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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February 2021

Weekly Border Update: February 26, 2021

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. You can get these in your e-mail each week by joining WOLA’s “Beyond the Wall” mailing list.

Unaccompanied child arrivals, influx center feed both “surge” and “kids in cages” narratives

While we try to keep these updates brief, this topic has to start with several bullets of context, which has been absent from some recent media coverage, feeding misunderstandings about unaccompanied children currently arriving at the border. If you’re familiar with the context, skip past these bullets.

  • By law, children from non-contiguous countries (neither Canada nor Mexico) who are apprehended without adult accompaniment at the border are not deported immediately. They are placed into asylum proceedings. This is meant to be a protection against child trafficking. The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 requires that after apprehending an underage migrant from a non-contiguous country who arrives unaccompanied, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has 72 hours to transfer that child to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR, part of the Department of Health and Human Services). ORR maintains a network of shelters for unaccompanied minors from other countries.
  • The 72-hour handoff from CBP to ORR custody is important. CBP’s holding facilities for apprehended migrants—mainly, Border Patrol stations—are designed to hold single adults for a few hours.
  • ORR’s shelters are not “kids in cages.” Under normal circumstances, they are state-licensed childcare facilities run by contractors, where kids stay while awaiting placement with relatives or sponsors. An exception, discussed below, are temporary “influx” facilities thrown together when child arrivals increase, where conditions may be more austere.
  • ORR must seek to place children in its shelters with family members or sponsors in the United States to await their hearings in U.S. immigration courts. This process can take days or weeks. It involves background checks of the relatives or sponsors who come to pick them up, in order to avoid inadvertently handing children over to human traffickers. Often, the relatives who take custody are undocumented. For a time during the Trump administration, ORR was sharing information about these relatives with ICE, which made them reluctant to appear and take children, causing ORR’s shelter population to balloon. The Trump administration ultimately had to back off that policy.
  • Unaccompanied children, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, arrived at the border in large numbers during mid-2014, mid-2015, late 2016, and between mid-2018 and mid-2019. These increases in unaccompanied child migration tended to correspond with increases in family (parent and child) migration. 
  • When COVID-19 border measures went into place in March 2020, the Trump administration began expelling unaccompanied children as quickly as possible, along with nearly all other apprehended migrants, including would-be asylum seekers. As a pretext for overriding the 2008 Wilberforce anti-trafficking law, it cited an obscure public health quarantine provision in Title 42 of the U.S. code. While Mexico agreed to take expelled adults and families from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, it did not agree to receive non-Mexican unaccompanied children, whom ICE expelled via aircraft back to their home countries. (Nonetheless, and horrifyingly, the New York Times revealed in October 2020 that CBP had indeed expelled some Central American children, alone, into Mexico.)
  • In November 2020, a U.S. district judge blocked the Trump administration from expelling unaccompanied children apprehended at the border. CBP resumed placing them in ORR shelters, which were close to empty at the time.
  • Joe Biden was inaugurated in January, but his administration has not revoked the Title 42 expulsions policy: would-be asylum seekers are still being expelled. Officials say they need time to build up the necessary infrastructure to process asylum seekers during a pandemic, since the Trump administration left little capacity behind.
  • Shortly after inauguration, an appeals court panel of three Trump-appointed judges overruled the November 2020 block on expelling unaccompanied minors. The new Biden administration, however, refused to resume expelling apprehended children—even as it continues to expel adults, and adult parents with children.

Before the pandemic, Border Patrol was apprehending roughly 3,000 unaccompanied children each month. That dropped sharply after March 2020, when borders closed throughout the Americas. Numbers of apprehended children steadily increased through 2020, though, reaching the pre-pandemic level of 3,000 in August, surpassing 4,000 in October, and reaching 5,707 in January 2021. The pace is increasing: during the week of February 14-20, CBS News reports, Border Patrol apprehended “more than 1,500 migrant children” and “on Sunday [February 21], an additional 300 minors were taken into custody.”

The increase owes in part to the Trump expulsions policy causing “a backlog of minors waiting to seek asylum,” as CBS News put it, citing a shelter official who noted that “it created a bubble that is bursting because now they can get in.” It also owes to parents stuck in Mexican border cities making a heartbreaking choice: attempt to cross the border with children and be expelled, wait indefinitely in Mexico, or send their children across alone, where they might be apprehended and reunited with relatives in the United States.

The increase in unaccompanied child arrivals has caused the ORR shelter population to grow rapidly: the count on February 22, according to CBS, was 7,100. That leaves “fewer than 900 empty beds” because COVID-19 measures have compelled ORR to reduce its 13,200-bed capacity to 8,000. This comes with an increase in the population of children in Border Patrol’s holding cells, where they can legally be for no longer than 72 hours: “roughly 750” as of February 19. In January, 179 children exceeded the 72-hour limit because of capacity issues.

With only five weeks in office, the Biden administration has recurred to a controversial measure: temporary “influx facilities” to handle the overflow of unaccompanied children. ORR has set up a 66-acre, 700-child capacity tent facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, to hold children aged 13 to 17. The agency’s stated goal is that children at the facility, managed by nonprofit BCFS Health and Human Services, stay there no longer than about 30 days, following two weeks of quarantine at other ORR shelters.

As they sit on federally owned land, influx facilities like Carrizo, and a possible second site south of Miami in Homestead, Florida, are not subject to state licensing like other ORR child shelters. During the Trump administration, the Homestead site, run by a for-profit corporation with former Homeland Security secretary John Kelly on its board, came under heavy fire for living conditions, cost, and lack of transparency, as did a tent facility in Tornillo, Texas. While access to these remotely located sites is restricted in the name of protecting children from traffickers, the lack of visibility over what happens inside worries child advocates.

Some Democrats, like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Julián Castro, and Jamaal Bowman, were quick to criticize the Carrizo Springs shelter’s opening. “We should not go in this direction again,” Castro tweeted. “HHS-ORR should place these children in a home more quickly. Invest in personnel and policy to speed up placement. It’s safer, cheaper, and is in the children’s best interest.” Social media commentators on the left invoked a return to “kids in cages,” while some even conflated it with the Trump administration’s family separations.

On the right, commentators—also reviving the “kids in cages” slogan—claimed that the Biden administration’s use of an austere facility to house increased numbers of unaccompanied children vindicated the Trump approach of rapidly expelling them. Former Trump advisor Stephen Miller is urging members of Congress and conservative media to seize on a “Biden migrant surge” narrative to mobilize voters against Biden’s immigration reform legislation, and against Democratic candidates in the 2022 midterm legislative elections.

“It’s a temporary reopening during COVID-19,” White House Press Secretary Psaki said of the Carrizo Springs facility, adding, “This is not kids being kept in cages.” While certainly not “cages,” it is hard to argue that tent and shipping-container sites like Carrizo Springs are in children’s best interest. While recognizing that the Biden administration has not had time to develop a new approach—it hasn’t even nominated a CBP commissioner yet—advocacy groups are urging a quick phaseout of unlicensed “influx” shelters.

“Remain in Mexico” starts winding down

The Biden administration’s dismantling of Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy became reality on February 19, as 25 asylum-seeking migrants who had been awaiting their U.S. immigration court date since 2019 crossed from Tijuana, Mexico, into San Diego County. (“Remain in Mexico,” also known as “Migrant Protection Protocols” or MPP, was a Trump initiative that forced about 71,000 non-Mexican asylum seekers to await their U.S. hearing dates on Mexican soil.)

The process at San Diego’s San Ysidro port of entry “was orderly, safe and efficient,” read a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) statement. “After CBP and ICE processing was complete, facilitating organizations helped coordinate travel arrangements as needed.” On February 22, another 25 asylum seekers entered at San Ysidro. The goal is to increase the number who can be processed to about 200-300 per day.

In Mexico, the entry process for Remain in Mexico subjects takes place with assistance from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UNICEF, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other international and non-governmental organizations. Those with active MPP cases register at a website that went live on February 19; despite initial hiccups, 12,000 people signed up within the site’s first three days. The next step is COVID-19 testing performed by IOM while UNICEF ensures “humane treatment of children and their families,” a UNHCR release reads. “So far, no cases of COVID-19 have been detected,” the UN reported on February 25.

At the other end of the border, the Remain in Mexico wind-down began on February 25 between Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas. Twenty-seven people crossed the Gateway International Bridge and were taken to the bus station to move on to destinations where most have relatives. “Smiles hidden under face masks were hard to see, but undeniably present” on their faces, the Rio Grande Valley Monitor reported. “For me it was an affirmation, it was a triumph of life, of humanity,” said Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director at Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, who for years has run a respite center for released migrants in McAllen.

Most of the first to arrive from Matamoros will be residents of a notorious tent camp where about 750 Remain in Mexico subjects have been forced to live since 2019. The expectation is to increase daily arrivals at Brownsville to about 200 per day, including many asylum seekers in Matamoros—a dangerous longtime stronghold of Mexico’s Gulf Cartel—who did not stay in the encampment.

As we write this on February 26, we’re hearing that 25 Remain in Mexico subjects were just allowed to cross from Ciudad Juárez into El Paso.

GAO reports on U.S. military border deployment

The Defense Department has spent about a billion dollars since 2018 to support the Trump administration’s National Guard and active-duty military deployments at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released on February 23. The 90-page document, submitted in response to a request from Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services, Homeland Security, and Judiciary committees, contains much previously undisclosed information about the military mission.

In April 2018, in response to media reports of a “migrant caravan” making its way through Mexico, Donald Trump ordered National Guard troops to the border. It was the fourth time since 2002 that a president had ordered the National Guard to support CBP. In October of that year, as a new caravan formed in the runup to midterm legislative elections, Trump augmented that with a highly unusual deployment of active-duty army and marine personnel, a rarity on U.S. soil. At its height in November 2018, up to 2,579 National Guardsmen and 5,815 active-duty troops were involved.

About 3,600 active-duty troops remain available to support CBP, though many may be physically located at bases elsewhere in the United States. The mission is to extend at least through the fiscal year’s end on September 30, 2021. While the GAO report notes that DHS expects to continue requesting support from the Defense Department for three to five years, it’s not yet clear whether that will happen under the Biden administration.

Among the report’s notable findings:

  • The Defense Department obligated at least $841 million between April 2018 and May 2020, and a table elsewhere in the report cites a figure of $1.001 billion. This is significantly more than what had been previously reported to Congress.
  • Some of that reporting to Congress has been very late, and the Defense Department never even turned in a required report on expenditures for fiscal 2019, which was due on March 31, 2020.
  • The Defense Department failed to reckon with the deployments’ potential costs, and with their effects on military readiness.
  • The Defense Department received 33 different assistance and extension requests from DHS between April 2018 and March 2020.
  • Missions included air support (helicopters), basic reconnaissance, construction of items like concertina wire along the border wall, detention support at holding facilities, logistical support, and driving and maintaining vehicles.
  • DHS sought to have active-duty military personnel in roles that would involve direct contact with foreign nationals. The Defense Department resisted that, and such duties fell to National Guard personnel. 

The report seems to indicate that the Defense Department regarded the border mission as a lower-priority role and a drag on readiness for higher-priority military missions. Commanders, as Stars and Stripes summarizes it, “shared experiences of missed training and the strain of rotating troops to the border every 30 days.” In a response to GAO, the Department sought to avoid recommending policy changes that would “create an impression that DOD has a border security mission.”

Links

  • 61 Democratic members of Congress signed a letter calling on the Biden administration to end Title 42 expulsions of asylum-seeking migrants.
  • #WeCanWelcome Asylum Seekers is a new campaign from Refugees International, with a petition to the Biden administration, videos, a social media “toolkit,” and other informational resources about the United States’ “responsibility to welcome people seeking protection from persecution.”
  • An eight-year-old Honduran boy and a Venezuelan woman drowned trying to swim across a frigid Rio Grande between Piedras Negras, Mexico and Eagle Pass, Texas on February 17. The boy’s parents and sister apparently made it across, only to be expelled back to Mexico.
  • Investigative journalist Alberto Pradilla revealed at Mexico’s Animal Político that the Mexican government’s “Fondo México,” ostensibly established to fund social programs in Central America to address migration’s root causes, has ended up paying only for the detention of migrants inside Mexico, and for buses to bring them back to Central America.
  • The Central American Commission of Migration Directors (OCAM), made up of authorities from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, and Nicaragua, agreed on a vaguely worded three-point “action plan” to halt flows of extra-continental migrants (Haitians, Cubans, Asians, Africans) stranded in South America.
  • Attorneys are still working to locate the deported parents of 506 children who were separated during the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. This represents progress: the number was 611 a month ago, CNN reports.
  • Vice tells the story of 49-year-old Guatemalan migrant Édgar López, who had lived and worked for 22 years, and had a wife and kids, in Carthage, Mississippi—the town where ICE carried out a massive raid of chicken-plant workers in 2019. He was deported back to Guatemala. Édgar López’s effort to be reunited with his family ended on January 22, when he was one of 19 migrants massacred in northern Mexico, not far from the border, apparently by an elite Mexican state police unit.
  • A 4th Circuit federal appeals judge has delayed the deportation of a former MS-13 gang member to El Salvador, ruling that former gang membership counts as a distinct social group, potentially eligible for asylum. 
  • The Biden administration announced that it is instructing ICE agents to prioritize for arrest “those suspected of being a national security threat, recent border crossers, and those who are considered a public safety threat,” and to seek pre-approval from local superiors before arresting people who don’t fit those priorities.

The day ahead: February 26, 2021

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

I’ve got a full day of meetings: with two coalitions, some DHS officials, documentary filmmakers, and the board of another organization. And I’m finishing a new border update before that happens. I may not respond to messages until the weekend.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from Tal Cual (Venezuela).

(Even more here)

February 25, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

For the foreseeable future, the region is dependent on Chinese and Russian vaccines

Bolivia

Al menos 150 diplomáticos de carrera y que estaban destinados en alguna de las 34 misiones que Bolivia mantiene en el exterior fueron despedidos durante los primeros tres meses del gobierno del presidente Luis Arce

Brazil

Luna is a career military man who cut his teeth building highways in the Amazon and whose greatest qualification for the job, as critics see it, is his respect for hierarchy and discipline

Chile

Meter a las FF.AA. en un problema de esta naturaleza, sin especificar que el territorio donde van a operar es una zona de guerra, es un error

El comandante en jefe de la institución castrense, Ricardo Martínez, puso a disposición de Carabineros y la PDI a un grupo de entre cinco y 10 funcionarios especializados en Inteligencia y Planificación. Además, se despacharán al menos tres carros blindados Mowag y drones

Colombia

Así lo expresó a este portal Juliette De Rivero, representante en Colombia de la Alta Comisionada de Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos

Si son 11.460 los muertos en combate que fueron presentados como miembros de grupos armados ilegales, las 6.420 víctimas de los “falsos positivos” identificadas dentro de ese total cambia radicalmente la manera de interpretar los resultados operativos

Temblores, an non-governmental organization that monitors state violence, also documented 7,992 cases of assault and 30 cases of sexual violence, with migrant communities and Afro-Colombians often the victims

Mientras el Gobierno prepara retomar la aspersión con glifosato, cientos de campesinos pierden la esperanza de la legalidad. Solo el 2 por ciento de las familias en el PNIS han podido arrancar proyectos productivos diferentes a la coca

He brought the plight of those communities to an international stage, testifying at a congressional hearing in Washington and speaking privately with legislators

En la noche del pasado lunes 22 de febrero, se conoció un vídeo en el que se ve a integrantes del grupo paramilitar Comandos de la Frontera realizando rondas de control en la población de Siberia, municipio de Orito, Putumayo

Cuba

“Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”), a new song with almost two million views on YouTube and featuring some of the most famous Cuban singers inside and outside the island, is challenging the government

Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela

«Continuaremos denunciando abusos en lugares como Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba e Irán», enfatizó Blinken en su discurso a través de un video

Ecuador

El acceso a celulares y la falta de una separación efectiva de los internos más peligrosos ha permito el ascenso del poder de las bandas

The gangs began a battle for leadership within the prison system in December when a leader of Los Choneros, considered the system’s most powerful gang, was killed in a shopping center several months after being released

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama

Determinaron no permitir el ingreso irregular de flujos de migrantes extracontinentales (haitianos, cubanos, asiáticos y africanos) que se mantienen varados en Sudamérica

Haiti

Mr Moïse, a former plantation manager who calls himself “Banana Man”, exemplifies the failings of recent Haitian presidents and has added to them

On Wednesday as tense negotiations over the kidnappers’ $2 million ransom request continued, diplomatic pressure on the Haitian government intensified

Honduras

Se trata de un alto miembro de las FF AA y un exoficial de la Policía que sostuvieron conversaciones con el capo Geovanny Fuentes, enjuiciado en EE UU

Peru, Venezuela

Las redes sociales y los medios en Perú empiezan a hablar de una guerra entre delincuentes venezolanos y peruanos, lo que se traduce en el incremento de la violencia

U.S.-Mexico Border

The federal government asked contractors to submit bids for maintenance of what it calls tactical infrastructure within the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. That includes repairing roads and lights installed along the border wall. It also includes repairing the concertina wire

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement email obtained by The Washington Post shows that the administration has already entered crisis mode on the southern border

DHS officials characterized this as the “next phase” in releasing these migrants who have been waiting to claim asylum in the United States

Comparing all this to “kids in cages” confuses the debate in a way that obscures what the Biden administration is genuinely trying to accomplish — and thus makes it harder to actually hold the administration accountable on it

The move, and a reported decision to reopen another facility at Homestead, Fla., must be temporary

UN agencies have begun preparing individuals and families at the Matamoros informal camp, near the United States-Mexico border, for entry into the US

Venezuela

Venezuelan opposition figures often take harder anti-government lines if they flee abroad. Exiles’ voices are important, but those trying to end Venezuela’s crisis should listen to others as well, recalling that compromise offers the only peaceful exit

The day ahead: February 25, 2021

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

I finished one internal writing assignment yesterday and am almost done with a smaller one, and will also write up a weekly border update today. I’m sitting in on an event this morning about Latin America security, meeting with colleagues at a border/migrants’ rights organization, and have two coalition meetings in the afternoon. All of this will delay my reply to any attempt to get in touch with me today.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

IOM/Alberto Cabezas photo at UNHCR. Caption: “Asylum-seekers at an informal camp in Matamoros, Mexico.”

(Even more here)

February 24, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

The center— now known as the Biscayne Influx Care Facility — is preparing to house migrant teens ages 13 to 17

Chile

El objetivo es atacar organizaciones dedicadas al narcotráfico que, a juicio del gobierno y las policías, estarían detrás de gran parte de los atentados

Colombia

Según dijo, adoptar una política pública para desmantelar los grupos herederos del paramilitarismo es fundamental para mejorar las garantías de seguridad de líderes, defensores y comunidades en Colombia

Son ocho modernas aeronaves con dos equipos de 16 pilotos, las principales herramientas para comenzar la aspersión en el país, tarea que espera el día D para comenzar

La comisionada Patricia Tobón y el comisionado Leyner Palacios denunciaron públicamente la intensificación de acciones armadas sobre los pueblos étnicos del Pacífico colombiano

Lo ocurrido en Tumaco en los últimos días es el fiel reflejo de lo que ocurre en diferentes latitudes del país: matanzas en zonas disputadas por grupos armados ilegales de diferentes extracciones

Ecuador

“Two armed groups tried to seize the criminal leadership of the detention centers”

Guatemala

Un grupo de exmilitares realizó una marcha en el centro histórico para exigir una indemnización por su participación en el conflicto armado interno

Guatemala, Mexico

Nearly 700 were arrested at seven chicken plants across Mississippi that August 2019 morning, in one of the largest workplace immigration stings in U.S. history. A year and a half later, on January 22, López ended up shot

Haiti

Many people in Haiti believe that the Trump administration made a deal with Mr. Moïse: If he supported the U.S. case against Venezuela, then Washington would look the other way when it came to human rights abuses in Haiti

Honduras

The United States cannot remain silent in the face of deeply alarming corruption and human rights abuses being committed at the highest levels of the Honduran government

Mexico

The petition submitted to Congress against Gov. Francisco Cabeza de Vaca is supposed to be ratified by prosecutors on Thursday

Salgado’s candidacy has become a major political liability for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has stood by his longtime friend and political ally

Salgado’s candidacy has become a major political liability for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has stood by his longtime friend and political ally

Corruption in Mexico’s security forces is a key contributor to the sharp rise of organized criminal violence and severely handicaps US-Mexico security cooperation against drug cartels

Peru

De acuerdo al Ministerio Publico, la diligencia judicial fue ordenada debido a “la eexistencia de una presunta Organización Criminal denominada Los Mercenarios, la cual se encontraría enquistada en el Ejército Peruano operando desde el año 2013”

U.S.-Mexico Border

DOD estimated that it would incur nearly $1 billion in unreimbursed costs by supporting DHS’s border security mission from fiscal year 2018 through fiscal year 2020.

The majority of child migrant facilities are subject to state licensing requirements; temporary influx centers like Carrizo are not

Biden Takes On Trump’s Migrant Policies and Confusion Reigns at the Border

The family was attempting to cross the river from Piedras Negras in the Mexican state of Coahuila to reach Eagle Pass, Texas, in frigid conditions

Both governments have prioritized the Matamoros camp due to the difficult humanitarian conditions there. Other individuals with active MPP cases residing outside the Matamoros camp will also be processed

The Biden administration need not and should not leave this to the courts. You have the power to halt these expulsions by repealing the Title 42 order, and you should use it as soon as practicable

A pandemic-related order put in place by former President Donald Trump remains in effect, allowing officials to continue to turn away thousands of migrants

Venezuela

El bloque comunitario europeo dio a conocer este 22 de febrero, nuevas medidas restrictivas

De acuerdo a un reporte divulgado por el Centro para los Defensores y la Justicia los principales responsables de las agresiones contra ONG y defensores de DDHH fueron funcionarios públicos (40%), medios de comunicación oficialistas (29%), organismos de seguridad (19%) e instituciones públicas (7%)

Juan González, director senior de asuntos del Hemisferio Occidental y que forma parte del consejo de seguridad de la Casa Blanca, aseguró que la prioridad de EEUU no es el levantamiento de las sanciones a la administración de Nicolás Maduro sino de fomentar el diálogo

Mr. Reyna is part of a growing chorus of Venezuelan voices and regional experts calling on the United States to redirect its focus from pressing for a quick return to democratic rule to addressing a humanitarian crisis

The day ahead: February 24, 2021

I should be reachable much of the day. (How to contact me)

Other than an internal meeting mid-day, I should be mercifully free from Zoom today, and plan to get a lot of writing, research, and correspondence caught up.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty photo at the Guardian (UK). Caption: “Soldiers patrol the streets of Buenaventura, Colombia.”

(Even more here)

February 23, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

Los efectos de la emergencia sanitaria, económica, social y política se sentirán con especial fuerza en América Latina y el Caribe. Al mismo tiempo, es posible observar una impotencia política de la región frente a la coyuntura crítica global

Bolivia

Posesionó a nuevos jefes militares en los máximos cargos de las Fuerzas Armadas y hasta el momento no ha enviado las listas de ascensos al Parlamento

Central America, Mexico

El informe de la auditoría permite ver que, al margen de medidas concretas de control migratorio, no existe estrategia de cooperación con Centroamérica

Chile

Tras la seguidilla de atentados registrados en la macrozona sur, el Mandatario anunció una batería de medidas legislativas para combatir lo que calificó como “actos de violencia y terroristas”

Colombia

El tema nació a inicios de este mes cuando dos exmilitares en sus declaraciones ante la JEP hablaron sobre presiones que estarían recibiendo para modificar sus testimonios ante esa justicia especial

Tiene que ver con posibles irregularidades del gobierno de Juan Manuel Santos con la autorización de estadía en Cuba a Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, alias Gabino, uno los jefes máximos del Eln

In various parts of Colombia, there has been an intensification of violence and increased territorial and social control by non-state armed groups and criminal groups

Este es el panorama de lo que hay y de lo que falta para que despegue el primer avión con glifosato

Con este doble asesinato, ya son seis los policías muertos en el plan pistola ejecutado por este grupo armado ilegal. Entre el 8 de febrero y a la fecha, han perdido la vida dos agentes en Sucre, uno en Caucasia, uno más en Montería

Estos están usando la fachada de ‘Frente Iván Ríos’ cuando en realidad está integrado por hombres del grupo conocido como ‘Los Contadores’. Un grupo aliado con estructuras paramilitares

Local politicians and citizens are calling on President Iván Duque to come to Buenaventura to support the protests

Colombia, Venezuela

Según Rodríguez, las autoridades venezolanas «tienen a alguien escuchando todo» y que al parecer, sería alguien dentro de la administración de Iván Duque que estaría «indignado» de que ese tipo de reuniones ocurran en Colombia

Guatemala

Con la notoriedad, aparecieron señalamientos de corrupción y vinculaciones al narcotráfico (sin procesos penales en su contra, pero sí de un hermano) que no la han hecho tambalear—aunque Estados Unidos la vigila

Haiti

The United States is disturbed that Haiti’s prolonged period of rule by decree continues. We believe decrees should be limited to actions necessary for essential functions, safety, and the conduct of elections

Honduras

The potential for fraud in November’s presidential elections also underscores the challenge facing Washington, which is yet to call for free and fair elections

Mexico

En el Estado de Guerrero no se ha tenido registro alguno de este tipo de siembra

It remained unclear on Monday night why federal authorities arrested Ms. Coronel now after implicating her in her husband’s crime more than two years ago

Emma Coronel Aispuro, 31, a dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico, was arrested today at Dulles International Airport

Nicaragua

La vigilancia que mantienen estructuras como los Gabinetes de la Familia, mejor conocidos como “CPC”, es uno de los pilares del autoritarismo sandinistaen Nicaragua

U.S.-Mexico Border

Government officials say the camp is needed because facilities for migrant children have had to cut capacity by nearly half because of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border has been inching up

Last week, U.S. border agents apprehended more than 1,500 migrant children, according to government statistics reviewed by CBS News. On Sunday, an additional 300 minors were taken into custody

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement on Monday that “given current operational considerations”, it could no longer say when it would begin bringing in migrants through ports in Brownsville and El Paso

Venezuela

Ceballos tiene el grado de almirante y se desempeña como Jefe de Estado Mayor del (CEOFANB). También es miembro de la Infantería de Marina de Venezuela y dentro de su perfil de carrera se maneja que recibió entrenamiento militar en Estados Unidos e Israel

The day ahead: February 23, 2021

I’ll be intermittently available during the afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’m trying to finish two bits of writing this morning. This afternoon I have two internal meetings, conversations with a student and a Colombian colleague, and an interview. I should be reachable but there will be long stretches when I’m not.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Arturo de Dios Palma photo at El Universal (Mexico). Caption: “Durante años, la economía de la comunidad de El Pescado dependió de los cultivos de la amapola; sin embargo, sólo unos pocos todavía se dedican a esa actividad, pues temen ser atacados por el Ejército o criminales.”

(Even more here)

February 22, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

While the pandemic has opened the door to much-welcomed Chinese aid, it’s also made it harder for governments to pay their bills to Beijing

Six countries across the region — Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Venezuela — have now authorized use of the Sputnik V vaccine. Others are considering authorization requests

Argentina, Mexico

Alberto Fernández estará en La Mañanera del presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador este martes y participará en la celebraciones del bicentenario de la Independencia de México

Argentina, Western Hemisphere Regional

El Southcom es más que en otros momentos un comando naval

Chile, Colombia, Venezuela

El presidente Iván Duque acaba de anunciar una medida extraordinaria: la regularización de un millón de venezolanos. Qué diferencia con la actitud del gobierno de Chile que, en cambio, expulsó a muchos venezolanos

Colombia

“Hemos presenciado versiones voluntarias (ante la JEP) en que unos militares advierten que hay una estrategia del Fondo de Defensa de los miembros de la Fuerza Pública (Fondetec) para ocultar información que implique a altos mandos”

Lo más preocupante de las revelaciones de la JEP es que corroboran que la justicia ordinaria fracasó, pues fue incapaz de procesar a los responsables y de determinar el verdadero número de ejecuciones

Analizamos los datos entregados por el alto tribunal y encontramos quiénes eran los altos mandos en las unidades militares que presentan la mayor cantidad de víctimas de este delito

Declaraciones de testigos y militares ante la JEP establecen que los abogados adscritos a Fondetec han presuntamente aplicado —mediante supuestas jornadas de pedagogía— diferentes métodos de presión para generar temor

A pesar del anuncio de que Fiscalía y Defensoría del Pueblo unificarían cifras sobre agresiones contra líderes sociales, esta última entidad reveló sus propias cuentas

El comandante del Ejército, el general Eduardo Enrique Zapateiro, argumentó que su criticado trino sobre “víboras venenosas y perversas” que quieren atacar y debilitar al Ejército no se refería a la JEP

The Colombian government needs to improve security and infrastructure in the countryside so that farmers have genuine incentives to switch out of coca into legal crops that have a proven market

Colombia, Venezuela

Los militares de ese país, al parecer, pidieron apoyo al ELN para atacar a las disidencias de las FARC como respuesta al derribamiento de uno de sus helicópteros

El Salvador

Dos de ellos trabajaron en campañas electorales para John McCain y Jeb Bush; otro es un guatemalteco con experiencia en inteligencia y considerado uno de los responsables del desmantelamiento de la Cicig

Guatemala

She became a champion of survivors of torture and helped compel the release of documents showing U.S. complicity in decades of human rights abuses in Guatemala

She was forced to defend her credibility, as a U.S. Embassy official at one point described her account as a “hoax” designed to derail an aid package to the government

Guatemala, Mexico

Lo invirtieron y arriesgaron todo en la búsqueda de una vida más digna: viajar a Estados Unidos sin papeles para trabajar. Pero acabaron asesinados a tiros y calcinados en el norte de México

Haiti

Because Moïse held no legislative elections in 2019, parliament was dissolved in early 2020, and he has since been ruling by decree

Mexico

La ASF destaca que pese a tratarse de una fuerza civil, el 70% de elementos de la Guardia Nacional son militares y la nueva fuerza carece de bases e infraestructura propia

En el cementerio clandestino de Arbolillo familiares de personas desaparecidas y autoridades localizaron 2 mil restos humanos desde su descubrimiento hasta marzo del año pasado

Tras la caída del precio de la goma de opio, agricultores de amapola voltearon a los bosques de Coyuca de Catalán; sin embargo, los grupos armados dominan la zona todavía

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry estimates that more than 2.5 million guns have flooded over America’s southern border in the last decade

Nicaragua

Jean Humberto González Zeledón y Cristian David Meneses Machado, que estuvieron exiliados en Costa Rica tras la revuelta popular que estalló en abril de 2018

U.S.-Mexico Border

After getting verified for eligibility using the CBPone application and testing negative for COVID-19, approximately 25 individuals were transported by international organizations to the U.S.-Mexico border

Advocates who opposed the Trump administration’s use of the emergency shelters now acknowledge they might be a necessity for the short term

Migration agents patrolling the river’s edge in Piedras Negras in Mexico’s Coahuila state, opposite Texas, had observed four people enter the water, the migration institute said in a statement. Two of them reached the United States

Migrants are expected to input data from their court documents into the four-page online platform, but confusion set in just as quickly as the website went live

The day ahead: February 22, 2021

Early afternoon is probably the best time to reach me. (How to contact me)

I averaged 6 hours of meetings per day on Wednesday-Friday of last week, then did a lot of writing and podcasting on Friday through the weekend. That means I’m very behind on basic things like e-mail, and I’m a little afraid to look at my to-do inbox to see what else I committed to doing.

Today I have a staff meeting, a border coalition meeting, and a meeting with a few Colombian colleagues. When not present at those, I’ll just be getting caught up, if possible.

Weekly e-mail update is out

I just sent off another e-mail update to those who’ve subscribed. It’s got:

  • A podcast about democracy in El Salvador;
  • Full text of this week’s Colombia peace update;
  • Full text of this week’s U.S.-Mexico border update;
  • 5 “longread” links from the past week;
  • Latin America-related online events for this week;
  • And, finally, several funny tweets.

Here’s the page with past editions and a blank to add your e-mail address if you want these more-or-less weekly missives in your inbox.

Latin America-related online events this week

Tuesday, February 23

  • 10:00–11:00 at csis.org: Brazil’s Accession to the OECD: A Conversation with Paulo Guedes, Brazilian Minister of the Economy (RSVP required).
  • 10:00–11:15 at juridicas.unam.mx: Hacia Elecciones Transparentes y Participativas en el Sistema Interamericano de Derechos Humanos: una conversación con el Panel Independiente 2021 (RSVP required).
  • 10:00–12:00 at uk.rodeemoseldialogo.org: Dis/information and Peace (RSVP required).
  • 1:00 at Zoom: Tráfico de armas de Estados Unidos hacia México: Diagnóstico y propuestas (RSVP required).
  • 2:00–3:30 at columbiauniversity.zoom.us: Police Violence in Comparative Perspective (RSVP required).
  • 3:00: Cuban Entrepreneurship (RSVP required).

Wednesday, February 24

  • 9:00–10:00 at thedialogue.org: China’s Global Energy Finance & China-Latin America Development Finance Database Updates (RSVP required).
  • 2:00–3:15 at wilsoncenter.org: Rethinking Brazilian Development: The Political Economy of Democratic Brazil (RSVP required).
  • 6:00 at Zoom: Hacia una política de integración de migrantes en México (RSVP required).

Thursday, February 25

  • 8:00 at uniandes.edu.co: Alcances y contenidos de la reconciliación (RSVP required).
  • 8:30–4:15 at sais.jhu.edu: Latin America in the World Order: Stepping Up (RSVP required).
  • 9:00–4:45 at lack.fiu.edu: Extreme Events in Central America: Reducing Risk, Enhancing Resilience (RSVP required).
  • 1:00–3:00 at uk.rodeemoseldialogo.org: Football and Nation-building in the Colombian Peace Process (RSVP required).
  • 4:00–5:00 at csis.org: A Discussion with President Iván Duque on Granting Temporary Legal Protection to Venezuelan Migrants in Colombia (RSVP required).
  • 6:30 at YouTube: Diálogos México-Colombia: Regulación de la Marihuana.

Friday, February 26

  • 9:30–11:00 at thedialogue.org: The Road to Legal Abortion in Argentina (RSVP required).
  • 12:00 at colmex-mx.zoom: Revolution in development. Mexico and the governance of the global economy (RSVP required).
  • 2:00 at wola.org: Mapping Out Change: The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement (RSVP required).

5 links from the past week

  • Part 2 of an InsightCrime series about overlaps between government and organized crime in Central America’s Northern Triangle is a potboiler: an unflinching probe of Honduras’s governing National Party, which “since 2010 has become a federation that welcomes politicians and officials involved in criminal businesses ranging from timber to drug trafficking to the misappropriation of public funds.”
  • Fourteen Colombian legislators from the political opposition, spanning six parties, issued the latest in a series of data-rich reports monitoring the government’s compliance with commitments made in the 2016 peace accords. They find the Colombian government falling ever further behind in implementing the accord.
  • The San Diego Union-Tribune profiles Jenn Budd, a former Border Patrol agent who underwent abuse and trauma during her time in the force, and who now, accompanied by the Southern Border Communities Coalition, is one of its most outspoken critics. This is a very troubled agency.
  • At OpenDemocracy, Robert Muggah brings both context and readability to a discussion of Brazil’s grim current political reality, the role of systemic racism, the legacy of the Worker’s Party, and why “Bolsonaro is the candidate to beat in the presidential elections in 2022—and by a wide margin.”
  • Four researchers from Colombia’s Ideas for Peace Foundation dispute claims that the ELN guerrilla group is facing a big internal schism. The ELN has always been divided, they say at Razón Pública—and the Colombian government has done little lately to weaken it.

Colombia peace update: February 20, 2021

Cross-posted from WOLA’s colombiapeace.org site. During at least the first half of 2021, we’re producing weekly updates in English about peace accord implementation and related topics. Get these in your e-mail by signing up to this Google group.

JEP finds a large number of “false positive” killings

Colombia’s post-conflict justice system (JEP) issued a dramatic order on February 18, explaining how it plans to investigate and prosecute its “Macro-Case 03: Deaths illegitimately presented by state agents as combat casualties.” These war crimes, called “false positives,” involved security-force (usually Army) personnel killing civilians, then presenting the dead as armed-group members killed in combat, in order to earn rewards.

The JEP’s most surprising finding was its topline number. Security forces murdered at least 6,402 civilians, the tribunal contends, in the seven years between 2002, the first year of Álvaro Uribe’s presidential administration, and 2008, when a scandal involving 19 murdered young men from a poor neighborhood on Bogotá’s outskirts broke the scandal open.

6,402 is equivalent to about half of the 12,908 armed-group members whom Colombia’s Defense Ministry claimed to have killed between 2002 and 2008. It is nearly triple the 2,248 cases, dating from between 1988 and 2014, that Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) had shared with the JEP. Colombian human rights organizations called the Fiscalía’s undercounting “infuriating.”

The actual number is probably higher than 6,402; the JEP “is still receiving reports to contrast” with its database, La Silla Vacía reports, adding, “For each, the JEP has already identified the name, surname and identity card number,” and each appears in at least three of four governmental and non-governmental databases the tribunal consulted. In addition, some FARC members who demobilized during that period may have been killed later and counted as combatants. And many more cases may still be in the files of the military justice system, not the civilian Fiscalía.

On January 28, the JEP had indicted seven top FARC leaders for their role in kidnappings, with the intention of moving down the chain of command to on-the-ground perpetrators. The false positives investigation, though, is to go “bottom up,” starting with soldiers and officers, then moving up the ladder to top commanders who, today, deny any responsibility for the killings. (The FARC leaders, by contrast, appear poised to accept responsibility for kidnappings.)

That means proving that the practice of killing civilians to receive rewards, a phenomenon that the UN and other human rights monitors began denouncing around 2004, was systematic—a claim given new credibility by the startlingly high number of 6,402 cases. With this order complete, the JEP is to focus its investigations on Antioquia, the Caribbean coast, Norte de Santander, Huila, Casanare, and Meta.

Ex-president Uribe, calling the JEP order “another outrage,” denied responsibility for the killings, saying that while of course he placed strong demands on the military, “effectiveness is not an excuse to violate the law.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and some NGOs and victims’ groups, hailed the JEP’s action. A statement from several groups worried, though, that the JEP’s “bottom up” approach might go too slow, failing to touch the military’s top ex-commanders before the tribunal’s 10-year mandate ends in 2028.

Opposition legislators’ report finds peace accord implementation slipping behind

Fourteen Colombian legislators from the political opposition, spanning six parties, issued the latest in a series of data-rich reports monitoring the government’s compliance with commitments made in the 2016 peace accords. The driving force behind these reports is Green Party Representative Juanita Goebertus, who was a member of the Colombian government’s negotiating team with the FARC in Havana.

The official most responsible for accord implementation in President Iván Duque’s government, High Counselor for Stabilization Emilio Archila, challenged some of the legislators’ claims with a point-by-point Twitter thread, to which Rep. Goebertus then responded with a point-by-point rebuttal thread.

The report finds the Colombian government falling further behind in implementing the accord, especially its provisions related to rural governance and crop substitution. Among its numerous findings:

  • Colombia’s Congress has yet to pass 38 percent of laws required to implement the accord, including 21 of 36 laws required to carry out its first chapter on rural reform and territorial governance, a vital element given the heavily rural nature of the conflict. This chapter is estimated to comprise 85 percent of the total cost of implementing the accord.
  • The Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDETs), a core strategy meant to bring governance and development to 16 conflict-battered regions over 15 years, are running badly behind schedule. The government is spending less than 2 percent of what it should be to maintain a 15-year pace on the largest item, infrastructure projects. While Archila insisted that these projects are being completed at a healthy pace, Goebertus said that pace slowed by 46 percent in 2020.
  • In only 3 of 16 PDET zones has the government completed a promised “roadmap” document needed to speed up investments, and no PDET projects have begun in the highly conflictive central Pacific coast region.
  • The government is formalizing smallholders’ land properties at 29.5% of the pace that fulfillment of the peace accord’s promised 7 million hectares would require, and only 4 of 170 PDET municipalities have yet had landholdings mapped out in a promised cadaster.
  • The accords’ crop substitution program promised assistance with productive projects, starting 12 months in, for families who eradicated all their coca. In year four, only 5.3% of families have received productive project support.
  • 54.5 percent of guerrilla ex-combatants have not received government support for productive projects. Archila says that 6,172 people—about half of ex-combatants—have benefited from productive projects, and “1,214 people, who still haven’t formulated a project, have jobs.”

Draft decree outlines resumption of aerial herbicide fumigation

Since taking power in August 2018, President Iván Duque and his government have vowed to re-start spraying the herbicide glyphosate from aircraft to eradicate coca. A U.S.-backed “fumigation” program, a significant part of the “Plan Colombia” strategy, operated from 1994 to 2015.

Public health concerns forced the program’s suspension that year. In 2017, Colombia’s Constitutional Court then laid out a series of six health, environmental, consultation, and safety requirements that the government would have to meet in order to restart the program. One of those steps is the emission of a decree laying out how fumigation would operate. The government produced an 11-page draft decree in December 2019, but never issued a final document. On February 15, the Justice Ministry produced a new, 20-page, draft decree.

This document prohibits spraying in “the National and Regional Natural Park Systems, strategic ecosystems such as páramos, Ramsar category wetlands and mangroves, bodies of water, and population centers.” It does not mention indigenous reserves or Afro-Descendant community council lands. As the Constitutional Court requires, it calls on Colombia’s National Health Institute (INS, roughly similar to the CDC) and environmental authority (ANLA) to sign off on the spray program’s safety after performing studies, which have been underway since at least early 2020. The Counternarcotics Police would have to provide monthly spray reports to the ANLA, the Ministry of Health, and other oversight agencies.

Colombia’s new defense minister, Diego Molano, recently insisted that all conditions for re-starting spraying might be met by late March, but experts interviewed in Colombian media see approval being delayed for months more. “This decree won’t accelerate the process,” María Alejandra Vélez of the University of the Andes’ Center for Security and Drug Studies (CESED) told El Espectador.

The draft decree is just one of several unmet criteria, including the INS and ANLA sign-offs and a green light from the multi-agency National Drugs Commission (CNE). Via the Colombian equivalent of a Freedom of Information Act request, Isabel Pereira of DeJusticia learned that, as of September, the INS health study had only completed work in 7 of 14 departments where fumigation was expected to occur. The ANLA approval, meanwhile, is being delayed by two court challenges seeking to uphold vulnerable communities’ ability to participate in the process.

Should the Duque government meet all of the Constitutional Court’s requirements to restart fumigation, there will be legal challenges—and it’s not certain whether the Court will approve of the program’s design. Its rulings have noted that glyphosate spraying, as the 2016 peace accord explains, is meant to be a last resort after other options have received higher priority, like voluntary crop substitution and manual eradication. The draft decree does not mention this prioritization. Nor does it mention prior consultation with indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, an omission that the Constitutional Court may object to, Vélez contends.

Links

  • In public statements, Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro criticized Colombia’s decision to grant a legal status to Venezuelan migrants inside Colombia, calling it a “clown show” and accusing President Iván Duque of using it to “clean up his image.” Maduro also said he’d told his country’s armed forces to “clean the barrels of our rifles to answer at any level we need,” in response to Duque’s announcement of a new elite army unit to go after armed group leaders who spend a lot of their time in Venezuela.
  • The Colombian government submitted a report to the JEP finding that the former FARC is lagging badly behind its commitments, under the peace accord, to turn in illegally obtained assets. The Comunes party replied that the government’s imposed deadline of December 31, 2020 was “impossible to meet due to legal and physical constraints,” like security conditions in areas where the ex-FARC assets are located.
  • Two Colombian think tanks, CINEP and CERAC, which play a formal role in verifying implementation of the peace accord, issued their eighth in a series of data-heavy reports.
  • The ambassador to Colombia of Norway, which along with Cuba was a guarantor nation for peace talks with the FARC and ELN guerrilla groups, voiced perplexity that Colombia’s government did not respond positively to Cuba warning of intelligence pointing to a possible ELN attack in Colombia. Meanwhile, Colombia’s Foreign Ministry put out a communiqué noting a tense meeting with Cuba’s ambassador and reiterating a demand that Cuba provide more information about the purported imminent attack.
  • Writing for Razón Pública, four analysts from the Fundación Ideas para la Paz disputed claims that the ELN might be in danger of collapsing under its own internal divisions.
  • Colombia’s left-of-center political parties have been reluctant to enter into coalitions with the ex-FARC political party, Comunes, for the March 2022 presidential and congressional elections, La Silla Vacía reports.
  • Fighting between FARC dissidents and the Gulf Clan Neo-paramilitary group displaced more than 250 people from the rural zone of the chronically violent municipality of Ituango, in north-central Antioquia.
  • Colombia’s GDP contracted 6.8 percent during 2020 due to the pandemic—the worst year since records began in 1905—though it expanded 6 percent during the final quarter of the year.

Badge of honor

Not sure when that happened, but I had to use other means this morning to read his miserable statement on the JEP’s “false positives” findings.

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