Adam Isacson

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


February 2020

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Thursday, March 5, 2020

  • 9:30 at the Atlantic Council: US-Brazil economic relations: The path to a trade agreement (RSVP required).

Friday, March 6, 2020

  • 11:30 at the Atlantic Council: A New Energy Strategy for the Western Hemisphere (RSVP required).

5 links from the past week

  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released its annual report on Colombia, and it’s really good. It’s in English and Spanish, and it angered Colombian officials. I posted highlights of the report elsewhere.
  • Writing for the International Crisis Group, Bram Ebus produced a vivid and alarming look at life in Venezuelan refugee communities on the Colombian side of the northern part of the binational border.
  • Physicians for Human Rights carried out psychological evaluations of 17 adults and 9 children who had been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and “found pervasive symptoms and behaviors consistent with trauma.”
  • Amnesty International produced its annual country-by-country overview of the human rights situation in Latin America, putting particular emphasis on government repression of social protest. It has a great cover.
  • A team of reporters from Colombia’s La Silla Vacía profiles demobilized FARC guerrillas who have been resisting “dissident” groups’ calls on them to re-arm. Richly detailed, with an accompanying podcast episode.

Notes on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Annual Report

(Cross-posted at

On February 25 the Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its annual report on the human rights situation in Colombia. It is a very useful document, full of hard-to-obtain statistics. It also makes some reasoned, high-credibility judgments about controversial topics like implementation of the peace accord and government efforts to protect threatened social leaders.

The Colombian Government didn’t like the report. President Iván Duque criticized “imprecisions” and “not telling the truth” about the government’s performance in implementing the FARC peace accord’s rural provisions, adding that the report’s recommendation that the National Police pass from the Defense Ministry to the Interior Ministry was an “infringement of sovereignty.” High Counselor for Stabilization Emilio Archila, who is charged with implementing many peace accord commitments, said “I have no problem with being told that things are being done badly, but blunders [chambonadas] like this don’t lead to anything.”

This is not the first time that Colombia’s government and the OHCHR have had public disagreements since the office’s establishment in 1996. This won’t be the last time, either. The Office’s injection of inconvenient facts and perspectives into the high-level debate shows why its continued presence in Colombia, with a strong mandate, is so important.

Here are some highlights from the report:

On attacks on social leaders and human rights defenders

In 2019, OHCHR documented 108 killings of human rights defenders, including 15 women and two LGBTI defenders.

The Timely Action Plan initiated by the Ministry of Interior in December 2018 was developed to improve such coordination. To increase the effectiveness of this Plan, broader and more sustained participation of regional authorities and civil society should be prioritized.

Killings of women human rights defenders increased by almost 50 per cent in 2019 compared to 2018.

Of the 108 killings documented by OHCHR, 75 per cent occurred in rural areas; 86 per cent in municipalities with a multidimensional poverty index above the national average; 91 per cent in municipalities where the homicide rate indicates the existence of endemic violence; and 98 per cent in municipalities with the presence of illicit economies and ELN, other violent groups and criminal groups. Fifty-five per cent of these cases occurred in four departments: Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca and Caquetá. The sectors most affected continued to be those defending the rights of communities and ethnic groups, amounting to 65 per cent of all killings and sustaining a trend documented by OHCHR since 2016.

OHCHR continued to document attacks against representatives of Community Action Councils (JACs). 16 Especially in rural areas, JACs serve as the main body for communities’ political participation and the promotion of development and human rights initiatives. While noting a significant reduction from 2018, when it verified 46 cases, OHCHR documented 30 killings of representatives of JACs in 2019.

On the government’s response to these attacks

OHCHR appreciated the efforts of the Office of the Attorney General to investigate the cases it reported and noted some progress in 55 per cent of these cases, all of which occurred between 2016 and 2019. However, challenges persisted in the prosecution of intellectual authors of attacks against human rights defenders. The accused had been convicted in 16 per cent of the cases; 20 per cent were at trial stage; indictments had been issued in 7 per cent of cases; and a valid arrest warrant had been delivered in 11 per cent of cases.

The National Commission on Security Guarantees should be more regularly convened in order to fulfill its full role pursuant to the Peace Agreement, particularly concerning the dismantlement of criminal groups that succeeded the paramilitary organizations and were often responsible for killings of human rights defenders.

The Intersectoral Commission for Rapid Response to Early Warnings (CIPRAT) should sharpen its focus on human rights defenders, especially by defining coordinated and concrete measures to implement actions based on recommendations of the Ombudsman’s early warning system.

The Ministry of Interior’s National Protection Unit (UNP) made significant efforts to respond to the extraordinarily high demand for individual protection measures. Still, measures granted were not always adequate for the rural contexts in which most human rights defenders were killed. In 2019, six human rights defenders were killed in rural areas of Cauca, Chocó, Nariño and Risaralda despite protection measures. Prevention and early warning should be prioritized over temporary, individual and reactive protection measures, which do not address the structural causes behind the attacks.

OHCHR highlights the need to increase collective protection measures. Such measures constitute a prevention mechanism, inasmuch as they seek to address risks faced by communities and organizations through the coordination of different authorities to advance human rights guarantees. Whereas the 2019 budget for collective protection measures represented merely 0.22 per cent of the budget of UNP, the implementation of collective protection measures was often hampered by coordination issues between national, departmental and municipal institutions.

On the military and human rights

OHCHR documented 15 cases of alleged arbitrary deprivation of life in Antioquia, Arauca, Bogotá, Cauca, Guaviare, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Santander and Valle del Cauca. This was the highest number of such cases OHCHR recorded since 2016. In 13 cases, the deaths appeared to have been caused by unnecessary and/or disproportionate use of force. According to information documented by OHCHR, in 11 cases the deaths occurred in military operations related to public security involving anti-narcotics and law enforcement activities. In six cases, the deaths were preceded by law enforcement activities that potentially could have allowed for the arrest of the suspects and thus avoided their killing. In one case, OHCHR observed that weak command and control appeared to result in the killing and attempted enforced disappearance of one person. The military was allegedly responsible in 10 cases and the police in four, while there was alleged joint responsibility for one killing. In all 15 cases, the Office of the Attorney General initiated investigations, but these did not appear to follow the Minnesota Protocol.

OHCHR documented cases of alleged arbitrary deprivation of life by members of the military and police. In following up on these cases, OHCHR was concerned that the military criminal justice system continued to request jurisdiction over such investigations. In some instances, the Office of the Attorney General even referred cases to the military justice system. In the case of El Tandil, Nariño, the Office of the Attorney General did not take the necessary actions to retain the case within its jurisdiction.

On blurring the lines between military and police

OHCHR observed an increased resort to the military to respond to situations of violence and insecurity. Despite existing protocols, norms and public policies regulating the participation of the military in situations related to public security, these were not fully applied in a range of settings, such as in rural areas in Arauca, Antioquia, Caquetá, Cauca, Córdoba, Cesar, Chocó, Meta, Nariño and Norte de Santander. Nor were they fully applied in urban centres, such as Convención, Medellín, Santa Marta and Valledupar, where the military conducted anti-narcotics operations and other law enforcement activities. Military training, equipment and the nature of military duties are inappropriate in such circumstances. According to police statistics, homicides increased in municipalities in Arauca, Norte de Cauca, Catatumbo and Sur de Córdoba, despite an increased military presence.

On 15 September, the General Command of the Colombian Armed Forces’ announcement establishing anti-riot squads composed of professional soldiers raised questions concerning Colombia’s respect for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ guidance related to the responsibility of the police, rather than the military, to maintain public order.

In line with the need to strengthen the police’s institutional capacity, OHCHR recommends transferring oversight of the police to the Ministry of Interior.

On “stabilization” and establishing state presence in ungoverned territories

Efforts to establish a comprehensive State presence, particularly of civilian authorities, including the Office of the Attorney General and the police have been insufficient, especially in rural areas. The five Strategic Zones for Comprehensive Intervention established by the Government through Decree 2278 of 2019 were created to address this vacuum. However, OHCHR observed that State presence in these areas has remained predominantly military and that the pace of establishing a stronger presence of civilian authorities was slow.

The Office of the Attorney General is present in almost half of Colombia’s municipalities. Nevertheless, it continued to face difficulties to reach rural areas, especially in Antioquia, Arauca, Amazonas, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Guaviare, Huila, Meta, Nariño and Vaupés, greatly affecting its capacity to guarantee access to justice for all.

In 2018, 16 PDETs were formulated with high levels of community participation, including indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombian communities. While this generated significant hope for the effective implementation of PDETs, during the reporting period, OHCHR observed few advances and minimal coordination with other relevant programmes, such as the Collective Reparation Plan contained in the Victims and Land Restitution Law and the Comprehensive National Programme for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (PNIS).

[T]he Comprehensive Rural Reform should be supported by an adequate budget to fully implement all of the plans, entities and mechanisms established in the Peace Agreement, rather than a limited focus on PDETs. However, the 2020 budget was reduced for all the institutions responsible for implementing the Comprehensive Rural Reform.

On illicit crop eradication and substitution

Police continued to recruit civilians to eradicate illicit crops. This practice exposes civilians to loss of life or injury due to the presence of anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordnance among the crops. Between January and November, 24 civilians and 8 antinarcotics police officers were affected by such devices in Tumaco, Nariño, while eradicating illicit crops.

OHCHR highlights the recent determination, in a joint report by the Government and United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), that 95 per cent of families participating in PNIS fulfilled the voluntary eradication requirement, whereas 0.4 per cent returned to the cultivation of illicit crops.

Slides from today’s talk about “militarization” in Latin America

The Historical Memory Project at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice invited me to be on a panel this morning about the “military-industrial complex” in Latin America today.

I explained that the “M.-I.C.” is not a term I use very often these days. Instead, I worry about “militarization”: the region’s armed forces playing an ever greater role in the political sphere, taking on responsibilities that civilians should be able to fulfill.

Here are the slides I used.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

Brian van der Brug photo at The Los Angeles Times. Caption: “A saguaro cactus lies on the ground after having been uprooted the day before by construction crews making way for new border wall on Puerto Blanco Drive in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona.”

February 28, 2020


El viernes pasado, el presidente Alberto Fernández llamó a “dar vuelta la página” en relación con las Fuerzas Armadas. Sus dichos fueron repudiados por Nora Cortiñas y por organismos de derechos humanos


There does not seem to be a statistically significant difference in the margin before and after the halt of the preliminary vote. Instead, it is highly likely that Morales surpassed the 10-percentage-point margin in the first round.


Segundo o militar, o presidente está aproveitando a imagem de eficiência das Forças Armadas para satisfazer seus planos de poder


Este señor parece que no leyera los reportes de esas agencias sobre la implementación. A este señor cómo se le ocurre decir que no hemos avanzado en los PDET

El exdirector del Programa Nacional de Sustitución de Cultivos de Uso Ilícito (PNIS) explicó cuál es la gravedad de que el presidente Iván Duque rompiera el convenio con la ONU para verificar el avance del programa

Denuncian incumplimientos del Gobierno con las familias que se comprometieron a sustituir sus cultivos

Su imagen desfavorable ha pasado de 41 a 71 y su favorable ha caído 20 puntos

Este jueves escaló a nivel de confrontación cuando el presidente de la república, Iván Duque, habló de una “intromisión en la soberanía”

Colombia, Venezuela

Migrant education costs $160 million per year; emergency health care costs nearly $40 million per year; and water and sanitation services cost $260 million

This year puts Venezuela on track to rival Syria as the world’s largest contemporary mass migration


Recordó, se invirtió $110 millones en equipamiento militar en el 2019 y se ha pagado $100 millones al Instituto de Seguridad social de las Fuerzas Armadas (Issfa) por una deuda del gobierno pasado

El Salvador

Rights groups and families of victims call the newly approved measure an ‘amnesty law in disguise’


“The presidential commission is totally different from CICIG,” Davila said, describing the new body as an internal affairs unit of the government


Alrededor de 1,000 millones de lempiras se proyecta invertir ahora en los próximos cinco años a través del Programa de Desarrollo Agrícola de Honduras (PDAH) de las Fuerzas Armadas


Desde 2014 surgieron en Iguala diversos colectivos de familiares de víctimas de desaparición, a consecuencia del caso de los normalistas de Ayotzinapa, y cuyos buscadores de fosas han logrado recuperar 191 cuerpos

U.S.-Mexico Border

At least a half-dozen saguaros were uprooted this month by crews clearing a dirt road next to new border fencing at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

86 holes had been dug on the area known as Monument Hill, each one 10 feet deep. Inside the holes were 5 pounds of an ammonium nitrate-based explosive

Norris accused President Donald Trump’s administration of running “roughshod” over the tribe’s sovereignty

The two pilot programs — the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP) for Mexican nationals and Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) for everyone else — were launched in October in El Paso, Texas, but as of early February, “they were operational across the border”

While the Migrant Protection Protocols, more commonly known as Remain in Mexico, have been a key part of throttling asylum applications, two newer, far less visible programs hold the potential to complete the job

U.S.-Mexico Border, Venezuela

While the Trump administration publicly sympathizes with the opposition to the oil-rich country’s socialist leader, Nicolás Maduro, it is also making it more difficult for the country’s political refugees to seek help within the United States

The day ahead: February 28, 2020

I’m at an event in New York today, and hard to reach. (How to contact me)

I’m in New York City, speaking on a panel at John Jay College this morning, at an event about militaries in the Americas. I’ll be attending the conference all day.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Twitter Ministerio Público photo at El Heraldo (Honduras). Caption: “Desde tempranas horas de la mañana de este miércoles se han llevado a cabo operativos para combatir varias actividades ilícitas.”

(Even more here)

February 27, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

States across the Americas clamped down on the rights to protest and seek asylum last year with flagrant disregard for their obligations under domestic and international law, Amnesty International said today upon launching its annual report for the region


Recordar el pasado concentracionario no es condenar a quienes hoy estudian en esas aulas para ser militares, sino mostrarles lo que deben repudiar, la herencia a la que deben negarse


So far, even though there is talk of scrapping Bolivia’s legal coca system, there are no new ideas that could provide alternatives to eradication or legalization


Hardcore supporters of Brazil’s far-right president are planning nationwide protests on 15 March and have been flooding social media with propaganda videos and fliers attacking members of Congress – and even proposing a return to military rule

Eduardo Bolsonaro will be giving workshops at CPAC this week


El dirigente de este partido, Rodrigo Londoño, aseguró a través de un video compartido en redes sociales que “el Presidente es indolente, que su inacción lo hace cómplice del genocidio que se está presentando con los exguerilleros”

La Consejería destacó los avances en materia de Reforma Rural Integral, los Programas de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial (PDET), y la sustitución voluntaria de cultivos ilícitos

In 2019, OHCHR documented 108 killings of human rights defenders, including 15 women and two LGBTI defenders

Dominican Republic

After officials suspended a national vote over problems in their electronic voting machines, Dominicans took to the streets in protest


Altamirano señaló que las Fuerzas Armadas, en especial el Ejército, está capacitado para las misiones que le sean encomendadas

El Salvador

Bukele called it “an amnesty law that protects war criminals” and said he would veto it

El juez que tramita el caso de El Mozote pidió a varias agencias estadounidenses, entre ellas la CIA y el Departamento de Defensa, que entreguen toda la información clasificada sobre los operativos y sobre los militares señalados por la masacre ocurrida en 1981


“Guatemala has a vibrant civil society which contributes to its democracy. We believe that Bill 5257 could undermine the efforts of legitimate civil society organizations”

A la fecha, más de 700 migrantes han retornado al país bajo el Acuerdo de Cooperación de Asilo (ACA) que Estados Unidos firmó con Guatemala en julio


A lo largo del territorio nacional se han realizado acciones para combatir el narcomenudeo, portación ilegal de armas y otros ilícitos


Fed up with escalating gender-based attacks and murders, activists called for a daylong national strike by women to demand greater support for their rights

El estado resulta atractivo para los carteles de las drogas por la misma razón que para las casas automotrices: Cuenta con carreteras y trenes que van directo a la frontera con Estados Unidos

El mismo juez que condenó a Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera será el encargado de escuchar lo que los fiscales tiene que decir sobre el ex funcionario mexicano

U.S.-Mexico Border

Despite congressional opposition, Trump faced no consequences when making similar transfers last year

The remains of chopped-up saguaros are now visible along a swath of the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona, part of what Native American leaders warn is a range of environmental and archaeological threats

The Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday it is expanding the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program in Arizona.

PACR/HARP requires the detention of asylum seekers in dangerous CBP facilities known as “hieleras” (or “iceboxes” for their freezing temperatures) with no meaningful way to obtain or consult with an attorney before their proceedings


In reality, the country offers no comfort for youthful Marxists or self-styled anti-imperialists—or for fans of Donald Trump

La designación de un nuevo poder electoral en Venezuela por parte de la Asamblea Nacional opositora progresó de manera sorpresiva y expedita desde la semana pasada

The day ahead: February 27, 2020

I’ll be reachable for a little while mid-morning, and at the end of the day, and that’s about it. (How to contact me)

I’ve got a dentist appointment in the late morning, a mid-day call with groups working on the border, and an internal meeting to talk communications strategy, then in the late afternoon I’m taking a train to New York, where I’ll be on a panel tomorrow morning at John Jay College.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from Tal Cual (Venezuela).

(Even more here)

February 26, 2020


“In difficult times, like during the era of dictatorship, Brazilian culture flourishes”

Central America Regional, Mexico

“Siempre hay un incremento en este momento del año (…) mientras las condiciones (de desarrollo) no se encuentren en los países de origen, las personas van a seguir buscando otras opciones”


Miguel Ceballos, alto comisionado de paz, manifestó que varios frentes de la guerrilla del ELN han venido enviando mensajes en busca de espacios de paz

Guaviare es el departamento de Colombia donde hay más probabilidades de que una familia tenga un pariente víctima de desaparición forzada

La Fiscalía afirma que en una fosa común habría entre 450 y 500 cuerpos

Ante la idea expresada por las Farc de que las cadenas era una manera de proteger su vida, Betancourt es enfática en develar su cinismo

Colombia, Venezuela

It consists of the most vulnerable, including poor expectant mothers, unaccompanied children and the sick, people with no defence against the predations of armed bands

Costa Rica

The killing comes just two weeks after Mainor Ortiz Delgado, 29, a leader of the Bribri indigenous people in neighbouring Salitre, was wounded in a gun attack, and less than a year since Sergio Rojas Ortiz, 59, was shot dead

El Salvador

A better list would have focused on “high-level military personalities who were probably involved,” not on the soldiers who would have been killed themselves for not following orders


Honduras is a trusted partner in efforts to combat illicit traffickers in Central America


La gente de Arantepacua dice que se siente “traicionada” por un Estado y unas autoridades que enviaron a un “ejército de policías” a reprimir una protesta social

The increased pace follows a threat by President Trump to designate drug traffickers as terrorists and amid two visits by his attorney general to Mexico to push for more cooperation

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

The teen, a Mexican national, was playing with three friends in the concrete culvert that separates the two cities. They dared one another to cross the unmarked border, run up and touch the fence on the U.S. side, then run back to the Mexican side

El Gobierno de México expresa su profunda preocupación por los efectos que esta decisión tendrá en otros casos similares

U.S.-Mexico Border

As of April 2019, only about 77 acres of land in Webb County was between a border barrier and the Rio Grande. That’s compared with more than 10,000 acres in Hidalgo County and more than 12,000 in Cameron County


La Dgcim permanece constantemente en la mira de Naciones Unidas y organizaciones no gubernamentales por las continuas violaciones de derechos humanos que se les atribuyen a los funcionarios, dentro o fuera de su sede

The business elites are suspected of paying hefty bribes to the government officials in exchange for making loans in bolivars to the national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., and then receiving repayments in dollars

The day ahead: February 26, 2020

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

This morning I’m meeting with a visiting group of Colombian human rights leaders and doing a phone interview about fumigation in Colombia. I’m having lunch with my new intern, and going to an NGO meeting at the UNHCR office in the late afternoon.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press photo at The New York Times. Caption: “En las últimas semanas se han organizado marchas para protestar contra la violencia de género en Ciudad de México.”

(Even more here)

February 25, 2020


Sus palabras despertaron críticas, por ejemplo, de la madre de Plaza de Mayo Nora Cortiñas


Las mujeres trabajan en los enclaves cocaleros como raspachinas, cocineras, cultivadoras y comercializadoras de la hoja o la pasta de coca. Pero, al contrario de los hombres que cumplen los mismos roles, siguen respondiendo por el cuidado del hogar y de sus hijos

Colombia may be entering a new and dangerous phase where insurgents again attempt to demonstrate their ability to establish a presence in mid-sized Colombian cities

En la lista de los parques donde los funcionarios fueron obligados a salir se encuentran Chiribiquete, Cahuinarí, Yaigojé Apaporis y La Paya

Estas son las historias de los pescadores de coca en Bahía Solano, Juradó y Nuquí; de Jaqué, el pueblo sin patria y de los emberá confinados por la guerra

Al mismo tiempo que la organización de las Farc sigue siendo parte de la lista de terroristas, porque, como sabemos, hay unas disidencias que todavía están involucradas en el narcotráfico y la violencia, apoyamos, como lo hicimos durante las negociaciones, la implementación del Acuerdo de Paz

Gonzalo Sánchez no deja de repensar la importancia de la memoria para el país, para el Estado, para la ciudadanía, pero principalmente para las víctimas


Florida Democrats insist he‘s the worst-equipped after Sanders’ refusal Sunday night to thoroughly condemn the Cuban revolution

Guatemala, U.S.-Mexico Border

“They’re basically removing the people from (the U.S.) with lies”


Se dinamizará el proceso de interceptar a un avión que no cumpla con los requisitos legales para sobrevolar el cielo hondureño


El fusil Barrett calibre .50 fue parte del armamento utilizado por el cártel de Sinaloa para liberar a Ovidio Guzmán el pasado 17 de octubre en Culiacán

Numerous reporters and editors with whom CPJ has spoken said that the threats and break-ins at homes and offices of journalists appear to be on the rise

Hasta ahora se han inaugurado 61 cuarteles para compañías de esta corporación, que están ubicados en Michoacán (22), Jalisco (23) y Guanajuato (16)

They were returning on the morning of Jan. 17 when members of a regional gang called Los Ardillos — the Squirrels — stopped their two trucks on a remote road, forced everybody out and attacked them with knives


El problema con el Ejército ha sido el afán de Ortega de manipularlo, desvirtuando su independencia, junto con la complicidad en dicho esfuerzo de algunos cuadros superiores, en particular el general Avilés

U.S.-Mexico Border

The head of the powerful union representing border patrol agents nationwide said the FBI is working to identify who stole some $500,000 out of the coffers of the El Paso local

“The United States would expect no less if the situation were reversed and a Mexican government agent, standing in Mexico and shooting across the border, had killed an American child standing on U.S. soil.”

U.S.-Mexico Border

Pervasive symptoms and behaviors consistent with trauma; most met diagnostic criteria for at least one mental health condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder

“Important Numbers”: a New Section at the Revived Site

When trying to understand peace accord implementation, security threats, and human rights in Colombia, we have to rely heavily on numbers to explain what’s happening. Whether you’re explaining reintegration of ex-combatants, pointing to coca cultivation trends, or advocating for more prosecutions of those masterminding social leaders’ murders, you often need numerical data. And the most current numbers can be hard to find.

In response to that need, a new section of our “” site—which I’ve been updating and improving over the past two weeks—just went live: a compendium of current numbers and statistics about peace, security, and human rights in Colombia. Each number has a link to the source document where we found it; the links are color-coded to indicate whether the source is an official document.

Right now, the page includes 85 individual bits of data, covering the following topics:

  • Attacks on Social Leaders
  • Child Combatants
  • Coca and Eradication
  • Crop Substitution
  • Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration
  • Displacement
  • Dissident Groups
  • ELN
  • FARC Political Future
  • Protection of Ex-Combatants
  • Public Security
  • Stabilization and Rural Governance
  • Transitional Justice

This page will never be “done.” It’ll need constant updating. It will also receive additions: there are some basic bits of public information still missing, and some topics will get added to the list above. But at this point, the “numbers” page is good enough to share.

Here, for instance, is what the page’s “Attacks on Social Leaders” section looks like right now. Visit the page to view all topics.

  • As of December 30, 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had verified 303 murders of human rights defenders and social leaders between the signing of the FARC peace accord and the end of 2019.
  • The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría) counts a higher number: 555 social leaders killed between January 1, 2016 and October 31, 2019. That is 133 cases in 2016, 126 cases in 2017, 178 cases in 2018, and 118 cases in 2019.
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights counted up to 120 killings of human rights defenders and social leaders in 2019: as of January 14, 2020, 107 cases were verified and 13 more were undergoing verification.
  • Of these 107, 98% happened “in municipalities with illicit economies where criminal groups or armed groups operate.” 86% occurred “in villages with a poverty rate above the national average.”
  • In 2018, the UN High Commissioner’s office counted 115 killings.
  • More than half of 2019 social-leader killings occurred in 4 departments: Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca, and Caquetá, though UN High Commissioner counted murders in 25 of Colombia’s 32 departments.
  • “The single most targeted group,” the UN High Commissioner reports, “was human rights defenders advocating on behalf of community-based and specific ethnic groups such as indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians. The killings of female human rights defenders increased by almost 50% in 2019 compared to 2018.”
  • The UN High Commissioner’s office counted at least 10 killings during the first 13 days of January.
  • The NGO INDEPAZ counts 51 social leaders murdered between January 1 and February 18, 2020.
  • INDEPAZ counted 23 murders of social leaders in the month of December 2019.
  • On December 17, 2019, the Colombian Presidency’s human rights advisor, Francisco Barbosa (who is now Colombia’s Prosecutor-General) said that 84 social leaders were murdered in 2019, which he said was a 25% reduction from 2018.
  • As of January 2020, 59 participants in coca crop substitution programs had been killed, according to the National Coordination of Coca, Poppy, and Marijuana Cultivators (COCCAM).

The day ahead: February 25, 2020

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

I’m out of contact this morning, lecturing to the Andean Republics class at the Foreign Service Institute, then having coffee with someone from the State Department. Except for a couple of interview calls with people doing research, I’ll be in the office this afternoon, mainly working on the renovated website, which is far along now.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from La Silla Vacía (Colombia). Caption: “Pintura de una de las casas en el espacio territorial de Planadas, en Tolima.”

(Even more here)

February 24, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

For decades, many Latin American countries had military dictators. In recent years, democratically elected civilians took control. Now, those civilian governments are bringing back the army


Candidates are supposed to be residents of Bolivia, and Morales has taken refuge in Argentina while he faces charges in Bolivia connected to October’s allegedly fraudulent election


“To the people who are committing crimes,” Bolsonaro said, “they have to understand that the men in green are coming, and it’s going to get ugly”


For decades, Chilean women have gathered to stitch political works of art. Today, Chilean women are denouncing President Sebastián Piñera and the Chilean state with embroidery specifically responding to the nationwide protests


Los reportes de la Oficina de Naciones Unidas contra la Droga y el Delito – UNDOC- dan cuenta de la sostenibilidad de la sustitución. En realidad, constituyen pruebas contra la fumigación con glifosato

El general Montoya tiene derecho a guardar silencio y a defenderse. ¿Pero tiene sentido su actitud en una sala destinada a aportar a la verdad y reconocer las responsabilidades?

“No se dejen matar, véngase para acá, aquí tendrán un refugio seguro. De las montañas podrán regresar algún día a continuar la lucha por sus sueños, pero de la sepultura, nunca”, dice la carta

La Fiscalía señala al excombatiente, reinsertado en la sociedad hace décadas y destacado gestor de paz, de tener cuentas pendientes por un secuestro masivo ocurrido hace veinte años

Lezcano era un campesino de 23 años, casado y con tres hijos, que había sido asesinado y desaparecido por los militares el 18 de mayo de 2002

More than 40 human rights defenders and community leaders have been killed in Colombia since January, including a national park ranger and several indigenous rights and environmental advocates

Pobladores de 12 veredas se refugian en el casco urbano del municipio debido a las amenazas de muerte

Aunque se publicó un comunicado al respecto en ese entonces, al interior del alto tribunal había diferencias sobre el contenido del auto final

Miembros de la Policía Nacional y particularmente del Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (Esmad) deben ser investigados por violaciones a los derechos humanos, cometidas contra civiles durante las protestas del paro nacional

Cuenta que el 2019 fue uno de sus años más duros. Recibió una docena de sufragios fúnebres y le pusieron una lápida en su automóvil para acallarlo

Hasta ahora se han recuperado 27 cuerpos, uno de ellos identificado y entregado a sus familiares. El magistrado que adelanta el caso cuenta detalles de este hallazgo

When The Associated Press revealed the scale of Irizarry’s alleged wrongdoing last year, it sent shockwaves through the DEA, where his ostentatious habits and tales of raucous yacht parties with bikini-clad prostitutes were legendary


The gun battle between cops — some of them in uniform and others hooded and dressed in civilian clothing fighting alongside civilian protesters — and members of the newly revived Armed Forces of Haiti took place shortly after 1 p.m. on the Champ de Mars


“El triple levantón apenas apareció perdido (publicado) en un periódico local”

En junio de 2018, la Policía Federal (PF) adquirió un software a una empresa de origen israelí por 500 millones de pesos, sin que se efectuaran estudios de mercado y a un sobreprecio de 480 mdp

Las acciones emprendidas por el Gobierno, desde las ofensivas militares hasta las de inteligencia policial y financiera, no logran frenar la operación de los grupos dependientes de este cártel

What looks like a “drug war” from afar has long mutated into something much more complex – and dangerous

Before Remain in Mexico went into force, immigration officials were required to provide care for sick asylum seekers in their custody. That changed when the administration began returning migrants

U.S.-Mexico Border

In Nogales, Sonora, early this month, 40 percent of the people waiting for asylum appointments with U.S. officials were from Guerrero


Una de las actividades protagónicas de la maniobra fue el lanzamiento del misil Otomat, de largo alcance, el cual se hizo desde la fragata misilística F22 “Almirante Brión”

The story behind Mr. Mendoza and Mr. Maduro’s truce, sealed in a previously unreported meeting in mid-2018, describes the rapprochement between Venezuela’s self-styled revolutionary government and the business class it waged war against

The day ahead: February 24, 2020

I’m in near-constant meetings today. (How to contact me)

I’ve spent a lot of the last few days and nights making some big improvements to our underutilized “” website (read about those here).

I’d like to add more to it this week, but might not do much: it’s one of those “high season” weeks with 12 meetings (so far) and two speaking engagements on the calendar. I’ll be in New York on Friday giving a talk at John Jay College.

Today, I’ll be hard to contact because I’ll be in a morning staff meeting, a board meeting of the Andean Information Network, a coffee with the director of a Latin American think tank, and dinner with visiting Colombian human rights leaders who are giving a presentation at USIP.

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Monday, February 24, 2020

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Thursday, February 27, 2020

5 links from the past week

  • The National Security Archive reveals documents showing that the CIA was the true co-owner of a supposedly Swiss cryptography company, whose equipment encrypted the communications of Latin American military regimes participating in “Operation Condor” in the 1970s. This means that the U.S. intelligence community had knowledge about the human rights abuses these regimes were committing—including a notorious 1976 car bombing in Washington—but did and said nearly nothing.
  • Colombia’s Semana magazine produced a detailed, richly photographed and videoed report about the humanitarian situation in Chocó. This predominantly Afro-Colombian and indigenous department in the country’s far northwest is convulsed by fighting between the ELN and the Gulf Clan paramilitary groups, with thousands of vulnerable community members caught in the middle and the armed forces largely at the margins. I was in Chocó in October and this report aligns with what I saw and heard.
  • The International Crisis Group produced a good report about the proliferation of armed groups throughout Venezuela. Outside of Caracas, the dominion of irregular groups now rivals that of rural Colombia. Except unlike Colombia, nearly all of these groups have tacit or explicit state support.
  • Also in Venezuela, Sarah Kinosian and Angus Berwick at Reuters zoom in on an extrajudicial execution in Miranda and find that the Maduro government’s most feared enforcer, the FAES police unit, has taken ex-convicts into its ranks to carry out brutal acts with impunity.
  • The Washington Post offers an on-the-ground update about what the Trump administration’s denial of the right to asylum at the border looks like right now. Arelis R. Hernández and Kevin Sieff find that the cruel “Remain in Mexico” program is being eclipsed by cruel flights to Guatemala and fast-track, zero due-process immigration hearings. The account of the Honduran man who felt compelled to send his 3-year-old son across the border bridge alone is heartbreaking.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty Images photo at The Washington Post. Caption: “Mexicans seeking asylum at the U.S. border protest last year outside the Foreign Ministry office in Tijuana, Mexico.”

(Even more here)

February 21, 2020

El Salvador

El mandatario reiteró sus señalamientos a la oposición ante soldados que estarán apoyando en su lucha contra el crimen organizado

Guatemala, Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

Instead of allowing Central American migrants access to U.S. courts and having them wait in Mexican border towns, thegovernment instead is quickly sending them to Guatemala to pursue asylum claims there


Una media mensual de 93 asesinatos diarios, apenas por debajo de la media anual del 2018 que era de 94 casos por día


El general Julio César Avilés habrá cumplido casi 12 años al frente del Ejército cuando se realicen las próximas elecciones

U.S.-Mexico Border

Roughly 5,000 troops are currently stationed on the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a mission that began in late 2018, and officials have said that will wind down as new barriers secure hundreds of miles

To date, the House Oversight and Reform Committee said, CBP has not provided any information about the punishments meted out to any of the employees involved

Additionally, the Administration released two counternarcotics strategies, outlining priorities in stopping the flow of drugs along both the Southwest and Northern borders


The homicide rate in Uruguay, a traditionally safe country of about 3.5m, shot up by 46% in 2018, to 11.8 per 100,000 people, lower than Brazil’s but higher than Argentina’s


Canada hosted the gathering of foreign ministers from the coalition, minus the United States, which are trying to solve the Venezuela crisis

For residents opposed to the socialist regime of President Nicolas Maduro, the 2019 rise of opposition leader Juan Guaido offered a moment of hope that has yet to deliver

  • Javier Ignacio Mayorca, Escudo Bolivariano (Tal Cual (Venezuela), February 21, 2020).

Las últimas maniobras de la Fuerza Armada colocan a una buena parte de la población como “enemiga” del régimen y, por ende, susceptible de ser objetivo militar en un contexto de conflicto

Power in Venezuela is slipping away from state institutions and concentrating in the hands of criminals, guerrillas and other non-state actors. Any new negotiations between government and opposition must consider how to defang these armed irregulars

The day ahead: February 21, 2020

I’ll be around for much of the afternoon. (How to contact me)

I have morning-to-early-afternoon meetings with a drug-policy researcher and a journalist. I should be in the office, working on our website (check out the “timeline” page under construction), for the remainder of the afternoon.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from RioOnWatch (Brazil).

(Even more here)

February 20, 2020


Throughout 2019, the group of favelas saw 117 days of shootouts and nearly 300 total hours of police operations

A Brazilian senator was shot Wednesday as he tried to intervene in a strike by military police demanding higher salaries in the northeastern state of Ceara, prompting authorities to deploy federal forces


A prestigious Chilean polling firm, Cadem, reported two weeks ago that 63 percent of the Chilean population approved of the protests and – importantly – 80 percent believe that Chile will be a better country after this critical situation


The nation’s biggest active guerrilla group, the ELN, has carried out more than 100 separate attacks in the last week and its ranks have been growing

El Coronel Álvaro Amórtegui asegura que el general Mario Montoya pedia abiertamente ejecuciones para aumentar las bajas que se reportaban

Salvatore Mancuso y Jorge 40, los principales responsables, hoy purgan condena por narcotráfico en cárceles de Estados Unidos

Estos se suman a los tres cuerpos encontrados el lunes 17 de febrero, y los 17 que fueron rescatados el pasado mes de diciembre de 2019, cuando comenzó el trabajo de este tribunal en el municipio antioqueño en el marco del caso 03 sobre falsos positivos

Desplazamientos, confinamientos, amenazas y asesinatos son algunos de las infamias con los que vienen lidiando las comunidades rurales del departamento desde que hace un año que comenzó la guerra entre el Clan del Golfo y el ELN

En las cabeceras urbanas de la mayoría de los municipios del Pacífico sur proliferan pequeños grupos delictivos subordinados a las grandes estructuras criminales, compuestos por jóvenes de los barrios más empobrecidos

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is organizing an investment conference in Mexico City, aiming to pair private money with foreign aid for Central America that his father-in-law President Donald Trump froze


Esta es la iniciativa de seguridad más publicitada de Alejandro Giammattei al empezar su gobierno, y parte de imponer estados de Prevención en diferentes municipios

Desde la decisión del presidente de imponer el estado de prevención, nadie volvió a ver a los muchachos. «Los muchachos» (hay que entender el código) son los jóvenes que, por su forma de vestir, las demás personas identifican como integrantes de alguna pandilla

Se suponía que no volverían más, pero el cambio de gobierno ha dejado claro que volverán, aunque no serán tan constantes


López Obrador destacó el papel de Luis Cresencio Sandoval, actual titular de la Secretaría de la Defensa (Sedena), a quien se refirió como “un auténtico soldado de la patria, leal e incorruptible”

The murders of Ingrid Escamilla, 25, and Fátima Aldrighett, 7, are forcing a reckoning in a country that has wrestled with violence against women. The president’s response has been harshly criticized

“(Los alcaldes) tienen amenazas, hoy son públicas. Créanmelo, no es una exageración que más de la mitad de los alcaldes está amenazado”

U.S.-Mexico Border

The ruling came weeks after the conclusion of a seven-day trial in which attorneys for migrants who sued in 2015 argued that the agency holds immigrants in extremely cold, overcrowded, unsanitary and inhumane conditions


A special police force terrorizing poor neighborhoods across Venezuela includes officers with criminal histories. People familiar with the force say bosses are more concerned with projecting force and fear than with rectitude

Trump administration officials are discussing whether to renew their unsuccessful campaign to oust Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro by persuading some ruling party members to temporarily share power with opposition leaders

Venezuela, Western Hemisphere Regional

This report examines how 11 countries—Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, Mexico, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay—are responding to the mass outflows

The day ahead: February 20, 2020

I should be reachable in the late morning and mid-afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’m back at work today after a couple of vacation days. I’m in a meeting on Capitol Hill first thing in the morning, have an internal meeting in the early afternoon, and a meeting of NGOs that work on Colombia in the late afternoon. Otherwise I should be in the office.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

February 19, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

In a spate of appointments by current Attorney General Barr, six new judges are now on the BIA who, while working as lower court judges, granted asylum at abysmally and unusually low rates


Uber Banquez Martínez, uno de los autores materiales de la masacre de El Salado, habla de su responsabilidad en ese hecho y su compromiso con la verdad, 20 años después

Hasta la fecha, la Agencia de Renovación del Territorio ha entregado 600 obras en los 170 municipios PDET, pero ni una sola hectárea de tierra

El Salvador

Muchos analistas, en cambio, descartan que esta histórica reducción de la violencia se deba a una estrategia de seguridad que, en su opinión, no aporta nada nuevo respecto a lo hecho por gobiernos anteriores


Despite the widespread regional and national protests sparked by his murder, after the elapse of a year, authorities have yet to release any advances in the investigation of Flores’s death

Fátima’s killing is the latest in a string of brutal crimes against girls and women stirring enormous public outrage directed at Mexico’s president and other top officials

Autoridades federales y capitalinas incumplieron protocolos o retrasaron la atención de la emergencia. Las pistas claves del caso de Fátima, como videos, las reunió la familia de la niña


Administration officials said Rosneft Trading S.A. and its president, Didier Casimiro, would be added to a financial blacklist in a move that is expected to largely freeze him and the company out of the global financial system

Last day of a brief vacation

Here are some ibises on the Gulf of Mexico this morning. I’m in Florida visiting some of my in-laws for four days. This is the end of day three; we go back to Washington late tomorrow. I’ll be back on the job Thursday.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Thomas Watkins/AFP/Getty Images photo at The Guardian. Caption: “A soldier looks across the Rio Grande River from Laredo, Texas, into Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where a group of people hang out on the river bank.”

(Even more here)

February 18, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

What the documents don’t show is any substantial effort by U.S. spy agencies, or senior officials privy to the intelligence, to expose or stop human rights violations unfolding in their view


InSight Crime looks at these murders in Putumayo, Nariño, Antioquia, Cauca and Norte de Santander, the five Colombian departments most impacted by this spike in violence


Heroin still remains a steady earner, even if it’s not from what it was, and opportunities for mining and even political control beckon

Todo lo que ha ofrecido en las últimas conferencias matutinas el presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador ha sido un catálogo de ignorancia sobre la violencia de género

Mexico, Western Hemisphere Regional

What have voters of Mexican origin, who make up the majority of the country’s growing Hispanic electorate, heard from the Democratic Party in response? Either nothing or empty platitudes

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

Mark Morgan, acting commissioner for US Customs and Border Protection, told a round-table of reporters last year he was unaware of reports of kidnapping, while Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, has said kidnaps were “not a massive number”


Dentro de las funciones del Comando Estratégico Operacional de la Fuerza Armada Nacional (Ceofan), figura la difusión del nuevo pensamiento castrense a través del Centro de Doctrina Militar Bolivariana

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