Adam Isacson

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


May 2019

The day ahead: May 31, 2019

I’m off today. (How to contact me)

I’m taking the day off, the first one in weeks after a lot of travel. I look forward to catching up on sleep, laundry, and perhaps even this website. I’ll be back at work on Monday.

The day ahead: May 30, 2019

I’m around in the early afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’ve got four meetings on the schedule today—a journalist, an internal management meeting, a former executive-branch official and a new legislative-branch staffer. When not in those meetings—mainly, during lunch hour and just afterward—I’ll be in the office trying to respond to communications that went unanswered, and commitments made, during my two weeks of travel.

In a few more days, I expect to be able to start updating this site more regularly. But not today.

The day ahead: May 28, 2019

I’m around in the early afternoon. (How to contact me)

After 15 days in Colombia, at an off-site office retreat, in Mexico City, and in Boston, I’m back in Washington. Got home at 9:00 last night, missing the holiday weekend. Today, I’m in the office with a staff meeting, a dentist appointment, and 322 e-mails to go through. It may take a day or two to get caught up.

It’s possible that 15% of the FARC have re-armed

From La Silla Vacía (Colombia).

Note as of June 5: Kyle Johnson at the International Crisis Group reminds me that several hundred of the FARC dissidents never demobilized in the first place: they “went dissident” even before the peace accord was signed. So although this is all very inexact, my estimate here should probably be closer to 10 percent of demobilized FARC who have rearmed.

Leer en español

A very good New York Times analysis by Nick Casey, which ran on May 17, looked at the Colombian government’s failures to honor commitments made in the 2016 FARC peace accord. It included this troubling finding:

Experts estimate that as many as 3,000 militants have taken up arms again — a figure equal to more than 40 percent of those who initially demobilized. It includes new recruits.

That’s correct, as written. However, more than one reader probably saw that and came away with the notion that “40% of the FARC have already rearmed.”

Some rearmament happens after nearly all peace accords, as dissident or residual groups form. But a recidivism rate of 40 percent would be disastrous. It would make it very hard to defend the notion that the government should honor its accord commitments.

Colombia’s past demobilizations saw much recidivism—but not 40 percent. Between 2002 and 2013, about 55,000 guerrillas and paramilitaries demobilized. About 20 percent went on to commit crimes, according to the official estimate.

How does the FARC process compare so far?

  • Let’s accept that figure of 3,000 members of FARC dissident groups, large and small, scattered around the country. That sounds right, even though the commander of Colombia’s army reported 2,000 members in March. The dissidences are growing fast, attracting some disillusioned fighters and recruiting from a large pool of underemployed rural youth.
  • Let’s say that 2,000 of them were once FARC members who demobilized. I think this estimate is a bit high, but we have no way to know: it’s impossible to do a survey of dissident fighters.
  • 6,804 FARC fighters reported to demobilization sites in 2017, where they turned in a larger number of weapons to a UN mission, and remained for several months.
  • But that is not the entire universe of demobilized FARC fighters. One must add FARC members who were released from prison, and FARC militia members: part time, mostly urban guerrillas who had only to report to the demobilization zones for a few days.
  • That yields an entire universe of 13,061 former FARC members, the number that had been accredited by Colombia’s Office of the High Commissioner for Peace as of late March, according to the UN Verification Mission.

2,000 recidivist fighters out of a universe of 13,061 would be 15 percent of all who demobilized. That’s bad, but not unusually high for a peace process, especially one in which the accord has been implemented so slowly and partially.

Because of that slow, partial implementation, and the evident lack of political support the accord has from Colombia’s current government, this percentage is bound to get worse. Every day right now, ex-guerrillas, tired of uncertainty and poor economic prospects, may be accepting the dissidents’ offers.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Robert Burns/AP photo at Military Times. Caption: “Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaks with troops near McAllen, Texas, on May 11, 2019, about the military’s role in support of the Department of Homeland Security’s effort to secure the Southwest border.”

(Even more here)

May 13, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

The Pentagon has justified the reprogramming for the border wall by shifting the funding to a Defense Department counterdrug effort

Lawmakers are irate that the Pentagon is taking money that was meant for fighting a war and using it for what Democrats view as a political move intended to assuage Mr. Trump’s base

Shanahan told Congress this past week that there are 4,364 military troops on the border, including active-duty and National Guard


En su diálogo no vaciló en reclamar para la JEP “un trato digno y respetuoso”

Desmovilizados del bloque paramilitar señalaron que contaron con la “colaboración” de casi 300 soldados adscritos al Batallón Contraguerrilla No. 33, Cacique Lutaima, de la Brigada XVII

El único miembro del gobierno del presidente Iván Duque que se ha referido al tema es la vicepresidenta Marta Lucía Ramírez, quien dijo en Caracol Radio que respetan “las decisiones de cada país siempre que se tomen con criterios objetivos y transparentes”

El Salvador

Bukele aseguró que ha preferido inversiones estadounidenses que chinas. Un día después, dos congresistas del Comité presentaron un proyecto de ley que busca autorizar 577 millones de dólares en ayuda


Since October, 1 percent of Guatemala’s total population — more than 160,000 people — have crossed. Many are children


Many dissidents are pounding on the doors of foreign embassies in a throwback to the dark days of the 1970s, when far bloodier military dictatorships in South America hunted down their opponents

“This could be another Bay of Pigs as far as Cuban sentiment is concerned”

Earlier this week, U.S. Navy Adm. Craig Faller said he would meet with Guaidó when invited to discuss the future role of Venezuela’s armed forces

The day ahead: May 13, 2019

I’m in meetings, then on planes, all day. (How to contact me)

I’m very happy to be going back to Colombia today. I’m less happy that I’ll only going to have about 36 non-airport hours in Bogotá on this trip. It’s a meeting about the Colombia-Venezuela situation organized by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which promises to be very useful. I have to leave a bit early and rush back on Wednesday, though, in order to attend WOLA’s annual two-day staff retreat on Thursday.

This means that all week, I’ll be both hard to reach and infrequently updating this site. Today, I’m off to the airport late morning after more than 2 hours of internal meetings.

Duque Has Left Colombia’s Peace Process Rudderless

Here, posted to World Politics Review on Wednesday, is a look at where the ongoing drama over implementing Colombia’s peace accord stands right now. Consider it an update to this site’s April 29 “Big JEP vote in Colombia’s Senate” post.

The outcome of that vote was confusing and full of the procedural legalisms in which Colombia’s political class excels. But it appears to amount to a big victory for the transitional justice system at the heart of the peace accord. Still, the peace process remains in intensive care.

Senate proponents of the peace accord are jubilantly predicting that the court will rule in their favor, either deciding that 47 votes is enough to sink Duque’s veto, or simply upholding its 2018 ruling in favor of the tribunal statute. That would be the right outcome for transitional justice and the full implementation of the accord. Even so, Colombia’s peace process is losing precious time.

Read the whole thing here. It may be paywalled, but it often isn’t.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

From Foreign Policy. Caption: “Venezuelans cross the border through the jungle carrying supplies, food, and medicine purchased in Cúcuta on March 18.”

(Even more here)

May 10, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

The wall he described was not physical, but virtual: 10 towers up to 140 feet tall, with radar and night vision cameras capable of surveying over several miles and streaming footage around the clock to the Border Patrol

“Intimidation from CBP has been ramping up,” Adlerstein told The Intercept on Wednesday, with CBP routinely pulling individuals working on migrant issues into secondary screening, grilling them with questions and using words like “aiding and abetting”

The border has seen illegal-immigrant waves before. This one is different

Latin America’s anti-corruption wave has made the region’s presidents more vulnerable to criminal prosecution than ever before

The changes involve the initial interviews that asylum seekers go through to determine whether they have what U.S. law defines as a “credible fear” of being persecuted in their home country

Election rules are sometimes flouted and independent institutions undermined. Many voters are turning to populists with little commitment to restraints on power. Parties of the moderate centre are weakening or collapsing


Two of the youth raised their hands, saying “I lost,” to which the government agents responded: “My order is to kill”

Central America Regional

The United States–Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act authorizes $577 million in foreign assistance to Central America for Fiscal Year 2020 and includes conditions on any assistance that goes to the central governments

Colombia, Guatemala

Guatemalan service members strengthen their amphibious assault capabilities to conduct operations against criminal organizations in any scenario


Según los voceros de la iniciativa, el regreso del herbicida no solo afectaría los cultivos que sí son legales, sino que le pondría más trabas al Programa Nacional de Sustitución de Cultivos de Uso Ilícito

According to the Electoral Observation Mission (MOE), there have been 74 acts of aggression against local and regional political leaders, including 10 homicides

Quien lleva la batuta no es el ministro de Ambiente, Ricardo Lozano, sino el consejero de seguridad, Rafael Guarín, que es el que más ha salido en medios a contar de qué se trata

“La nueva estrategia es amenazar y asesinar a los líderes de base, con el fin de debilitar el proceso a través del miedo y el terror”, insiste el Cinep

La presidenta de la Corte Constitucional, Gloria Ortiz, y dos magistrados fueron al Palacio de Nariño para informar la situación. A su turno, el presidente Iván Duque se comunicó con el saliente embajador de Estados Unidos en Bogotá, Kevin Whitaker, para tratar de apaciguar las cosas

El Salvador

Getting witnesses and the families of victims to come forward remains a key challenge because many fear reprisals from gangs who control city neighborhoods


Lakhani’s reporting and the ensuing trial revealed that Cáceres’s murder was ordered by the company building the dam


The new country President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says he is building looks an awful lot like the old one he swore to leave behind in the campaign

The Associated Press visited eight cities along the U.S.-Mexico border and found 13,000 immigrants on waiting lists to get into the country — exposed to haphazard and often-dubious arrangements that vary sharply


La compra asciende a más de medio millón de dólares y será totalmente financiada por el Banco Centroamericano de Integración económica (BCIE), pese a los señalamientos de que la cooperación económica de esta institución continúa oxigenando a la dictadura


A week after an audacious attempt to topple Venezuelan autocrat Nicolas Maduro, his regime is cracking down on those it holds responsible, searching homes, issuing arrest warrants and sending opposition leaders into hiding

Destacó que es “bienvenido cualquier elemento que sume” para lograr la salida del Gobierno de Nicolás Maduro, pero reiteró su negativa al diálogo, debido a que considera que este mecanismo es utilizado por el chavismo para engañar

Venezuela, Western Hemisphere Regional

As U.S. threats toward Venezuela and Cuba, one of Maduro’s primary backers, have grown more explicit in recent days, Latin American and European governments have nervously stepped up their efforts toward a political solution

The day ahead: May 10, 2019

I’ll be reachable mid-day and late afternoon. (How to contact me)

That was a nice event yesterday, and I’ll post the students’ papers, pending their permission, when they’re complete.

Today will be my last full day in the office until May 28. I’m going to speak at a conference in Colombia, attend WOLA’s annual staff planning retreat, speak at a conference in Mexico City, then go to the annual Latin American Studies Association congress in Boston, where I’m on two panels and organized a third.

I hope to do a lot of writing on the road so that this site isn’t completely neglected, but there will be days where nothing gets put here.

Today, other than an early afternoon meeting with a House staffer, I should be in the office trying to finish all pending “small tasks” that can’t wait until I return. I also have a few papers and presentations to finish for these upcoming events, but I might not get a chance to get to those today.

New Border Apprehension Numbers Show Brutal Effect of ‘Metering’ at Ports of Entry

Yesterday, after CBP released its April statistics detailing migrants apprehended at the border, I rushed to update our package of graphics representing aspects of that data (which is always a big PDF file at

The result was a Twitter thread that I’m pleased got a lot of shares, and a graphical commentary at WOLA’s website.

The main points of that commentary (minus the graphics, which you’ll have to visit to view) were:

  • Kids and families were 68% of all apprehensions between the ports of entry last month. More than 2 out of 3. And kids and families are 64% of all apprehensions so far this year.
  • The current wave of kids and families dwarfs the 2014 and 2016 waves. This is not a temporary problem that you can push back by looking tough.
  • Family apprehensions grew from March to April, but unaccompanied kids and single adults were pretty flat. Numbers of single adults are still well below what was the norm as recently as 2012-14.
  • May apprehensions could be higher than April, but it usually drops after that because of summer heat.
  • “Metering” at ports of entry is draconian. For 11 months now, CBP has held the number of undocumented people who can present themselves at the ports to about 10,000 per month—half of them kids and families.
  • Kids and families allowed to present at ports of entry actually dropped by 18% from March to April. That’s stunning at a time of record arrivals between ports of entry. People are being incentivized to make their asylum claims “improperly” (entering without inspection, between the ports).
  • Cubans were fully a quarter of those allowed to present at the ports of entry in April. The number of Cubans has doubled since February, and is now half what it was before “wet foot dry foot” ended in January 2017.
  • Arrivals from Guatemala have leveled off. The April increase is coming from elsewhere.
  • El Salvador, long a distant 3rd place, is growing fast.
  • Lots more are coming from other countries. Nicaragua? Cuba? Don’t know.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Gustavo Torrijos photo at El Espectador (Colombia). Caption: “Yirleis Velazco dice que quiere regresar a El Salado, el pueblo de los Montes de María del que tuvo que salir desplazada por la violencia.”

(Even more here)

May 9, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

The Pentagon has redirected enough money to build 256 miles of barriers along the southwestern border, including 63 miles within six months, the acting defense secretary told lawmakers on Wednesday

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detained 109,144 migrants along the boundary with Mexico last month, a 6 percent increase from March


“Sales are going through the roof,” said Welker Costa, owner of a gun shop in Brasília as he read the latest decree’s more than 11,000 words to understand the changes

Bajo la ley estadounidense, el presidente de EE.UU. debe notificar al Congreso al menos 30 días antes de designar a un país como aliado militar estratégico fuera de la OTAN

Central America Regional

En Honduras se contabilizaron 8.7 toneladas de cocaína decomisadas en diferentes sectores del territorio nacional. En Guatemala se considera que 2018 fue un año histórico porque se decomisaron 17,897 kilos de cocaína. Mientras que en El Salvador la cantidad fue de 12 toneladas de esa droga

During the two-day security meeting, the participating delegations and observers discussed how military and public-security forces support civilian authorities, as well as regional efforts to target transnational organized crime


Desde la firma del acuerdo de paz entre el gobierno de Colombia y las antiguas Farc, en noviembre de 2016 en Bogotá, 129 excombatientes de esa guerrilla han sido asesinados

Colombia, Venezuela

In a statement, the foreign ministry said the Venezuelan unit crossed 200 meters into northeastern Colombia

“He mandado a tomar medidas especiales de precaución en la frontera. A todas las unidades militares de la frontera, máxima alerta”, dijo Maduro

El comandante de las fuerzas militares, Luis Fernando Navarro, afirmó que unos 1.100 miembros del Eln estarían en Venezuela


Yirleis Velazco dice que quiere regresar a El Salado, el pueblo de los Montes de María del que tuvo que salir desplazada por la violencia

Cuba, Venezuela

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo surprised many observers Sunday when he declared that the United States was “working” with Cuba to secure Maduro’s departure from Venezuela


On Wednesday night, Mexico’s immigration agency said 4,217 Central American asylum seekers had already been returned through three border cities

El nuevo Gobierno ha expulsado a más de 45.000 personas en cinco meses, casi 15.000 de ellas en abril

Datos oficiales revisados por Animal Político evidencian que en las alcaldías más pobladas existen incrementos de hasta 250 % en delitos de alto impacto cometidos con armas de fuego

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants to take the security aid his country receives from the U.S. and use the money instead for a development plan for Central America and southern Mexico to help stop migration


Hundreds of Nicaraguan mothers seek justice for their murdered children, birthing a movement


A $200 million rice plant illustrates the graft and incompetence that opponents say crippled development by Venezuela’s leftist regime

Ejemplo de su delicada posición, destacan los expertos, es que el jueves 2 pidió a las fuerzas armadas que no lo abandonen y restituyó en la jefatura de los servicios de inteligencia a Gustavo González López

Un día después de que el oficial norteamericano le pidiera a la Fuerza Armada “decidir a quién representa: A su pueblo a un tirano”

He is at least the fourth prominent ally of Mr. Guaidó to be detained or forced to flee the country since January

The arrest of a top opposition leader in Venezuela unleashed fears of a wider crackdown on Thursday, even as members of the opposition issued renewed calls for weekend protests

The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around national security adviser John Bolton and what Trump has groused is an interventionist stance at odds with his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires

The day ahead: May 9, 2019

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

This afternoon I’m hosting an event at WOLA for a group of University of Maryland graduate students whose work on civil-military relations in Latin America I’ve been accompanying since September. Before that, we’re going to the National Defense University to discuss their findings. After that is a meeting of NGOs working on Colombia. This means I’ll be hard to contact today.

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