Adam Isacson

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


October 2018

Coming back soon

I’m sorry to have neglected this site over the past several days. Having a topic I work on (security at the U.S.-Mexico border) become one of the largest news stories in the country for two weeks running has left little time to post thoughts and links here. Also, most of my “rough drafts” have gone straight to WOLA’s website, or to social media, without stopping here first.

Over the past week I’ve spoken to nearly every U.S. print media outlet (some Google News links here), done some radio in English and TV in Spanish, and participated in meetings with migrant-policy coalitions that are pretty new to me. I spoke to two audiences last week, and last weekend I finished a chapter about Colombia for a colleague’s upcoming book about corruption and organized crime. And I’ve been tweeting lots of infographics, which I’m pleased to say are getting shared a lot.

I list all that not to show off, but to try to explain why I’ve ended up leaving this space temporarily abandoned.

Between the geographic diffusion of the “migrant caravan” (making it less camera-friendly), the news cycle’s inevitable tendency to move on to other things, and a somewhat less-intense meeting and event schedule over the next week and a half, I expect to be able to post here more regularly again very shortly.

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Monday, October 29

  • 11:00–12:30 at CSIS: What Lies Ahead as Argentina Navigates a Multifaceted Political and Economic Crisis? (RSVP required).

Tuesday, October 30

  • 1:00–3:35 at the American Enterprise Institute: Unraveling the web: Dismantling transnational organized crime networks in the Americas (RSVP required).
  • 2:00–3:30 at the Wilson Center: Presentation by Roberto Campa, Secretary of Mexico’s Department of Labor and Social Welfare (RSVP required).
  • 4:00–5:30 at the Wilson Center: Brazilian Elections: Second-Round Results and U.S.-Brazil Relations Under a New Administration (RSVP required).
  • 6:00–7:30 at Johns Hopkins SAIS Kenney Auditorium: Walking Blindfolded into the Abyss? Priorities for Brazil’s New President (RSVP required).

Wednesday, October 31

  • 8:30–11:00 at the Inter-American Dialogue: The Americas’ Refugee Crisis: Responding to Forced Migration from Venezuela (RSVP required).
  • 5:30–7:00 at American University: An Evening with Carmen Boullosa (RSVP required).

Thursday, November 1

  • 9:00 at the Atlantic Council: A New Brazilian Economic Order? The Post-Election Outlook (RSVP required).

The day ahead: October 25, 2018

I’m intermittently available all day. (How to contact me)

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but I think that interest/hysteria about the “migrant caravan” is flagging, as the number of participants goes down and they start to break up into smaller groups that don’t provide such dramatic visuals. I anticipate spending less time talking to people about it today, and more time finishing a (now horrifically) overdue book chapter about Colombia.

I’ve got a TV interview in the morning and lunch with a colleague. Either before or after that, or both, I’ll be writing a piece about the 2018 border migration numbers, and finishing the above-mentioned chapter. Some of that will happen at home, some with the door closed and the phone off in my office, so I may not be immediately reachable.

There’s No Emotionally Satisfying Response to Trump “Caravan Rage”

As the latest Central American migrant caravan limps through Chiapas, the first of up to a dozen Mexican states lying between them and the U.S. border, Donald Trump has seized on them as his best hope for maintaining a Republican majority in Congress. He and others on the U.S. right have gone into overdrive with rhetoric about an “invasion” and a “national emergency.” “Today’s Democrat Party would rather protect criminal aliens than AMERICAN CITIZENS,” the president tweeted.

This is all ridiculous, of course. But the real, fact-based responses to this frame lack the emotional appeal of Trump’s rage. The accurate response makes for an unemotional and technocratic narrative:

  1. Very few members of the caravan are likely to make it all the way to the U.S. border anyway.
  2. If the caravan’s remaining members try to cross the border improperly, Border Patrol will detain them. They’ll be easy to detect traveling in a big group. Many will be deported quickly.
  3. If the caravan’s remaining members try to petition for asylum at an official port of entry (which is what the 200-300 remaining members of April’s caravan did), they will be processed, and those determined not to face a “credible fear” of return will be deported.
  4. Any whose fear of returning is judged to be credible will be admitted into the asylum process. Pending their asylum decisions:
    1. Individual adults will most likely be detained.
    2. Unaccompanied children will be put in special shelters and placed with relatives or foster homes.
    3. Families will most likely end up being released with ankle bracelets or other monitoring systems.
  5. Right now, the asylum process may take years. Demand for asylum has increased worldwide during this decade. The United States lacks judges and credible fear adjudicators to deal with the new demand, causing a backlog that delays asylum decisions. This is a problem, but one that is neither insurmountable nor prohibitively expensive to deal with—especially compared to the cost of detention.
  6. Programs to reduce the drivers of migration in Central America need generous funding. These programs will take a while to yield results. Central American leaders who aren’t helping address insecurity and poverty—like those who tolerate or engage in corruption—should be called out and isolated.

See? That took me six bullet points to explain, with sub-points. And I had to fudge the details to an extent that would exasperate an actual immigration lawyer.

This “get under the hood and tinker” or “wrestle with the details of governing” approach is reassuring to anyone willing to listen. It says, “We can deal with this, it’s mostly about logistics and streamlining procedures. With more manpower, we can speed up the process and people with weak asylum claims won’t bother to come.”

But this frame isn’t working in today’s politics. It doesn’t fit well in a tweet. It doesn’t come with compelling visuals. (While our side is explaining things on a whiteboard, the other has scary videos of hordes breaking through Mexican border gates.) It presupposes that there’s an opposing side that’s interested in finding common ground and rolling up sleeves to work on a solution. It appeals to reason, but not to emotion.

And if our current national debate is about emotion, not facts, it’s no wonder that Democratic midterm candidates are avoiding discussion of the “caravan.”

Some might say, “What about human compassion toward migrants and their suffering? Isn’t that an appeal to emotion?” Of course it is. But in U.S. public opinion right now, it’s not working like the rage that Donald Trump uses to stir up his base supporters. U.S. journalists keep publishing sympathetic accounts of caravan participants recounting the barbarity and deprivation they’re fleeing. But these don’t generate the ratings and social-media shares that “invasion”-themed coverage gets in the Fox News and Breitbart spheres.

Appeals to rage are motivating more people than appeals to compassion or reason-based policy prescriptions. I don’t know whether that’s a basic fact of human nature, or a unique reflection of this authoritarian-leaning moment in U.S. history.

And I’m a terrible person to ask. I’m a Latin Americanist born and raised in the liberal northeast United States, where nearly all of my family is. When I travel, I travel to Latin America, or perhaps to college towns in the U.S. interior. I’m not in a position to explain why rage is working so well in America right now. I want to spend more of the next year traveling around my own country and listening.

The day ahead: October 24, 2018

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

After another day of public speaking, meetings, and talking pretty constantly on the phone about the “caravan,” I’m more behind on work than ever. It won’t get better today, as I’m spending the afternoon speaking at, and attending, a conference on gangs and migration at George Mason University out in the Virginia suburbs.

I’ll try to catch up this website tonight, at least, if I don’t fall asleep. In the meantime, I will hardly be in an office or easily able to talk on the phone today.

9 Questions (and Answers) About the Central American Migrant Caravan

A new resource at WOLA’s website provides quick, fact-filled, documented and cited answers to these questions:

  1. Why are people leaving? And why are they leaving now? (Short answer: violence, corruption, climate, domestic violence, and economics.)
  2. Can Trump cut aid to Central America? (Short answer: no.)
  3. Why are people traveling as a caravan? (Short answer: safety in numbers.)
  4. What happened to the migrant caravan that attracted so much vitriol from President Trump earlier this year? (Short answer: it dwindled to almost nothing.)
  5. President Trump has threatened to shut down the entire U.S.-Mexico border to forestall anyone from the migrant caravan turning themselves into U.S. authorities to seek asylum, or to cross the border. What would happen if the U.S.-Mexico border is shut down? (Short answer: you’d probably see the effect in the Dow and S&P 500.)
  6. What is Mexico’s policy towards the migrant caravan? (Short answer: lots of cops and a request for UN help.)
  7. Will threats mitigate migration flows from Central America? (Short answer: no.)
  8. Why are Central American countries not stopping caravans? (Short answer: freedom of assembly and movement.)
  9. What should the U.S. government do if members of the caravan reach the U.S.-Mexico border? (Short answer: it’s a humanitarian and logistical problem, not an “invasion.”)

Read the whole thing here.

The day ahead: October 23, 2018

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

I enjoyed talking to reporters for much of the day yesterday—I always learn a lot—and I’m glad we’re “participating in the debate” on this migrant caravan issue. But my plans for yesterday’s “strategic not tactical” work were obliterated by a few tweets from the reality-TV personality who occupies the White House. (WOLA’s Mexico and Central America program directors, and policy director, are all traveling, so I came in off the bench and substituted.) As a result, I didn’t write a word of any of the three nearly completed Colombia writing projects that, I’d said yesterday, I’d hoped to advance on.

I don’t expect to do much writing today, either, and it may be a while before I even do my usual “news links” post on this site. Today I’m guest-teaching a class at the Foreign Service Institute, have calls scheduled with a journalist and the Inter-American Defense College, and a late-afternoon meeting with refugee groups. There will be more calls and e-mails. So in the moments when I’m at a desk, it will probably be responding to the evolving caravan situation. Usually I’d catch up on the other work at night, but since I’m doing public speaking today and tomorrow, I need to sleep.

The day ahead: October 22, 2018

I’m reachable for much of the afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’m in internal WOLA meetings in the morning, and meeting with a think-tank colleague about Colombia in the mid-afternoon. Otherwise I plan to be writing one or two of three different publications about Colombia, and preparing a talk I’m giving at George Mason University on Wednesday. I’ll be in the office extra-late because of a late childcare pickup, so hope to get a lot of writing done.

The week ahead

Okay. No visitors in town this week, it’s time to get some stuff done. The plan is to finish full first or final drafts of three different long-form articles about Colombia that I’ve been working on. A report based on our early September field research, a chapter for a colleague’s edited volume (which is very late), and the paper I gave at the Latin American Studies Association conference in May (just needs footnotes and a final edit). All are very far along.

In addition, I’m guest-teaching a class at the Foreign Service Institute Tuesday, speaking on a panel at George Mason University Wednesday, and have a sprinkling of other meetings. I also plan to post video of last week’s conference. And then there’s the small matter of the “migrant caravan,” which I’m also covering. So I’m buckled in and ready to go.

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Tuesday, October 23

  • 9:00–11:00 at the Wilson Center: Turmoil in Nicaragua: Is There an End in Sight? (RSVP required).

Wednesday, October 24

  • 11:00–12:00 at the Brookings Institution: Financial tools for US policy toward Nicaragua and Venezuela: A conversation with Treasury Assistant Secretary Marshall Billingslea (RSVP required).
  • 1:00–6:00 at George Mason University: Panel on Gangs, Migration, and Homeland SecurityI’m speaking here, come by and say “hi.”

Thursday, October 25

  • 12:30–2:00 at Georgetown University Intercultural Center: Human Rights and the Question of Genocide in the Guatemalan Civil War (RSVP required).

Some articles I found interesting this morning

AP photo. Caption: “Cientos de migrantes hondureños se reúnen a orillas del río Suchiate en la frontera entre Guatemala y México, en Tecún Umán, Guatemala, el jueves 18 de octubre de 2018.”

(Even more here)

October 19, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional


Central America Regional, Mexico


  • Proyecto Contra la Verdad Inicio su Tramite (El Espectador (Colombia), October 19, 2018).

    Un representante a la Cámara por el Centro Democrático radicó una iniciativa que busca evitar que la JEP, la Comisión de la Verdad y la Unidad de Búsqueda de Personas Desaparecidas puedan acceder a información militar de carácter reservado

  • Erika Pineros, The Women Abandoned by Peace (Foreign Policy, October 19, 2018).

    Victims of sexual violence and forced abortion during Colombia’s long years of conflict have yet to see justice


  • Jo-Marie Burt, Bittersweet Justice in Guatemala (The Progressive, October 19, 2018).

    A Guatemalan court found that the army committed genocide against the Maya Ixil, but at the same time acquitted the chief of military intelligence of wrongdoing

Guatemala, Honduras

  • Kirk Semple, What Is the Migrant Caravan and Why Does Trump Care? (The New York Times, October 19, 2018).

    Here are answers to some questions about the migrant caravan that has upset Mr. Trump this week and inflamed political concerns throughout the region

Guatemala, Mexico

  • Claudia Torrens, Sonia Perez D., Mexico Comienza a Atender a Migrantes de Caravana (Associated Press **, October 19, 2018).

    Aunque el grueso de la caravana todavía estaba en territorio guatemalteco el jueves por la noche, la cancillería mexicana anunció en un comunicado que ya inició una atención “ordenada” a quienes habían cruzado


  • Sandra Cuffe, Honduran Activists Welcome Trump’s Threats to Cut Us Aid (Al Jazzeera, October 19, 2018).

    Many human rights activists in Honduras and in the US have expressed concern over the way the Hernandez government has addressed insecurity. They’ve advocated for years for initiatives that would cut, freeze, or condition US security aid



  • Authorities Stepped Up Strategy for Repression in Nicaragua (Amnesty International, October 19, 2018).

    Instilling terror: From lethal force to persecution in Nicaragua documents grave human rights violations and crimes under international law that the Nicaraguan authorities committed between 30 May and 18 September


Corruption in Latin America: links from the past month

Jeff Abbott photo at Al Jazeera. Caption: “An indigenous woman holds a sign in front of the Ministry of the Interior offices in Santa Cruz del Quiche, calling for an end to corruption in Guatemala”


  • Former Argentine President Acquitted of Arms Smuggling (Associated Press, The New York Times, October 4, 2018).

    “The same judicial branch that processed the case for 22 years without a firm sentence, now declares Menem innocent because too much time has passed”


  • Jim Mustian, Joshua Goodman, Dea’s Colombia Post Roiled by Misconduct Probes (Associated Press, The Washington Post, October 3, 2018).

    Prior to Bogota, Dobrich oversaw the DEA’s military-style FAST teams that battled drug traffickers in Afghanistan and Latin America, and were criticized for a series of fatal shootings in Honduras in 2012


  • Hector Silva Avalos, 4 Consequences of Morales’ War With the Cicig in Guatemala (InsightCrime, September 21, 2018).

    On September 16, at a press conference where the CC judges read their decision in favor of the CICIG, an undercover police officer attempted to photograph journalists who were covering the event

  • Francisco Goldman, Why Is Trump Tacitly Supporting Corruption in Guatemala? (The New York Times, September 21, 2018).

    His government is backed by a so-called juntita of retrograde military officers and a bloc in the Guatemalan Congress derisively known as “el pacto de corruptos”



  • Maria Verza, Mark Stevenson, Mexican Students Massacred by Army in 1968, by Gangs Today (Associated Press, The Washington Post, October 1, 2018).

    Today’s student activists — and even the graying veterans of the 1968 democracy movement — acknowledge they now have free speech, something the ‘68 generation fought for. But they say the impunity remains the same

U.S.-Mexico Border


The day ahead: October 19, 2018

I’ll be easiest to reach in the late morning and the late afternoon. (How to contact me)

Yesterday, we fondly saw off our terrific delegation of Colombian leaders, experts, and advocates, who did a great job explaining the country’s challenges at Tuesday’s conference and subsequent meetings. We’ll post the conference videos (without translation, sorry) next week.

Today I’m meeting with a European diplomat, have a call with a UN official, and an internal meeting. Otherwise I expect to be catching up on correspondence from the past few days and working on WOLA’s response to the “migrant caravan” issue.

The day ahead: October 16, 2018

I’ll be very hard to reach through the end of Thursday. (How to contact me)

We’re putting on a big conference about Colombia today, and I’ll be accompanying our group of visitors on Wednesday and Thursday. That means this website won’t be updated, and I’ll be hard to reach. I hope all goes well, and will resume posting on Friday.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

October 15, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

  • Simon Romero, A Mexican Man’s Fatal Journey to Reclaim His American Life (The New York Times, October 15, 2018).

    Deportations of foreign-born long-term residents are surging under the Trump administration, but as they reach into well-established immigrant communities far from the border, there is often little chance they will be permanent



  • Chile: Homenajean a Militar Con 600 Anos Carcel por Violacion a Ddhh (EFE, La Republica (Peru), October 15, 2018).

    Un grupo de personas homenajeó en unas instalaciones del Ejército de Chile a varios exoficiales vinculados con la dictadura de Agusto Pinochet sobre los que recaen acusaciones y condenas de violaciones de derechos humanos


  • Nicholas Casey, Peacetime Spells Death for Colombia’s Activists (The New York Times, October 15, 2018).

    These groups now see the activists’ development projects as a threat, bringing unwanted attention and potentially interfering with their illegal activities

Colombia, Venezuela

  • Javier AlexÁnder MacÍas, Disidencias y Eln Intentan Reclutar Hasta Venezolanos (El Colombiano (Medellin Colombia), October 15, 2018).

    Con promesas de un empleo rentable que les ayude a subsanar las carencias que tienen por la crisis que se vive en Venezuela o, en algunos casos, bajo amenazas, el Eln y las disidencias de las Farc quieren engrosar sus filas con venezolanos

El Salvador, Western Hemisphere Regional

  • Paul Elie, What Oscar Romero’s Canonization Says About Pope Francis (The Atlantic, October 15, 2018).

    Sainthood for the archbishop forces us to consider Francis in a different light—as a figure scarred by Latin American politics and his own encounter with fear and violence, compromise and complicity

Guatemala, Honduras




  • Franklin Villavicencio, Brutal Represion y Masiva Redada Policial Contra Manifestantes (Confidencial (Nicaragua), October 15, 2018).

    Con esta nueva escalada represiva, Ortega impuso un “estado de excepción” en el país, al suspender por las vías de hecho los derechos fundamentales de la libertad de movilización y reunión pacífica

The day ahead: October 15, 2018

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

We’re putting on a big Colombia conference tomorrow, and our guests arrive this afternoon and evening. Most of the day will be spent preparing for that; we want to put on a good show tomorrow. First, though, I’m in internal WOLA meetings until lunchtime.

The week ahead

Eight guests from Colombia are arriving in Washington today. We’re putting on a big conference with them tomorrow, and have some side meetings around town on Wednesday and Thursday.

That makes for a full schedule. This site will go semi-dormant this week, because I won’t be sitting at a computer keyboard very often.

Weekly Update #8 is out

Here’s the latest. A conference announcement and lots of other events in town. A Colombia peace update. Links about what’s been going on with Latin American civil-military relations. Music recommendations, and links to some great writing by others.

To get these in your e-mail, 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.


Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Monday, October 15, 2018

  • 9:30–10:30 at the Wilson Center: The Future of Argentina: A Conversation with Sergio Massa (RSVP required).
  • 11:00–1:00 at the Wilson Center: Colombian Private Sector Commitment in Rural Conflict Areas (RSVP required).

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

  • 8:30–4:00 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Staying on Course: Security, Coca, Justice, and Accord Implementation in Colombia (I’m organizing this one. Come by if you’re around. RSVP required).
  • 12:00–2:00 at the Inter-American Dialogue: The Cuban Economy: What’s Next for the Private Sector? (RSVP required).

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Thursday, October 18, 2018

  • 9:00–10:30 at the Wilson Center: The U.S.-Colombian Bilateral Relationship: Challenges and Opportunities for the Duque Administration (RSVP required).

Friday, October 19, 2018

  • 1:30–3:00 at the Wilson Center: The Outlook for the Rule of Law in Mexico (RSVP required).

Five links from the past week



  • Ron Nixon, U.S. Campaign Against Migration Goes Unheard, or Unheeded, in Guatemala (The New York Times, October 8, 2018).

    Residents said they see daily advertisements by the smugglers, or coyotes, promising to get them to the United States. On at least one community radio station in Quetzaltenango, smugglers regularly offer to transport and help finance northbound travels


U.S.-Mexico Border

  • Melissa del Bosque, Checkpoint Nation (The Texas Observer, October 8, 2018).

    Some 200 million people — nearly two-thirds of all Americans — live within the “border zone,” which is defined by the Justice Department as the area up to 100 air miles from any U.S. land or coastal boundary

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Week of September 30-October 6)

Prosecutor’s Office Raids Transitional Justice System Headquarters

On the afternoon of October 4 agents of Colombia’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía, which investigates and prosecutes crimes in the regular criminal justice system) showed up at the offices of the new, separate transitional justice system created by the peace accords (Special Peace Jurisdiction or JEP, which investigates and prosecutes war crimes committed during the armed conflict). The agents, sent by the Fiscalía, demanded to be allowed to carry out a “judicial inspection” of the files in the new justice system’s first and largest case so far, numbered “case 001”: charges of mass kidnapping against 31 FARC leaders.

This action, which appeared to be a blatant interference in the new justice system’s workings, generated expressions of outrage against Prosecutor-General Néstor Humberto Martínez, a frequent critic of the JEP and other aspects of the FARC peace accord. Though Martínez quickly rescinded the order and called back the agents, JEP President Patricia Linares declared, “the Prosecutor’s Office obtained a digital copy of the casefile, due to the hasty manner in which the procedure was carried out.”

Linares “strongly and emphatically reject[ed]” what she called “the Fiscalía’s undue interference with the autonomy and judicial independence” of the JEP, adding that it was “openly violative of the judicial reserve that covers the investigations carried out by JEP judges.”

The UN Verification Mission and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia issued a joint declaration following the incident:

The rights of victims and the legal security of participants in the armed conflict depend on strict respect of all public powers for the independence and autonomy of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. We underline the importance that collaboration between jurisdictions be harmonious and fully respectful of their respective competences.

What Colombian media called a “train crash” between the old and new judicial bodies could have consequences for the peace process. It appeared to be a political move seeking to intimidate the JEP and demonstrate the Fiscalía’s relative power. It may have increased former FARC leaders’ fear of being arrested in a similar future show of political power, which risks causing more of them to abandon the process, either going into hiding or taking up arms again.

Missing FARC Leaders Send a Harshly Worded Letter

Two of the most prominent leaders who have already gone clandestine surfaced in a letter sent to the Peace Committee of Colombia’s Congress. Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator during the Havana peace talks, and Óscar Montero alias “El Paisa,” once head of a powerful FARC mobile column, have been missing since June or July. Their letter, the first communication from them in months, had some very harsh words for a process they view as failing.

“The peace accord has been betrayed,” reads the letter, which laments having agreed to turn in weapons before reaching more specific agreement on the terms of ex-combatants’ reintegration. The letter outlines what, in the missing leaders’ view, are three “structural flaws” in the November 2016 accord.

First, they cite “judicial insecurity,” believing themselves vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and possible extradition. They allege that this is what happened to Jesús Santrich, a guerrilla negotiator close to Márquez who was arrested in April and faces an extradition request to the United States on charges of conspiring to transship cocaine. The two ex-guerrilla leaders write that these charges are a “judicial setup hatched by the Attorney General, the U.S. Ambassador, and the DEA.” Writing in La Silla Vacía, analyst Héctor Riveros notes that regardless of the truth behind the Santrich case, the “judicial insecurity” argument has served “hundreds of ex-guerrillas” as a pretext for exiting the process and joining armed dissident groups.

The second “flaw” noted in the letter are the changes made to the accord after it was narrowly rejected in an October 2016 plebiscite, which in their words “transfigured the Havana Accord into a horrific Frankenstein.” Third, they cite the Colombian Congress’s failure to pass all the legislation needed to implement the accord, especially reforms to the political system and the failure to create special temporary congressional districts to represent victims’ groups.

The FARC political party held a press conference in the Congress, with its legislators rejecting the arguments in Márquez and Montero’s letter. “They’re totally wrong,” said FARC Senator Carlos Antonio Lozada.

“I could hardly go and say that there are no conditions or guarantees while I’m sitting in the Senate press room leading a press conference. What we’re saying is that the process has difficulties, the implementation has not been consistent on the part of the state, but there are some spaces that have been won, we value them and they are very important to achieve progress in the implementation of the peace accords.”

Lozada called on the missing leaders to “understand” that the ex-guerrilla party has adopted a supportive but critical position on the accord’s implementation, and that they “reconsider their position.”

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero told the Blu Radio network that “the police have intelligence reports” about Márquez and Montero’s current location. While refusing to reveal anything on the radio, Botero acknowledged that both are in Colombia.

US Ambassador Pushes for Santrich Extradition

The Jesús Santrich case remains a big test for Colombia’s new transitional justice system. The former guerrilla negotiator remains in prison awaiting a decision from the JEP about whether he may be extradited to face charges in a New York federal court of conspiring to send 10 tons of cocaine to the United States in 2017, after the peace accord was ratified.

“Extradition is a very strong tool for Colombia, for the United States, for the victims and for the peace agreement,” U.S. ambassador Kevin Whitaker said this week. “Jesus Santrich is accused in a United States Court of having violated U.S. law, that is why we are seeking his extradition and we will continue in that.” The ambassador added, “Any person or institution that can stop the extraditions affects the interests of the United States, affects the interests of Colombia and of all those who long for peace.”

The FARC insists that Santrich, a FARC ideologist who has poor eyesight and little apparent prior involvement in the guerrillas’ narcotrafficking, is innocent. They doubt the evidence made public so far, which appears to show Santrich offering approval to a plan, hatched by a nephew of Iván Márquez, to send coca to Mexican narcotraffickers who are, in fact, DEA agents or informants.

Farc Senator Victoria Sandino said, “It’s been more than six months since they captured Jesus Santrich, with the argument that U.S. justice has the evidence,” but “the Prosecutor-General’s office then goes out and says it does not have it. And now the Embassy persists in the extradition. What we say is show the evidence and present it to the JEP. And Santrich’s legal defense demands freedom, because no evidence has been shown.”

Sandino is referring to this chain of events:

  • When another country requests the extradition of an individual facing trial in the JEP, the peace accord requires the JEP to determine whether the alleged crime took place before or after the December 2016 ratification of the FARC peace accord—the official end of the conflict. If the crime happened before that date, then extradition would be blocked.
  • This procedure left unclear whether the JEP was merely to perform the clerical task of certifying the date of the alleged crime, or whether it was also empowered to decide whether there was enough evidence to back up the allegation.
  • Colombia’s Constitutional Court settled this question in August, when it determined that the JEP does have the ability to evaluate the evidence backing an allegation.
  • On September 18, the JEP asked the Fiscalía to turn over all the evidence in its possession about the Santrich case.
  • On September 27, the Fiscalía sent a letter to the JEP stating that it had turned over everything it its Santrich file. La Silla Vacía commentator Héctor Riveros characterized this as “the ‘bureaucratic file,’ that is, some letters and little else.”
  • On October 1, the Fiscalía announced via Twitter that it had sent 12 more audio files to the JEP. But it also surprisingly announced that it “does not have audio or video evidence. …The elements being requested now are those that form part of a judicial process in the United States.” That the proof against Santrich is not available in Colombia drew much attention in Colombian media.
  • According to Riveros, the Chief Prosecutor then tried to do some damage control: “Prosecutor Néstor Humberto Martínez, aware of the seriousness of Santrich’s detention, invited the directors of the most influential media in the country to his office to show part of the evidence on the basis of which the former negotiator’s arrest was ordered. They were short videos and some photos that, although they did not reveal anything, hinted that Santrich may have been literally caught ‘with his hands in the cookie jar.’”

“If everything keeps going like this,” Riveros wrote, “that Jurisdiction [JEP] can not say anything other than that there is no proof that Santrich has committed crimes after the accord’s signing.”

New Security Council Report

The UN Verification Mission in Colombia issued its latest quarterly Secretary General’s report to the Security Council on the demobilization and reintegration process. It covers July 21 to September 26. Some of its key findings:

  • As of August 30, approximately 13,000 demobilized FARC members had been accredited by Colombia’s Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, and 12,773 of them had been provided with their accreditation, an increase of 150 since July. It’s hard to notify some of these ex-guerrillas of their accreditation because of their “increased dispersal.”
  • On August 10 the FARC gave the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace a list of about 1,000 additional former members, who were not on the “final” list of August 15, 2017, the date the FARC officially disarmed. Most of the new names, the Secretary-General’s report notes, “come from areas affected by continuing security challenges and where the integration of the individuals into the process could be beneficial. As such, I hope that this matter will be treated by the new Government as a priority.”
  • As of late August, 232 accredited ex-guerrillas were still in prison, even though the accord calls for amnesty for their crime of sedition, and then for their future appearance before the JEP for more serious crimes.
  • The UN Mission reiterated concerns about “the departures of several former FARC-EP commanders from the territorial areas for training and reintegration in the south-eastern region. Some of them have cited concerns about their physical and legal security as a motivating factor.” Ominously it adds, “this development has underlined the continued fragility of the peace process, owing in particular to the persistence of violence in the zones of conflict linked mainly to criminal groups.”
  • The Mission’s chief, UN diplomat Jean Arnault, said that about 4,000 ex-FARC members remain in the “territorial areas,” or demobilization sites, or their immediate vicinity. (Ex-guerrillas have been free to leave these sites since August 15, 2017.) More than 2,000 have moved to “several dozen new regrouping points and thousands are dispersed throughout all of the country, including in the main cities.”
  • “The process of economic reintegration is clearly lagging behind other dimensions of reintegration,” the report states. “[T]he fundamental goal of providing income-generating opportunities to some 14,000 former combatants is far from being realized, as illustrated by the fact that only 17 projects have been approved, of which only 2 are currently funded.” Former FARC members are carrying out dozens of productive projects, informally, on their own. Many could succeed, the UN report contends, “if provided with better access to technical and marketing advice, land and overall support from the Government, local authorities and the private sector, among others.”
  • Nine former FARC members were killed during the 90-day period, making a total of 71. The Fiscalía’s Special Investigation Unit, set up by the peace accord to investigate these killings, notes that three-quarters of these killings took place in five departments: Nariño (16), Antioquia (15), Cauca (12), Caquetá (8), and Norte de Santander (7). The UN report notes further, “In 34 cases, the Unit reported significant progress in its investigations, with 17 instigators or perpetrators arrested. Of these, 15 cases involved dissident groups, 7 involved private individuals, 6 were attributed to ELN, 4 cases were attributed to the Clan del Golfo criminal group, 1 involved local criminal organization and 1 case remains under investigation. According to the Investigation Unit, the principal motives behind the attacks are related to territorial control (21 cases) and revenge (3 cases).”
  • Even without direct negotiations, the UN report states that “continued direct communication between the Government and ELN is welcome.” The report finds that renewed peace talks are certainly possible: “The Government has made it clear that it expects a cessation of all violence; the ELN, for its part, has stated that it aims to bring about substantive change based on a broad social dialogue. The two goals are not incompatible.”

FIP Report Finds Deteriorating Security Conditions

The Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), a Bogotá-based think-tank founded by members of the business community, released an extensive report on October 3 about deteriorating security guarantees for practicing peaceful politics in post-conflict Colombia. “From a feeling of tranquility and expectation for the returns that the implementation of what was agreed with the FARC would bring,” the report reads, post-conflict regions “have passed into distrust and fear for the reactivation of violence.” It zooms in on four conflictive regions: Arauca, Catatumbo, Cauca, and southern Bolívar.

Among the report’s findings:

  • In the 170 municipalities (counties, of which Colombia has about 1,100) that Colombia has prioritized for post-conflict Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (PDETs), homicides increased 28 percent in January-July 2018, compared to the same period in 2017.
  • In these municipalities, forced displacement tripled, from 5,248 people to 16,997.
  • In these municipalities, crimes against social leaders also nearly tripled, from 24 to 67.
  • Throughout the country, 93 social leaders were killed between January and August, compared to 50 during the same period in 2017.

In the four regions it looked at, the FIP found common patterns:

  • an unstable confluence of armed actors;
  • a reactivation of social conflicts;
  • vulnerability of social leaders;
  • delays in the implementation of the peace accord;
  • weaknesses in ex-combatants’ reincorporation process; and
  • difficulties in implementing security guarantees at the local level.

The FIP calls for urgent measures to prevent further deterioration of post-conflict zones’ security situation. “Under these conditions, the implementation of the peace accord is at a critical moment. We still have time to prevent and contain the manifestations of violence and intimidation in the territories affected by the presence of illegal armed groups and armed confrontation.”

Kidnapping of Mayor’s Son, Age Five, in Catatumbo

Two armed, motorcycle-mounted men kidnapped the five-year-old son of the mayor of El Carmen, a municipality in the violence-torn region of Catatumbo, in Norte de Santander department near the Venezuelan border. The mayor, Edwin Contreras, is part of a political dynasty in the 2,000-person municipality; his uncle had held the post before him. “Since he became mayor, he has received strong intimidations,” reports El Espectador.

The Catatumbo region, with 11 municipalities and a population of about 300,000, has suffered frequent fighting between the ELN and a local guerrilla group, the EPL, since March. The two groups previously had cordial relations, but the departure of the FARC from part of the zone, and a sharp rise in coca cultivation, undid the local power equilibrium. Violence has since shuttered schools at times and displaced thousands.

While the kidnappers’ identity is unknown, speculation points to the ELN. “In this municipality, even a needle can’t move without the ELN knowing about it,” local residents who asked to remain unnamed told El Espectador. “We’re so exposed that on any given day they can kidnap the mayor’s son,” the municipal ombudsman said. “There is no Army here. There is a police presence, but they can’t do their job. They can’t go out. We’ve reiterated this issue in all official security meetings. We are abandoned to our fate.”

In-Depth Reading

Civil-military relations in Latin America: links from the past month

Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images photo at The New York Review of Books. Caption: “Former army captain and far-right frontrunner for the Brazilian presidency Jair Bolsonaro posing with soldiers, São Paulo, May 3, 2018”


  • Brian Winter, Meet the New Brazil. A Lot Like the Old Brazil. (Americas Quarterly, October 4, 2018).

    Bolsonaro now seems on the verge of becoming Brazil’s next president. He no longer wears his uniform, but make no mistake: He is the modern-day heir to Brazil’s long tradition of soldiers in power

  • Beatrice Christofaro, Marcelo Silva de Sousa, Peter Prengaman, In Brazil Congress, Bolsonaro’s Record Thin; Army Was Focus (Associated Press, The Washington Post, October 2, 2018).

    The Associated Press reviewed and categorized all 642 legislative filings by Bolsonaro since he entered Congress in 1991

  • Rodrigo Zeidan, The Looming Military Coup in Brazil? (Americas Quarterly, September 28, 2018).

    Bolsonaro seems to be paving the way, directly or indirectly, for a coup d’état or an authoritarian regime backed by the military. He enjoys ample support among the military’s rank and file

  • Andres Schipani, Joe Leahy, Contradictions Expose Brazil Election Frontrunner’s Soldier Image (The Financial Times (UK), September 18, 2018).

    Mr da Silva, his former childhood friend, summed it up. Mr Bolsonaro was Brazil’s version of Mr Trump, a social media Pied Piper gathering diverse disgruntled followers from across the web


  • Proponen Sala para En Jep (El Nuevo Siglo (Colombia), September 27, 2018).

    “Las salas especiales”, explicó a su turno la senadora Paloma Valencia, son para que los “miembros de la Fuerza Pública sean juzgados con garantías

  • Cecilia Orozco Tascón, Autor de Falsos Positivos, Invitado de Lafaurie-Cabal (El Espectador (Colombia), September 20, 2018).

    Portando uniforme militar, en gesto de desafío que ofende a las Fuerzas Armadas de Colombia, el coronel Mejía departió, whisky en mano, con personajes del alto mundo social capitalino

  • María Jimena Duzán, Sin Pudor (Semana (Colombia), September 17, 2018).

    Sin sonrojarse, Montoya quiere convencernos de que los responsables de los falsos positivos fueron unos cuantos soldados rasos, que actuaron como una rueda suelta y que asesinaron a miles de colombianos sin que sus comandantes se hubiesen dado cuenta

  • Javier AlexÁnder MacÍas, Victimas Exigieron la Verdad a Montoya (El Colombiano (Medellin Colombia), September 14, 2018).

    El general (r) Mario Montoya acudió a la JEP donde se le recordaron los compromisos que adquiere al someterse a esta justicia especial. El magistrado aplazó la audiencia hasta nueva fecha


  • Sandra Cuffe, Guatemala’s Army Breaks Ranks With President Over Court Ruling (Al Jazzeera, October 2, 2018).

    “The army has to obey civilian rule and the Constitution, and the authentic interpreter of the Constitution is the Constitutional Court. So, what the army is saying regarding the court is what is right”

  • Iduvina Hernandez, Un Presidente a la Fuerza (Plaza Publica (Guatemala), September 14, 2018).

    El miércoles 12, el presidente necesitó rodearse una vez más del Ejército. Esta vez, soldados de la Guardia Presidencial con boinas kaibiles y fusiles de asalto rodearon el palacio legislativo


  • Faustino Ordonez Baca, Militares y Policias No Seran Beneficiados por la Amnistia (El Heraldo (Honduras), September 24, 2018).

    Los militares y policías quedarán fuera de la amnistía porque así lo pidieron ellos, aunque en un principio el Partido Nacional y el sector gobierno habían solicitado incluirlos


  • Ezequiel Flores Contreras, La Legalizacion de la Amapola Podria Ser una Salida al Problema de la Violencia: Cienfuegos (Proceso (Mexico), October 5, 2018).

    “Aquí lo único que se debe de tratar es la seguridad de los campesinos que ya no van a vender a los delincuentes, sino al gobierno, para hacer la morfina que se usa para atender el dolor en los pacientes”

  • Luis Hernandez Navarro, Amlo, el Ejercito y el 68 (La Jornada (Mexico), October 2, 2018).

    Es muy delicado involucrar a las fuerzas armadas en funciones de policía. Buena parte de las violaciones a los derechos humanos que la milicia ha cometido son resultado, en mucho, de su acción en tareas de seguridad pública

  • Arturo RodrÍguez GarcÍa, Nueva Comision para el Caso Ayotzinapa No Investigara al Ejercito: Encinas (Proceso (Mexico), September 27, 2018).

    La comisión especial recién anunciada para investigar la desaparición de los 43 estudiantes de la normal de Ayotzinapa no tiene como línea de investigación al ejército mexicano, anticipó hoy Alejandro Encinas, anunciado como próximo subsecretario de Gobernación

  • Abel Barrera Hernandez, Ayotzinapa: En el Corazon de la Patria (Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña Tlachinollan, La Jornada (Mexico), September 27, 2018).

    Las corporaciones policiales y el mismo Ejército forman parte de los ejecutores de estas acciones violentas que tienen como móvil destruir un proyecto educativo que ha sido la cuna de la conciencia social



U.S.-Mexico Border

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Reynaldo Leal photo for The Texas Tribune. Caption: “Immigrant families seeking asylum in the United States wait on the Mexican side of the international bridge connecting Brownsville to Matamoros, Mexico.”

(Even more here)

October 12, 2018

Western Hemisphere Regional

  • Erica Werner, Josh Dawsey, Republicans Promise Post-Midterm Fight to Fund Trump’s Border Wall (The Washington Post, October 12, 2018).

    GOP leaders now face the possibility of emerging empty-handed from the fight they postponed. They don’t have enough votes in the Senate to push through a big wall-funding increase, and the midterm elections could weaken their position even further

  • Nancy Montoya, Fbi May Help Identify Migrant Remains Found Along Us-Mexico Border (Arizona Public Media, October 12, 2018).

    After six years of nonprofits asking the FBI to work with the Forensic Border Commission to share CODIS with those looking for missing migrants – it was a face to face between two mothers, that may lead to progress


Central America Regional


  • , Javier AlexÁnder MacÍas, Colombia Destina Mucho Dinero para la Guerra (El Colombiano (Medellin Colombia), October 12, 2018).

    El presupuesto estimado para el 2019 en el sector Defensa y Policía es de 33,5 billones de pesos


  • Andrea Rodriguez, Cuban Constitutional Reform Spawns Unusual Public Debate (Associated Press **, October 12, 2018).

    Cubans repeatedly called for direct election of the president and other officials. And many objected to a constitutional amendment that would allow gays and lesbians to marry

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico



The day ahead: October 12, 2018

I’m in meetings nearly all day. (How to contact me)

Several representatives of USAID’s Colombia mission are in town for a day of consultations with civil society (that’s us). That ends mid-afternoon, after which I’ll be doing preparatory work for Tuesday’s big Colombia conference and meeting with a visiting UN human rights official.

Older Posts
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.