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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August 2018

The day ahead: August 29, 2018

I’m around, but working on a deadline. (How to contact me)

Other than a Skype meeting with European diplomats this morning, I’m in the office. However, since I’m leaving the country in 48 hours (going to Colombia) and still have a lot of writing to finish, I may not be easy to reach.

New Report: “A National Shame”

This is part three of a three-part WOLA series on the horror that the Trump administration and its “zero tolerance” policy unleashed at the U.S.-Mexico border this spring and summer—and what may come next. (Here is part one, on “zero tolerance” itself, and part two, on what happened at ports of entry.) All three are based on extensive documentary research and the fieldwork we did in Arizona back in June.

Tiny excerpt from the new one:

Incredibly, the agencies holding the parents (ICE, Bureau of Prisons, or U.S. Marshals) have very little interface with the agency managing the children (ORR), and made little effort to track family members in each other’s custody. Still more incredibly, in nearly all cases, CBP kept no record of the link between the parents and children at the moment it separated them.

Parents being charged with “improper entry” were given no receipt, claim check, or any other document establishing their link to their children. No database maintained a record of the parent-child relationship. Parents, and the agencies holding the parents, were given no information about their children’s whereabouts, as ORR moved them to shelters and homes all around the country.

I hope you find this work useful. Read on:

  1. The Zero Tolerance Policy, published July 16.
  2. “Come Back Later”: Challenges for Asylum Seekers Waiting at Ports of Entry, published August 2.
  3. A National Shame: The Trump Administration’s Separation and Detention of Migrant Families, published August 28.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Benjamin Flores photo at Proceso (Mexico). Caption: “Militares en la conmemoración de la Independencia de México.”

(Even more here)

August 28, 2018


With the discovery of secret bank accounts in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Pinochet’s prestige crumbled. Pinera hasn’t commented on the Supreme Court ruling


The vessels will support maritime patrol efforts in the Pacific and Caribbean to counter transnational crime. Colombia expects two more boats by the end of 2018

El documento, denominado ‘Génesis’, incluye un detallado análisis y recopilación de las infracciones al DIH cometidas por la extinta guerrilla en medio del conflicto armado interno

La Comisión de la Verdad, la cual había solicitado información reservada sobre manuales y política militar desarrollada durante el conflicto armado

Después de muchas vueltas, la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz recibirá a los parapolíticos que logren mostrar que en sus nexos con grupos armados hubo intención de sostener el conflicto

Las cuatro propuestas (“temas”, como los llama Ceballos) son a futuro y no modifican lo pactado, por lo que no afectarían a la Farc, aunque sí al ELN

The recent arrest of Colombia’s own corruption tsar on bribery charges laid bare the gravity of a problem that President Iván Duque has dubbed a “cancer.”

Informes de inteligencia señalan que llegó a esa ciudad de vacaciones y salió de Colombia dejando ‘envenenado’ con cocaína pura un avión militar de Estados Unidos

En entrevista, habla un vocero autorizado de la organización delictiva más poderosa de Colombia

Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela

Ecuador y Colombia son los dos países que están impulsando iniciativas para lograr una respuesta coordinada a la crisis migratoria. Entre los que no comparten frontera, México, Chile y Argentina son los más activos


Videgaray said that the wall payment issue isn’t one that the U.S. has brought to the table with Mexico recently

Recomendó “tener un plan cierto, conocido por la población para que esa transitoriedad sea eso y no permanencia”

While Mr. Trump may try to change the name, the agreement reached with Mexico is simply a revised Nafta, with updates to provisions surrounding the digital economy, automobiles, agriculture and labor unions


Los Chamos actually are Yoswal, Yosser and Walter Flores, the children of First Lady Cilia Flores from a previous relationship and thus Maduro’s stepsons

The day ahead: August 28, 2018

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

I’m guest-teaching an “Andean Republics” class at the Foreign Service Institute this morning. Mid-day, I expect I’ll be helping launch a new report about the fallout from the “zero tolerance” policy at the border. Mid-afternoon I have a family medical errand (nothing serious), and will be writing about Colombia on my laptop someplace nearby.


One of the central questions in Colombian politics this year: how independent is the new president, Iván Duque—a 42-year-old technocrat with a light political resume—from his political party’s 500-watt boss, the incendiary far-right former president Álvaro Uribe?

The word “puppet” gets tossed around a lot. But Duque is in fact showing some genuine flashes of independence.

We saw a very bright one yesterday, when Duque showed up at the polls to vote in an anti-corruption referendum, the result of a citizen signature-gathering initiative, that Uribe bitterly opposed. In angry tweets, the ex-president attacked the anti-corruption measure’s promoters personally, accusing them of wasting US$100 million to hold yesterday’s vote. [No idea if that figure is accurate. In the end, the anti-corruption consultation didn’t reach the voter-participation threshold needed to make its measures law. This was expected—but few expected 11.6 million Colombians, 32 percent of all registered voters, to show up on a Sunday in August.]

In a piece titled “Anticorruption Consultation: the first Duque-Uribe Disagreement,” Semana magazine notes the contrast between President Duque and his “patron”:

The ex-president became, in the hours before, the initiative’s fiercest opponent. “I will not vote in the deceptive consultation, and I have cared for the state’s resources throughout my public career with transparency and austerity,” Uribe tweeted.

…Uribe’s lashing out contrasted with the words that his candidate, now the president, Iván Duque, had said earlier. From San Jacinto, Bolivar, the head of state assured that “it is a citizen’s duty, in the conscience of each, to go to the polls and vote on the questions with which he feels identified.”

Duque’s words stand out both for their vague, lawyerly/academic language, but especially for their distinctly un-Uribe-like quality. He spoke similarly at an August 23 event in the Urabá region of northwest Colombia—hardcore Uribe territory—to launch a new policy to protect threatened social leaders:

In his speech [reports El Nuevo Siglo], Duque said that “if we want to guarantee the life and integrity of our social leaders, we have to dismantle the structures of organized crime that are attacking them.”

“What we want is to seek an integral response of preventive actions and investigative speed to guarantee freedom of expression to all the people who are exercising the defense of human rights,” said the head of state [according to El Espectador].

Again, those are two sentences one could never imagine Álvaro Uribe uttering; the ex-president instead has a long record of calling his civil-society critics guerrilla supporters, terrorists, or even child molesters.

Duque’s sentences in defense of social leaders are good ones. Though a bit imprecise, their tone and content offer assurance that the “puppet” narrative may be overblown—and that the Duque government, though conservative and traditional, may not end up being a third Álvaro Uribe term after all.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

August 27, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

Trump has publicly and repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if he doesn’t get funding for a border wall — and has recently expanded his demands

“You can be in a neighborhood where kids are playing in the streets, and there could be a stash house next door”

ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke said immigration court attendance is strong for immigrants in intensive supervision, but that ankle monitors and other measures are “not an effective tool” after deportation orders are issued


Since news of the notebooks became public, powerful figures in business and the government, implicated in the scandal, have come forward, describing to prosecutors a vast system of kickbacks

Argentina, Bolivia

Morales acusó a la Organización del Tratado del Atlántico Norte (OTAN) de estar detrás de la iniciativa militar argentina


“Isso não é uma profecia. É uma conclusão. Ao se defrontar com o criminoso, a tendência da polícia, por falta de meios, era se omitir”


Habla el nuevo alto comisionado de Paz, Miguel Ceballos, quien deberá asumir duros retos

The vote attracted an “unprecedented” number of voters for a citizen-driven initiative

El jefe del Gobierno de España, el socialista Pedro Sánchez, anunció que le ofrecerá su apoyo al proceso de paz con el Ejército de Liberación Nacional, Eln, que se encuentra congelado en la actualidad

Costa Rica, Nicaragua

Unos 500 ticos se manifestaron en el parque de la Merced, el pasado sábado 18 de agosto, en contra de la gran cantidad de nicas qué han llegado a Costa Rica en los últimos días


El presidente Juan Orlando Hernández anunció que en septiembre próximo se iniciarán operativos conjuntos de la Policía Militar del Orden Público (PMOP), la Policía Nacional y la Fuerza Nacional Anti Maras y Pandillas (FNAMP)


Advirtieron que si no hay un plan de retiro paulatino de las fuerzas castrenses, se repetirían los graves abusos y violaciones que han ocurrido en los últimos dos sexenios

El tabasqueño sostuvo que su gobierno cuidará que marinos y militares respeten los derechos humanos del pueblo y no reprimirlo


In the moments when they aren’t worried about being discovered or where their next meal will come from, many of those in hiding grow despondent over an unraveling future

A senior U.S. official whom I spoke to feared that Ortega was using death squads to silence his opposition. “We’ve moved from a climate of fear to one of terror”

Policías y paramilitares atacan caravana y suprimen por la fuerza libertad de movilización, pero las protestas continúan

The day ahead: August 27, 2018

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

I’ve got a morning staff meeting, and an open afternoon in the office. I’ll be working extra-late because I have to pick up my daughter tonight not far from the office. As the day progresses, I’ll be taking care of some small but time-sensitive items, editing a planning document for our work this fall, working on a Colombia peace process update and an article about U.S. policy toward Colombia, and preparing a talk I’ll be giving tomorrow morning to a class at the Foreign Service Institute.

The week ahead

The week before Labor Day is usually a slow one in Washington, but not for me. On Friday I’ll be flying to Colombia, joining two colleagues on a nine-day trip to do some field research (and write a report) and to have a series of meetings in Bogotá.

This week will be spent preparing for that, launching a third and final report based on our June visit to the U.S.-Mexico border (here’s part one and part two), and finishing an article about U.S. policy toward Colombia’s peace process during the Trump administration. Luckily, there aren’t too many commitments on my calendar today through Thursday.

I keep rereading this paragraph

“For many Argentines, then, the military represented not a subjugation to arbitrary rule, but a release from the frustrations, complexity, and compromises of representative government. A large part of society clasped with joy the extended hand of totalitarian certainty. Life was suddenly simplified by conformity to a single, uncontested power. For those who cherish democracy, it is necessary to comprehend the secret delight with which many greeted its passing. A quick fix to the insurgency seemed infinitely preferable to plodding investigations, piecemeal arrests, and case-by-case lawful trials. Whipped up by the irrational fear of a communist takeover, this impatience won the day. And once Argentina had accepted the necessity for a single, absolute solution, the killing could begin.”

From Argentine journalist Uki Goñi’s remarkable essay, “‘Silence Is Health’: How Totalitarianism Arrives,” from the current New York Review of Books.

A weekly update in your email

I’m trying something new: using the Revue service, I’m going to start sending a weekly update featuring highlights from this website.

The one that will go out at 9PM Eastern tonight, for instance, will include my most-recommended Latin America security news links from the past week, links to government reports, a link to last week’s Colombia news update (which is just too long to embed in an email), an overview of US aid to Colombia, my favorite songs of the week, and more.

Just add your name and e-mail here, and look for the confirmation e-mail in your inbox. I promise never to share your e-mail address with anyone.

Five links from the past week

After clashes with native groups over development, and controversial maneuvers to stay in office, indigenous voters are now turning against him

Funcionarios públicos como notarios, registradores y jueces se alían con los criminales para amenazar a los campesinos y obligarlos a vender a precios muy por debajo del valor real de los predios

The conclusions listed in the report point to serious challenges in building some, if not all, of the prototypes as they were erected in San Diego, because of structural issues in their design or with construction

The killings have probably been orchestrated by more powerful political and financial interests, with links to the drug trade and the military

Dom Phillips and Gary Calton joined an expedition to track the whereabouts of an uncontacted tribe, who threaten the safety of Brazil’s Marubo people

Corruption in Latin America: links from the past month


The investigation was begun after the newspaper La Nación obtained notebooks belonging to a driver who took meticulous notes about bags of cash he purportedly ferried around the city


Funcionarios públicos como notarios, registradores y jueces se alían con los criminales para amenazar a los campesinos y obligarlos a vender a precios muy por debajo del valor real de los predios

Army Master Sgt. Daniel Gould, assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group, was arrested after Drug Enforcement Administration agents found 40 kilograms of cocaine in two backpacks on a military airplane in Colombia

En una decisión sin precedentes, Fernando Carrillo decidió abrir procesos contra tres altos oficiales, en medio del escándalo de desvío de fondos reservados y el presunto espionaje ilegal al interior del Comando de las Fuerzas Militares

El Salvador

Su confesión es una ventana a estructuras de corrupción que van más allá de su presidencia y sus lujos, y debe dar lugar a investigaciones que lleguen mucho más lejos

Saca, who was arrested in 2016, had made a deal with the Attorney General’s Office: If he confessed, he would face a lighter sentence


The circle is nearly closed. Jimmy Morales, who won power precisely because of his predecessor’s corruption, is now facing down accusations that he committed some of the same transgressions. It was a biblical lesson he apparently missed

The move has quelled doubts about Porras’ independence and further isolated Guatemala’s embattled president

The Pérez Molina and Baldetti government clearly understood that in order to be in politics and make money in Guatemala, corrupt politicians and businessmen use what they call “quotas of power,” or favors, which open doors to contracts and government benefits

Powerful Guatemalan politicians and businessmen accused in the investigations have been repeatedly trying to undermine the CICIG and stop the investigations against them and their allies, including through recent overtures to Washington

On July 4, the Interior Ministry withdrew 20 officers assigned as security to the facilities and personnel of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala


Nájera’s response to the move by the US Congress fits into a broader pattern of elites accused of corruption trying to muddy the waters by impugning the reputations of others


Half of the 10 retired or active officers who agreed to speak to Al Jazeera, admitted that in their force some sort of quota system existed


Desde el 7 de julio, unos audios dejaron al descubierto que en vez de administrar justicia, unos jueces y fiscales se habían dedicado a delinquir

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