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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May 2020

5 links from the past week

  • I haven’t gotten through all of this yet, but a coalition of media outlets from 14 countries, from Mexico to Colombia to Cameroon to Nepal, has put together a remarkable series of multimedia reports about migrants from far corners of the world transiting Latin America en route to the United States. It’s called Migrants from Another World, it’s bilingual, and I command you to visit it.
  • El Salvador’s El Faro visited the dangerous border town of Matamoros, Mexico, where thousands of asylum-seeking migrants remain trapped, vulnerable to crime and disease, unable to make their case on the U.S. side of the border. It’s poignant to read this through the eyes of a Central American reporter, as most of those trapped in Matamoros are Central American.
  • Researchers at the University of Texas’s Strauss Center dug through 30 years of data and found that more migrants have died in the state (3,253 in 22 years), mostly of dehydration, exposure, or drowning, than Border Patrol counts in the entire four-state border region.
    – Also on migration, and given honorable mention here because it’s audio, not text: National Public Radio’s Latino USA program created a 2-part series about the Trump administration’s crackdown on people seeking protection in the United States. Part one of The Moving Border reports from the U.S.-Mexico border in Ciudad Juárez; part two reports from the Mexico-Guatemala border in Tapachula.
  • The Venezuelan human rights group PROVEA published an infuriating report about persecution and harassment of civil society during the first two months of the country’s COVID-19 lockdown. It’s in English and Spanish.
  • Somos Defensores, the coalition of Colombian groups that performs careful documentation of attacks on social leaders and human rights defenders, published its annual report covering 2019. It found a decrease in murders of social leaders in 2019—though not as deep a reduction as the government claims—but an increase in other forms of attack and intimidation. One suspects, tragically, that the organization’s 2020 interim reports will show a renewed increase in murders.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from Provea (Venezuela). Caption: “Image of citizens walking under the so-called Alarm State”

(Even more here)

May 29, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

U.S. immigration officials admitted during a federal court hearing Wednesday that they are not conducting COVID-19 testing on every detainee who gets transferred from one detention center to another, saying they don’t have enough tests

Bolivia

Las amenazas de las fuerzas armadas de Bolivia al Senado en el marco del tratamiento de los ascensos prenden una nueva señal de alerta sobre el papel indebido de los militares en el país

Brazil

De dentro do Palácio do Planalto, o ‘espião’ do presidente conduz investigações e produz dossiês que já provocaram a demissão de ministros

As an American analyst who has studied Brazil for nearly two decades, it has been strange to watch my country’s flag become a powerful anti-establishment symbol there

Colombia

Las comunidades tienen incertidumbre por su presente inmediato ¿qué puede quedar para el campesinado con esta situación? Tener que desplazarse a otros pueblos porque no hay soluciones a esta crisis humanitaria

El Gobierno en realidad no está cumpliendo exactamente con el contenido de lo pactado en Cuba, podría dejar a muchas víctimas sin su derecho a la verdad y, de paso, le pone una lápida encima al ya moribundo proceso de diálogo con el ELN

Colombia, Venezuela

Aunque en Colombia los cultivos de uso ilícito han aumentado, todos los caminos conducen a Venezuela

Para las FARC el comunicado divulgado por la embajada de EEUU en ese país, en el que se anuncia la llegada de la brigada, experta en la lucha contra el terrorismo, a ese país es alarmante

Cuba

The action – enacted in response to a January request by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – caps such flights at about 2019 levels, preventing any increase

El Salvador

Salud dijo a la familia que Luis Iván Mejía había muerto por COVID-19. Sospechas de que fue torturado surgieron luego de abrir el ataúd

Guatemala, Honduras

The discovery of large amounts of cocaine in cargo shipped from Honduran and Guatemalan ports has revealed the difficulties in securing maritime shipping operations on the northern stretch of Central America’s Caribbean coast

Mexico

Estas acciones son parte del fenómeno llamado Gobernanza Criminal, de acuerdo con la doctora Sandra Ley, profesora investigadora del Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas

U.S.-Mexico Border

US Customs and Border Protection, which oversees border wall construction, is painting approximately 450 feet of new border wall in San Luis, Arizona, using a “coal tar epoxy,” in an effort to assess the operational benefits

Nuevo Laredo has earned a reputation for being a city where immigrants are easily kidnapped, extorted, and assaulted by cartels. Deportees could also be targets

Venezuela

During the first month, the so-called Bolivarian Fury, following calls made by Nicolás Maduro himself, went on a wave of harassment against the homes of social leaders and members of the political opposition, as well as people critical of the regime

Entre los hallazgos destaca que cuatro de cada 10 perdieron su empleo y 66% aseguró que depende de donativos para alimentarse, desde la entrada en vigencia de la cuarentena

Washington has said it is weighing a response to the shipments

Venezuela, Western Hemisphere Regional

“I view Iran’s interests with concern […]; we’re tracking that closely and sharing intel with our partners” in the region, the U.S. military high commander said

The day ahead: May 29, 2020

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

I’ve got two border-related meetings on the calendar this afternoon, and a long-ish list of small tasks to complete. I doubt I’ll get any big projects done today, but should be reachable during much of the morning if needed.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

AFP photo at El Espectador (Colombia).

(Even more here)

May 28, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

  • Maria Teresa Ronderos, Migrants From Another World (Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística, Animal Politico (Mexico), May 28, 2020).

Every year thousands of people expelled from Asia and Africa cross Latin America looking for the north like swallows disoriented by an altered climate. Along the way, the already painful journey of these extraordinary human beings is made unnecessarily difficult by almost all governments

Argentina

Drastic measures are being taken to contain the coronavirus in the Villa Azul area of Buenos Aires which has emerged as a hotspot

Brazil

Mr Bolsonaro’s attitude causes more damage, however. Brazil’s federal system is more president-centred than America’s. To work well in a crisis, all levels of government must co-operate

The Brazilian president is proving that right-wing populism has ways of overcoming self-inflicted disasters

Colombia

En el informe “Exhumando Justicia y Verdad”, el Movice detalla cómo las alianzas del Bloque Héroes de los Montes de María de las Auc con políticos, empresarios y Fuerza Pública posibilitaron la desaparición de personas que pueden hallarse en 15 fincas y 18 cementerios

En su más reciente informe, Somos Defensores señala que los asesinatos contra líderes sociales disminuyeron en 2019, pero no en la cantidad que afirma el gobierno nacional, y advierte que se incrementaron otras agresiones que no son tenidas en cuenta por las autoridades

Pacelli provides an example of how strong community organization can quickly be repurposed to face the challenges of COVID-19

About 45 soldiers from one of the brigade’s advisory teams based at Fort Benning, Ga., will travel Monday to the South American country

Its mission in Colombia will begin in early June and will last several months, during which it will focus its efforts primarily on the “Zonas Futuro” defined by the National Government

Navarro afirmó que todos los miembros de la brigada de asistencia extranjera que vengan al país cumplirán todos los protocolos de distanciamiento por la pandemia de coronavirus

“Este personal asesorará dentro de las unidades militares a los Estados Mayores de las Fuerzas de Tarea Conjunta Hércules, Vulcano, Omega y de la Brigada contra el Narcotráfico”

Colombia, Venezuela

El secretario de Frontera y Cooperación Internacional para Norte de Santander, Víctor Bautista, advirtió que de no establecerse un manejo conjunto en la frontera colombo-venezolana, la crisis del COVID-19 “nos puede explotar en las manos”

Mexico

De Luna Ferral is the editor of El Quinto Poder, a local news website based in Papantla, a town in northern Veracruz. She continued editing the website’s Facebook page after her mother was murdered

President López Obrador has boosted the military’s roles in public works, fighting coronavirus and confronting drug cartels, a tack some see as risky

So far this year, at least 215 police officers have been killed across the country, or more than one a day

Las armas y vehículos decomisados estaban destinados al capo Evaristo Cruz, alias “el Vaquero”, jefe de plaza del Cártel del Golfo en la ciudad fronteriza de Matamoros

U.S.-Mexico Border

The letter signed by five key House leaders overseeing immigration cited a May 18 ProPublica/Texas Tribune story that found the U.S. government has aggressively begun to rush the deportations of unaccompanied children in its care to countries where they have been raped, beaten or had a parent killed

Venezuela

  • Javier Ignacio Mayorca, Desapariciones (Tal Cual (Venezuela), May 28, 2020).

En los cuatro meses de 2020, las cifras de personas desaparecidas en Venezuela se han disparado de forma inexplicable ¿Gente que se va sin decir adiós o policías fuera de control?

The two were expected to arrive in Venezuela in the wake of three Iranian tankers carrying gasoline that have reached the country

WOLA Podcast on Venezuela

It’s great to have two Venezuela experts on staff to explain what’s happening there. With great nuance, rare clarity, and zero shouting.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file here. The text from the WOLA landing page is below.

This podcast, WOLA’s first to focus on Venezuela since January, features Geoff Ramsey, WOLA’s director for Venezuela, and David Smilde, a WOLA senior fellow specializing in Venezuela. (Dr. Smilde is the Charles A. and Leo M. Favrot Professor of Human Relations at Tulane University.)

This situation report covers a lot of ground. Ramsey and Smilde explain the current humanitarian situation in Venezuela, with the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic likely to come, along with the effect of sanctions. The discussion moves on to alternatives, like what it would take to bring the country’s ever-worsening crisis to a political solution. This brings up the role of external powers like Russia, China, Iran, and the United States. Ramsey and Smilde unpack the current state of U.S. policy, which at the White House level is heavily driven by Florida electoral politics. They note that the Trump administration’s mixed messages are inadvertently dividing a Venezuelan opposition that is already in a bad moment after a botched mercenary invasion at the beginning of May.

Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde co-manage WOLA’s Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog. Also mentioned in the podcast is a May 2020 paper that both co-authored in the European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, which explores the recent history and theory of negotiation efforts in Venezuela, as well as prospects and necessary conditions for a negotiated solution today.

Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotifyiHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

The day ahead: May 28, 2020

I won’t be reachable until mid-afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’ve written two articles for other publications in the past two days: one on Colombia and one on militaries during COVID-19. I don’t know when they’re coming out, but I think they turned out well. This morning I’ll be writing a book review, recording a podcast about Venezuela, “attending” a strategy meeting and a webinar about the border, and “meeting” my new intern. I’ll be able to communicate after all of that, likely mid-to-late afternoon.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from defensa.com (Spain).

(Even more here)

May 27, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

Under the pretext of the coronavirus and embedded in measures to protect public health, authoritarian tendencies are spreading from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego. Three trends are emerging

Latin America has passed Europe and the United States in daily infections

From Argentina to Panama, a number of officials have been forced to resign as reports of fraudulent purchases of ventilators, masks and other medical supplies pile up

Bolivia

Hay malestar en filas militares contra el Alto Mando porque no incluyó en la lista de ascensos a los que cumplen los requisitos. El Ejecutivo remitió la nómina al Senado subsanando las observaciones

Bolivia, Peru

As trafficking routes shrink, in parts of Peru and Bolivia, the price of coca leaf has slumped to one third, or even one sixth, of its previous levels

Brazil

Unlike drier areas in Australia or California, the rainforest can’t catch on fire unless humans cut trees down. The Amazon is being devastated on an industrial scale, and for what?

Brazil has lost two health ministers in the past six weeks – one was fired, the other resigned – after they disagreed publicly with Bolsonaro over how best to combat the virus

Colombia

Se trata del coronel en retiro Martín Arrauth. Este oficial fue, según fuentes dentro de las instituciones, hombre de confianza del ex comandante de las fuerzas militares, general Alberto José Mejía

Diego Martínez, peticionario en representación de ese partido ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH), dijo que se acude a esa instancia tras haber intentado por todas las vías garantizar la vida de los excombatientes

Esta fue una de las inquietudes que el colectivo de abogados José Alvear Restrepo y la Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos le manifestaron, a través de una conferencia virtual, a la Corte Penal Internacional

Now, with Colombians focused on the coronavirus emergency, a new window has opened for the government and the Democratic Center to pursue old and new ways to attack peace

Este departamento vive un preocupante recrudecimiento de la violencia. SEMANA cuenta detalles de cómo y por qué llegaron estos niveles de barbarie, que el año pasado dejaron una cifra cercana a los 1.000 muertos. Disidencias, ELN, Clan del Golfo y carteles mexicanos operan allí

Costa Rica

When Indigenous communities attempt to recover land that legally belongs to them in the Térraba territory, they are often met with violence

Mexico

We visit Tapachula, a Mexican city on the border with Guatemala that has become a frontier for this trend and is overwhelmed by desperate migrants arriving from across the globe

The López Obrador administration has only deepened the militarized nature of public security in Mexico and made civilian policing at the federal level nearly obsolete

Lockdowns and an easy supply of weapons have been a fatal combination for Mexican women

El ejercicio multinacional se realizará a finales de agosto en aguas de los Estados Unidos (costas de Hawaii y California) y en el participarán alrededor de 25 países, entre los cuales México estaba invitado

If both governments cooperated on taking down real transnational criminal organizations as enthusiastically as they have worked in suppressing migrant caravans made up of thousands of impoverished and terrified potential refugees, cartels would be in real trouble

U.S.-Mexico Border

Since March, the government has filed 24 federal cases against South Texas landowners for the border wall, more than the previous eight months combined

Of the 170 miles of primary wall that have been built, three miles are in places where no barrier existed before

Folks in black “No Border Wall” T-shirts marched in the streets earlier this year. They share their movement with sedate bankers in starched, white shirts and gray suits who are just as passionate

https://www.strausscenter.org/wp-content/uploads/MigrantDeathsSouth_Texas.pdf

Venezuela

First lady Cilia Flores has a long record as a power broker in Venezuela. Now, with the help of a jailed former bodyguard, U.S. prosecutors are preparing to charge her with crimes that could include drug trafficking and corruption

As of May 25, 2020, Venezuela had 1,121 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and 10 deaths. The real number is almost certainly much higher

The day ahead: May 27, 2020

I may be reachable in the afternoon between meetings. (How to contact me)

I’m on a writing deadline in the morning and will have e-mail and chat apps closed until I finish. I’ve got internal meetings in the late morning, and will be sitting in on an online event about militaries in Latin America in the afternoon.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from defensa.com (Spain).

(Even more here)

May 26, 2020

Brazil

El operativo Verde Brasil 2 ya está en marcha e involucra a 3.800 efectivos del Ejército, 110 vehículos, 20 embarcaciones y 12 aviones, con bases en Belém, Porto Velho y Cuiabá

Mainstream media outlets Globo and Folha de S.Paulo later announced they would stop covering Bolsonaro’s informal press conferences outside the residence due to concern for their journalists’ safety

Doctors and psychologists say denial at the grassroots stems from a mixture of misinformation, lack of education, insufficient testing and conflicting messages from the country’s leaders

Colombia

Las instrucciones del Jefe de Estado fueron claras: privilegiar la vida y evitar que se detengan las acciones de la Paz con Legalidad, particularmente, en los territorios más vulnerables

“Entre el 20 de marzo y el 20 de mayo se registraron 1.321 homicidios en todo el país, mientras que en el mismo periodo del año anterior se presentaron 2.012 casos, lo que equivale a una reducción del 34 %”, indicó la Policía

Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela

Returnee flows of people on the move raise concerns about the increased risk of COVID-19 infection in that population group

Colombia, Venezuela

Iván Simonovis, comisionado de seguridad e inteligencia, mostró imágenes de satélite y un video en el que, asegura, aparece el rearmado jefe guerrillero de las extintas Farc

Cuba, Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

The clinic, run by U.S. volunteers with Florida-based nonprofit Global Response Management, has been staffed since it opened last fall almost entirely by asylum seekers. Most are Cubans like Tamayo with prior medical training

Honduras

Recent violence in Copán has been linked to the fall of the Valle clan beginning in 2014, and the later arrest of Tony Hernández and surrender of Ardón to US authorities in 2018

Mexico

  • Catalina Perez Correa, Acuerdo Militarista (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, El Universal (Mexico), May 26, 2020).

No es subordinada, pues los castrenses tendrán que “coordinarse” mas no “subordinarse” a las autoridades civiles. Y no es “complementaria”, pues las Fuerzas Armadas seguirán siendo los protagonistas centrales

Los laboratorios de metanfetamina que se dedican al abastecimiento de la demanda internacional y local han sido localizados en una variedad de lugares que van desde casas en fraccionamientos, bodegas en zonas industriales, locales abandonados, o espacios montados ex profeso en sierras y caminos apartados

Mexico, Venezuela

Mexico could, and should, use its good offices and long history of non-intervention, to help the Venezuelan people by encouraging the acceptance and execution of an a-political humanitarian response

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

This nation is far from flattening the COVID-19 curve, but thousands of maquiladora employees are set to return to work after the government caved in to intense pressure from the Trump administration

Matamoros, ciudad controlada por La Maña, la crisis humanitaria se resume en un campamento a la orilla del río Bravo: 2,000 personas de Centroamérica, Venezuela, Cuba y otros países, sobreviven hacinados

Nicaragua

El Ministro de Hacienda y Crédito Público Iván Acosta podría continuar en su cargo hasta terminar su mandato, pero se vería imposibilitado de firmar convenios o préstamos en nombre de Nicaragua

U.S.-Mexico Border

The federal government plans to build 69 miles of the massive barrier through the city’s historic downtown but not if opponents in Laredo have anything to do with it

Critics argue that this spot between Nogales and Sasabe is so remote and rugged, that the cost to build and damage done by a border wall far outweigh any benefit

Venezuela

A second tanker dispatched by Iran was welcomed Monday by Venezuelan naval frigates and helicopters as it entered national waters

The day ahead: May 26, 2020

I’ll be most reachable mid-day and near the end of the day. (How to contact me)

I’ve got a long staff meeting on the calendar this morning. Before and after that, I’ll be working on a list of smaller commitments. In the afternoon I’ll be finishing an article on Colombia and doing research for a longer commentary about militaries in Latin America, and may not respond right away to incoming messages.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Eraldo Peres/AP photo at The Telegraph (UK). Caption: “Kretan Kaingang, an indigenous leader, wears a protective face with a hashtag that reads in Portuguese: ‘Out Bolsonaro’ during a protest demanding the president is impeached on May 21”

(Even more here)

May 25, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

Since the beginning of the pandemic, medical experts and immigrant advocates have warned that the highly contagious coronavirus would put detainees at risk

In place of wide-scale releases, ICE has adopted a practice of consolidating people suspected of having Covid-19 in designated areas and waiting to see if they get better or worse

Argentina

El jefe del Estado Mayor Conjunto de las FF.AA. sostiene que en la crisis por el coronavirus la sociedad ha revalorizado el papel de las instituciones militares en la Argentina

Bolivia

El ministro de Gobierno comprende la molestia que existe al interior de la institución castrense. Los militares dieron un plazo de una semana para que el Legislativo ratifique la disposición

Brazil

The deadliest police force in Brazil, maybe in the world, Rio police are known for rushing armored trucks and helicopters into the favelas in what are described merely as “police operations”

Jair Bolsonaro swore 34 times during a two-hour cabinet meeting some think could help bring his four-year term to a premature end

Between political implosion and a virus out of control, Mr Bolsonaro faces the prospect of becoming known as the man who broke Brazil

Colombia

La Resolución, que no detalla motivos para el retiro, explica que el llamado a calificar servicios “no significa sanción, despido ni exclusión deshonrosa de la institución”

Los detalles de la amenaza revelan que sabían en qué carros se movían, cuántos hijos tenían y hasta el trabajo de sus parejas

Resulta que los primeros en salir de la institución fueron los oficiales que presuntamente filtraron la información de chuzadas y seguimiento y no los que las ejecutaron

Holmes Trujillo, quien actuó como vocero del uribismo en la campaña del No para el plebiscito, sugirió examinar “si conviene o no hacer algunos cambios hacia adelante (en la implementación del acuerdo), sin afectar siquiera el texto del acuerdo”

Timochenko aceptó este domingo que el nombre de Farc da “un mensaje bastante complicado, que incluso genera distancias cuando va uno a hablar con la gente”

La ceguera muestra el panorama nacional y hace e?nfasis en el negacionismo que caracteriza al Gobierno Nacional, de mu?ltiples asuntos relacionados con la cri?tica situacio?n de seguridad y de los derechos humanos pero, en particular, sobre la problema?tica de criminalidad de li?deres y lideresas sociales

Los homicidios disminuyeron 16% a nivel nacional y los desplazamientos forzados aumentaron el 5%.

Cuba

To expect that if only things get bad enough, Cubans will rise up, when they are struggling just to stand, is not just unrealistic. It is cruel

Mexico

Se dio un plazo de dos años al Estado mexicano para crear este observatorio independiente, pero transcurrido casi el 75% del tiempo ONG revela resistencias del gobierno

Para las mujeres la militarización ha sido sinónimo de violencia sexual, por eso la presencia de las fuerzas armadas en labores de seguridad pública debe ser únicamente excepcional y temporal

Nicaragua

The US Treasury Department imposed on Friday sanctions on the head of the Nicaraguan Army, Julio Cesar Aviles Castillo, and on the Finance Minister, Ivan Adolfo Acosta Montalvan, “for supporting the corrupt regime” of Daniel Ortega

Peru

El ministro de Defensa, Walter Martos Ruíz, informó este sábado que las Fuerzas Armadas y la Policía Nacional del Perú (PNP) continuarán realizando operaciones inopinadas para garantizar el cumpliento del estado de emergencia

Suriname

Appealing the ruling and avoiding prison through presidential immunity, he is instead running for re-election

Venezuela

Las planta están siendo construidas a partir del contrato suscrito por el Gobierno venezolano con la empresa rusa Rosoboronexport en 2006, estando previsto que iniciaran su producción en 2009, lo cual no pudo ser posible

The first of five Iranian tankers carrying fuel for gasoline-starved Venezuela entered the South American country’s exclusive economic zone on Saturday, despite a U.S. official’s warning that Washington was considering a response

As the first vessel entered Venezuelan waters late Saturday, Iran’s national anthem sounded on Venezuela state television against images of the late Islamic revolutionary Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

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