

Esta violencia no es más que el reflejo de la descomposición estructural que vive el país y a la cual se habrán de enfrentar todos los candidatos


The Christmas Eve announcement has prompted a wave of outrage

“WHINSEC’s professional programs have allowed us to spread this vision to 744 Peruvian Army officers, warrant officers, and cadets in the last 10 years,” Brig. Gen. Balta said


Professor Ricardo Hausmann’s heart is in the right place, but his proposal of a military intervention to save Venezuela from Nicolás Maduro’s government is simply not going to happen. Nor would it work

Western Hemisphere Regional

I found that as U.S. border enforcement becomes more punitive, it turns migration into a lucrative vehicle for organized crime

Trump has appeared to shift his position since announcing the termination of the DACA program in September, making the unfolding political drama harder to read for leaders in both parties

The 17 Government Reports About Latin America That I Found Most Useful in 2017

Tracking the U.S. relationship with Latin America’s security forces requires finding credible, citable data. For that, government documents are a goldmine. They’re primary sources, straight from the State and unfiltered through outside journalists or analysts. I find such documents so useful that since 2015 I’ve kept a database of them: those I’ve obtained as well as those I’m trying to get my hands on.

The reports listed here, all issued in 2017, are essential reading for Latin America security nerds. Many suffer from agencies’ blinders, or express policy priorities that I don’t share. But they are still rich in information that is nearly impossible to find elsewhere.

  • A Special Joint Review of Post-Incident Responses by the Department of State and Drug Enforcement Administration to Three Deadly Force Incidents in Honduras, Department of Justice and Department of State Inspectors-General, May 24, 2017
    This report’s 400-plus pages discuss 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. And DEA was uncooperative when investigators tried to figure out what happened. A devastating report. I highlighted a dozen troubling/horrifying excerpts back in August.
  • Government Police Training and Equipping Programs, Department of Defense, April 1, 2017
    It’s mostly a spreadsheet, but it’s engrossing. It’s a listing of all training events involving foreign police forces in 2015 and 2016. I wish all public reporting of aid was this transparent.
  • Counternarcotics: Overview of U.S. Efforts in the Western Hemisphere, Government Accountability Office, October 13, 2017
    A documentation of $39 billion that U.S. federal agencies spent to counter drug trafficking in the Western Hemisphere. Some data is confusing—I’m not sure about the categories—and some is surprising. But a lot of it is new, and it’s an essential read.
  • Southwest Border Security: Additional Actions Needed to Better Assess Fencing’s Contributions to Operations and Provide Guidance for Identifying Capability Gaps, Government Accountability Office, February 16, 2017
    A review of the current use of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. This is the best overview of the existing border wall. 
  • Metrics Developed to Measure the Effectiveness of Security Between Ports of Entry, Office of Immigration Statistics, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, September 14, 2017
    Congress required the Homeland Security Department to publish “the metrics developed to measure the effectiveness of security between the ports of entry, including the methodology and data supporting the resulting measures.” The report finds, “The southwest land border is more difficult to illegally cross today than ever before.”
  • Colombia: Background and U.S. Relations, Congressional Research Service, November 14, 2017
    The first of five CRS reports here. Good overview of Colombia’s conflict and post-conflict challenges, and the history of U.S. aid. Great aid numbers and explanation of the current aid package.
  • Colombia’s Changing Approach to Drug Policy, Congressional Research Service, November 30, 2017
    A look at coca and cocaine production trends in Colombia, the Colombian government’s post-conflict shifts in eradication and interdiction, and how those mesh with U.S. priorities and programs.
  • U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Merida Initiative and Beyond, Congressional Research Service, June 29, 2017
    A regular overview of U.S. public security, border security, anti-drug, police, and judicial reform assistance to Mexico through the framework established in 2007-2008 by the Mérida Initiative.
  • U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America: Policy Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, June 8, 2017
    A periodically updated overview of U.S. assistance to Central America to improve public security and governance.
  • El Salvador: Background and U.S. Relations, Congressional Research Service, November 3, 2017
    A periodically updated overview of El Salvador’s public security challenges and political situation, with some details about U.S. assistance.
  • Foreign Military Training Report, Department of Defense, Department of State, December 2017
    An accounting of all training of foreign security forces provided by U.S. personnel. Must include totals, dollar amounts, recipient units, units offering training, training locations, and course titles. Much data, however, gets omitted, so don’t consider this report to be comprehensive.
  • Colombia Human Rights Certification, Department of State, September 11, 2017
    Every year, in order to free up a percentage of military aid to Colombia, the State Department must certify that Colombia’s security forces are improving their human rights record. Human rights groups in Colombia dismiss this report as shedding a too-positive light on grave impunity shortcomings. Still, this is one of the most detailed overviews available of the Colombian justice system’s efforts to hold military human rights abusers accountable.
  • Section 2011 Report on Special Operations Forces Training, Department of Defense, April 1, 2017
    A yearly report mainly covering Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET), a program that takes U.S. Special Operations Forces on training missions to over 100 countries each year. This is heavily redacted, but looking at earlier versions of the report (here and here) makes it possible to discern patterns in the Special Forces relationship.
  • National Drug Threat Assessment, Drug Enforcement Administration, October 2017
    The DEA’s annual overview of principal illicit drug threats. An important source of information about trafficking patterns. (Gives citable answers to questions like: Where does most cocaine in the U.S. come from? Is it mostly transshipped by air or boats? How does it cross the U.S. border?)
  • International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Department of State, March 2, 2017
    An annual narrative of efforts to reduce illegal drug production and transshipment, including U.S. assistance, in each country that the U.S. government considers to be a major source or transit country. It’s sort of boring and wordy, but a close read is rewarded by numerous bits of information that you don’t find anywhere else. For instance, that U.S. authorities alerted Honduran forces 100 times in 2016 about cocaine shipments headed to Honduran territory—and the Hondurans made zero interdictions.
  • Challenges Facing DHS in Its Attempt to Hire 15,000 Border Patrol Agents and Immigration Officers, Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, July 27, 2017
    The IG casts serious doubt on the Trump administration’s loudly declared plans to expand Border Patrol and ICE. It memorably estimates that to increase Border Patrol by 5,000 agents, the agency would need about 750,000 applicants—more than 1 percent of the entire U.S. population between 21 and 35 years of age.
  • Statement of Anthony D. Williams, Assistant Administrator – Chief of Operations, Drug Enforcement Administration before the Senate Caucus on International Drug Control, September 12, 2017
    Of all congressional hearing testimonies I read this year, this one yielded the most clippings in my database because it had the most information I’ve seen in a while about DEA’s operations in the Western Hemisphere.

The day ahead: January 3, 2018

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

Though I’ll be in the office all day on this third day of the year, my reply to any attempt to contact me could be delayed: if I don’t get a lot of writing done on this rare quiet day (about Colombia’s peace process and about military aid programs), I’ll never get it done.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Juan Pablo Rueda photo at El Tiempo (Colombia). Caption: “En la zona de Mercaderes los líderes sociales asesinados en lo corrido del año son: Faiver Cerón Gomez (18 de febrero) y Diego Fernando Rodriguez Montenegro (26 de abril).”

(Even more here)

January 2, 2018


O mapa das 181 ações de segurança integrada das Forças Armadas mostra que o Estado do Rio de Janeiro é onde as tropas mais participaram de ações ligadas à segurança pública


Básicamente se trata del despliegue de 63.000 uniformados que harán presencia activa en 67 municipios y 595 veredas priorizadas para tal fin

A mediados de diciembre, sus habitantes hicieron público un plan para “eliminar” a Germán Graciano Posso, representante legal de la comunidad, a cargo de las redes paramilitares que operan en la región. El viernes 29 de diciembre, unos hombres lo intentaron asesinar

Guatemala, Honduras

Both countries have long-standing ties to Israel and are facing domestic challenges that are helped by aligning with conservatives in the United States and Israel


Vistiendo su fatiga de combate, el jefe del Estado Mayor Conjunto de las Fuerzas Armadas (FF AA), René Orlando Ponce Fonseca, aseguró que están listos para seguir combatiendo la criminalidad

The United States has not responded to the killings, beyond a 22 December statement asking “all Hondurans to refrain from violence” and calling on the military to respect the rights of peaceful protesters


GOP lawmakers have largely avoided talking about the border wall, a central Trump campaign promise, in negotiations with Democrats on legislation to provide protection against deportation for 800,000 young undocumented immigrants

Politicians here increasingly blame the judicial changes for emptying jails and fanning crime. Even those who embrace the new legal system worry about its first-year fiascos

Aunque al Cártel de Sinaloa se le considera la organización criminal con más infraestructura y experiencia en el país, el Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) pasó a convertirse en el clan delictivo con presencia en el mayor número de entidades federativas


Peru has always been considered an international reference in the fight against impunity for grave crimes against human rights and the present circumstances require a new assessment


Active duty or retired military officers make up about half of Maduro’s Cabinet and hold many other key posts. They are in charge of everything, from arms procurement to steel production to food distribution

  • Ricardo Hausmann, D-Day Venezuela (Project Syndicate, January 2, 2018).

A negotiated political transition remains the preferred option, but military intervention by a coalition of regional forces may be the only way to end a man-made famine

Western Hemisphere Regional

Only zealous governance, a guiding hand for struggling farmers, and citizens willing to hold officials to account can stop the next boom from becoming an ecological bonfire

The day ahead: January 2, 2018

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

It’s good to be back. Despite the big challenges that await, I look forward to a better 2018.

Today begins with a staff meeting, followed by a couple of hours emptying all the inboxes that filled up, and updating myself on news that took place in Latin America, while I was away for the holiday. Then I plan to update my database of security-assistance programs to reflect changes made in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that became law a few weeks ago.

The week ahead

It was wonderful to see relatives all over the northeastern United States during the past week’s holidays. But it’s also good to be back at work, as of today.

The first week of January is usually quiet here in Washington: Congress hasn’t really started up yet, and there are few or no events. It’s also quiet in Latin America, where most people (governing elites, anyway) are still out for the holiday.

This means I expect to spend this week doing some beginning-of-year planning, and some long uninterrupted writing. By the end of Friday, I hope to:

  • Have completed a lousy but workable rough draft of a big report on Colombia’s post-conflict challenges.
  • Have updated our database of U.S. security assistance programs to reflect the annual defense bill that became law on December 12.
  • Have completed planning documents for my 2018 work.
Newer Posts
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.