Adam Isacson

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


July 2018

10 days of vacation

Saturday the 28th through Monday the 6th: I’m going (mostly) offline. My wife had a milestone birthday earlier in the year, and we decided to celebrate it with a family trip to Great Britain, a country that neither of us knows well.

If I’m vacationing properly, posts to this site and elsewhere will be infrequent to non-existent. See you in August.

Who are Colombia’s “Black Eagles?”

“The weeks following the [June 17] elections witnessed an upsurge in killings of social leaders,” reads last Friday’s UN Secretary-General report on Colombia. The killings have come alongside an even larger wave of death threats sent to political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and social leaders in just about every corner of the country.

Often, the threats come from an apparent paramilitary group calling itself the “Black Eagles” (Águilas Negras). This name has been attached to death threats since shortly after 2006, when the old United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary umbrella organization dissolved.

Curiously, though, nobody ever actually sees Black Eagles anywhere in Colombia. Especially in the last several years, there is nowhere in the country where a group using that name actually controls territory. The Colombian think tank INDEPAZ found, for 2016:

The presence of this structure was detected in 41 municipalities [counties] in 19 departments, the highest since 2012. Its actions are concentrated on threatening social leaders, human rights defenders, social movements and collectives, and others. In recent years, its presence has been disarticulated, and hasn’t shown control over any zone in particular.… The increase in its presence coincides with the largest year [then, 2016] for killings of social leaders and human rights defenders.

INDEPAZ map shows counties where Black Eagles issued threats in 2016.

Who really are the Black Eagles, then? In at least some cases, they might be members of Colombia’s security forces.

In their 2016 book Los Retos del Posconflicto, León Valencia and Ariel Ávila of the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation contend that the “Black Eagles” don’t really exist: they are a name that others use to threaten and intimidate social leaders and human rights defenders.

In particular, they add an allegation that I’ve heard in numerous conversations with Colombian human rights defenders, but haven’t seen in print elsewhere: that some of those making threats as “Black Eagles” are elements of military or police intelligence. On page 120:

The “Urabeños” sought to subordinate by force, or to establish alliances with, existing armed groups while allowing them to stay in place. In some zones where they established a presence, they even used other names to carry out their criminal activities. For example, to threaten social and political leaders, in some zones they used the name “Black Eagles,” a denomination that has also served intelligence sectors within the security forces to intimidate and to create confusion, especially during the last two years due to the advances of the peace process.

The day ahead: July 26, 2018

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

I’ll be at the State Department for a while this afternoon for a regular NGO check-in on Colombia’s human rights situation. And I’ll end the workday early to bid farewell to Sebastián Bernal, our stalwart program assistant on WOLA’s Colombia Program, who is leaving us for grad school.

The day ahead: July 25, 2018

I’m in and out of meetings all day. (How to contact me)

Having lunch with a journalist, a dentist appointment in the afternoon, and various office check-ins. Also, I’m going away for 10 days’ vacation starting Saturday and am realizing there’s a lot of small commitments to nail down between now and then.

All of that on top of getting our next border report out the door, while keeping an eye on the Uribe resignation in Colombia and the House appropriators marking up the homeland security bill. It’s a rather scattered day.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

Last Week in Colombia’s Peace Process

(Week of July 1-7)

Social Leader Killings Begin Getting Mass Attention

At least four local social movement leaders were killed during the week:

  • Felicinda Santamaría in Quibdó, Chocó
  • Luis Barrios in Palmar de Varela, Atlántico
  • Margarita Estupiñán in Tumaco, Nariño
  • Ana María Cortés in Cáceres, Antioquia

The latter two had worked on the presidential campaign of left-of-center candidate Gustavo Petro.

The fresh wave of murders turned intense media attention on the post-conflict vulnerability of independent civil-society leaders, especially in territories from which the FARC withdrew after the 2016 peace accord. Colombia’s human rights ombudsman’s office (Defensoría) counts 311 leaders and human rights defenders killed between January 2016 and June 2018, about one every three days. The think-tank INDEPAZ, working with the Marcha Patriótica and Cumbre Agraria civil-society groups, issued a report counting 123 murders between January 1 and July 5, 2018—that is, two every three days.

According to INDEPAZ, 80.5 percent of this year’s victims have been members of campesino organizations, Community Action Boards (local advisory committees set up by a 1960s law), or ethnic community organizations. The report estimates that 13 percent of murders had something to do with coca crops—either participation in crop substitution or opposition to forced eradication. It finds that 83.2 percent had something to do with disputes over land, territory, or natural resources.

Violence against social leaders and human rights defenders has reached the level of “a humanitarian crisis,” said Carlos Guevara, coordinator of Somos Defensores, an organization that seeks to protect social leaders. Guevara contended that the killings seek to close spaces for citizen participation that opened up after the peace accord. “The violent arms [brazos violentos] want to shut that up, to stop people from participating politically, on the Community Action Boards, demanding land restitution, defending labor rights.”

“We went to the Atlantic coast, the southwest, center-west, Arauca, Meta, Guaviare, and what human rights defenders tell us is that the security forces have a plan tortuga [a ‘turtle plan’ or deliberate work slowdown] that allows things like these to happen in the territories. The Early Warning System works to locate the Gulf Clan [the “Urabeños” or “Gaitanistas” neo-paramilitary group] in a place, but it seems that they [the security forces] are not then doing everything possible to confront them.”

Social leaders fear “a militarization of peace,” Guevara told Semana magazine, which interpreted that to mean “that the next government’s policies once again empower the security forces, placing them above mayors and thus diminishing participation spaces for social organizations.”

“We don’t have a state response,” Guevara said. “There is a massive violence situation, I can’t say that it’s generalized or that it’s systematic, because at the moment we can’t prove it, but it is certainly massive.”

On the evening of July 6, thousands of Colombians gathered in cities and town squares to demand a halt to the killings. The murder that seems to have inspired the most mobilization was that of Ana María Cortés, killed on July 4 by gunmen as she dined in a cafeteria in Cáceres, in Antioquia department’s conflictive Bajo Cauca region. Cortés had coordinated Gustavo Petro’s campaign in Cáceres, and the defeated candidate, now opposition senator, tweeted his outrage. Petro also tweeted that Cortés had been threatened by the police commander of Cáceres. Antioquia police said they opened an investigation.

Tensions were compounded by a tweet from Colombia’s Defense Ministry insinuating, without evidence, that Cortés had ties to the Urabeños. Those who knew her denied that immediately.

Colombia’s prosecutor-general, Néstor Humberto Martínez, claimed (but did not present) “irrefutable and categorical” proof pointing to the “Caparrapos,” a gang that has splintered off from the Gulf Clan, with about 100-150 members, as Cortés’s killers. The Caparrappos and Gulf Clan are violently contesting control of the Bajo Cauca, a strategic zone for coca cultivation and cocaine production and transshipment. Interior Minister Guillermo Rivera alleged that the Caparrapos are killing social leaders in order to draw the authorities’ attention and thus avoid direct confrontation with the much larger Gulf Clan.

Luis Eduardo Llinás, who worked with Cortés on the Petro campaign in Cáceres, told El Tiempo that she had been receiving threats and intimidation since March. She had denounced the threats before the municipal ombudsman and was “very concerned and tense.”

Guevara, of Somos Defensores, was among those criticizing the government’s sluggish reaction to the new wave of killings. “It would seem that the institutions became silent after the [June 17] elections, and they’e watching from the sidelines as these social leaders and human rights defenders are being killed.”

By July 5, President Santos tweeted that he would convene a July 10 meeting of the government’s National Security Guarantees Committee, adding, “The Fiscalia has important results. I repeat my instruction to act with full force against those who attack social leaders. We won’t let our guard down.” Santos called on the security forces to increase their presence in zones where killings have occurred.

Interior Minister Rivera said that those responsible for the killings “are clearly organizations dedicated to narcotrafficking, dedicated to illegal mining and to theft of land,” and recognized that more effective efforts are needed to protect people. He refused to say that the social-leader killings are “systematic,” which according to Colombia’s Supreme Court would mean that there is a carefully orchestrated national plan behind them. “If recognizing a systematic nature could avoid the killing of social leaders, we would have recognized it a long time ago,” Rivera said. Instead, he said the government should focus on how to improve physical protection of threatened leaders.

The official protective response to threats has been plagued by delays. The Constitutional Court ordered the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit (UNP) to resolve social leaders’ protection requests within 30 days, and noted that protection “should go beyond that offered by the UNP.”

The UN verification mission in Colombia issued a statement making clear that it “vehemently rejects and condemns the killings of human rights defenders and community and social leaders.” The new director of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ field office in Colombia, Alberto Brunori, published a July 7 column in El Espectador, and an interview in El Tiempo, calling for urgent action to protect leaders and identify the killings’ masterminds.

The U.S. embassy made no public comment on the issue.

“Censurable discourse is becoming louder in the country,” reads an El Espectador editorial,

“stating, from social networks, that we need not lament the death of murdered social leaders, associating them with the guerrillas. Are we once again going to commit the historic error of stigmatizing those who work to give voice to the marginalized? It should be enough to look at the story of every victim to find that they are people committed to democracy and struggling, in clearly hostile environments, for their communities’ rights.”

Petro called on his erstwhile opponent, President-Elect Iván Duque, to denounce the killings. “Your silence allows the empowerment of the assassins.”

Tweeting from Washington, where he was on a several-day visit, Duque stated “I categorically reject the violent acts that have presented themselves in recent days in Colombia with social leaders and the violence seen against people who carry out political leadership.” From Spain later in the week, he tweeted, “We have to guarantee security for social leaders. No citizen should be intimidated by violence. We call on the authorities to advance investigations and bring to justice these crimes’ authors.”

Duque Finishes Washington Visit

The President-Elect spent the first several days of the week finishing a lengthy (June 27-July 5) visit to Washington, a city where he lived for many years. Before the July 4 holiday, Duque had a face-to-face meeting with Vice President Mike Pence.

In this and other official meetings (detailed in last week’s update), Duque reportedly heard a great deal of concern about Colombia’s increasing illicit coca crop and about the crisis in Venezuela. It is less evident that he heard many concerns about implementation of the 2016 peace accord.

Duque has been vocally critical of Venezuela’s regime. His messaging in Washington, though, was colored by an Associated Press report, published July 5, revealing that President Donald Trump had repeatedly brought up the possibility of military action in the neighboring country during conversations in August and September 2017. “I’ve never spoken of military interventions, or of encouraging military interventions,” Duque told reporters. “What must be done is to exercise diplomatic pressure against the dictatorship.”

Duque called for Latin American governments to support OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro’s hard line on Venezuela, including his finding, in a May report, that “a reasonable foundation” exists to accuse Maduro and ten other Venezuelan officials of crimes against humanity and to bring them before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

In July 2017, then-Senator Duque led an effort to denounce Venezuela’s regime before the ICC. If he persists in this claim as president, it will be the first time since the Court’s 2002 founding that one state has denounced another before the ICC.

Duque expressed to his reporters a desire that Almagro and the OAS become the main vector for Western Hemisphere diplomatic pressure on Venezuela. He called for Colombia’s exit from UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, a body dating back to the mid-2000s that today is moribund due to sharp ideological divisions across the continent. “UNASUR has really been an organization that has converted into an accomplice of the Venezuelan dictatorship,” Duque said. In April, six UNASUR member states (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru) suspended their participation.

Duque said he invited Vice-President Pence to attend his inauguration on August 7, and that he got no positive or negative response. “We want the United States to have the highest possible representation at our inauguration,” he added.

The President-Elect’s visit was also colored by the White House’s June 25 release of estimates showing yet another annual increase in Colombia’s coca crop in 2017. The topic of Colombian coca and cocaine production came up frequently in his meetings with U.S. officialdom.

In his remarks before reporters, Duque endorsed the outgoing Santos administration’s plan to increase forced eradication by employing low-altitude herbicide-spraying drones. He sought to make clear, though, that this would be one of a series of tools his government would employ. He referred specifically to financing productive projects for coca-growing families—but without referring to implementing Chapter 4 of the 2016 peace accord, which is already serving as a framework for financing such projects (although implementation of these projects is lagging badly behind).

While he did not offer specifics about all of the tools his strategy would use—or how that strategy might differ from what the peace accord foresees—Duque said he told U.S. officials that it would take about two years to begin showing concrete results. He said that the Americans were supportive: “Instead of talking about commitments in terms of numbers of hectares, what I received was a great show of support for our security agenda, and our agenda to confront illicit crops in Colombia.” He added that he would ask the U.S. government to increase its annual aid outlay, both for counternarcotics and for accord implementation.

Duque would not commit to re-establishing a program, suspended in 2015, to spray herbicides with aircraft. Doing so would require reversing a Constitutional Court sentence banning this practice, with the herbicide glyphosate, as too inaccurate and thus posing a potential health risk.

On July 5 Duque left for Spain, where he attended a conference about technological and economic innovation that also featured former U.S. president Barack Obama. Duque and Obama met, according to Duque’s Twitter account, and talked “about our country’s security and economic development challenges.”

Seven People Massacred in Southern Cauca

Unknown assailants dumped the bodies of seven men, roughly 25 to 35 years of age, on the side of a dirt road in the municipality of Argelia, Cauca, in the pre-dawn hours of July 3. They had apparently been killed in adjacent El Tambo municipality. Those responsible for the massacre are unknown, but its scale drew attention to Argelia, a troubled municipality of 12,000 people in south-central Cauca, along the border with Nariño department, that had been strongly under FARC influence during the armed conflict.

Cauca is the number-two department, after Antioquia, for killings of social leaders. A week earlier in Argelia, a group calling itself the “People’s Cleansing Command” circulated a pamphlet threatening to kill anyone who sells or uses drugs. This is the second large-scale killing in Argelia so far this year; masked men killed four people at a liquor store in January.

The commander of the Colombian Army’s 29th Brigade blamed the ELN for the massacre, which occurred in a zone of the guerrilla group’s influence. The ELN quickly issued a statement denying any role.

On July 4, Colombia’s National Police announced that two of the bodies had been identified as those of demobilized FARC members: one who had abandoned the FARC disarmament zone in Policarpa, Nariño, not far from Argelia; and one who had abandoned training to be a FARC bodyguard with the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit.

Argelia sits in a geographically strategic zone for organized crime, along a corridor between Cauca’s mountain highlands and Pacific-coast piedmont. About 3,500 hectares of coca are grown there, making it Cauca’s second most heavily planted municipality. Armed groups active there include the ELN, FARC dissidents, and the Gulf Clan or Urabeños neo-paramilitary network.

Transitional Justice System Calls on FARC to Appear in Kidnapping Hearing

The Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), the body established by the peace accord to judge war crimes committed during the armed conflict, is beginning to work in earnest. With a preliminary hearing on July 13, it is to launch Case 001, covering kidnappings committed by the FARC between 1993 and 2012. The JEP’s Recognition of Truth Chamber has called on 31 former FARC leaders to appear.

The ex-guerrillas—or their legal representatives if they are unable to appear in person—are to be notified about the beginning of the case, and will be given copies of evidence against them, much of it in a report, “Illegal Retention of Persons by the FARC-EP,” that the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) compiled from case files. The information covers between 2,500 and 8,500 kidnappings or extortions that the FARC committed during these 20 years. The Fiscalía report includes 312 sentences for kidnappings that the regular judicial system has already handed out. Of these, 68 involve members of the ex-guerrillas’ Secretariat and General Staff. The JEP is also working off of reports from the Free Country Foundation, an NGO focused on anti-kidnapping, and the governmental but autonomous Center for Historical Memory.

Among the 31 guerrillas called to appear are 6 who are to be legislators in the congressional session that begins on July 20. Also among them will be maximum FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño alias Timochenko.

After the hearing, according to the chamber’s president, Julieta Lemaitre, “The accused will be given a prudent amount of time to prepare, and then we will call them to give voluntary confessions to provide a report on what they received. The chamber is also considering a hearing with victims.” In the case of kidnapping-disappearances, the JEP hopes that ex-combatants will help identify where remains are located.

Presumed Dissident Ex-FARC Leader “Rambo” Captured in Caquetá

Luis Eduardo Carvajal, alias “Rambo,” could be the second FARC leader subject to extradition to the United States for crimes allegedly committed after the peace accord went into effect. (The first is former top negotiator Jesús Santrich, currently imprisoned in Bogotá and wanted in New York for allegedly conspiring to ship 10 tons of cocaine.)

Police and Fiscalía personnel captured Carvajal in Puerto Rico municipality, in the southern department of Caquetá, sometime before July 4. He was wanted by U.S. authorities since before the peace accord went into effect, as he headed the powerful Daniel Aldana Mobile Column, which was particularly active in the southwestern department of Nariño. Nariño leads all Colombian departments in coca production and probably cocaine production.

Carvajal spent 35 years in the FARC, 15 of them commanding the Daniel Aldana. He controlled much, or most, illegal activity in the Pacific port of Tumaco and nearby zones along the Colombia-Ecuador border, which is the busiest cocaine transshipment corridor in the country. Authorities accuse his unit of shipping about 90 tons of cocaine per year, and of inviting Mexican narcotraffickers to operate in Tumaco. He and 300 other fighters disarmed and demobilized in Nariño during the first half of 2017. On January 18, 2018, he registered his case with the JEP, the transitional justice system.

It was widely suspected by 2018 that “Rambo” had gone rogue and joined FARC dissident groups active in the region’s cocaine trade. But his profile was very low, far lower than that of Walter Arizara alias “Guacho,” leader of the so-called Oliver Sinisterra Front FARC dissident group active in and around Tumaco. Guacho attracted enormous attention earlier this year when his men kidnapped and killed two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver. But Carvajal’s whereabouts and activities were a mystery.

His arrest reportedly owes to testimony given by Prado Álava, referred to as “the Pablo Escobar of Ecuador,” whom Colombia extradited to the United States in April.

“Rambo’s risk of criminalization was extremely high,” reports Insight Crime. “He allegedly returned quickly to criminal activities well-armed with strategic knowledge about contacts, modus operandi and drug trafficking routes. But this time he seems to have sought more benefits for himself.” The next step in his case is for the JEP to certify that the allegations against him cover a time period after the December 2016 ratification of the FARC peace accord. Upon that certification, Carvajal could be subject to extradition to the United States.

Framework Accord Implementation Plan Crosses Another Bureaucratic Hurdle

Eighteen months after the peace accord’s ratification, the Colombian Presidency’s National Planning Department has produced a document, called a CONPES, that is an essential step to commit the government to spending long-term resources on its implementation. Based on a Framework Implementation Plan issued in March, the CONPES divides responsibilities among government agencies for activities whose cost could add up to about 129.5 trillion Colombian pesos (US$44.5 billion) by 2031, 15 years after the peace accord’s ratification.

Another CONPES approved in late June covers the reintegration of former FARC members. It commits the government to 6.3 trillion pesos (US$2.2 billion) in spending on reintegration by 2026. According to El Tiempo, as of June 13 there were 4,082 former FARC members still residing in 24 “Territorial Training and Reconciliation Spaces (ETCRs),” the sites where they turned in their weapons and began their reintegration, plus about 1,000 family members. (This is out of 7,126 who entered these zones and disarmed there.) These individuals presumably seek to demobilize collectively, staying together. Another 6,044 former guerrillas, including militias and those released from prison, have shown an interest in demobilizing individually. The government was scheduled to stop providing food to residents of the ETCRs on June 30, but this has been extended until the end of August.

The CONPES on reintegration commits government agencies to report every six months on compliance with their assigned tasks. “Unlike the earlier reinsertion policy, this takes very much into account not just the strengthening of individual capacities, but also the collective aspect,” said Mauricio Restrepo, an advisor to Colombia’s Reincorporation and Normalization Agency (ARN), who helped draft the document. Another ARN advisor, Alfredo Gómez, told El Tiempo that the new policy “has a particular emphasis on rural areas, due to ex-guerrillas’ interest in carrying out agricultural tasks, since the majority are of campesino origin.”

The incoming government of Iván Duque can issue new CONPES documents altering these spending commitments. Unless it does so, however, Colombian law requires this and future governments to carry out the activities laid out in the CONPES that were published this week and in late June.

In-Depth Reading

The day ahead: July 24, 2018

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

It’s my one day of the week with no meetings or events (though I’ll have an eye on today’s House hearing about the National Guard deployment at the border). I plan to do a lot of writing about Colombia and catching up on smaller tasks. The next installment of our border report is in a near-final draft and largely out of my hands at this point.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

O. Navarrete photo at La Prensa (Nicaragua). Caption: “Casi tres horas duraron las dos marchas azul y blanco en Managua, donde miles de personas exigieron justicia, democracia y libertad en el país, marcado por la represión gubernamental.”

(Even more here)

July 23, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

It’s no wonder — the violence and lack of economic opportunity in those countries is incomprehensible to those familiar with the kind of grinding, but ultimately survivable, poverty in the U.S.

ICE has maintained that the form only applied to migrants with final orders of removal, and not to those who had pending asylum claims. But, in the detention facilities, the lines around asylum—who could claim it, and when—had already blurred

Potentially indicating that hundreds of parents have been deported despite a federal order to reunify families last month

Here is a list of options, compiled by AQ in consultation with security experts around the region. Many clearly do work. others may have positive effects on society, but their impact on the murder rate is still unclear


“We know that this transformation won’t be easy,” Macri said. “Profound changes are never easy. But this is the first step to build the modern, professional and equipped armed forces that Argentina needs”

Como parte de los nuevos roles, tendrán también como misión la participación en la “custodia y protección de los objetivos estratégicos”


A intervenção federal na Segurança Pública do Rio de Janeiro deve ir até 31 de dezembro, mas os militares já planejam a transição para o que virá depois

If the ballot box does not bring change quickly enough, some prominent former generals warn that military leaders may feel compelled to step in and reboot the political system by force

For Roseno and many other left-leaning politicians, this has come as a shock. “We have discovered that crime is about much more than poverty,” he said


Paramilitary groups have rushed to fill the power vacuum in former Farc-held territory. This pushed up the death toll of land defenders in Colombia last year to 32

Two of the former leaders of the disarmed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia didn’t take their seats in Congress on Friday

El saludo de Uribe y Victoria Sandino, la breve charla de José Obdulio Gaviria con la viuda de Manuel Marulanda, y el paso de largo de Roy Barreras, fueron algunas de las situaciones que vivieron los excombatientes ahora como congresistas

At least 311 rights defenders and activists have been killed in Colombia since the beginning of 2016

Oswaldo Taquez, presidente de la junta de acción comunal de la vereda El Remolino, de Orito (Putumayo) recibió 5 disparos luego de salir de una reunión en la que se evaluaban los resultados del programa de sustitución de cultivos

Desde diciembre de 2016 hasta el 3 de julio del presente año fueron asesinados 65 líderes indígenas, 5.730 fueron afectados por desplazamiento forzado, 8.245 sufrieron por confinamientos


The draft document, which still must be approved in a referendum, encourages foreign investment, opens the door to same-sex marriage, strengthens the judicial system and creates a prime minister role

El Salvador

All they knew is that crossing the border has gotten harder, and that any attempt to claim asylum is probably futile

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

At a Brownsville bar along the expressway, a customs officer told me that asylum was a “beautiful thing,” that should not be awarded to migrants from Central America simply in search of a better life

Guatemala, Mexico

Here are some of the people who cross the river to make a living — and to remake their lives


La Fnamp es la encargada de combatir las diferentes formas del delito. Se solicitará, a través del Consejo de Defensa y Seguridad, que se hagan capturas a cualquier hora con apoyo de jueces y fiscales


Para algunos de los integrantes del grupo, entrevistados por Proceso, la amnistía ofrecida por López Obrador durante su campaña podría traducirse en mera impunidad si no hay una transformación a fondo del sistema de procuración de justicia

Mexico is patently unsuitable as a place of refuge for most migrants, especially those from Central America, who suffer exploitation, violence and sexual assault almost routinely as they make their way north

El gobierno de Héctor Astudillo Flores negoció con la guardia comunitaria de Teloloapan vinculada a Guerreros Unidos, la liberación de la vía federal Iguala-Ciudad Altamirano -que permaneció bloqueada durante más de 10 horas-, a cambio de la creación de un frente policiaco militar contra el grupo antagónico La Familia Michoacana

The Interior Department said over the weekend there were 15,973 homicides in the first six months of the year, compared to 13,751 killings in the same period of 2017

In a conciliatory letter to President Donald Trump, Mexico’s president-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said he is ready to start a new stage in U.S.-Mexico relations and seek a “common path”


Los expertos consideran que fueron diseñadas para castigar a los ciudadanos que protestan en las calles y a quienes los respaldan

The Roman Catholic Church is on the front lines of an escalating conflict between the increasingly authoritarian government of President Daniel Ortega and the broad-based opposition that wants him gone

Ortega has tried to undercut the Catholic Church, seeing it as a threat to his continued rule

La ayuda estaría destinada a apoyar la labor de organizaciones de la sociedad civil, defensores de derechos humanos, líderes emergentes y medios independientes

The day ahead: July 23, 2018

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

After a morning staff meeting, lunch with a Colombian human rights expert, and coffee with a colleague who works on refugee issues, I’ll be finishing edits on our next report about the border and working on an (overdue) Colombia news update.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

July 20, 2018


Colombian campesinos in Briceño, Antioquia have voluntarily uprooted their coca plants in exchange for government support to grow new crops. But with much aid delayed, the local economy has collapsed

Como un importante gesto calificó el padre de Roux, quien preside la Comisión de la Verdad, la visita que tuvieron el miércoles con el presidente electo Iván Duque

Los hombres armados se identificaron como miembros de un grupo de disidencias de las Farc, el frente 40, al mando de alias Calarcá


Once they’re in Tapachula, the migrants have made it to Mexico, but that doesn’t mean they are safe. For the majority of migrants, especially those continuing north, the real dangers are just beginning


Despite growing international censure, Nicaragua’s government appears to be digging in

Western Hemisphere Regional

Of more than 2,500 parents identified as potentially eligible for having their children returned to them, 848 have been interviewed and cleared for reunification

Separations that took minutes require weeks to repair, coordinated among multiple federal agencies and layered with background checks and fraud safeguards

The day ahead: July 20, 2018

I’ll be intermittently reachable throughout the day. (How to contact me)

Today’s my first day all week without either a full calendar or an immediate deadline. We’re meeting this morning to finalize the second installment of the border report we posted on Monday. Other than a quick press interview with a Colombian outlet, I’m in the office the rest of the day, finishing that second report, working on a Colombia update, and trying to get through a backlog of unanswered correspondence.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

July 19, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

“Ironically, these policies that claim to be trying to clamp down and secure the border and stop smuggling and stop traffickers… actually empower the traffickers, the cartels, the smugglers”

I’m emotionally raw from the trip. How our country treats immigrants coming to our nation — many fleeing violence and oppression in their home countries — will haunt me for a long time

The most extreme proposal yet would upend the system by eliminating the use of offices along the border, known as “ports of entry,” as asylum processing centers

“The likely alternative — detention of children with a parent — also poses high risk of harm to children and their families,” said the doctors

But the intelligence report and another email from the acting secretary last year to White House chief of staff John Kelly add to other uncovered documents that raise serious questions about whether the Trump administration ignored its own experts’ analysis


Con este caso la JEP se juega su legitimidad a futuro

Es más bien el intento de un gran sector de la sociedad de esconder su participación en la guerra y los crímenes que promovieron

Su liderazgo y activismo duró varios años: creó una empresa comunitaria y uno de los primeros consejos de víctimas del Cauca. Estaba al orden para dialogar siempre con el Ejército y evitar acciones violentas

The Commission stresses that the State needs to take urgent action to investigate acts of violence against defenders and to punish their perpetrators and masterminds, as well as to prevent smear campaigns and attacks against them

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

Este nuevo ‘brote’ de detenciones coincide con la crisis’ de niños migrantes de Estados Unidos

Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

These migrants set out walking from Frontera Corozal to Palenque: a five- to six-day journey of 101 miles on the main road


Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, El Z-40, exlíder del Cártel del Golfo (CDG) y fundador de Los Zetas, quien se encontraba preso en el Centro Federal de Readaptación Social (Cefereso) 9 de Juárez, Chihuahua, fue trasladado a una prisión en Texas

  • Jorge Carrasco Araizaga, Espias (Proceso (Mexico), July 19, 2018).

Si Osorio e Ímaz advirtieron lo que se veía venir en Iguala, nunca se lo dijeron a Peña porque no se hizo nada. La inteligencia del Ejército tampoco. O tal vez sí se lo dijeron, pero no se hizo nada


El MESENI constató y documentó el despliegue de operativos y actos de represión en contra de la población de diferentes ciudades con las que se mantenía una diálogo para alcanzar próximamente una disolución espontánea y pacífica de tranques

Tengo 25 años y mi generación creció escuchando las hazañas de un pueblo heroico que derrocó a una dictadura que asesinaba a jóvenes por pensar distinto. Nunca pensamos que esas historias se repetirían

Este aniversario revolucionario es una conmemoración luctuosa en una Nicaragua convulsa por el alzamiento de buena parte de sus ciudadanos contra el presidente Daniel Ortega


Lo que pasó en menos de siete días empezó confirmando el párrafo con el que terminé la crónica anterior de esta investigación: “Creo que defender la investigación va a ser, en este caso, tan o más difícil que la investigación misma”

Video: Hearing on “Peace and Victims’ Rights in Colombia”

Here’s video, and here’s my written testimony, from this morning’s hearing about “Peace and Victims’ Rights in Colombia” in the House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. It was a great hearing, featuring three social leaders working on the front lines of peace accord implementation and inclusion in Colombia.

My role was to talk about future directions for U.S. policy. I suggested five:

  • Keep the focus on rural areas, especially government presence.
  • Keep victims at the center of programming and diplomatic support.
  • Uphold the justice system, and help make it work better.
  • Be more flexible with the ban on “material support” for ex-FARC.
  • Coca and Venezuela are priorities, but don’t lose sight of the central role of accord implementation.

Video: “The Origins of Cocaine” book event

Here is video of yesterday afternoon’s WOLA event with Paul Gootenberg and Liliana Dávalos of Stony Brook University. They’re the editors of The Origins of Cocaine, a new book that finds a striking overlap between today’s South American coca-growing areas and the zones where governments carried out failed development and colonization projects 50 years ago. I wrote an epilogue to the book looking at the present moment.

The discussion was lively and well informed. Paul is a historian, and Liliana is an evolutionary biologist, which made for a novel combination.

The day ahead: July 19, 2018

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

I’m testifying this morning at a hearing about Colombia in the House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. I’ll be alongside three human rights defenders from Colombia, who deserve the spotlight.

In the afternoon, I’ll be catching up on overdue correspondence and editing the second installment of our multi-part report on the current state of the border and migration.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

July 18, 2018


Mine detection technologies have progressed very little since they were first developed in the aftermath of World War II and are still almost primarily based on metal detection

“What were we supposed to write for credit history?” Mr. Villarraga asked with a short, sharp laugh, telling the story a few days later. “Or for employment?”

Desde la selva amazónica colombiana, entre Guaviare y Caquetá, alias ‘Gentil Duarte’ compartió con ‘Guacho’ sus planes para “seguir forjando el auténtico ejército revolucionario de las FARC-EP”

El excomandante del Ejército Mario Montoya es el oficial de más alto rango que ha pedido someterse a la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz

El vicepresidente Óscar Naranjo se reunió esta mañana con los representantes de la organización criminal. En el encuentro, los abogados recibieron los requisitos que deben cumplir


Mexico does not focus as much of its migration enforcement efforts at the physical border as the United States does

Seis mil 125 militares vigilaban y combatían la delincuencia en Tamaulipas, Nuevo León y SLP, mientras que 6 mil 119 se encontraban en Guerrero, zonas consideradas peligrosas


21 países del hemisferio aprobaron este miércoles una resolución que condena la represión y la violencia del régimen contra “el pueblo de Nicaragua”

The resolution exhorts the Government of Nicaragua “to support an electoral calendar jointly agreed to in the context of the National Dialogue process”

For weeks, the town of Masaya in Nicaragua has been the heart of an opposition movement seeking President Daniel Ortega’s ouster

Rubio dijo que tenía esperanzas que la situación de Nicaragua sería distinta al caso de Venezuela, y que Ortega iba a negociar (su salida) con elecciones anticipadas y legítimas

The Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018 requires the imposition of sanctions on Nicaraguan government officials responsible for the deaths of protestors, human rights violations and acts of corruption


“It’s contradictory when asking for this and then in your own backyard they’re separating families,” said one Latin American diplomat

“¿Hay un proceso de resignación, de aceptación de estas condiciones de sobrevivencia? Porque cada día te adaptas a menos, es la cubanización de Venezuela”

Western Hemisphere Regional

We asked Rio Grande Valley attorney Jennifer Harbury why legal entry is so difficult—and what challenges asylum seekers face when they are turned away

At the halfway mark of this year, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM), America’s most elite troops have already carried out missions in 133 countries

The day ahead: July 18, 2018

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

I’ll be in a meeting with visiting Colombian human rights defenders in the morning. Then attending an event hosted by WOLA’s Colombia program with some of those visitors. Then, at 3:00 today, hosting an event of my own, with authors of a new book on the origins of coca in the Andes.

New report on the border

We’re proud to release “The Zero Tolerance Policy,” the first installment in what will be (probably) 3 reports on the current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

This one covers the incredible institutional train wreck that Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions caused when they decided in April that every person caught crossing the border improperly should be charged in criminal courts, as a 1952 law dictates. The next one will look at all aspects of family separation. The third will go over what has happened at the border’s ports of entry. A possible fourth one will look at the National Guard deployment at the border, but that’s sort of a different theme and I might put it out separately.

I’m very happy that only 24 days passed between flying home from fieldwork in Arizona and releasing a 4,000-word, 54-footnote document about it. Twenty-four days during which we’ve been working on other stuff, too. Spending February in Colombia evaluating a USAID project ended up teaching me a lot of tips and tricks for turning fieldwork into a report very quickly. Glad I was able to apply them here.

The day ahead: July 17, 2018

My responses may be delayed as I’m writing on a deadline. (How to contact me)

Working at home this morning as I scramble to finish testimony about Colombia that I’ll be giving Thursday morning at the Lantos Human Rights Commission in the House of Representatives. I should be in the office after lunch; I have a late-afternoon meeting with my fellow panelists.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Matt York / AP photo at The Washington Post. Caption: “Detainees are seen inside a facility where tent shelters are being used to house separated family members at the Port of Entry in Fabens, Tex., on June 21.”

(Even more here)

July 16, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

Do not misbehave. Do not sit on the floor. Do not share your food. Do not use nicknames. Also, it is best not to cry. Doing so might hurt your case


The procedural hearing for “Case No. 001” lasted three hours and was attended by just three of the 31 leaders of the disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia

En la primera audiencia ante la JEP, se entregaron expedientes de casos de secuestros para que Farc los analice y expliquen qué sucedió. A la diligencia asistieron tres exjefes guerrilleros

In the year since the powerful Marxist guerrillas disarmed, drug gangs like this one have battled each other and the state for control of the booming cocaine trade in remote regions

El ‘clan del Golfo’ es una organización de tercera generación, es decir, funciona en red, con nodos territoriales y los mandos son reemplazables fácilmente

Colombia, Venezuela

“Para contribuir a la solución de la crisis en Venezuela, le pido al presidente Trump que le solicite a Putin dejar de apoyar al régimen de Maduro”, indicó el mandatario en su cuenta de Twitter


The intention of the proposed reforms is to constitutionally formalise the island’s economic and social opening-up while maintaining this “irrevocable” socialist system

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

Managing this migration effectively and humanely requires a legislative solution outside the asylum system, a solution that establishes a legal process based on the specific circumstances of this migration


Ahora está en curso una investigación penal por el viaje que en el avión de un magnate americano-israelí sancionado por corrupción

With one year remaining in its mandate, now is the time to discuss the strengthening and extension of CICIG’s mandate, not to negotiate its death by a thousand cuts


La Fuerza Nacional Antimaras y Pandillas (Fnamp) se conformó hace tres semanas. El anuncio lo hizo el presidente Juan Orlando Hernández


By 10:30 p.m., the Catholic Church and the U.S. State Department had prevailed upon the Nicaraguan government to allow a convoy of ambulances and negotiators to cross police lines and ferry three wounded students and me out of the church


There is no clear-cut definition of what constitutes a mafia state, but the fact that organized crime touches the daily lives of every Venezuelan, and has penetrated the highest level of state institutions, easily qualifies Venezuela

The day ahead: July 16, 2018

We’ve got an internal staff meeting in the morning. I’ve scheduled a lunch with a longtime colleague from Capitol Hill, and an end-of-day meeting with folks from a faith-based organization who’ve worked on Colombia for years.

In between, we should be releasing a report today about the border and the “zero tolerance” policy, based on fieldwork we did in Arizona a few weeks ago. I’ll also be working on my testimony for Thursday morning’s Colombia hearing in the House’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

The week ahead

The usual work will be bookended this week by three events:

  • The launch of a report on the border, part one of a three-parter. Should be posted today.
  • An event with colleagues who just published a book about coca in the Andes, for which I wrote the epilogue.
  • Testifying in a hearing about Colombia Thursday in the House of Representatives’ Lantos Human Rights Commission.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(This covers the week of June 24-30—a very eventful period. Sorry this is so behind schedule, but there’s no way around it with the present workload. Last week’s update is coming soon.)

Congress Makes Big Changes To Transitional Justice System

On June 27 Colombia’s Congress passed a Procedural Law for the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), the separate justice system that will confer lighter penalties (“restriction of liberty”) on those who committed war crimes during the conflict, in exchange for full confessions and reparations to victims. The new law is necessary for the JEP to function properly, and its long-awaited passage is an important step.

However, the congressional bloc supporting Iván Duque, the rightist president-elect who is a critic of the FARC peace accord, added some last-minute changes that—if ruled to be constitutional—would diverge from the accord’s vision and intent.

Before going into that, a quick overview of the JEP legislative process so far. The new system, enshrined in chapter 5 of the peace accord, requires three laws to function:

  • A constitutional amendment enshrining the JEP within Colombia’s legal system, which Congress passed as part of the post-accord “fast track” legislative process in March 2017, and which the Constitutional Court reviewed and approved, with minor modifications, in November 2017.
  • A statutory law (ley estatuaria) to implement the JEP, which Congress passed in November 2017, adding some controversial provisions contrary to the accord’s original intent. The Constitutional Court has not yet completed its review of this law.
  • An “ordinary law” (ley ordinaria) governing the JEP’s procedures, which Congress passed on June 27, 2018. This law is also certain to undergo a months-long Constitutional Court review.

Even without all of its laws in place, the JEP is starting to operate, though it is a long way from issuing its first verdict and sentence to a war criminal.

  • A five-member panel of Colombian and international jurists named 38 magistrates and 13 alternates in September 2017, as well as JEP director Patricia Linares, a legal expert who had most recently consulted with the government’s Historical Memory Commission.
  • The JEP officially opened its doors in March 2018. It has received a large initial volume of conflict-related case files from the “regular” criminal justice system (the criminal prosecutor’s office, or Fiscalía).
  • It has been required to rule on whether an ex-FARC leader’s potentially extraditable drug-trafficking offense occurred before or after the peace accord went into effect, which will be its first ruling—but it has not done so yet.
  • As of April, 6,094 former FARC members facing war crimes charges had agreed to appear before the JEP, as have 2,159 members of the armed forces (as of June) and 50 civilians accused of aiding and abetting armed groups’ war crimes: 44 who worked in government and 6 private citizens.

Congress passed the procedural law troublingly late, as the JEP has been working without clear regulations. Legislators from the party of President-Elect Duque, led in the Senate by Senator and former president Álvaro Uribe, had been holding up its consideration.

On June 26, with the legislative session nearing its end, the UN Mission in Colombia put out a statement voicing alarm about “obstacles” to the JEP’s functioning: “the victims are still awaiting the first hearings and appearances of those who were involved in serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations.” A harsh reply from Uribe and Duque’s rightist party, the “Democratic Center,” made clear that it “rejects and doesn’t accept their demands.” The party’s proposed modifications to the JEP, it said, “can’t be viewed as obstacles” but as a reflection of “the desire of the majority of Colombians” as reflected in the October 2016 plebiscite rejecting the peace accord’s first version, and by Duque’s June 2018 election.

The following day, though, Colombia’s Senate considered and approved the new procedural law. It passed, though, with two amendments introduced by the Democratic Center, which passed thanks to votes from several senators who until recently had been part of President Juan Manuel Santos’s pro-peace coalition. The uribistas’ (Uribe supporters’) changes are, in the words of La Silla Vacía analysts Juan Esteban Lewin and Julian Huertas, “a first indication that, while [Duque’s party] won’t destroy the accord, it will seek to remove its teeth and make it resemble FARC surrender terms.”

The FARC political party put it even more starkly:

The elites that have historically covered themselves in impunity and made the war into an immense business for corruption and land theft, took advantage of the delayed and chaotic consideration of the JEP’s procedural norms to render ineffective the basic pillars of the peace accord.

“Welcome to the Iván Duque government” is how uribista Senator Paloma Valencia, who led the legislative push for the two amendments changing the JEP, greeted their approval.

Changing the JEP’s role in extraditions of former combatants

The first amendment would restrict the JEP’s role in determining whether a former combatant can be extradited to another country. The JEP is currently required to determine, within 120 days, whether the crime triggering the extradition request happened before or after the November 2016 ratification of the peace accord (if it took place before, it is likely subject to amnesty and non-extradition). It wasn’t clear, though, whether the JEP could actually consider whether a criminal allegation is built on solid or flimsy evidence.

The uribistas’ amendment says that no, the JEP cannot consider the quality of the evidence, only the date on which the crime allegedly occurred. If the alleged crime took place after November 2016, it must send the ex-combatant’s case to Colombia’s Supreme Court, which rules on extraditions. If the Court green-lights an extradition, the President has discretion about whether or not to hand over the accused individual.

This issue has already come up. On April 9, following an indictment by a U.S. grand jury, Colombian authorities arrested Jesús Santrich, one of the FARC’s negotiators in Havana, on charges of conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States starting in 2017. Rather than simply rule on the date of this alleged conspiracy, the JEP had frozen Santrich’s extradition process and asked Colombian criminal prosecutors to provide more evidence. On June 12, the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the regular justice system, “un-freezing” Santrich’s case and ruling that the JEP does not have the power to delay an extradition process.

The new amendment, according to Sen. Valencia, guarantees that “extradition requests won’t be unjustifiably delayed when the Supreme Court is empowered to investigate.” Sen. Roy Barreras, a Santos supporter who led the procedural law’s passage in the Senate, opposed the amendment on grounds that it places U.S. counter-drug interests above the stability of peace. “To extradite those who signed the peace sends a terrible message to those who did the work of breaking up a guerrilla group.” The response from super-hardline uribista Sen. José Obdulio Gaviria: “Don’t distinguish between Colombia’s peace and illicit crops, doctor Roy. You [peace supporters] filled Colombia with the damned manure of coca money. That’s the main result of the peace policy that you all pushed.”

Separating out members of the security forces, and freezing their trials for 18 months

The Democratic Center at first sought to change the procedural law so that members of the military and police could be tried in a new, separate chamber of the JEP. Its legislators argued that soldiers shouldn’t be tried on equal footing, in the same tribunals, as former guerrillas. Critics suspect that they are in fact seeking to protect the armed forces from accountability by delaying and weakening efforts to bring their war crimes to justice.

The uribista legislators didn’t quite get a new tribunal, which would be a change too fundamental to be made through the procedures of an “ordinary law.” Senator Valencia and her colleagues instead got an amendment stating that current and former members of the armed forces and police awaiting judgment before the JEP do not have to appear before the new system until a new “special and differentiated process” exists to judge them, a change that would probably require a constitutional reform. The text gives 18 months to do that, during which the military and police perpetrators’ cases are suspended.

Currently, 2,159 active or former members of Colombia’s security forces have signed up to have their cases tried before the JEP. (2,109 from the Army, 34 from the National Police, and 16 from the Navy.) 1,578 of them have been released from custody pending trial.

Sen. Barreras, the pro-peace legislator who managed the JEP bill in the Senate, called the amendment a “serious error,” as it weakens the “judicial certainty” the armed forces had achieved in negotiating the JEP’s design. The appearance of a “self-pardon,” he said, will attract the attention of the International Criminal Court. Meanwhile, the Senator added,

while the FARC submit now to the JEP and begin to tell the truth in favor of the victims, other victims, like the Mothers of Candelaria [a Medellín-based victims’ organization] for example, have to wait 18 months to be able to know the truth, and the families of the disappeared also have to sit and wait. This is called re-victimization, and it implies that there is an indifference and a lack of consideration for the victims. These 18 months of waiting are truly unacceptable.

The amendment favoring military and police personnel is probably unconstitutional, opponents said, predicting that it will not survive Constitutional Court review. “At the end of last year, the Court stated that the participation of ex-combatants from the FARC and members of the security forces had to be mandatory. On this issue it will be the Constitutional Court that has the last word,” said Interior Minister Guillermo Rivera.

Though it was purportedly designed to favor them, Colombia’s armed forces, in fact, opposed the uribistas’ amendment. On June 26, the Minister of Defense, the Director of the National Police, and the Commander of the Armed Forces sent a letter to Sen. Valencia asking her to allow the procedural law to pass without her proposed language. The officials are concerned that the Democratic Center’s changes prolong judicial uncertainty for more than 2,000 accused soldiers and police, and may cause the International Criminal Court to involve itself more deeply in their cases. “We need the Congress to advance in approving this regulation,” said armed-forces chief Gen. Alberto Mejía. “We need to mark out the playing field of the JEP, because if we don’t do it, we’ll end up being exposed.”

One major who was given conditional release from prison last November so that the JEP could consider his case, told El Colombiano that having to wait another 18 months complicates things for him. “This keeps us in a ‘sub judice’ situation [not yet judicially decided], which worries us, given that nobody is giving us job opportunities because we still have criminal records, which would only be lifted once we pay the penalty that the JEP procedures impose.”

Colombia’s BLU Radio reported that two active-duty generals, who asked that their identities not be revealed, had received pressure from uribista legislators to support the proposed changes to the JEP. “People from the Democratic Center are saying ‘you’re all pro-Santos generals, bought off, fond of the peace process, and you forget that there’s a new president now,’” the radio cited the generals as saying.

Retired officers, who tend to be harder-line and commanded the military during a time of more frequent human rights issues, were more favorable toward the uribista amendment. Retired Gen. Jaime Ruiz, president of the powerful association of retired officers ACORE, praised the Senate’s move:

Ever since the list of [JEP] magistrates was announced, we saw that they were no guarantee of justice because of their ideological leanings. The approval of this provision, to remain within the JEP but not to appear until a new reform is made, favors us. We hope there may not be any problem with the [International Criminal] Court.

The Court in The Hague (ICC) does have Colombia under preliminary investigation, and is alert for any sign that Colombia’s justice system may fail to hold accountable those who committed crimes against humanity during the armed conflict. The ICC’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has shown particular interest in the “false positives,” thousands of military murders of civilians especially during the 2002-2008 period, who were then falsely presented as combat kills in order to claim high body counts. Delaying such cases for 18 months pending the uncertain creation of a new judicial chamber will certainly attract the prosecutor’s attention.

Interior Minister Rivera, as well as at least two Colombian human rights NGOs (the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyer’s Collective and the Colombia-Europe-U.S. Coordination), filed lawsuits before the Constitutional Court to challenge the constitutionality of the amendments that the uribistas inserted.

Duque Visits Washington

President-Elect Iván Duque visited Washington on June 27 through July 5. It is a city he knows well: he did coursework at both American and Georgetown Universities, and worked at the Inter-American Development Bank for 12 years. He was accompanied by veteran politician-diplomat Carlos Holmes, a longtime Álvaro Uribe supporter who is Duque’s likely choice for foreign minister. Senator and ex-president Uribe was not present.

The visit came two days after Duque received a telephone call from President Trump to congratulate him on his victory and to discuss unspecified “security challenges” that Duque’s government is likely to face. No details about that call have emerged, and Trump was outside of Washington for most of Duque’s visit.

According to media reports, Duque’s meetings included:

  • Vice-President Mike Pence
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
  • National Security Advisor John Bolton
  • CIA Director Gina Haspel
  • Acting Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Jim Carroll
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida)
  • Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona)
  • Staff of relevant committees from both the House and Senate
  • OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro
  • Inter-American Development Bank President Luis Alberto Moreno
  • International Monetary Fund (not clear with whom)

Support for peace accord implementation did not seem to be a frequent topic in these meetings. The State Department’s spokeswoman said that “Secretary Pompeo reaffirmed U.S. support for a just and lasting peace in Colombia.” Speaking to reporters while in Washington, Duque reiterated his call for the ELN to agree to a “suspension of all criminal activity” and “a prior concentration of forces with international supervision” as pre-conditions for continuing peace talks begun under the Santos government. The ELN are highly unlikely to agree to the second condition, a cantonment of forces.

The crisis in Venezuela was a frequent subject of Duque’s meetings. Sen. Rubio tweeted that they talked about “regional efforts to help the Venezuelan people put an end to their crisis and restore democracy.” After meeting with OAS Secretary-General Almagro, a vociferous critic of Venezuela’s authoritarian government, Duque recommended that Latin American presidents denounce the Maduro regime before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. (In July 2017, then-senator Duque led an effort to send the ICC a 56-page petition asking its prosecutor to “place Venezuela under observation and open a formal investigation.” The document bore the signatures of 76 Colombian and 70 Chilean senators.) Duque also recommended that South American governments permanently abandon the fading UNASUR political bloc, which he called an “accomplice of the Venezuelan dictatorship,” and strengthen the OAS.

Drug policy was perhaps the most frequent topic addressed at Duque’s meetings. The White House’s June 25 release of its 2017 estimate of Colombian coca cultivation—which showed a further 11 percent increase in the crop last year—guaranteed that this would be the top priority of the incoming president’s Washington discussions.

On June 28 Duque told reporters he had received expressions of support for his anti-drug strategy, which though lacking in specifics would rely more heavily on forced coca eradication than did the Santos government during its second term. “Obviously the backsliding has been very large in the last few years, and that’s why we have to seek effective and fast mechanisms,” he added. “They showed much confidence in the agenda we presented,” Duque said of the Americans, noting that his objective is to show measurable results against the coca crop within two years.

In an interview that El Tiempo published July 1, Duque said his government’s approach to coca would have a large alternative development component. He hinted, though, that unlike the model laid out in chapter 4 of the FARC peace accord, he sees oil palm—a capital-intensive crop favorable to large landholdings—as a promising legal alternative to coca.

In some places, coca is almost the only crop that offers opportunities. Nobody can deny it. But exactly what we want to do is alternative development and productive development. We should begin from this baseline: as it is going to be very hard for a licit crop to be more profitable than an illicit crop, substitution and eradication must be made obligatory, but while opening new opportunities leading to labor formalization and stable incomes. There are important substitutions of coca crops with palm crops.

Asked in Washington whether he would prefer to eradicate crops by spraying herbicides from aircraft or from drones (discussed in the next section), Duque said, “at this moment we have to look at all the options, and they have to be the options that guarantee greater precision, greater effectiveness, and that minimize damage to third-parties to the greatest extent possible.”

US Releases Coca Figure, and Colombian Government Approves Fumigation With Drones

On June 25, about three months later than usual, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released its estimate of Colombia’s coca crop during the previous year. The U.S. government reported finding 209,000 hectares of coca in Colombia in 2017, 11 percent more than the 188,000 measured in 2016. Both figures were the highest the United States has ever reported. The 2017 increase was the fifth annual uptick in a row. However, 11 percent is the smallest percentage increase of the five, which may at least indicate some leveling off in a year that saw forced manual eradication triple from 18,000 to 53,000 hectares, along with the launch of the peace accords’ crop substitution effort, which eradicated at least 7,000 more hectares.

The White House estimated a 19 percent increase in potential cocaine production, from 772 to 921 tons. Both are records, and the 2017 figure is quadruple the U.S. government’s 2013 estimate. This indicates U.S. estimators see a sharp increase in yield—the number of kilograms of cocaine being produced from each hectare—as plants grow taller and more mature.

“President Trump’s message to Colombia is clear: the record growth in cocaine production must be reversed,” the White House release cites ONDCP Deputy Director Jim Carroll. “Even though Colombian eradication efforts improved in 2017,

they were outstripped by the acceleration in production. The Government of Colombia must do more to address this increase. The steep upward trajectory is unacceptable.”

President Juan Manuel Santos argued that the increase owed to short-term factors and will be reversed by the government’s strategy, which includes the National Integral Crop Substitution Plan foreseen in chapter 4 of the peace accord (whose implementation, like so much of the accord, is underfunded and behind schedule). “It’s very easy to come and criticize Colombia because illicit crops increased,” Santos said. “But measure the other circumstances and the other indicators: the effectiveness of drug seizures, how many members of the mafias we have extradited, the immense effort that we have made and will continue making.”

In an interview, Vice-President Óscar Naranjo, a former National Police chief, pointed out that because Colombia’s cocaine seizures—much of them in coastal areas—have increased from 148 tons in 2014 to 432 tons in 2017, the amount of the drug actually making it into world markets has increased only somewhat and may still be less than it was during the early years of “Plan Colombia,” instead of the quadrupling of supply that the U.S. tonnage estimate might indicate. Increased interdiction may explain why data about cocaine abuse in the United States show an increase that is far less steep than data about cocaine supply. Another explanation is greater cocaine consumption outside the United States. In 2000, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s World Drug Report estimated that North America accounted for 50 percent of world cocaine consumption; its 2018 report, released in June, attributed only a 32 percent share to North America.

As past analyses from WOLA, the Ideas for Peace Foundation, InsightCrime and others have pointed out, Colombia’s coca boom owes to several factors. Proponents of vastly increased forced eradication point to the 2015 suspension of aerial herbicide spraying, and to the peace accord’s promise of cash for those who planted coca, as the main reasons for the increase. These undeniably contributed, but the Colombian government’s failure or inability to replace eradication with state presence and development assistance in rural areas—effectively leaving most coca-growing areas in a state of neglect—gets at least as much blame. So does a decline in gold prices, as many coca-growers had turned to artisanal mining in the years following the 2008 financial crisis, when sky-high prices caused the metal to be more profitable than the crop.

Last September, due to rising production statistics, President Trump sought to decertify Colombia for failing to cooperate fully in anti-drug efforts, a move that would cut some forms of aid and place Colombia in the same category as Venezuela or Burma. Top advisors talked him out of it, but the White House’s statement noted that decertification remains “an option.” Despite the unencouraging 2017 numbers, the White House is unlikely to greet Iván Duque with a decertification six weeks after his inauguration.

Two days after the White House announcement, Colombia’s National Drug Council, an advisory body of ministers and high officials, approved the use of drones to apply herbicides to coca plants. The move comes after several months of pilot testing of the remote-controlled craft. Each of the chosen models costs about US$10,000. It flies about one meter above the plants, and can spray about 1 liter of herbicide mixture at a time in 10 minutes of operation between recharges. Spraying began in the final days of June in Putumayo, Meta, Caquetá, Guaviare, and Nariño departments.

For now at least, the herbicide will continue to be glyphosate, marketed by the U.S. chemical giant Monsanto, but at a concentration about 50 percent weaker than that used by U.S.-funded, contractor-flown aircraft during the years of the now-suspended aerial eradication program (1994-2015). Since that program’s suspension, much manual eradication has been carried out by eradicators wearing backpack-mounted herbicide sprayers applying this weaker mixture. This is a dangerous practice, as hundreds of eradicators or their police escorts have been killed or injured in the past 15 years by landmines, booby traps, ambushes, and sniper attacks. The idea is that using drones would curtail that risk, while applying the herbicide more accurately than aircraft flying 50-150 meters above the ground.

The aircraft-spraying program was suspended in October 2015 after a World Health Organization literature review found that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Colombia’s Constitutional Court later ratified this suspension because of the possible risk. However, glyphosate has not been banned for agricultural use in Colombia, and officials expect that application by more accurate drones, which poses less risk of spraying residential areas or legal crops, gets around the Court’s restrictions.

While critics of the drone decision acknowledge a reduced risk to human health, they lament that this method of eradication will probably be carried out with no permanent state presence in abandoned rural areas, little face-to-face dialogue with coca-growing families, and perhaps with little coordination with food security and other assistance. “They’re making decisions from a desk without caring about the territory,” Nariño governor Camilo Romero tweeted in response to the drone decision. “I’ll say it clearly: any anti-drug policy that doesn’t involve the dozens of thousands of families that lack opportunities today, is condemned to failure. You can’t fumigate people only to have them plant again!”

A State Department spokesperson told EFE that the drone plan is up to Colombia: “The choice of eradication methods is a sovereign decision of the Colombian government. However, the United States believes that all tools should be used to turn back the sharp increase in cocaine production.”

In-Depth Reading

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

July 12, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

Under new guidance given Wednesday to the officers who interview asylum seekers at the US’ borders and evaluate refugee applications, claims based on fear of gang and domestic violence will be immediately rejected

The other 46 were deemed “ineligible” for a variety of reasons. Some of their parents had been accused of crimes. One parent had a communicable disease. In a dozen cases, the parents had been deported already

The Trump administration’s aggressive immigration enforcement strategy has been a financial boon for GEO Group, which along with its affiliates contributed more than half a million dollars to then-candidate Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign

They are trapped in limbo by the Trump administration’s ever-shifting immigration policy, with officials now widely employing a controversial deterrence tactic: making migrants wait in Mexico, indefinitely


Known as “militias”, paramilitary groups – which often include former and serving police officers and firefighters – have quietly taken control of swathes of Rio’s western suburbs


El presidente Juan Manuel Santos le ordenó al Ministerio de Defensa que le entregara los archivos reservados de inteligencia a la Comisión de la Verdad, salvo aquellos que puedan comprometer la seguridad nacional

A veces pienso que es mejor tirar la toalla y dejarle todo a los corruptos, al fin y al cabo eso es lo que eligen los colombianos. Votan por los mismos políticos de siempre

Backed by international actors, the current government and guerrilla negotiators should aim for rapid progress in negotiations to minimise the chance of a sceptical incoming president abandoning the peace process

Desde la elección presidencial del pasado 17 de junio se han asesinado a 22 líderes. Es decir, uno diario hasta la fecha de corte

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

The U.S. government plans to co-host with the Government of Mexico in the near future a major summit in the U.S. to discuss implementation of an ambitious, action-oriented agenda to reduce illegal migration flows


In April, the U.S. government said Mexico had requested to buy eight MH-60R Seahawk multi-mission helicopters

Mexico views the proposal as a red line it will not cross, according to the briefing note prepared for Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray for a meeting he had with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen

Pompeo will be accompanied by President Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, who is nominally in charge of the Mexico portfolio


The next few weeks will be crucial. Venezuela shows that a regime which is heedless of the human cost can survive sustained national protests and international pressure

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from El Universo (Ecuador). Caption: “Diriamba, Nicaragua. Paramilitares rodearon este lunes la basilica de San Sebastian en esta ciudad.”

(Even more here)

July 11, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

The agent told them they’d crossed the border illegally and asked them to remain there while he got a supervisor and took them to an official crossing for an inspection per federal law

In the first nine months of this fiscal year, 68,560 families and 37,450 unaccompanied children were apprehended at our southern border. That’s not a “flood.” It’s one football stadium of people

The ORR’s budgeting exercise is premised on the possibility it could need as many as 25,400 beds for immigrant minors by the end of the calendar year


Los desplazamientos ocurrieron el pasado 4 de julio tras los enfrentamientos entre el grupo disidente de las FARC autodenominado “Frente Oliver Sinisterra” y la organización “Gente del común”

Aunque Duque está alineado en los dos temas que le importan a Trump en América Latina, que son las drogas y Venezuela, eso automáticamente no va significar ni más plata ni más atención de la Casa Blanca


The Migration Talks, which began in 1995, provide a forum for the United States and Cuba to review and coordinate efforts to ensure safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States

The addition of CDC reflects the ongoing trouble the United States is having trying to determine the cause of the incidents that have left more than 25 Americans and U.S. personnel experiencing headaches, hearing loss, and other mysterious ailments

El Salvador

There were more than 296,000 new displacements due to conflict and violence in El Salvador in 2017, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre


After Guatemala joined the United States in moving its embassy to Jerusalem, the Trump administration has been working to weaken an international commission on corruption targeting the Guatemalan president


Each week since February, about 100 military police officers take the 40-hour course. The course includes an introduction to human rights and instruction on the use of force and firearms

A $3 million donation from U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) financed the new center


El Ejercicio Multinacional “RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) Cuenca del Pacífico 2018” en la Base de Camp Pendleton en el Sur de California, EE.UU.

De los 154.557 asesinatos cometidos en el país de 2010 a 2016, el 94,8 por ciento permanecen impunes

Some in the Foreign Ministry who want to improve ties with the United States remain in favor of at least a pilot project, while others in the Interior Ministry, who would have to handle resettling thousands of Central Americans, stand opposed


Opositores, entre los que se cuentan exmilitares, han denunciado la supuesta presencia de miembros del Ejército en los grupos armados ilegales

The best vehicle for that would be a coalition led by other Latin American nations to put pressure on Mr. Ortega and to support talks between him and the opposition

El ataque del domingo de policías y paramilitares armados con fusiles de guerra contra la población fue una masacre


It was hard to suppress a nauseating sense of dread upon hearing that President Trump repeatedly pressed aides on why the United States couldn’t just invade Venezuela

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from Proceso (Mexico). Caption: “Cuatro de las personas heridas eran personas civiles que quedaron atrapadas en la balacera.”

(Even more here)

July 10, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

Los Angeles-based U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee dismissed as “tortured” the Trump administration’s legal argument to get out from under the so-called Flores consent decree

The Pentagon confirmed last week that Fort Bliss in El Paso could take up to 12,000 undocumented families and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo could take up to 20,000 minors who crossed the border without a parent

Judge Dolly M. Gee of the Federal District Court in Los Angeles held that there was no basis to amend a longstanding consent decree that requires children to be released to licensed care programs within 20 days

Asylum seekers like Gomez who arrive at legal entry points — where the Trump administration says they should go — are forced to wait on bridges for hours or days. Some have been turned back before reaching U.S. soil and told to come back later

About 40 other very young children will not be returned to their parents yet, despite a court-imposed deadline

In Barbados, Chile, and Uruguay, first-rate female career ambassadors are being pushed aside prior to the end of their term to make way for male political appointees


El general retirado del Ejército de Colombia Henry Torres Escalante pidió perdón a las víctimas del conflicto armado en el país durante su audiencia de sometimiento a la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz

Las reglas de procedimiento de la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz (JEP) que aprobó el Congreso la semana pasada minan gravemente la posibilidad de hacer justicia por los crímenes de Estado

Ahora los homicidios casi triplican los de todo el año pasado (en 2017 hubo 14 y en lo que va del 2018 van 41, según datos de la Policía Nacional)

Activists are being gunned down at a rate of one every three days in the Latin American country

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua

The Honduran Armed Forces reaffirm interagency cooperation with regional partner nations to counter narcotrafficking and other criminal activities Army Major General René Orlando Ponce Fonseca, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran Armed Forces, is committed to interagency operations to combat transnational criminal organizations


At 62, she’s not ready to retire. And with the Guatemalan general elections less than a year away, a source close to her team and with knowledge of her plans told AQ she will run for president


Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is planning his own border police force to stop undocumented immigrants, drugs and guns from crossing into the country from Central America

Quizá, en forma tímida o titubeante por las declaraciones posteriores, de concretarse, sea el preámbulo de un cambio sustantivo en las relaciones civiles-militares en México

La dependencia no ha podido resolver con éxito algún caso, pese a que hay denuncias que ya tienen hasta diez años de haberse presentado

Mauricio Fernández de la Mora, el magistrado que trabajó esta decisión, explicó que “si bien el derecho nacional no regula la creación de un mecanismo extraordinario, no por ello es un impedimento a que este exista y se proponga”

Over the course of three weeks our team surveyed and interviewed more than 200 returning Mexican migrants, the vast majority of them deportees

Mexico, Venezuela

Lopez Obrador has indicated a desire to return to what’s known as the Estrada Doctrine, a stance dating from the 1930s by which Mexico long refused to judge foreign governments for fear of inviting meddling by the U.S.


Videos subidos a las redes sociales por la población demostraron las armas de guerra que portaban los paramilitares

Radio Darío workers are, understandably, spooked. About a dozen of them were caught inside the station’s original headquarters on April 20 when it was set on fire by a pro-government mob

South America Regional

It has become clear that UNASUR’s implosion has limited the U.S. ability to encourage stricter measures against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

The day ahead: July 10, 2018

I’ll be difficult to reach today. (How to contact me)

We’ve got a few meetings today with congressional staff to talk about the situation at the border and what we saw in Arizona 3 weeks ago. (We’ve now got a very long report about that drafted out, and may put out a bit of it tomorrow as a short piece.) When not on the Hill, I hope to attend some of an [[event]] about Colombia with WOLA alum Anthony Dest, and later there’s a meeting of groups working on Colombia.

So I’ll be hard to contact and doing little writing or corresponding today, at least until evening.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Chang W. Lee photo at The New York Times. Caption: “The agents and their dogs have to contend with extreme heat and dizzying fumes.”

(Even more here)

July 9, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

Getting through the heavily patrolled 100-mile zone beyond the border can be just as difficult as getting into the country

There were no illegal-entry cases in February, only four in March and 16 in April, according to the clerk’s office. But when zero tolerance took full effect, the caseload skyrocketed to 513 in May and 821 in June


A pesar de la evidencia científica, es muy probable que Washington imponga una lectura unilateral al uso problemático de las drogas para ocultar así su propia responsabilidad en tomar medidas preventivas

La situación es tan grave que, en Colombia, el riesgo y el miedo son elementos normales e interiorizados en la defensa de los derechos humanos y el ejercicio de otras libertades (como organizarse, expresar opiniones o participar en reuniones)

With the return to power of Álvaro Uribe, some Colombians wonder whether either case will really be pursued


The US got Ecuador to back down from a breastfeeding resolution by threatening trade retaliation and pulling military aid


El especialista en seguridad nacional Erubiel Tirado señala que éste se ha constituido en un cuerpo militar privilegiado que no rinde cuentas a nadie y ha sido utilizado en misiones cuestionables, como la represión del movimiento estudiantil de 1968 y la guerra sucia


Para el pueblo autoconvocado que ha puesto los muertos y que está comprometido con lograr la salida de Ortega y abrir el camino a la justicia y la democratización, solo hay cuatro cursos posibles de acción

Basta ver los números de las muertes de estos últimos meses en Nicaragua para saber que estamos frente a una masacre, una cacería de tiradores contra ciudadanos sin alternativa para defenderse

Daniel Ortega’s speech came as opposition leaders prepared to increase pressure on the former revolutionary hero with three days of protests

The day ahead: July 9, 2018

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

Except for lunch with a longtime colleague, I should be in the office all day writing about both Colombia and the border, hopefully finishing a Colombia update. And catching up on correspondence, which is behind because I’ve been writing pretty intensely over the past two weeks.

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

  • 10:00 at the Wilson Center: The Crisis in Nicaragua: Is a Resolution in Sight? (RSVP required).
  • 12:00 at WOLA: Analyzing What the 2018 Elections Mean for Colombia’s Pacific Coast Communities (RSVP required).

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Thursday, July 12, 2018

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