Adam Isacson

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

April 2018

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 30, 2018


It was as affectionate as it was clear: “Que descanse.” Let him rest. Let someone else have a chance to govern


  • Julia Michaels, Crooked Rio (Rio Real (Brazil), April 30, 2018).

In the absence of official plans, targets, a budget or accountability, civil society has taken up the job of monitoring the intervention

Brazil, Venezuela

The population of Boa Vista, the state capital, ballooned over the past few years as some 50,000 Venezuelans resettled here. They now make up roughly 10 percent of the population


Gordillo Vélez, Fiscal 11 Especializado contra el Crimen Organizado, planteó graves referencias discriminatorias, racistas y condenatorias, señalando a sus pobladores de “auxiliar” a las guerrillas y a las bandas criminales que pululan en sus territorios


En este momento de posible desencanto con la paz, los escritos y la memoria de personas como Marc deben hacernos perseverar en este esfuerzo por materializar esta paz imperfecta y frágil

La guerra en Arauca sigue, y la violencia viene de todos los lados. Mientras tanto, la población afectada espera con tanta esperanza como escepticismo a la paz

El organismo respondió a una publicación del Wall Street Journal, según la cual, existe un video en el que el ex jefe negociador de las Farc supuestamente “habla con un asociado de un narcotraficante mexicano conocido”

The latest investigation into an ex-commander, a 62-year-old hard-line communist named Luciano Marín—better known by the alias Ivan Marquez and now a designated Colombian senator—stems from a cellphone video

That peace deal was supposed to put an end to more than half a century of war, but in much of rural Colombia, the demobilisation has merely opened the way for other armed groups


During a 20-minute speech, Pence repeatedly called agents heroes, saying they have a tough and dangerous job

The case sheds light on the broader impact that the militarization of public security has had on large parts of the country since troops were first mobilized for anti-narcotics operations in 2006

La presencia de un avión del ejército de Estados Unidos se debe a la instalación de un radar, en cooperación con las fuerzas armadas del gobierno mexicano

“The country has changed more than him,” said Francisco Abundis, head of the Parametria polling firm. “There is an atmosphere that is anti-system, anti-government. He represents this well”

The migrants were told Sunday afternoon that the immigration officials could not process their claims, and they would have to spend the night on the Mexican side of the border

This lengthy process doesn’t reflect anarchy. This reflects a nation functioning under the rule of law


Esta fue la segunda manifestación multitudinaria en menos de una semana en que los nicaragüenses exigieron justicia después que las protestas de estudiantes contra la reforma de la ley del seguro social provocaran una dura represión

El periodista Tim Rogers se vio obligado a salir de Nicaragua debido a que se sintió amenazado por las grupos sandinistas que lo señalan de ser de la CIA


  • Patricia Montero, Los Otros (La Republica (Peru), April 30, 2018).

Otras cifras que se han elevado para nuestro pesar: la de los desaparecidos durante el conflicto armado que vivió el Perú debido a la insania de los criminales terroristas y, en menor grado pero innegable, al abuso de un sector de las fuerzas armadas y policiales

Western Hemisphere Regional

I believe both are sincere in their desire to stanch the flow of Latino immigration — not, I strongly suspect, because of drugs or crime, but because they loathe the demographic and cultural change that is taking place

During the Obama administration, Homan was seen as a loyal civil servant who was willing to compromise. Some of his former colleagues have been shocked by his rhetoric under Trump

The day ahead: April 30, 2018

I’ll be hard to reach all day. (How to contact me)

A full day of meetings. Internal staff meetings at WOLA all morning. Then the committee that chooses the Institute for Policy Studies’ Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award meets mid-day to select this year’s winners. Then there’s a discussion with a visiting Colombia peace process monitor at USIP. I won’t be easy to contact today.

The week ahead

I’m in Washington all five days this week, with a pretty heavy schedule of meetings and events on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. On one of the other days (probably Thursday) I hope to go off the grid and do a large amount of writing.

On Friday I’m a panelist at a closed-door State Department discussion of Colombia; I’m almost done with my presentation for that. This should be a good week to finish, or nearly finish, the paper on Colombia that I’ll be presenting on a panel at the Latin American Studies Association conference at the end of May.

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Monday, April 30, 2018

  • 9:00–10:30 at the Atlantic Council: “Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis: Searching for Relief” (RSVP required).
  • 2:30–5:00 at the Inter-American Dialogue: “Dialogue with the Candidates for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights” (RSVP required).

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

  • 8:40–10:30 at the Inter-American Dialogue: “Preparing Effective School Leaders: Lessons from Argentina” (RSVP required).

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

  • 10:30–11:30 at the Council of the Americas: “The Future of Work: A Conversation with Senator Esteban Bullrich” (RSVP required).
  • 12:30–1:30 at the Atlantic Council: “Mexican Presidential Candidate Series: A Conversation with Salomón Chertorivski” (RSVP required).
  • 1:00–2:30 at the Wilson Center: “A Conversation with Senator Esteban Bullrich” (RSVP required).

Thursday, May 3, 2018

  • 9:00–11:00 at the Inter-American Dialogue: “Inside Perspectives on Possible Scenarios in Venezuela” (RSVP required).
  • 2:00–3:00 at the American Enterprise Institute: “View from the summit: A conversation with Ambassador Carlos Trujillo on President Trump’s strategy in the Americas” (RSVP required).

Coca in Colombia: what are the options?

Revised 9:00AM on 4/29/18: I added two more options to the table based on a suggestion from Twitter user @gabrielvc.

Colombia’s government, faced with record-high levels of coca cultivation, is considering using drones to spray herbicides over the fields.

This is less indiscriminate and risky to public health than spraying from aircraft, a program the U.S. government paid for between 1994 and 2015. It’s safer for the eradicators, who would be less vulnerable to snipers, ambushes, landmines, and booby traps in the fields.

But ultimately even a billion-dollar swarm of drones wouldn’t solve Colombia’s coca problem. Here’s a really simplified matrix I threw together today illustrating why, by looking at all the main options.

As you can see here, in my view, only one of the options promises to bring coca cultivation under control in the long term. That’s the one where Colombia actually governs its territory effectively with a minimum of corruption or abuse. That’s the hardest of these options to pursue, and the least immediately rewarding. But all of the others are just partial fixes.

Here it is at Google Sheets.
And here’s a PDF version, which is probably easier to read.

(This matrix leaves out the “legalize cocaine” option, which isn’t a near-term possibility. Because the drug is more addictive than most, legalization advocates confront a widespread belief that legalized use would carry too high a social cost.)

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 27, 2018


Over the next two months, the number of shootouts rose to 1,502


Santos, saddled with a sluggish economy at the end of his second term, has struggled to ensure order of the sort the rebels, albeit murderous, once imposed across parts of the Andean nation

26 personas más que en el mismo periodo de 2017

La tendencia es que sea más mafioso que militar, anónimo, descentralizado, desarticulado y con relaciones más horizontales que jerárquicas entre los agentes

Colombia, Venezuela

Just 6 percent of the appeal has so far been raised, and many observers believe the figure is far too low to begin with

The WFP program will rely initially on the agency’s own emergency funds. Barreto characterized it as potentially the largest U.N. food program in Latin America’s recent history


Es necesario mejorar mucho más en tres áreas: entrenamiento a policías y militares; en tecnología y en compartir información e inteligencia


Mr Browder heard of the case of a Russian family who had sought refuge in Guatemala but ended up jailed there instead. He has accused CICIG of taking money from the Russian government, and persuaded America’s Congress to hear his concerns


The exponential growth in sales to Mexico has not been accompanied by controls to track where the guns go or to ensure that they do not land in the hands of police or military units that are credibly alleged to have committed gross human rights abuses or colluded with criminal groups

CEDEHM señaló que la respuesta del Estado mexicano, sobre que la desaparición fue realizada por el crimen organizado, es una estrategia para legitimar la militarización en México, y acusó al gobierno de negar su responsabilidad

The group is planning to walk en masse on Sunday to the border crossing leading to southern San Diego, with those planning to petition for asylum presenting themselves to American border officials

Mexico, Western Hemisphere Regional

The 2018 Marine Leaders of the Americas Conference (MLAC) took place in Mexico City, Mexico, March 12th-16th


Without Venezuela’s largesse, Mr Ortega can no longer maintain the public spending that kept dissent at bay

Western Hemisphere Regional

Officials say that threatening adults with criminal charges and prison time would be the “most effective” way to reverse the steadily rising number of attempted crossings

From last October to the end of the year, officials at the agency’s Office of Refugee Resettlement tried to reach 7,635 children and their sponsors, Mr. Wagner testified. From these calls, officials learned that 6,075 children remained with their sponsors

The following report sets out the broad parameters of Latin America ‘s crime challenges and explores innovations in promoting public safety and citizen security

Use of Deadly Force in Toronto, and At the Border

Watch this New York Times explainer video showing Toronto Police Constable Ken Lam de-escalating a situation, avoiding the use of deadly force, as he singlehandedly arrests Alek Minassian, the driver of a van that ran over dozens of pedestrians on April 24. Then contrast it to the 2012 shooting of a Mexican 16-year-old through the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Nogales, for which a court acquitted U.S. Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Swartz a day earlier.

As the Times describes it:

First, Constable Lam turned off the siren blaring from his car. This immediately lowered the temperature, experts said, making it easier for him to communicate with the suspect. Also, by leaning into the car, the officer is indicating that he is not in a rush.…
When the suspect yells that he has a gun in his pocket, Constable Lam replies: “I don’t care. Get down.”…
Next, the video shows, Constable Lam steps out and away from the cover of his car, indicating perhaps that he has assessed that the object in Mr. Minassian’s hand was not a gun.
Constable Lam then issues his first warning: “Get down or you’ll get shot.”…
Constable Lam then backs away from Mr. Minassian, who walks toward him, threatening object in hand. In response, the officer appears to replace his gun with a baton, visibly de-escalating the threat to Mr. Minassian.…
Then, Constable Lam confidently and slowly approaches the suspect with his baton in hand. By the time the officer reaches him, Mr. Minassian has dropped the object in his hand, raised his hands in surrender, turned and laid down on his stomach with his hands behind his back.

Now, every case is different. But compare this to the October 10, 2012 nighttime use-of-deadly-force incident at the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona-Sonora. Agent Lonnie Swartz killed José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, a 16-year-old who was likely throwing rocks over the border fence.

From The Arizona Republic:

As rocks begin to hit the fence and ground on the U.S. side, one of the Border Patrol agents by the fence retreats for cover. A Nogales police officer also retreats and places his K-9 partner into his vehicle. All in a matter of seconds.
Swartz, with gun drawn, walks to the fence and starts shooting. “Shots fired, shots fired,” someone calls on the radio. He fires 13 rounds, stops, reloads his pistol and fires three more rounds—16 shots in 34 seconds, according to the prosecution.

From The Tucson Sentinel:

On Thursday, the jury watched several different parts of the model, which showed that Swartz was about 90 feet away when he fired his first salvo of shots. Swartz then moved to two different firing positions along the fence, emptying an entire magazine of .40-caliber hollow-points from his H&K P2000 before reloading, and firing three more shots.
Swartz later returned to collect his magazine, before he went over to a telephone pole, vomited and began crying, according to fellow agents’ testimony last week.

On April 23, after a monthlong trial that was the first of a Border Patrol agent for a cross-border shooting, an Arizona jury acquitted Agent Swartz of second-degree murder. A juror said “the evidence showed the Border Patrol agent perceived that lives were in danger.” But the jury ended up deadlocked on lesser manslaughter charges. Prosecutors are deciding whether to pursue a manslaughter retrial.

Here’s a photo of the site where the shooting took place, taken in December 2013. That’s me in the lower right, taking a picture. I’m standing in the very spot where Elena Rodríguez, the 16-year-old, fell to the curb and died. Police would find ten bullet wounds in his body.

As you can see, the top of the border fence looms about three stories overhead from here: any rocks thrown would have been bloopers more than line drives. Agent Swartz knew that using less-than-lethal force was an option; he had reported responding to six earlier rock-throwing incidents, according to the Tucson Sentinel, “either by throwing a ‘stingball’—a grenade-like weapon that explodes and throws out rubber balls—or by firing a pepper-ball launcher—a paintball gun that fires balls made from a pepper-spray-like concoction.” But he did not use those options this time.

Based on this and other incidents, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) asked the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) for recommendations in 2013, and in 2014 it released a new use-of-force policy. Here is what PERF said about rock-throwing incidents at the border:

Review of shooting cases involving rock throwers revealed that in some cases agents put themselves in harm’s way by remaining in close proximity to the rock throwers when moving out of range was a reasonable option. Too many cases do not appear to meet the test of objective reasonableness with regard to the use of deadly force. In cases where clear options to the use of deadly force exist and are not utilized in rock-throwing incidents, corrective actions should be taken. CBP should improve and refine tactics and policy that focus on operational safety, prioritization of essential activities near the border fence, and use of specialized less lethal weapons with regard to rock throwing incidents. The state CBP policy should be: “Officers/agents are prohibited from using deadly force against subjects throwing objects not capable of causing serious physical injury or death to them.”

CBP ultimately went with this standard in its revised policy:

Authorized Officers/Agents shall not discharge their firearms in response to thrown or launched projectiles unless the officer/agent has a reasonable belief, based on the totality of circumstances (to include the size and nature of the projectiles), that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of serious physical injury or death to the officer/agent or to another person. Officers/agents may be able to obtain a tactical advantage in these situations, through measures such as seeking cover or distancing themselves from the immediate area of danger.

Since then, deadly-force incidents have declined. The border isn’t Toronto, but it’s better. Still, a post-trial statement from the president of the Border Patrol union, Art Del Cueto, shows that the culture of justifying deadly force, even under questionable circumstances, is deeply rooted.

“Lonnie Swartz took the extra step to defend himself and to defend the life of fellow agents around; so he pulled out his weapon and fired at the threat,” Del Cueto said. “A lot has been said that he continued firing, but the threat had not ended. There was still rocks coming at the agents, still rocks coming at Lonnie, and he was shooting at the direction where the rocks are coming from.”

Similarly, Swartz’s defense attorney, Sean Chapman, employed a line of argument that Border Patrol is somehow different from other law enforcement, even portraying it as “military,” as the Tuscson Sentinel reported. (It’s not. Border Patrol agents are civilians.)

Throughout his opening statement, Chapman emphasized how agents are different from people like the jury or the attorneys. He said the Border Patrol is essentially a military organization created to enforce federal law where there’s a risk of violence all the time. “It’s the mindset that they have, the way they are trained. … They don’t think like we do; they think based on their training.”

That’s probably not true, at least not anymore. But if it is, then that training must continue to change. Agents are not soldiers, and they are not in an armed conflict. Deadly force must always be a last resort in law enforcement as Constable Lam showed us all so well this week.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Still catching up. This is the week of April 8-14. But this synopsis of the Santrich case is still worth your time, there’s no similar synthesis out there in English.)

FARC Leader Jesús Santrich Arrested, May Be Extradited

On the evening of April 9, police arrested demobilized FARC leader Seuxis Pausivas Hernández, alias “Jesús Santrich,” at his home near the Bogotá airport. The arrest complies with an Interpol Red Notice, issued days after the U.S. Department of Justice’s Southern District of New York convinced a grand jury to indict Santrich for conspiring to send cocaine to the United States. The guerrilla leader is now being held in the concrete-walled Bogotá headquarters (often called the “bunker”) of Colombia’s prosecutor-general’s office (Fiscalía).

An ideologist more than a fighter—he nearly always wears sunglasses due to poor eyesight—the 50-year-old Santrich was a fixture during all four years of peace talks in Havana, often delivering the FARC’s declarations to reporters after negotiating sessions. “Santrich was, by far, the most radical, intelligent and intransigent of the plenipotentiary negotiators,” Juanita León of La Silla Vacía wrote after his arrest. “In addition to a close friendship with [chief FARC negotiator] Iván Márquez, Santrich has much leadership among the guerrilla base, because he defended several points that were important to them.” In mid-2017, Santrich went on a lengthy hunger strike to pressure the government to speed its promised releases of amnestied guerrilla prisoners.

The U.S. prosectors’ indictment of Santrich, dated April 4, accuses the guerrilla leader of agreeing to export ten tons of cocaine to the United States in exchange for US$15 million. It states that the events in question took place starting in June 2017. The Havana peace accord protects FARC members from extradition to the United States for crimes committed before the accord’s December 2016 ratification. The accusations against Santrich, however, fall outside of that timeframe, making his extradition to the United States a distinct near-term possibility.

As a result, León contends, his arrest “is the greatest challenge to the peace process since Congress accepted the re-negotiated accord” after voters rejected the first version in an October 2016 plebiscite.

Over the course of the week, Colombian prosecutors made public some of the evidence against Santrich. “Very few cases have so much probatory accreditation [evidence] as this one,” Chief Prosecutor (Fiscal General) Néstor Humberto Martínez said. The story is as follows:

Mid-2017: members of the Fiscalía’s Technical Investigations Corps (CTI) investigating possible irregularities in healthcare contracts for demobilized guerrillas begin to focus on an associate of Santrich’s, Marlon Marín, a 39-year-old lawyer who is Iván Márquez’s nephew.

Telephone intercepts detect periodic references to a group calling itself “The Family.” It apparently includes Marín; Fabio Simón Younes, director of a Florida-based company listed as “inactive”; and Armando Gómez, a businessman and the father of a Colombian beauty queen. The intercepts include conversations with Mexicans about a possible drug trafficking operation. A Fiscalía investigator shares with Chief Prosecutor Martínez his suspicion that the Mexicans may be DEA agents. Martínez checks with U.S. embassy contacts, who confirm that they are. (Or they may be genuine Mexican traffickers with a DEA mole in their midst—it’s not clear.)

August 14, 2017: In a phone conversation Gómez, the businessman, mentions “five televisions that the buyers are interested in testing out,” an apparent reference to five kilograms of cocaine whose quality the Mexicans insist on evaluating before moving ahead with any deal. He says that the sample is for “Marco,” one of the Mexicans, who are apparently Sinaloa cartel representatives.

October 2017: The phone calls intensify. Before sealing the deal, the Mexicans tell Marín that they wish to meet with someone of higher rank within his organization. That is when Santrich’s name comes up in the conversations. Marín begins trying to convince Santrich to meet with the would-be Mexican purchasers.

October 18, 2017: Marín is recorded trying to convince Santrich’s assistant to get Santrich to meet with the Mexicans. Marín says he just needs “the blind man” to “simply say to them, everything’s cool, everything’s good, it’s all up to me, we’re good to go.” Sometime after that, Santrich agrees to meet with the Mexicans on the condition that Marín be present.

Late October 2017: Fulfilling the Mexicans’ precondition for holding a high-level meeting, Gómez meets with the Mexicans at a Bogotá hotel and hands them the five kilograms of cocaine (the “televisions”). The Mexicans later agree that the cocaine is of good quality.

Early November 2017: Santrich hosts the Mexicans at a pre-dawn meeting at his house. The Mexicans say they are in the employ of Rafael Caro Quintero, a top figure in the Sinaloa cartel who was released from prison on a technicality in August 2013, early in President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term. Caro had been given a 40-year term for the 1985 torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena; he remains an archenemy of the U.S. agency. His release after 28 years angered the U.S. government, distancing U.S.-Mexican relations. Upon gaining his freedom, Caro instantly disappeared.

One of the Mexican group takes an incriminatory photo with a camera apparently hidden in his clothing. The photo shows Santrich seated at the head of a table alongside Marín.

In the meeting, Marín tells the Mexicans that “The Family” has control of several cocaine laboratories. They agree to send seven tons in March, and the remaining three later.

The Mexicans ask that the purchase take place on U.S. soil (though it apparently ends up happening in Barranquilla). They give Santrich what they call a “token” to prove the identity of the FARC’s contact when the transaction takes place: a photocopy of a U.S. dollar bill that will be in the cocaine buyer’s possession. Sometime later, the DEA seizes the token in Florida during an apparent operation against “The Family.” U.S. prosecutors now have it in their custody, as evidence.

Santrich gives the Mexican visitors an ink drawing (he is a prolific artist). He inscribes it, “For don Rafa Caro, with esteem and hope for peace. Santrich.” It, too, is now in U.S. prosecutors’ possession.

Sometime afterward, Younes, the “Family” member, begins making connections in Miami for aircraft.

February 2018: “The Family” tells the Mexicans that they are having difficulty obtaining the cocaine because of recent “bombings.” Colombian investigators note that during this time period, Colombia’s army bombed some guerrilla dissident group encampments in southern Colombia. The Fiscalía believes that the cocaine suppliers are in Cauca and Nariño departments in southwestern Colombia, a zone with a significant presence of un-demobilized or recidivist FARC members.

Probably March 2018: Santrich gets a call from someone named “Fabio,” who warns him that there is a plan afoot to arrest and extradite him. Fabio says that “a man in the Police” told him. “We got sold out,” Prosecutor-General Martínez reportedly says. Sometime afterward, U.S. prosecutors decide to go ahead and indict Santrich based on existing evidence. This happens on April 4, and Santrich is arrested on April 9.

The arrest set off alarms within the FARC, for whom non-extradition for crimes committed before the accord was a non-negotiable point during the Havana talks. In at least some of the “Territorial Training and Reconciliation Spaces” (ETCR), the sites where much of the ex-guerrillas remain congregated and protected by the security forces, “they were glued to the television and the situation was very tense,” La Silla Vacía reported. “‘There’s a lot of anxiety, they’re basically afraid that now they can grab anybody,’ a source in one of the spaces told us. One of the FARC’s leaders in the south told us: ‘if this is breakfast, what will dinner be like.’” Protests continued at the remote sites all week.

Iván Márquez, the FARC’s former chief negotiator and the uncle of co-conspirator Marín, told reporters that the arrest of his friend (and fellow hardliner) Santrich was “the worst moment in the peace process.” He called the case a setup arranged by the Fiscalía and the United States that will sow distrust throughout the guerrilla ranks, hinting that many might be tempted to re-arm. “With Jesús Santrich’s arrest, the process is threatening to be a real failure,” reads a FARC statement. “The coincidence with Saturday’s visit of Donald Trump draws my attention,” said FARC legal advisor, Spanish lawyer Enrique Santiago. (Trump was to stop in Colombia after the April 13-14 Summit of the Americas in Peru. Later in the week, he canceled his entire trip.)

FARC leaders demanded to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos, and a delegation led by the party’s maximum leader, Rodrigo Londoño alias Timochenko, did so on April 11. All agreed that Santrich’s due process rights would be fully respected. They also agreed to establish (yet another) commission to speed implementation of the government’s peace accord commitments, many of which are lagging badly.

“I won’t extradite anyone for crimes committed before the accord’s signing and in relation to the conflict,” Santos said in a carefully worded statement. “Having said that, if after receiving due process and with irrefutable proof there are grounds for extradition for crimes committed after the accord’s signing, I will not hesitate to authorize it, based on the Supreme Court’s finding.”

In an April 11 statement, Timochenko said that the FARC remains committed to the peace accord. “Colombia’s peace isn’t conditioned on the problems, or the people, who form part of the organization,” he said, appealing for unity among the ex-combatants. That same day, though, an angry Iván Márquez told reporters, “One mustn’t lie like in this case, just to obstruct the progress of peace. Santrich told me: ‘the second one will be you [Márquez].’”

While this timetable of publicly available evidence points to Santrich’s guilt, it also shows him to be a reluctant conspirator, pulled into a meeting at the repeated insistence of Marín, who seems to handle all of the details. The right thing for Santrich to do, of course, would have been to report Marín, his friend’s nephew, to the police—not a natural instinct for a lifelong insurgent. Instead, he fell into the sort of trap that other guerrilla leaders are doubtless aware could easily ensnare them.

What happens next will be a big test of the peace process. It could bolster support in public opinion, taking away critics’ argument that the peace accord grants the FARC too much impunity. However, it also feeds into the narrative, common among right-wing critics, that the FARC are still up to their old ways. On the other side, any perception that Santrich’s due process is being denied, and that he is being extradited in haste, may send dozens or hundreds of ex-guerrillas back into the jungle for fear of sharing his fate.

The next steps will also test the new judicial institutions being set up to implement the accords. Santrich’s case must begin in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), whose Review Chamber will have to take the step of finding that the evidence points to crimes committed after the accord’s signing. The JEP would then have to turn the case over to Colombia’s regular criminal justice system, where Santrich could be subject to longer prison sentences for war crimes, or to extradition.

The JEP, which is to try cases of war crimes and other aspects of ex-guerrillas’ legal status like narcotrafficking charges, has barely begun to function. The Constitutional Court hasn’t yet finished reviewing its enabling law, passed at the end of November, and the law to govern its day-to-day functioning hasn’t yet been introduced in Congress.

Since the JEP is supposed to get the first “bite at the apple” in cases like these, there is some debate in Bogotá about whether it was correct for the Fiscalía—Colombia’s regular justice system—to have been the agency to arrest him. Opponents say that the Fiscalía may have violated procedure and given Santrich’s lawyers a technicality that they might try to use to get the case dropped. Proponents, though, say there was too great a risk that Santrich would flee once he heard about the indictment in New York.

It;s not clear when the JEP will make its determination about whether Santrich committed an extraditable offense after the accords’ signing, a momentous decision essentially kicking a top guerrilla negotiator out of the peace process. Meanwhile, though, the United States must issue a formal extradition request within 60 days, which must then go to Supreme Court review and finally to the President for signature.

In the meantime, Santrich is in a cell in the Fiscalía’s “bunker,” where he has been on another hunger strike, refusing food since his arrest.

He was to occupy one of the five House of Representatives seats that the peace accord granted the FARC for the 2018-2022 legislative session that starts in July. Colombian law states that when a member of Congress runs afoul of justice, his or her seat must remain empty for the remainder of the legislative session. It is not yet clear whether Santrich’s absence, then, reduces the FARC’s House delegation to four seats. The current president of the chamber, Rodrigo Lara, said there should be no “empty seat,” that the FARC could replace Santrich because he hadn’t been sworn in yet. (Lara, incidentally, is no peace proponent: during the last legislative session he helped to delay or water down much legislation to implement the accords.)

Urabeños Attack Kills 8 Police

An attack with explosives killed eight Colombian police and wounded two more on the morning of April 11 in the rural zone of San José de Urabá, Antioquia, in northwestern Colombia. The zone is a stronghold of the Urabeños, Colombia’s largest organized crime/paramilitary organization (also known as the Gulf Clan, the Usuga Clan, and the Gaitanistas). Authorities blame local Urabeños leader alias “Chiquito Malo” (“Bad Little Boy”) for the attack.

The explosive destroyed a vehicle carrying police who were accompanying a visit from the government’s Land Restitution Unit. Urabá is one of the most challenging territories in Colombia for land restitution: there, paramilitaries and local landowners massively displaced communities of small farmers in the 1990s and early 2000s, and are resisting efforts to return landholdings to their rightful owners.

Kidnapped Ecuadorian Reporters Believed Dead

An apparent communiqué from a FARC dissident organization stated that the group has killed two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver. The “Oliver Sinisterra Front,” active in Nariño, near the Ecuador border, had kidnapped the three men on March 26. Its statement reads that the governments of Ecuador and Colombia “didn’t want to save the lives fo the three retained people and chose the military route, making landings in several points where the retained people were located, which produced their death.”

Upon hearing that Javier Ortega and Paul Rivas Bravo of Quito’s daily El Comercio were likely dead, along with their driver Efraín Segarra, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno left the Summit of the Americas meetings in Lima, Peru. At week’s end, he gave the dissident group, led by former FARC member Wálter Arizara alias “Guacho,” 12 hours to produce proof that the hostages were still alive.

Earlier, President Moreno had lamented that Colombia’s persistent conflict was reaching into Ecuador. He blamed his predecessor, Rafael Correa (in whose government he was vice president, but who is now his political enemy) for allowing problems to fester at the border. “Of course, we lived in peace, but we lived in a peace in which drugs were allowed to transit through our territory.” Ecuador’s border regions have long been an important transshipment point for cocaine, and Colombian armed groups have freely crossed for decades. Security analysts often refer to an informal arrangement in the border zone, in which Ecuadorian forces would not confront Colombian armed groups as long as they abstained from inciting violence or harming Ecuadorian citizens. If such an agreement exists, Guacho’s group has violated it several times this year with attacks on Ecuadorian security forces.

ELN-EPL Violence Continues in Catatumbo

Fighting between the ELN and a smaller, local guerrilla group, the Popular Liberation Army (EPL, which the government often calls “Los Pelusos”) continues to generate a humanitarian crisis in Catatumbo, a barely governed agricultural region in Norte de Santander department, near the Venezuelan border, that includes one of the country’s largest concentrations of coca. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has documented the displacement of about 1,350 people in the region in the month since a longtime arrangement between the ELN and the EPL broke down.

Both groups have been active in Catatumbo for decades. The EPL, with perhaps 200-300 members, can trace its lineage back to a remnant that refused to demobilize when a Maoist insurgency with the same name negotiated a peace agreement in the late 1980s. The EPL lost its longtime leader (alias “Megateo”) to a military attack in late 2015, and a year later the FARC—also present in Catatumbo—pulled out and demobilized in compliance with the peace accord. This opened up lucrative spaces for cocaine smuggling and other organized crime activity.

These changes upended the cordial ELN-EPL relationship, and fighting broke out between the two groups in mid-March. As both have deep roots in Catatumbo communities, the region’s population is caught in the crossfire; schools have suspended classes and many businesses are shuttered.

In-Depth Reading

The day ahead: April 27, 2018

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

I’ll be writing all morning, both at home and in the office, about Colombia. In the afternoon I’ve got some internal meetings at WOLA, and will attend a memorial service at Georgetown University for Marc Chernick, who taught me so much about Colombia since I first met him in 1997.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Jorge Cabrera / Reuters photo at The New York Times. Caption: “A protest on Monday in Managua against police violence and Mr. Ortega’s government.”

(Even more here)

April 26, 2018


There’s a big gap between devising a perfect plan and actually implementing that plan

The case of Juan Pablo Rodríguez Barragán raises questions about diplomatic immunity and international justice

Lo que hemos logrado juntos, el Comando Sur y Colombia es algo de lo que todos podemos enorgullecernos

Colombia, Ecuador

La Fiscalía General del Estado ha iniciado una investigación previa urgente contra el expresidente de la República Rafael Correa, por los supuestos aportes económicos de las Farc a la campaña


El Gobierno ecuatoriano suscribió ayer, en la Comandancia de Policía, en Quito, un memorando de entendimiento con la Agencia Antidrogas (DEA) y el Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas de Estados Unidos (ICE)

El Salvador

The best way to diminish the gang’s appeal to vulnerable young men is to think of it as more of a social organization than a criminal enterprise


What happened to three cousins who disappeared after being detained by Mexican soldiers will be taken up by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights — the first case related to Mexico’s drug war to come before the court.

U.S. lawyers planned to lead clinics later this week on U.S. asylum law to tell them what to expect when they seek asylum


Tres jóvenes que participaban en las protestas autoconvocadas y un ciudadano que transitaba por una calle, ajeno a los incidentes, fueron ultimados a balazos por agentes de la Policía Nacional

A new country is emerging from the dried cocoon of Sandinista dictatorship. The process is just starting, but Nicaragua is changing

Nicaragua is undergoing its biggest uprising since the civil war ended in 1990

Western Hemisphere Regional

Democrats pressed McAleenan about whether he would prioritize construction of a border wall over the staffing shortages and improvements to the ports of entry

April 26, 2018, 12:01 PM

The Pan-American Health Organization headquarters, plunked down on a little-noticed spot near the State Department, is like a little slice of 1960 Brasília in the middle of Washington DC.

The day ahead: April 26, 2018

I’ll be mostly hard to contact today. (How to contact me)

Sort of a busy day today. In the morning I’m at a book launch for a longtime colleague at George Washington University. In the afternoon, I’m helping with a discussion at USIP with some visitors who work with human rights defenders and conflict victims in and around Medellín. I have to leave work on the early side for an event at my kid’s school. So I’ll be hard to contact today.

Colombia’s Grade on Implementing the FARC Peace Deal So Far Is a C Minus

Published this evening at World Politics Review:

Harsh perhaps, but sadly true: Colombia is dropping the ball badly on implementing the FARC peace accord.

Its 1,300 words are behind a paywall. Here’s a sample:

On reintegration of ex-fighters: Incredibly, to this day the implementation process is still missing one of its most essential elements: a written plan for how to help all former guerrillas earn legal livelihoods and adjust to post-combat life. As a result, with so many ex-combatants left idle, “dissident” groups of rearmed guerrillas are growing fast: Their membership now totals about 1,200, up from 300 a year ago.

On filling “ungoverned spaces”: Strangest of all, the Colombian government just hasn’t been filling the territorial vacuum. Except for infrequent visits from government agencies created to implement the accord, mainly to hold meetings, the presence of the state has changed little in vast areas of the countryside that were historically under FARC domination or influence.

On U.S. policy: It’s so important that the U.S. Congress undid the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 aid cuts to Colombia, maintaining current funding levels for programs that are crucial to the early phases of the peace deal’s implementation. U.S. officials also need to be aware that helping Colombia to govern ungoverned areas, as envisioned in the accord, offers the best hope for permanent reductions in coca cultivation. People don’t grow illicit crops where there’s a government presence.

Go here to read the whole thing.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 25, 2018


These gender-focused initiatives, paired with poverty reduction and increased state support for mothers, contributed to an 84 percent decrease in the number of women incarcerated for drug offenses between 2012 and 2017


Their viewpoint reveals organizations that are unapologetic for their criminal activities but not likely to attack a military they see as a temporary inconvenience, at worst



El panorama es mucho menos alentador que el retratado ayer por Villegas en el Congreso. En estas regiones, la gente que entrevistamos siente que la oportunidad que abrió el Acuerdo con las Farc de construir la paz se está diluyendo

El exnegociador de la guerrilla en los diálogos de paz manifestó que si la crisis del proceso continúa permanecerá en la vereda Miravalle, San Vicente del Caguán

Colombia, Ecuador

Para familiares como Ricardo Rivas, hermano del fotoperiodista asesinado, la gestión del Gobierno fue un fracaso, ya que no se logró la liberación con vida de sus allegados. Ahora reclaman la repatriación de los cuerpos


The case of Salvador de León is the first in which an army colonel has been implicated as a key player in the money laundering operations of a gang


“We will be evaluating whether to seek a retrial on the manslaughter charges,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Strange said

The most likely thing to glimpse along that divide is evidence of the countless billions of dollars that have been spent there over the past 30 years to build the most gigantic border-enforcement apparatus in US history

The migrant caravan is expected to arrive in Tijuana later this week. It is not yet clear how quickly CBP will be able to process them

Riodoce’s editor said the suspect was arrested in the border city of Tijuana and was a member of an organized crime group. He declined to say which one, but said it had to do with the war that the Sinaloa cartel is in

Prosecutors in the western state of Jalisco said late Monday the three were abducted by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel because they were filming a school project at a house used by the rival Nueva Plaza gang

En entrevista con EL UNIVERSAL, la diplomática, que dejará la embajada el 5 de mayo próximo, tras dos años de representar a su país, dijo que le habría gustado ver un México más seguro


With freshly shaved heads and some bearing bruises they said were inflicted by police during their captivity, students were dropped along a highway on the outskirts of the capital

The president retains the support of the armed forces, and protesters have no figurehead to rally behind


The United States should work with the Lima Group countries to coordinate their national-level sanctions with our own growing efforts to target the Maduro regime’s criminal elements

Western Hemisphere Regional

CBP employees “have this extraordinary power, and they have a de facto immunity because they have no meaningful oversight and accountability”

Fifty-five percent of U.S. adults think deploying the National Guard to the border will be effective in the short term, but only 49 percent think it will be effective in the long term

This report is a preliminary effort by the IACHR to examine the issue of poverty from a human rights angle. From that perspective, people who live in poverty are no longer considered “recipients of charity” and are treated as rights holders instead

The judge stayed his decision for 90 days and gave the Department of Homeland Security, which administers the program, the opportunity to better explain its reasoning for canceling it

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