Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.


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May 2018

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Yuri Cortez/Getty Images photo at Vox. Caption: “Protesters join friends and family members of the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa, Mexico, on the third year of their disappearance during marches held throughout 2017 in Mexico City.”

(Even more here)

May 11, 2018


La confrontación entre los dos grupos armados está por cumplir dos meses, en medio de los cuales más de 9 mil familias se han desplazado tanto a refugios humanitarios y a cascos urbanos

El cese al fuego bilateral y la participación de la sociedad nuevamente están en el centro de la negociación

Según Carlos Arturo Velandia, exmiembro de la guerrilla y gestor de paz, el cese “no será aplicable en Catatumbo, mientras persistan ataques entre Eln y Epl, que agreden directamente a población civil

El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras

“You had career people arguing in favor of extending T.P.S. When they sent along their recommendations, their memos would stop dead in their tracks or get rewritten.”


Velasquez is a person of great integrity, a very reputable, accomplished jurist. The more he carries out his mandate the more those who fear prosecution will try to exploit ways to stop him

Cinco años después, conversa con Nómada sobre la histórica sentencia y las consecuencias que tuvo tanto en el país como en su carrera como jueza


Lonnie Swartz was found not guilty of second-degree murder, but jurors were deadlocked on whether he was guilty of manslaughter

According to statistics, more than 35,000 Mexicans have vanished without a trace over the past decade. The real number is believed by many to be much higher

Las escalinatas del Ángel de la Independencia se colmaron de pancartas con los rostros de personas desaparecidas, como ocurre cada 10 de mayo en la Ciudad de México desde hace siete años

Organized crime, like any successful business, adapts to changing market conditions. In Mexico, which is heading toward a pivotal presidential election in July, this has meant a surge in kidnappings

In the southern federal district in San Diego, 1,275 cases were filed in the first three months of this year. Prosecutors now plan to boost criminal immigration filings to about 1,000 per month


As antigovernment protests have swept the country in recent weeks, young Nicaraguans are divided over what it means to preserve the principles their parents and grandparents fought for in the 1979 revolution

Western Hemisphere Regional

The courts and Congress have resisted his demands, and even his own staff keeps telling him no. As a result, the president brings up the issue constantly

The Guard cannot handle custody duties for anyone accused of immigration violations, build border barriers or have anything to do with immigration enforcement

How to break the U.S. federal prison system

This is one of a few points we’ll make in an analysis WOLA will publish early next week, probably Tuesday. I want to break it down here in greater detail. It just seems so crazy.

It’s easiest to look at it step by step. First, this is the current U.S. federal prison population (source):

People who commit immigration offenses end up incarcerated in the federal prison system. The green stripe represents the 12,115 currently incarcerated for immigration offenses (source):

If held for less than 90 days, those guilty of immigration offenses, especially that of improperly crossing the border, usually end up in facilities run by U.S. Marshals, not federal prisons. In 2014, the last year for which data are available, 81,881 people were detained this way. Let’s use that number here (source):

Now, here is the number of people whom Border Patrol caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border improperly in 2017. All 303,916 of them technically committed a misdemeanor, punishable by fines or imprisonment, by violating Section 1325 of Title 8, U.S. Code. They crossed the border without passing through one of the 45 official crossings, or ports of entry. 303,916, by the way, is the lowest number since 1971 (source):

Some of these apprehended migrants were children, who would not be charged with a misdemeanor. 41,435 were kids who arrived unaccompanied. 75,622 members of family units (parents with children) were also apprehended. From those categories, let’s say 80,000-plus were kids. That would leave approximately 220,000 adults who could have been charged with a misdemeanor:

Of those 220,000 or so, 18,642 actually were charged in the federal criminal system. They’re already counted on the left, so take them off of the right (source):

If you’re still reading this far: the point of all this is that the Trump administration is proposing to move the entire right column to the left column. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions on May 7:

[T]he Department of Homeland Security is now referring 100 percent of illegal Southwest Border crossings to the Department of Justice for prosecution. And the Department of Justice will take up those cases.
I have put in place a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border. If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple.

The Trump administration intends to do this even to adults seeking asylum or humanitarian protection. If parents cross the border anywhere other than the ports of entry, whatever the circumstance, Homeland Security will take their children away and treat them as unaccompanied minors, sent to live with guardians while the parents go to court and probably prison.

Sessions said it: “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.” ICE Director Thomas Homan added, “Every law enforcement agency in this country separates parents from children when they’re arrested for a crime.”

If these officials’ agencies do what they say they’re going to do, they could increase the federal prison and U.S. Marshals detention population by 75 percent, or more if migration exceeds 2017 levels.

This is what the chart looks like when you move the uncharged adult border-crossers from the right column onto the left (with the old left column added to the right for comparison):

A 75 percent one-year increase in the federal prisoner population would break the system. It would also cost billions: in 2017, it cost $99.45 per day to incarcerate someone in federal prison and $89.33 per day in U.S. Marshals facilities. And that doesn’t count all the new facilities that would have to be built, and the people who would have to be hired (or, let’s be real: subcontracted) to deal with the big jump in population.

At WOLA we’ll have more on this early next week. We’ll point out that the Trump Justice and Homeland Security departments’ “zero tolerance” approach would not only break the federal prisons. It would also break land ports of entry and federal courts. Oh yes, and it’s also unspeakably cruel to protection-seeking families and children.

WOLA Podcast on the Venezuelan Forced Migration Crisis

I sat down this morning with Gimena Sánchez, who works on Colombia and the Andes here at WOLA, and Geoff Ramsey, who works on Venezuela. Geoff spent all of April in Venezuela, and in the Venezuelan border areas of Colombia and Brazil. Gimena was in Colombia at the same time, and both did fieldwork in the border city of Cúcuta, Colombia. (Where I was in February, horrified by what I saw during a brief visit to the border bridge.)

Download the mp3 file here.

Gimena and Geoff were looking at the exploding humanitarian crisis of Venezuelans leaving their country, mostly in order to get enough to eat. Here, they discuss what they saw, what the Brazilian, Colombian, and international response has been, and what needs to happen now.

Geoff says in Venezuela, “People are now resigned to the idea that this political and economic crisis can now last months, even years”—and sees a negotiation, similar to a negotiation to end an armed conflict, as the best way out now.

Gimena says the Colombian government / Red Cross shelter in Cúcuta is “only for people who actually have relatives in Colombia and are just going to stay there one or two days. So it was nearly empty, this beautiful shelter with all this capacity, and right outside the shelter you just saw people crowding the streets.”

Geoff: “The Brazilian authorities have responded in, relatively speaking, a more humanitarian way.”

Gimena: “In the U.S., the ideal thing to do would be to have Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans who have already come here.”

The day ahead: May 11, 2018

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

I’m meeting with a reporter, recording a podcast with colleagues who recently traveled to Colombia and Venezuela, shutting the door and doing some planning over lunch hour, then writing and catching up on correspondence in the afternoon.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Jaime Saldarriaga / Reuters photo at NBC News. Caption: “Demonstrators carry a flag during a May Day rally in Bogota, Colombia, on May 1.”

(Even more here)

May 10, 2018


Experts warn that tampering with the agreement could end up reigniting hostilities

Lo que más temen los familiares de Deyanira es que su nombre, hace unos cinco meses, apareció en unos panfletos amenazantes firmados, al parecer, por las denominadas Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia


Los cambios deberán implicarse en la reformulación de la política de seguridad en la frontera norte

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

In the northern triangle, a golden age of judicial independence may be ending

El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras

El Salvador and Honduras together create jobs for only about 10 percent of the 120,000 youths who join the labor force every year


The pathologies underlying the hurricane’s aftermath — extreme violence, lack of economic opportunity and poor governance — are the same factors that today drive irregular migration such as the caravan to the United States


The migrants have said that “if the promises are not kept, about 100 people will reconsider (staying in Mexico) and go to Tijuana to request asylum” in the U.S.

The huge effort to capture Guzmán and put him on trial has failed to stop the Sinaloa Cartel from recruiting a new generation

In one sign of its mounting frustration, the Mexican government over the past month has canceled meetings with American counterparts, including a cross-border coordination session to fight drug trafficking and an annual military exchange


Many opposition supporters distrust the two candidates and plan to abstain from voting, but having two rival opposition candidates will split the votes of those who do go to the polls

Western Hemisphere Regional

One persistent issue has been Mr. Trump’s belief that Ms. Nielsen and other officials in the department were resisting his direction that parents should be separated from their children when families cross illegally into the United States, several officials said

National Guard troops have been distributed between five Texas border sectors, including 200 in the Rio Grande Valley, 120 in Laredo, approximately 90 in Del Rio, approximately 70 in Big Bend, and around 110 in El Paso

Prosecuting each one of the more than 660,000 migrants apprehended at the border would increase the federal criminal caseload by more than 350 percent

Collins said federal prosecutors in Arizona are struggling to keep up with the case load. They’re getting about 75 cases involving unauthorized U.S.-Mexico border crossings per day

The day ahead: May 10, 2018

I should be reachable much of the day, though I’ll be writing furiously and might not reply right away. (How to contact me)

I have just one meeting on the calendar, with a reporter visiting from the U.S.-Mexico border. Otherwise, I’ll be writing—in the morning, about the Trump administration’s new “arrest everyone who crosses” policy, and in the afternoon, my paper for the Latin American Studies Association conference which is two weeks from now.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Alejandro Tamayo photo at The San Diego Union-Tribune. Caption: “Migrants at Caritas Tijuana, a small Catholic-run shelter, awoke to a burning mattress put outside their door early Monday.”

(Even more here)

May 9, 2018


What appears increasingly likely, according to observers, is that her murder was not a random act of violence but a meticulously planned political assassination

Central America Regional

The draft regulations signal that the Trump administration is considering detaining families for longer periods and subjecting unaccompanied minors to increased scrutiny that could make it easier to deport them

Central America Regional, Mexico

The Central America Security Conference was attended by officials from Central America, the United States, Canada and Mexico


El hecho ocurrió en el sector del Pescado, en Puerto Valdivia, Antioquia, el mismo municipio donde la semana pasada fue abaleado otro miembro de esa organización

Colombia, Venezuela

Red Cross says with the crisis intensifying, an estimated 37,000 people were now crossing the Colombian border each day


El incremento del narcotráfico y del crimen internacional organizado en América Latina y en el Ecuador está obligando a que las FF.AA. se policialicen, posición que obliga a repensar su papel


By labeling the CICIG as a political instrument of the Russian government, Guatemalan political elites are looking to roll back the country’s tough anti-corruption campaign

Esta tarde se disponían a revivir y ampliar una ley de 1963 que no se ha aplicado en la democracia


José Coello, vocero de Fusina, declaró a EL HERALDO que la Fuerza tendrá apoyo del FBI para realizar las investigaciones


The military already has the pre-eminent role in running the Southern Border Plan, and the civilian component is getting smaller still

A National Guard official said the troops do face a restriction: Those monitoring surveillance equipment, such as cameras, are prohibited from viewing the Mexico side of the border

The defense official said the Department of Homeland Security Wednesday will request about 700 additional National Guardsmen plus helicopters and other equipment

Some perish because they fight corruption and organised crime. Others die because they side with a gang, becoming targets of its rivals

In a statement, the army said the attack occurred Tuesday in the township of Coyuca de Catalan as soldiers responded to an anonymous report about armed men in the area

Western Hemisphere Regional

If all 240 members who support the “queen of the hill” plan put their signatures where their mouths are, it actually would. The question is how many of them are willing to openly antagonize Ryan by doing it

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Week of April 29-May 5)

Dire Warning from Former Chief Negotiator De La Calle

Humberto de la Calle, a respected former vice president and the Liberal Party’s low-polling candidate for May 27 elections, led the Colombian government’s team for all four years of peace talks with the FARC in Havana. On the campaign trail, he has been largely silent on the government’s subsequent implementation of what the accords promised. This silence ended April 29, when he published a brief statement to his website entitled “They’re throwing away peace.” An excerpt:

They’re throwing away peace. That’s it, in plain Spanish, without hypocrisy. They’re throwing away peace.
First, [former president Álvaro] Uribe and [Ivan] Duque [the presidential candidate of Uribe’s Democratic Center party] have been building a fabric of fallacies and hatreds that have brought much of the population into a nostalgia for the war.
The Constitutional Court opened the door for Congress to betray and slow down the accord. Cambio Radical [the party of right-of-center candidate German Vargas Lleras] joined with the Democratic Center in this task, with the support of Dr. Vargas’s vacillations. The FARC have also failed to take the step of showing enough empathy for Colombians.
And implementation has proved to be too much for the government.
This is a call on the nation. As we’re going, we’re heading into war with our eyes closed.

President Juan Manuel Santos emphatically rejected De la Calle’s assertion that his government has dropped the ball on accord implementation. Talking to reporters after a meeting with his “post-conflict cabinet,” Santos contended that their “exhaustive” review of what the government has done brought a “positive evaluation.” Critics of the process, he added, “can’t come and tell us now that the peace accords’ implementation is failing.”

Even though the armed forces have estimated that dissident guerrilla groups’ membership now totals 1,200, Santos insisted that the majority are the result of “forced recruitment.” The real proportion of guerrillas who have dropped out of the process and rearmed, he said, is “7 percent.”

Nearly a year and five months after the accords’ ratification, Santos said that the government has complied with 70 percent of the 80 indicators it had laid out for itself for the first two years of the post-accord period. He noted that by the end of May, the illicit crop substitution program carried out to fulfill the accords’ fourth chapter would bring about the voluntary eradication of 30,000 hectares of coca. The original goal for this program’s first year, Santos did not mention, was 50,000 hectares.

Aftermath of Jesús Santrich Arrest

FARC leader Seusis Pausias Hernández alias Jesús Santrich was moved from Bogotá’s La Picota prison to its El Tunal hospital for “preventive care,” as he has been on a hunger strike since his April 9 arrest. Santrich was indicted April 4 by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York on charges of conspiring with Mexican traffickers to transship ten tons of cocaine. Colombian judicial authorities are awaiting an extradition request from the U.S. government.

The Wall Street Journal reported late on April 28 that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has evidence pointing to a more senior FARC commander. Luciano Marín alias Iván Márquez, who served as the guerrillas’ chief negotiator in Havana and is often regarded as the FARC’s number-two leader, apparently appears in a cellphone video speaking “to an associate of a known Mexican trafficker.” The video was recorded after the peace accord went into effect, a source told the Journal.

[T]he video in which he speaks was intended as a message to reassure Mexican gang contacts following the seizure in Miami of an alleged drug payment. The Drug Enforcement Administration seized $5 million in Miami that the officials said was an alleged payment for a shipment of cocaine. The date of that seizure remains unclear.

After Santrich’s arrest, Márquez—a close Santrich ally within the FARC—abandoned Bogotá for an ex-guerrilla concentration site in his home department of Caquetá, in southern Colombia. From there, Márquez charged that Colombia’s Prosecutor-General (Fiscal General), Nestor Humberto Martínez, was behind the Journal report. (Martínez has been critical of aspects of the peace accord.) Martínez, however, announced that his office “is not working on any investigation against Mr. Iván Márquez with regard to narcotrafficking or actions that took place after peace was signed.”

While Colombian prosecutors may not be working a case, the U.S. Spanish-language outlet Univisión confirmed what the Wall Street Journal reported: that the DEA appears to have incriminating evidence.

The U.S. anti-narcotics agency (DEA) is investigating a high member of the Venezuelan government and one of the maximum leaders of the demobilized FARC Colombian guerrilla group, Luciano Marín alias Iván Márquez, for drug trafficking, U.S. government sources confirmed to Univision Noticias. The identity of the Venezuelan official remains confidential so as not to affect the investigation’s advance.
U.S. authorities are investigating a video of the 62-year-old ex-guerrilla leader in which he presumably speaks with someone presenting himself as a collaborator of the Mexican capo Rafael Caro Quintero, in a meeting that happened after the peace accord went into effect.

From Caquetá, Iván Márquez said that he would not take his seat in the Colombian Senate on July 20, when the new legislative session begins, if Santrich is not freed. (The peace accord gives the FARC five automatic seats in Colombia’s Senate and House during the 2018-22 and 2022-26 congressional periods.) FARC leader Carlos Antonio Lozada said that the ex-guerrillas are asking Márquez to reconsider. Because Márquez served briefly as a congressman during a failed 1980s peace process, Lozada said, “He has parliamentary experience and this would be extremely helpful to us.”

When the FARC met in late August and early September to launch its political party and choose its leadership, the delegates in attendance gave Iván Márquez the most votes. Though Márquez has not explicitly threatened to do so, should he abandon the process, because of this internal popularity he would be likely to take many ex-guerrillas with him. La Silla Vacía spoke with several former mid-level leaders who are seriously considering a return to clandestinity.

The same La Silla article analyzed how the Santrich case is exacerbating divisions within the ex-guerrillas. While Márquez has taken a hard line and insisted that his friend’s arrest is a “setup,” maximum leader Timoleón Jiménez and other moderates have stated that those who violate the law in the post-accord period must face consequences as agreed. These divisions existed during the peace talks, the article continues.

From Havana, while the negotiations were occurring, two sources told us separately that his [Santrich’s] sharp tongue and intransigence not only bothered the government’s negotiating team. Within the FARC team they also began to feel that he wasn’t allowing the discussions to advance, to the point at which they once said that it would be better if he returned to Colombia.
“Iván defended him and said that if Santrich went, he would go too,” one of the sources told us.
Later, during the convention from which the party emerged in September of last year, “Santrich and his people, most of them academics who had helped us from clandestinity, questioned Timo’s [Timoleón Jiménez’s] command. They said that it was the moment to renew and have civilian commanders, with more time and youth ahead of them, instead of military commanders. Some were quite rude to him,” a source who is part of the FARC party and attended those meetings told us.

In his missive warning about “throwing away peace,” former government negotiator De la Calle urged Colombia’s justice system to try Santrich in Colombia, rather than swiftly extraditing him to the United States. “His victims have the right to know the truth; don’t cast them adrift, as occurred with the extradited paramilitaries’ victims.” El Tiempo reported that De la Calle’s proposal was not catching on in Bogotá political circles.

Meanwhile, El Espectador reminds that the U.S. government continues to offer a US$5 million reward for information leading to the capture of Timoleón Jiménez or Iván Márquez, who are both wanted on charges of narcotrafficking that took place before the peace accord.

Alleged Irregularities in Management of Peace Funds

Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) continues to investigate allegations of malfeasance in the awarding of contracts to implement programs to fulfill the peace accords. The Fiscalía is now looking at 12 people who may have served as intermediaries, receiving kickbacks in exchange for steering contracts to businesses or individuals. Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez says that evidence includes 80,000 telephone records.

A key witness in this investigation is Marlon Marín, a nephew of FARC leader Iván Márquez, who also happens to be a key witness in the case against Jesús Santrich. Marín went to the United States on April 17, where he has agreed to give evidence against Santrich. The Fiscalía has also reached an agreement with U.S. authorities to allow them to question Marín about misuse of peace funds. Marín gave Colombian prosecutors hours of testimony about this before leaving the country. In a recording, Marín can be heard asking a would-be contractor for a 5 percent kickback, instead of the 12 percent “that traditional politicians ask for,” and said that his ties to the new FARC party’s leadership would be useful in securing contracts.

Colombia’s Treasury Ministry has hired the accounting firm Ernst and Young to review contracts granted by the Colombia in Peace Fund, the mechanism channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in funds from many international donors and from Colombia’s national budget.

Two Afro-Colombian Leaders Remain Detained

Prosecutors released several of 33 social leaders from southwest Colombia who had been arrested the previous week to face charges of collaborating with the ELN. However, two women leaders from an Afro-Colombian community along the border with Ecuador, in the Alto Mira region of Tumaco, Nariño, remain in custody.

In a Cali court, Sara Quiñones of the Alto Mira Community Council and her mother, Tulia Marys Valencia, were among a group of 11 local leaders being charged. Two of this group were freed, and one confined to house arrest. The other eight, including the two women, remain in custody. Prosecutor Roberto Gordillo demanded this because they are “a danger to society,” asking that they be charged with sedition and aggravated conspiracy to traffic drugs.

According to Verdad Abierta, “Several sources consulted, who for security reasons asked not to use their names, contended that Gordillo, the number 11 Specialized Prosecutor Against Organized Crime, made serious discriminatory, racist, and condemnatory references.” The prosecutor reportedly referred to Colombia’s Pacific coast as “a nest of criminals” inhabited by an “extremely violent” population. He went on, “attacking human rights defenders by saying that we mask ourselves in subversive activities and narcotrafficking,” a source told Verdad Abierta.

Presiding judge Moisés Malaver was apparently convinced by the prosecutor’s arguments, as he sent Quiñones and Valencia to await trial in the Jamundí women’s prison outside Cali. “Although the decision was appealed,” Verad Abierta reported, “its resolution could take two months.”

Tumaco Violence Degrades Further with “Casas de Pique”

Nearly 20,000 people marched in the Pacific port city of Tumaco, in Nariño near the Ecuador border, on April 27 to demand an end to violence between an assortment of dissident guerrilla bands, the ELN, and organized crime groups. La Silla Vacía noted that the march was organized mainly by the mayor’s office, the Catholic church, and the local Chamber of Commerce, with little participation of civil-society groups.

Tumaco’s police had been celebrating a streak of 25 days without a homicide in the city’s urban core (population about 100,000), even though it sits along the busiest cocaine trafficking route in Colombia. Local Police Chief Col. José Palomino credited a security crackdown including 24-hour military patrols of neighborhoods.

However, La Silla reported, “other sources don’t dismiss the possibility that homicides have been replaced with disappearances that, according to three sources, have shot upward.”

Many of the disappeared, it seems, are being tortured and dismembered alive in so-called “chop houses” (casas de pique) in the midst of Tumaco neighborhoods. This is a return to a practice that horrified many circa 2014, when reports emerged of gangs and paramilitaries using casas de pique in the larger Pacific port of Buenaventura.

The grisly news comes from the government Internal-Affairs Office (Procuraduría), whose Land Restitution unit issued an as-yet unpublished report documenting the existence of at least seven such houses in Tumaco. At least one may be operated by the “United Guerrillas of the Pacific,” a FARC dissident group headed by alias “David,” and at least one more by the “Oliver Sinisterra Front” dissidents headed by Walter Artizala alias “Guacho.” After disappearing and chopping up their victims, the groups take the bodies onto boats and dump them in the open sea.

“It’s a strategy to discipline people,” Internal Affairs chief (Procurador) Fernando Carrillo said. A Tumaco-based investigator told La Silla Vacía that most victims are “snitches” who gave information about the criminal groups, or people who didn’t make extortion payments.

Meanwhile in rural Tumaco, or perhaps just over the border in Ecuador, the dissident group headed by “Guacho” continues to hold two Ecuadorian citizens hostage. The group also continues to hold the remains of two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver, whom it kidnapped and killed in March. Ecuador’s government received an apparent message from Guacho early in the week asking that security forces pull out to create a “humanitarian corridor” to allow the group to free its captives and hand over the bodies.

Nothing has since happened, though. By the end of the week, Ecuador’s presidency secretary, Juan Sebastián Roldán, told a local television outlet, “We don’t have contact with the criminals,” and said that the situation of the two kidnapped people is in Colombian hands because they are not on Ecuadorian soil.

Violence in Catatumbo

Transportation and commerce resumed in the Catatumbo region of northeastern Colombia on April 30 after the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), a small but locally strong guerrilla group, lifted an “armed stoppage” that prohibited vehicles from transiting and businesses from opening for at least two weeks. The situation in the region remains tense, though, as the EPL and ELN, which have been in open combat since mid-March, continue to fight.

Norte de Santander human rights ombudsman Nélson Arévalo told El Colombiano that the historically conflictive coca-growing region had returned to “a semi-tranquility …because the conflict between those two illegal groups continues and may generate more displacement. For example, in the last several hours new combats have been reported.” Arévalo said that many of the thousands of people displaced by lack of food during the armed stoppage might now return to their homes, but that those who displaced for humanitarian reasons might remain in their places of refuge.

In a report for The Guardian, reporter Mathew Charles visited the region, and noted that much of the fighting seeks to occupy parts of Catatumbo abandoned by the FARC’s 33rd Front, which demobilized in early 2017.

Down the road, in the town of El Tarra, a group of locals gathered in the midday heat to call for peace. “The guerrillas should be fighting for the people, not against us. With Farc, we knew where we stood. They had their laws and they’d sort out any problems we had. Since they’ve gone, it’s just got worse,” said one woman.
Hovering above the protest is a Colombian army helicopter. “This is as close as the government gets,” said Álvaro, 22, pointing upwards.

Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, visiting the Catatumbo municipality of Tibú, said that security forces there continue to carry out a campaign called “Sparta,” begun since January. Villegas said that security forces in that time have captured 168 members of the ELN and other groups.

The two presidential candidates who are furthest to the right on the political spectrum, frontrunner Iván Duque and Germán Vargas Lleras, have both paid recent visits to Catatumbo, a region where voters overwhelmingly supported the peace accord in a October 2016 referendum.

Vargas advised the region’s armed groups “to take full advantage of the three months they have left, because on August 7 [inauguration day] we’re going to fight them like they’ve never imagined.” Duque promised that “I will hold my first security council meeting in Tibú.” Both spoke as well about infrastructure investments. Neither mentioned forced eradication of coca, including aerial herbicide spraying, an option that both strongly favor. Past eradication campaigns have drawn fierce protests from organized farmers in Catatumbo.

In-Depth Reading

The day ahead: May 9, 2018

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

After giving two talks about Colombia around town yesterday (which I think were well received), I’m in the office most of the day today. I’ve got an interview scheduled mid-morning, and lunch with a reporter. Other than that, I’ll be in the office, writing my paper for the upcoming Latin American Studies Association conference (also about Colombia’s peace process), finishing a weekly Colombia peace update, and perhaps writing something short-form about border security.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Prensa ELN photo at El Espectador (Colombia). Caption: “En La Habana (Cuba) ya está el equipo negociador de paz del Eln.”

(Even more here)

May 8, 2018

Brazil, Venezuela

Bosses from remote fazendas — large ranches — scout the camps, making false promises about room, board and wages to abscond with laborers to farms and mines

Central America Regional

The administration isn’t claiming that apprehensions in the El Paso sector rose less compared to other parts of the border as a result of zero tolerance. It’s claiming they dropped by nearly two-thirds. And that’s simply not the case


Luego de recibir duros cuestionamientos de la Sociedad de Agricultores de Colombia, el gobierno nacional congeló la expedición del decreto que le daría vía libre a la entrega de tierras para los excombatientes

Si bien el jefe del partido Farc dice que Misael estaba en actividades “honradas”, agrega que estas “sin duda lo colocaron en una situación de alto riesgo”

Las personas que integran dicho organismo anunciaron que estarán en 10 macrorregiones, 26 lugares y tendrán comisiones móviles

According to authors Omar Rojas Bolaños and Fabian Leonardo Benavides, approximately 10,000 civilians were executed by the army between 2002 and 2010 – more than three times the number tallied by human rights groups

Colombia, Cuba

A 20 días de las elecciones Presidenciales, Gobierno y guerrilla instalan el quinto ciclo de negociaciones de paz con el objetivo de concretar un acuerdo de cese bilateral del fuego y definir el mecanismo de participación de la sociedad civil

Colombia, Venezuela

The $18.5 million in bilateral aid to Colombia is on top of the more than $21 million the U.S. has already pledged to governments and organizations in the region dealing with the fallout

El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras

The warnings were transmitted to top State Department officials last year in embassy cables now at the center of an investigation by Senate Democrats


“La experiencia de la Fuerza Nacional Antiextorsión nos ha inspirado para saber cómo coordinar efectivamente para lo que viene para las próximas semanas y meses”, señaló Hernández


“Por cada arma confiscada hay 15 que no (…) Si las armas duran en promedio 12 años de vida útil, estamos hablando de al menos 3.6 millones de armas en circulación en el país”

Estas son las propuestas que expusieron Ricardo Anaya (PAN-PRD-MC), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Morena-PT-PES), el independiente Jaime Rodríguez y el candidato del PRI-PVEM-Panal, José Antonio Meade

Las activistas acusaron que “el Estado mexicano ha estigmatizado y desprestigiado a las víctimas, así como aquellos que ejercen la labor de defensa de los derechos humanos”

In a state dotted with mass graves and the highest number of disappearances in Mexico — officially 5,989, though many say the actual number is far higher — the project has rekindled hope and stirred traumatic memories


High desertion rates at bases in Caracas and the countryside are complicating security plans for the presidential election in 13 days

Western Hemisphere Regional

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) has voiced concerns that the deployments would take away dollars that the Pentagon has said are needed to make the military more ready for combat

Administration officials worried they wouldn’t have the resources to detain thousands more people arriving at the border, as well as house children split from their parents

He was responding to the U.S. attorney general’s announcement that the Department of Homeland Security is now referring 100 percent of unauthorized border crossings for prosecution

In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where most families have been crossing the border in the last five years, the Border Patrol reported 462 cases of fraud among children and family migrants and prosecuted 60 cases this fiscal year

Records of paramilitary atrocities are “moth food” today

As many of you remember, in 2006 Colombia embarked on the so-called “Justice and Peace process” after 32,000 members of the paramilitaries (the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia or AUC) demobilized. (A top ex-paramilitary leader recently said that as many as 12,000 of those weren’t even paramilitaries, just people rounded up at the last minute.)

At their late-1990s and early-2000s height, the AUC was committing more human rights abuses than the guerrillas. While the FARC and ELN led in categories like kidnapping, landmine use, and child recruitment, paramilitaries—often working with the military’s acquiescence—were committing more murders, massacres, displacements, and torture.

Of the 32,000 demobilized “paras,” a subset believed to have committed war crimes was to undergo full judicial confessions, and then to pay a reduced sentence of up to eight years in prison.

So whatever happened? This paragraph, from an April 2017 report by Colombia’s Antonio Nariño Project (PAN), is devastating.

As of December 26, 2016, 7,531 applicants [for lighter penalties in exchange for full confessions in the Justice and Peace system] had given confessions, and 49 sentences had been handed down. According to the Prosecutor-General’s Office [Fiscalía], there are 76,981 technical records of these confessions. However, in accordance with the law [Law 975 of 2005, known as the Justice and Peace Law], only people directly involved in the events described may have access to these technical records. Journalists and media outlets are excluded. Sebastián Salamanca, the PAN’s coordinator, says that “the hearings’ video archives are rotting in offices and we citizens can’t access them; those documents, necessary to know the truth about what happened in the war, today are moth food.”

Hat tip to scholar Camilo Tamayo Gómez for pointing this out in a recent column in Medellín’s El Colombiano.

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