I’m speaking on a panel this morning about civil-military relations in Latin America. Then I have interviews or meetings with a journalist, some folks from USAID, and a scholar with a research project. And then this evening, WOLA is virtually hosting its annual human rights awards (please join us). All of this will make me hard to get in touch with today.
Alter do Chao’s struggle with land grabbers has only worsened since, residents and activists say, with lawbreakers more brazen about occupying land, then slashing and burning forest to make way for houses and fields
“Uno puede entender todas las legítimas aspiraciones de los ciudadanos. Pero lo que no es posible entender es el grado de violencia que pudimos ver. La quema de las estaciones del metro pareciera haber sido concertada, no un asunto espontáneo”
El general Óscar Atehortúa Duque, director de la Policía Nacional, informó que para las manifestaciones previstas para este lunes, los uniformados no usarán armamento con el fin de proteger la vida de los marchantes
El alcalde de Buenos Aires, Cauca, Óscar Edwin López, confirmó la masacre de seis jóvenes, quienes estaban departiendo en una gallera del corregimiento de Munchique hacia el mediodía de este domingo 20 de septiembre
Juan López ha decidido oponerse a un proyecto minero por el que se ha reducido el área protegida del Parque Nacional “Montaña Botaderos Carlos Escaleras”, al norte de Honduras. Por su lucha, Juan enfrenta un proceso judicial junto con otras 31 personas
El Instituto Chihuahuense de las Mujeres (Ichmujeres) manifestó su rechazo a la versión del comandante de la Guardia Nacional, Luis Rodríguez Bucio, quien afirmó que la muerte de Yessica Silva, en la presa La Boquilla, en Delicias, se trató de un “desgraciado y lamentable accidente”
Se reunieron con autoridades de la oficina de Asuntos Antinarcóticos y Aplicación de la Ley (INL por sus siglas en inglés) de la Embajada de los Estados Unidos de América en México, con el objetivo de reforzar los lazos de cooperación entre ambas instituciones y establecer nuevos proyectos de cooperación
La Comisión Interamericana expresa su profundo rechazo a la decisión del Secretario General de la OEA, Luis Almagro quien, al haber negado esta renovación contractual quebranta una práctica establecida por más de 20 años
It was stunning to see, over the past weekend, top Colombian officials startpushing the narrative that “the ELN and FARC dissidents” were behind last week’s confrontations between police and thousands of citizens all over Bogotá. This seems bizarre and removed from reality, but they continue to promote it.
A September 8 mobile phone video showed Bogotá police administering repeated electric shocks to Javier Ordóñez, a lawyer in his 40s, as he begetd them to stop. Ordónez died of blows to his skull later, in police custody. The images triggered citywide protests on September 9 and 10. Some of them were violent: the police reported nearly 200 agents wounded, and 54 CAIs—small posts set up as a “community policing” model around the city—were defaced, vandalized, or destroyed.
These numbers would have been lower had the police employed their profession’s “lessons learned” about crowd control, practicing de-escalating techniques. Instead, they did the opposite: they escalated aggressively.
Police in Bogotá and the poor neighboring municipality of Soacha killed 13 people on the nights of the 9th and 10th, and wounded 66, some of them with firearms. Widely shared videos showed cops beating and kicking people who were already on the ground, shooting rubber bullets into subdued people at pointblank range, and discharging their firearms indiscriminately. Bogotá Mayor Claudia López, whose direct orders to the police wereignored, gave President Iván Duque a 90-minute video compiling citizen-recorded examples of this brutality.
You’d think that the people running Colombia right now would want to treat what happened last week very seriously. They’re governing one of the most unequal societies on the planet, and it’s on the edge right now. In Bogotá, a city of 8 million, people in the middle, working, and “informal sector” classes were already angry at stagnating living standards and an out-of-touch government. Last November, they participated in the most massive protests that the city had seen in more than 40 years (which the police also, at first, escalated violently).
Their situation has grown desperate after a six-month pandemic lockdown that pushed millions out of work (or out of informal-sector subsistence), and back into poverty. People are hurting. Anxiety, stress, and mental health issues are off the charts. The police, too, are frayed after enforcing semi-quarantine for so many months.
With all that going on, if a foreign analyst were to claim that last week’s protests were the artificial result of “guerrillas” or coordinated agitators, the proper response would be “you don’t understand this country, and its complexities, at all.” It defies all belief that the ELN and FARC dissidents could have orchestrated an uprising in Bogotá on the scale of what we saw on September 9 and 10. But that is the narrative that officials like Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo and Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos are pushing.
As Ariel Ávila of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation said, if that were true, it would’ve been the guerrillas’ largest coordinated operation in Bogotá in the armed conflict’s history. Today, the ELN has 2,400 members and a support network of another 4,000 or 5,000. Over 20 “dissident” groups led by former FARC members, which often fight each other and the ELN, have a cumulative membership of 2,600 plus about 2,000 in support networks. These 11,000-12,000 people are scattered across several vast rural regions in Colombia and Venezuela. Their urban presence is minimal: most have probably never seen one of Colombia’s major cities.
They do have toeholds in Bogotá, and some of their members may have participated in, and egged on, crowds in some of the Bogotá protest actions. But this disunited collection of bands, most of them focused on narcotrafficking and illegal rent-seeking, are obviously not the masterminds of what happened in Bogotá.
There were no masterminds. There is, instead, a population pushed to the edge by economic uncertainty and a perception that the government doesn’t care. For most, emergency assistance has totaled only about US$40 to US$70 since COVID-19 measures began. More often, their interaction with government has been with the police enforcing lockdowns, at times harshly. The likelihood of a social explosion has been one triggering event away. There’s no need for guerrillas to manage it.
Taking this reality seriously, though, is hard, especially for people in the thick-walled bubble of Colombia’s clase dirigente. The sectores populares—the poor and lower-middle class, and the middle class who have fallen into poverty during the pandemic—are so distant as to be abstract. When you’ve placed your faith in the free market, in a technocratic oligarchy, and—if that fails—in the security forces, then it’s hard to stare in the face of a reality like “an immense number of people are hungry, scared, frustrated, and angry at you.”
These people need empathy right now. But Colombia’s political system isn’t set up for empathy, especially not under its current management. Instead, police fired indiscriminately into fleeing crowds as though they’d never had a day of training in their lives. That response calls into question the viability of institutions. It calls into question the assumptions underlying longstanding economic and security policies.
Instead of empathy, leaders are reaching for the tried-and-true “it was the guerrillas” narrative. It’s a common reflex. Here in the United States, factotums at the White House and Homeland Security don’t lose an opportunity to blame anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests on fictional or marginal “anarchist” or “Antifa” groups. Though most people don’t believe that, it’s rich fodder for a large minority whose views come from what they read and share on FOX News, Facebook, and WhatsApp.
In Colombia it’s the same thing, but mixed in with a perverse nostalgia for the armed conflict and its simplicity. For decades, guerrillas gave Colombia’s political elite a perfect go-to excuse whenever elements of civil society came forward with strong grievances. Just label them as terrorists, (or “spokespeople for terrorists” in Álvaro Uribe’s famous phrase): people aligned with the FARC, which until 2016 was Colombia’s largest guerrilla group by far. It usually worked: social movements had the oxygen (in the form of media attention and legitimacy in mainstream public opinion) sucked out of them.
When the FARC disappeared along with the peace accord, though, so did that convenient scapegoat. Today, when politicians want to de-legitimize a political adversary, the collection of bands now active in the countryside just isn’t as compelling. But apparently, that’s not going to stop them from trying.
Bogotanos say they’ve never seen this face of the government before. “Police shooting in the streets of Bogotá at fleeing people, like rabbits from a hunter,” writes veteran columnist and author Cecilia Orozco in El Espectador. “Even those of us who are older don’t remember having seen, in urban scenarios, such openly defiant conduct from state agents who aren’t hiding their identities.”
Colombians of a different social class, of course, see that on a regular basis. Indigenous people in Cauca say it’s common. So do displaced Afro-descendant communities in marginal neighborhoods like Aguablanca, Cali. Communities opposing forced illicit crop eradication are constantly documenting cases of aggression and inappropriate force.
This kind of authoritarianism and arbitrariness, of escalation and lack of empathy, has long marked poor and marginalized parts of Colombia. What’s new, perhaps, is its abrupt arrival in Bogotá’s middle and working class neighborhoods. And it’s happening just as the pandemic knocks millions out of the middle class (back) into poverty.
Think about that. Already, manyColombiananalysts are soundingalarmsaboutmountingauthoritarianism. They see a weakening of checks and balances: a narrow congressional majority for the ruling party built with political favors, close presidential allies now in charge of the prosecutor’s office and other oversight bodies, and an ongoing assault on the independent judiciary that intensified after ex-President Uribe was put under house arrest in early August.
A backlash is underway from the people running Colombia, the people who are so slow to show empathy, but so quick to deny reality with fairy tales about guerrillas orchestrating mass protests. Last week gave us a vicious preview of what that backlash might look like once it consolidates.
New national protests are called for Monday. Even though neither the ELN nor guerrilla dissidents are in evidence, don’t expect a democratic or reasoned response on the streets of Bogotá.
Pazuello, a logistics expert with no prior health experience before taking the deputy health minister position in April, follows two predecessors who departed after disagreements with President Jair Bolsonaro
We have been I think pretty clear that we – we’re not running around saying don’t deal with China. We’re saying – I mean, we deal with China and other countries deal with China. They’re a big economy. There’s really no choice but to deal with them
Es razonable que en situaciones excepcionales las Fuerzas Armadas protejan instalaciones críticas, pero para evitar su exposición a situaciones de orden público lo óptimo sería crear cuerpos policiales altamente especializados
“El desvío estaría siendo canalizado por mangueras clandestinas hasta el río Putumayo con una distancia aproximada de 170 metros, desde donde se presume que el combustible era cargado en embarcaciones para ser transportado río abajo”
Migrant rights advocates allege in at least three recent lawsuit against the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Border Patrol that migrants are being summarily expelled without any paper trail or interview process
“Los funcionarios militares, al mando de un capitán (GN) de apellido Pérez Lopez, sin dar orden de alto, procedieron a disparar ráfagas de disparos contra el camión Triton 350 en el cual se trasladaba Joiber junto a sus familiares”
Getting a late start because I worked late last night. I’ve got a long-ish media interview in the morning, a border coalition meeting in the early afternoon, and an event at the end of the day. I should be at my desk the most in the afternoon, if needed.
Una situación de mayor alcance: los efectos de la llegada de Donald Trump a la Casa Blanca, el giro a la derecha de varios gobiernos de la región y, no menos importante, una fragmentación extrema de América Latina
Wolf didn’t have the authority to impose the asylum rules that are being challenged, Xinis ruled. The new requirements, which court documents say took effect in late August, concern employment, and the case is ongoing
I never imagined that the United States would have to confront our very own Caudillo in the making, not after the misery and devastation so many of us have seen inflicted by anti-democratic and failed leaders from Caracas to Havana to Managua
En el proceso de escuchar a las víctimas y reconocer la verdad sobre lo ocurrido ante un tribunal de paz, “se van configurando unas FARC que yo entro a odiar porque no tiene nada que ver con las FARC a las que yo ingresé”, dijo
Even though the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Nation called Santiago Uribe Vélez in for questioning in 2016, Prado’s investigative work has been on the heels of the Uribe Vélez family since 1997, when he was looking into several cases of enforced disappearance
El Ministro de Defensa, Holmes Trujillo, se refirió a los hechos de la semana pasada en Bogotá y aseguró que los actos de vandalismo y violencia fueron un ataque coordinado, sistemático, planeado, premeditado y doloso contra la Policía Nacional, que debe ser investigado
Este ejercicio operacional, planeado entre el Comando Sur de los Estados Unidos y la Fuerza Aérea Colombiana, el cual ha sido denominado “Poseidón”, se llevará a cabo del 18 al 21 de septiembre del presente año
Hundreds of protesting Haitian police officers and their supporters, many of them armed and wearing masks, sparked panic in the capital Port-au-Prince on Monday, setting cars on fire as they voiced their anger at the ruling party
I’ve got two internal planning meetings and a lot of writing to do, some of it to plan future border work, some of it on the situation in Colombia. I plan to be at my desk well into the evening trying to finish all of that.
Given Claver-Carone’s curriculum vitae and the circumstances leading to his election, could he serve as an able consensus-building politician who, as president of an international institution, will put the region’s interest above all others?
The Senators also condemned the administration’s record of deporting individuals and families back to the dictatorships they were forced to flee, what would amount to a violation of U.S. law prohibiting refoulement
Varios funcionarios del SAT —y también líderes y organizaciones sociales— temen que el nuevo defensor: el político cordobés Carlos Camargo, quien se posesionó la semana pasada, frene, engavete o modifique esos informes
Una exageración, pues por lo general mienten, fue la respuesta del presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador a quienes acusaron la ocupación militar de la Catedral Metropolitana el fin de semana: el Frente Nacional AntiAMLO
Nothing on the calendar today for some reason. Which is fine—I spent more than 4 hours yesterday on an article about the unrest in Colombia, which should show up soon on the World Politics Review website. I hope to move a few projects ahead today and should be at my desk all day.
In mid-August the Trump National Security Council published a “Western Hemisphere Strategic Framework.” (You’re forgiven if you missed it—it got a super-low-profile launch.) Here’s an English translation of an analysis that I published about it last week for Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung en Colombia.
Three and a half years in, the Trump administration has published a “Western Hemisphere Strategic Framework.” It didn’t launch it with much publicity, nor is it a document of transcendental importance.
The document (or at least its declassified summary) says few truly new things. This shouldn’t surprise us from an administration that has said little about policy toward Latin America beyond Cuba, Venezuela, and immigration. But there are a few notable nuances.
The framework makes clear who the enemies are. Within the region it identifies Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, “repressive dictatorial regimes [that] threaten regional security.” Other regimes that have shown authoritarian characteristics but are more aligned with Washington, like Bolivia, El Salvador, or Honduras, escape this label.
Extra-regional powers, and their “malign influence,” are also adversaries. The document only mentions China, although documents from Southern Command, among others, also warn about Russia and Iran. That desire to exclude other powers from the hemisphere recalls the Monroe Doctrine (according to which the United States reserves the right to keep other powers from having a presence in the American continent), something that according to the last national security advisor, John Bolton, is “alive and well.”
In reality, this focus on external powers has more to do with an effort to stay relevant to the National Defense Strategy that the Defense Department published in 2018, under then-Secretary James Mattis. That strategy says a lot about the threat of “great powers,” but hardly mentions the threats that have most oriented policy toward Latin America in recent years. In its public summary, it doesn’t even mention the words “organized crime” or “cartel.”
While none of these documents discusses in detail transnational organized crime—the issue that was most discussed during the Obama years—it’s worth noting that it was the Trump administration, in April 2020, that launched the largest naval deployment to the region in decades, justifying it as an anti-organized crime effort.
Another new nuance are the document’s sections about immigration, the Trump administration’s banner issue. The first objective that the Framework discusses is the protection of the homeland, with the first sub-objective to “Prevent illegal and uncontrolled human migration, smuggling, and trafficking.”
It’s also notable that “Align asylum policies and harmonize visa and immigration regulations” appears as another sub-objective in the section about strengthening democracies: it’s not clear what one has to do with the other.
In 2012, during the Obama administration, the Defense Department published a Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Statement. That document focused on institutional strengthening, fighting organized crime and terrorism, peacekeeping missions, and humanitarian assistance. The new Trump administration document leaves all those issues aside.
These abrupt changes in emphasis not unusual for U.S. policy toward Latin America, whose central paradigm has shifted several times over the past 30 years. From Cold War anti-communism, it morphed into the War on Drugs, and later the War on Terror, from there to “transnational organized crime” and, now, to “countering external influence” with a bit of anti-immigration. There’s no reason to think that the priorities expressed in this new document might be any more long-lasting.