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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January 2020

The day ahead: January 27, 2020

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

My calendar says I’ve got a phone call with a longtime colleague, a morning staff meeting, lunch with a Colombian security expert, and a mid-afternoon call about Colombia with staff from another organization. Otherwise I should be in the office, catching up on remaining correspondence and tasks from when I was traveling last week, and starting work to renovate and re-launch our website about Colombia’s peace process.

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Monday, January 27

  • 9:00–10:30 at the Wilson Center: A New Decade, New Trajectory for the Brazilian Economy? (RSVP required).
  • 2:00–3:30 at the Brookings Institution: Economic sanctions: Assessing their use and implications for U.S. foreign policy (RSVP required).
  • 2:00–5:00 at the Wilson Center: On the Horizon | What to Expect in 2020 Wilson Center Experts Weigh In (RSVP required).

Wednesday, January 29

  • 12:30–2:30 at the Wilson Center: Healthy Landscapes for Prosperity: Land Restoration in El Salvador (RSVP required).

Thursday, January 30

Friday, January 31

  • 11:00–12:30 at CSIS: Humanitarian Aid to Venezuela: The Need for a Global Response (RSVP required).

5 links from the past week

Because of my travels this week, I no doubt missed a lot of important analysis and coverage. But from what I managed to see, here are five recommended reads.

  • Alberto Pradilla, a journalist for Mexico’s Animal Político who wrote a well-received book about migrant caravans last year, was on hand in Chiapas this week for the Mexican National Guard’s heavy-handed breakup of a new caravan attempted by thousands of fleeing Hondurans.
  • A reporter for Colombia’s main newsmagazine who had uncovered scandals in the U.S.-backed military learned—luckily—that hitmen had been dispatched to murder him. This is part of a pattern of daily threats suffered by reporters who’ve dared to report on Colombia’s army, and by some of the military whistleblowers themselves. El Espectador reports.
  • Kendrick Foster, ”From Selfies to Progress in El Salvador”: in the Harvard Political Review, a nuanced look at El Salvador’s hard-to-pin-down, social media-obsessed young president, Nayib Bukele. Is he really going after corruption? Is he really approaching gangs in a new way?
  • “The Guerrillas Are the Police” is the title of a new Human Rights Watch report on the disastrous security and human rights situation in Arauca, Colombia (where I was last October) and across the border in Apure, Venezuela.
  • Russian disinformation campaigns and bots are not responsible for the surge of popular protests in Latin America recently, but Moscow has definitely worked to encourage them, according to State Department analyses obtained by the New York Times.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Alberto Pradilla photo at Animal Político (Mexico).

(Even more here)

January 24, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

With an average score of 43 for the fourth consecutive year on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), the Americas region fails to make significant progress in the fight against corruption

Latin America is the second most unequal region in the world. The failure to address these problems — and to fulfill promises made — has caused governments to lose legitimacy in the eyes of their people


A pesar de que organizaciones campesinas han documentado el asesinato de 59 líderes cocaleros, el funcionario sostiene que no tienen registrado ningún caso

Los defensores de derechos humanos anunciaron que apelarán para que la Corte Suprema les dé soluciones de fondo

Can the mayoral election of an ex-guerrilla combatant offer an example of how to move ahead with peace, when Colombia’s decades of conflict are still so unresolved?

Guatemala, Mexico

Many cried as immigration officials and National Guard troops dragged them towards buses, which officials said were used to take the migrants and asylum seekers to an immigration detention centre

Mexico has cracked down on the large caravans seen previously following intense pressure from Washington last year

Los agentes y elementos antimotines rodearon a los migrantes que transitaban por una carretera en Chiapas


Brolo said his government was in the process of determining if other nationalities will be included in the U.S. asylum deal


Hondurans live in a narco-state whose leadership is supported by the United States and which suffers from widespread corruption, gender violence, gang control, land-grabs, and the effects of climate change


Investigators have not suggested any theories about what might have happened to him, but many in Rosario suspect that loggers kidnapped him

Un Juez libró orden de aprehensión contra Dámaso López Serrano, el Minilic, como presunto autor intelectual del asesinato del periodista Javier Valdez Cárdenas

Images published by local journalists of the initiation ceremony — in which uniformed, rifle-wielding boys performed military-style maneuvers — drew outrage across Mexico


In a country where voting is compulsory, the most popular option by far is spoiling the ballot — defacing it, or leaving it blank — the preference of roughly 40 percent of votersÓ

The day ahead: January 24, 2020

I’m reachable for parts of the morning, but ending the day early. (How to contact me)

Our visit to El Paso and Ciudad Juárez went well logistically and content-wise, though things are so bad there right now, I can’t say that I’m in good spirits this morning.

I’m back in Washington as of 10:30 last night, and in the office for much of the day today. I’m meeting a Colombian scholar in the late morning, and discussing Colombia with some U.S. defense-sector visitors in the afternoon. By about 2:00 I expect to go home: it’s been a full week of travel, and today is my wife’s birthday.

A few photos from El Paso and Juárez

From Tuesday and Wednesday.

Outside the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso.
Mount Cristo Rey, west of El Paso in the New Mexico desert, viewed at night.

The Rio Grande, seen from the Paso del Norte border bridge.
These tents on the Ciudad Juárez side of the border denote the area where asylum-seeking migrants get returned when subjected to the “Remain in Mexico” program, which requires them to await their hearing dates on Mexican soil. Kidnappers who prey on migrants often operate just outside this tent area, making them very vulnerable here.
Caribe Queen, a Cuban restaurant in downtown Ciudad Juárez, founded within the past year by Cuban asylum seekers forced to “Remain in Mexico” pending their hearing dates in the United States.
Mexican National Guardsmen in a playground along the Rio Grande (the area of green brush behind them). The border fence is in the background, set far back from the actual borderline—the elevated highway is actually in the United States, between the fence and the river.
A Mexican National Guardsman reads his phone near the border fence.
Graffiti on the fence in Anapra, west of Juárez.
Central American children forced to “remain in Mexico” play at the Pan de Vida shelter in western Juárez.
Only five of twelve lanes open at the Paso del Norte port of entry, where the wait to get back into the United States was about 45 minutes.

The day ahead: January 23, 2020

I’ll be out of contact nearly all day. (How to contact me)

Good morning from El Paso. Yesterday’s visits in Ciudad Juarez went well. Today is our last day here; we’ve got two meetings in the morning, then head for the airport to fly back to Washington, arriving late tonight. Again, I’ll be hard to reach today.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

January 22, 2020


The case raises concerns among journalists and advocates for a free press because journalists often rely on confidential or leaked information, sometimes obtained by whistle-blowers or hackers

Colombia, Venezuela

Abuses including murder, forced labor, child recruitment, and rape are often committed as part of the groups’ strategy to control the social, political, and economic life of Arauca and Apure

Ecuador, Venezuela

Tres meses después, la Fiscalía no encontró evidencias. El pasado 14 de enero, el juez Miguel Narváez confirmó la inocencia de los sospechosos y declaró que todos eran taxistas de aplicaciones móviles

El Salvador

On issues such as corruption, gang violence, and economic development, Bukele still has a long way to go in fully implementing his promises and making sure his administration does not repeat previous mistakes

Guatemala, Mexico

Lo que sorprende es que López Obrador, que prometió una política más humana, los engañe de esta forma

La barrera de la Guardia Nacional en la orilla del Suchiate impidió el paso a la mayor parte de la caravana migrante. Muchos de los que lograron zafarse de los uniformados fueron posteriormente detenidos

En apenas un año, López Obrador deconstruye su paradigma migratorio y vira a posiciones cercanas a sus predecesores


The National System of Public Security said late Monday that 35,588 people were victims of homicides last year, 2.7 percent more than the previous year

The day ahead: January 22, 2020

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

I’m in El Paso this morning, and plan to spend the day with a full agenda in Ciudad Juárez. I’ll be difficult to reach and barely even able to check messages.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Jeff Abbott photo at Al Jazeera. Caption: “Migrants run towards the banks of the Suchiate River in hopes of evading the Mexican National Guard”

(Even more here)

January 21, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

State Department analysts found that Russian-linked Twitter accounts sought to sow confusion in South American nations that oppose the Moscow-backed government in Venezuela

“Once you see it,” Fisher, donning a Fisher Industries hat with Trump 2020 stitching, recently told CNN, “this proves what we’ve been saying”


A dictatorship-era torturer is suing one of his victims in Brazil in a stark reminder of how Bolsonaro emboldens rights abusers


La mitad de los 22 líderes asesinados en los 17 primeros días del año eran campesinos comprometidos con la erradicación de cultivos

En diferentes regiones del país las comunidades han denunciado la posible connivencia de la fuerza pública y las Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia

Los habitantes del Consejo Comunitario Unión Río Chagüí tuvieron que salir de su territorio a raíz de los enfrentamientos entre el Frente Oliver Sinisterra, el Bloque Occidental Comandante Alfonso Cano y la estructura delincuencial de origen paramilitar

During the Airborne exercise, U.S. and Colombian paratroopers will conduct an airborne training insertion from U.S. and Colombian C-130 Hercules aircraft, followed by tactical exercises designed to simulate the securing of an airfield

Colombia, Venezuela

Al encuentro en Bogotá asisten representantes de más de 20 países americanos, entre ellos el secretario de Estado de EE.UU., Mike Pompeo


But the number of U.S. visitors dropped by 21.9% last year after the Trump administration tightened those restrictions again and banned the recently re-instated cruises

El Salvador

There are signs that a conscious gang decision to lower violence, or even some kind of agreement between gangs and the state, may be driving down homicides

Guatemala, Mexico

Chaos ensued on the Guatemala-Mexican border on Monday after thousands of migrants and asylum seekers attempted to cross the Suchiate River

Some scuffled with national guardsmen on the riverbank while others slipped through Mexican lines and trudged off on a rural highway in small groups. Immigration authorities nabbed more there and chased others into the brush

Más de 500 migrantes lograron cruzar hacia México y llegar a Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas. En la carretera hacia Tapachula la Guardia Nacional montó un operativo y detuvo a más de 100 migrantes


Guatemala’s new government could bring stability to the country following a turbulent administration riddled with corruption. But analysts see little hope for substantive change in the return of military and private sector elites to power


Aunque por ley el pleno del SNAV debería acumular al momento doce sesiones ordinarias a nivel nacional (dos al año), por lo menos, en los hechos solo se ha reunido una vez y fue en 2014

The day ahead: January 21, 2020

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

Good morning from El Paso, Texas. I’m here with a group organized by WOLA’s partnerships team, and we have a full schedule of meetings with experts, service providers, and law enforcement all around the city. I’m guiding the agenda and driving a big huge van, so will not be reachable today, and barely able to respond to messages.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Teresa de Miguel photo at El País (Spain). Caption: “Migrantes esperan en la frontera de El Ceibo.”

(Even more here)

January 20, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

The pricetag for President Trump’s border wall has topped $11 billion — or nearly $20 million a mile — to become the most expensive wall of its kind anywhere in the world

Brazil, Paraguay

Members of the cartel, the First Capital Command, had spent weeks digging the tunnel from their wing of the Pedro Juan Caballero prison, piling dozens of bags of dirt into a cell


Apenas un 7% confía en las empresas, un 6% en el Ministerio Público, un 5% el Gobierno, un 3% en el Congreso y un 2% en los partidos, tanto del oficialismo como de la oposición de izquierda


El año pasado, por un golpe de suerte, el periodista que ha liderado las investigaciones contra el Ejército en revista “Semana” se enteró de que dos sicarios de Boyacá fueron contratados para matarlo

Rodrigo Ramírez denuncia que en esa región del Caribe habría connivencia entre la Infantería de Marina y las Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia

Desde el 11 de enero más de 4.000 personas han sido desplazadas desde veredas hacia zonas rurales de Tumaco

Duque también resaltó el anuncio del Gobierno de los Estados Unidos que, a través de recursos de la Corporación Financiera de Desarrollo Internacional de ese país, destinará 5.000 millones de dólares, en los próximos años, para invertir en zonas afectadas por el narcotráfico

Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

Un total de 351 migrantes aceptan las condiciones del INM y son encerrados en La Mosca, una antigua fábrica convertida estación migratoria en Tuxtla Gutiérrez. México ofrece a los migrantes planes de empleo en Honduras y El Salvador

El nuevo muro mexicano demostró ser eficiente y la mayor parte de los cientos de hondureños y el puñado de salvadoreños que llegaron a Tecún Umán y El Ceibo accedieron a subirse a autobuses de la migración mexicana para iniciar un trámite incierto

En el paso de El Ceibo, en Tabasco, las autoridades cierran el paso durante horas y luego lo abren a cuentagotas. Algunos se echan a la montaña para intentar burlar a las autoridades


Corruption in Honduras has had a corrosive effect on the country and remains a key driver of migration to the United States. The Honduran people are the ones who will suffer the most from this ill-advised decision

Bartolo Fuentes, a Honduran activist, journalist, and former lawmaker told BuzzFeed News that someone used the phony account to send Facebook messages falsely claiming that established migrant groups were organizing the effort


Mexico has adopted a series of measures along its southern border with Guatemala that, while somewhat effective at stopping the flow, seems a partial solution with high financial and political costs

Thousands of migrants are camped out in Mexican border towns, waiting to ask for asylum in the U.S. Many are becoming despondent

Since 2014, at least 1,750 have perished along the border region, according to the international migration agency. Half of the deaths have been in Texas, surpassing Arizona


Juan Guaidó should harness his renewed international support to obtain electoral conditions that lead to free and fair elections

Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaidó has traveled to Colombia to participate alongside U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a regional counter-terrorism meeting

The day ahead: January 20, 2020

I’ll be very hard to reach until Friday. (How to contact me)

I’m going to the airport in a little while, for a 3 1/2-day trip to El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. I return to Washington late Thursday evening. I’ll be difficult to contact while I’m away.

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