Adam Isacson

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


February 2021

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 Brazil’s Accession to the OECD: A Conversation with Paulo Guedes, Brazilian Minister of the Economy (RSVP required).
  • 10:00–11:15 at 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 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 Police Violence in Comparative Perspective (RSVP required).
  • 3:00: Cuban Entrepreneurship (RSVP required).

Wednesday, February 24

  • 9:00–10:00 at China’s Global Energy Finance & China-Latin America Development Finance Database Updates (RSVP required).
  • 2:00–3:15 at 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 Alcances y contenidos de la reconciliación (RSVP required).
  • 8:30–4:15 at Latin America in the World Order: Stepping Up (RSVP required).
  • 9:00–4:45 at Extreme Events in Central America: Reducing Risk, Enhancing Resilience (RSVP required).
  • 1:00–3:00 at Football and Nation-building in the Colombian Peace Process (RSVP required).
  • 4:00–5:00 at 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 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 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 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.


  • 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.

WOLA Podcast: A Critical Moment for El Salvador’s Democracy

With an assist from WOLA’s president, Geoff Thale, I booked a fantastic but deeply troubling conversation with two fighters for democracy in El Salvador, Mauricio Silva and José Luis Sanz. This is a rough moment for a democracy born at a moment of hope, when El Salvador negotiated the end of its conflict in the early 90s.

The .mp3 file is here. The podcast feed is here. And here’s the text from WOLA’s podcast landing page:

El Salvador’s citizens go to the polls on February 28 to elect a new legislature and mayors. Nuevas Ideas, the party of President Nayib Bukele, is expected to gain a strong majority. This raises concerns because Bukele, though quite popular, is eroding institutional checks and balances, blocking access to information, infringing on independent media and freedom of expression, and politicizing the armed forces.

The implications for U.S. policy are significant, as the new Biden administration proposes a four-year, $4 billion package of assistance to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, along with similar priorities, in Central America.

We discuss this with two experts who give us a comprehensive view of what’s at stake:

  • Mauricio Silva, a member of WOLA’s Board of DIrectors, worked at the Inter-American Development Bank for 20 years, 10 of them as a member of the IDB’s Board as director for El Salvador and Central America.
  • José Luis Sanz, a veteran investigative journalist, was the director of the independent media outlet El Faro (The Beacon) between 2014 and late 2020. He is moving to Washington to serve as El Faro’s correspondent.

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

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Stringer—dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images at Associated Press. Caption: “19 February 2021, Mexico, Tijuana: Dozens of migrants of Central American and Mexican origin sleep on the esplanade of the National Institute of Migration near the El Chaparral border crossing, waiting for U.S. authorities to let them enter to begin their humanitarian asylum process in this country. Following the change of direction in migration policy, the U.S. government is once again allowing asylum seekers across the border. As of Friday, the first applicants will be allowed to come to the United States for their court hearings and stay in the country for the duration of their proceedings.”

(Even more here)

February 19, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

ICE officers will focus on those suspected of being a national security threat, recent border crossers, and those who are considered to be a public safety threat, officials announced


“En nombre del pueblo argentino y del Gobierno Nacional estamos profundamente agradecidos por el envío de las vacunas Sputnik V”


La donación, entregada a los militares, consiste en nueve vehículos acondicionados para realizar operaciones médicas, primeros auxilios, diagnóstico por rayos X, utilizar un generador de oxígeno, realizar análisis de laboratorios bioquímicos y esterilización


Según el documento, en el plazo que les dio la JEP entregarán la respuesta oficial al auto de hechos y conductas

El reto de la JEP, ahora, es justamente escalar y llegar a los altos mandos, un trabajo muy difícil porque el nivel de intimidación a los que han implicado superiores ha sido muy alto

Quedan trámites administrativos por resolver, decisiones judiciales pendientes y muchas dudas sobre la reglamentación en sí misma

Piden a la JEP que las versiones sean públicas y que se determinen la responsabilidad de altos mandos cuanto antes

Colombia, Cuba

Dado que la alerta recibida no contiene información específica, Colombia ha solicitado a las autoridades cubanas compartir la información con la que cuenten

Honduras, Nicaragua

Amnistía Internacional advierte que los métodos de los regímenes de Juan Orlando Hernández y Daniel Ortega son similares en cuanto a represión de sus críticos e impunidad en las violaciones de derechos humanos. En el caso de El Salvador, el deterioro progresivo inquieta


Encargado de resguardar la soberanía del Estado mexicano, la paz nacional y la aplicación del Plan DN-III en caso de desastres, el Ejército cumple 108 años

Luego de ser expulsados de un sembradío de amapola por pobladores, integrantes del Ejército regresaron al sitio para golpear y robar a civiles, acusaron vecinos de la comunidad

Se registró una disminución de 19.6% en delitos del fuero federal

No existe evidencia certera de que la 4T esté combatiendo las causas de la violencia, como afirma el Presidente. Simplemente no es creíble esa versión debido a la imparable violencia

U.S.-Mexico Border

Ensure that no surveillance system is used until and unless DHS OIG certifies its necessity, compliance with privacy protections, and responsiveness to stakeholder concerns

Advocates have pushed for the Biden administration to fly migrants in the program to the United States, which they say would be safer and faster

Friday marks a key milestone in unravelling one of former President Donald Trump’s cornerstone policies to deter people from seeking protection from persecution

It happened Wednesday, the same day that Mexico’s immigration agency announced the death of a Venezuelan woman who died trying to cross the river there


El proyecto Lupa por la vida se orienta a reivindicar el derecho a la vida, exigir el cese de las ejecuciones, contribuir a la exigencia de justicia

In Madrid, the left-wing government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has cheered Biden and what it hopes will be his fresh approach to relations with a region that both nations consider their backyard

Weekly Border Update: February 19, 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.

U.S. Citizenship Act introduced

We’ve known the name and general outlines of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 since the Biden administration’s first moments. On February 18, the actual 353-page text of the Democrats’ flagship immigration reform bill went public in the House and Senate. The bill’s principal sponsors, who coordinated closely with the administration, are Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-California), who introduced it with a press conference.

This is the most comprehensive legislative attempt at immigration reform since a 2013 bill that passed the Democratic-majority Senate, with many concessions to Republicans, only to fail in a Republican-majority House. It would provide a path to citizenship for most currently undocumented people in the United States, resolve the situation of “Dreamers” and TPS holders, overhaul asylum and refugee law, and much else.

The bill’s passage is far from assured. It would need unanimous Democratic support in the Senate, and while the filibuster remains in place, at least 10 Republican votes. The administration has indicated it is open to the idea of breaking the bill up into pieces.

The U.S. Citizenship Act’s U.S.-Mexico border-related provisions include:

  • Providing Central America with $1 billion per year in assistance each year from 2022 through 2025 to address the “root causes” of migration. The “Strategy for Engagement with Central America” focuses on reforms and improvements, placing anti-corruption and rule of law first, followed by anti-violence and anti-poverty efforts. Security aid appears to be mostly non-lethal, with an emphasis on investigative techniques. Aid is conditioned on progress along 11 measures.
  • Helping other countries in the region expand their own refugee and asylum systems, while creating U.S. refugee processing centers in Central America and reviving the Central America Minors Program that Donald Trump terminated in 2017.
  • Establishing a Central American Family Reunification Parole Program for victims of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.
  • Building up technology on the border. This includes scanners and infrastructure at aging ports of entry, and “smart technology” elsewhere at the border with “independent oversight on privacy rights,” a significant concern of border communities. The bill seeks to reduce migrant deaths in the desert by deploying rescue beacons.
  • Expanding “officer safety and professionalism”—not quite a cultural overhaul—at Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Border Patrol, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel. This means training and continuing education covering community policing, cultural awareness, interaction with vulnerable populations, and similar needs. It also means setting up a “Border Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee,” new use of force policies, and a ratio of one internal affairs employee for every 30 CBP officers.
  • Improving humanitarian and medical standards for migrants during time spent in CBP custody, including adopting child welfare standards and hiring trained personnel.
  • Expanding the Justice Department’s investigations of migrant smugglers, and expanding FBI-DEA Transnational Anti-Gang Task Forces in Central America.
  • After asylum seekers are paroled at the border, keeping them “in the system” by expanding alternatives to detention programs, reducing immigration courts’ backlogs by building up adjudication capacity, and allowing court-appointed counsel for unaccompanied children and especially vulnerable migrants. The bill makes numerous other adjustments to the asylum process.

Rep. Sanchez has filed the bill in the House, and Sen. Menendez will do so next week, when the Senate comes back in session.

Remain in Mexico admissions to start February 19

The new administration’s most visible change to the immigration system gets underway at the border on February 19. The process of winding down the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, known formally as Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), is to begin at the San Ysidro port of entry south of San Diego.

With the Mexican government’s acquiescence, since January 2019 MPP forced over 70,000 non-Mexican asylum seekers to await their U.S. hearing dates on Mexican soil. This often meant waiting in border towns, under impoverished and unsafe conditions. About 25,000 people still have open cases; many have been waiting since 2019. In January the Biden administration halted new admissions into MPP (though ports of entry remain closed to asylum seekers and most apprehended migrants are still expelled under pandemic measures), and began setting up a procedure for MPP subjects to finish the asylum process while living in the United States with relatives or sponsors.

That process will involve online registration at a site (not active yet) run by the UN Refugee Agency  and other international organizations. Asylum seekers will be prioritized according to how long they’ve been waiting or other “acute vulnerabilities.” When CBP is able to process them, they will be called to a staging area near one of three ports of entry (San Ysidro/San Diego, California; El Paso, Texas; or Brownsville, Texas) where the International Organization for Migration will test them for COVID-19 while still in Mexico. Processing will involve transferring asylum seekers’ cases to courts in interior U.S. cities where they plan to stay. Homeland Security Secretary Ali Mayorkas says that the plan is to scale up to processing about 300 people per day at each port. (WOLA this week offered a list of recommendations for the U.S. and Mexican governments to guarantee a fair and safe process.)

The record cold that blacked out most of Texas took a toll on those “remaining in Mexico.” At a makeshift camp across from Brownsville in Matamoros, “tents made out of blue tarp have iced over” and “water used for cooking and bathing has also frozen,” ABC News reported. “There is a real concern for frostbite, hypothermia,” nurse practitioner Andrea Leiner of Global Response, which has been attending to people at the camp, told the Dallas Morning News. “People don’t want to move to a shelter with a roof. They are afraid they will lose their spot in the MPP line.”

The “Remain in Mexico” wind-down has its critics. Though Arizona’s ports of entry are not involved, Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, wrote to Mayorkas complaining of “the hasty announcement” and “the lack of details provided to stakeholders in a border state.” Alan Bersin, a top Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official during the Clinton and Obama administrations, told the Associated Press that the move—which he said owes to “such a pressing sense in the advocate community that is controlling the Biden immigration agenda”—will draw more migrants to the border.

Some Democratic members of Congress, Politico reported, also worry about triggering a spike in migration by going too fast on immigration reform and dismantling Trump’s measures. Though he says he backs reforms, Rep. Vicente González (D-Texas), whose district borders Mexico, told the publication, “The way we’re doing it right now is catastrophic and is a recipe for disaster in the middle of a pandemic… Biden is going to be dealing with a minority in Congress if he continues down some of these paths.”

Migration through Mexico is increasing

Most Trump-era restrictions on new asylum seekers, including pandemic “expulsions,” remain in place. Nonetheless, reports point to a recent jump in northbound migration through Mexico. This owes to perceptions, fed by smugglers, that the Biden administration will go easier on migrants. It also owes to a loosening of countries’ pandemic travel restrictions, and grave security and economic conditions worsened by COVID-19 and two severe November hurricanes in Central America.

The Mexican government’s National Migration Institute (INM) reported collaborating with military, police, and National Guard agents, on more than 50 raids since January 25 on the “La Bestia” cargo trains that often carry migrants, apprehending 1,189 people, 30 percent of them minors. Authorities apprehended hundreds of migrants at a time in the cargo containers of tractor-trailers on highways in Chiapas, Veracruz and Nuevo León. Associated Press interviews with migrant shelter and legal aid personnel in the southern Mexican cities of Tenosique, Palenque, and Tapachula found all experiencing a sharp increase in demand over 2020; the “La 72” shelter in Tenosique, Tabasco, “has hosted nearly 1,500 migrants” so far in 2021, “compared to 3,000 all of last year.” Further south, AP notes, Panama’s January reopening of its border with South America has led to “some 1,500 migrants spread across various camps.”

At the U.S. border, Border Patrol agents in the Yuma sector of Arizona and California have apprehended 28 migrant children under 13 years of age since January 1, more than twice the number for the same period in the record-breaking year of 2019. The Wall Street Journal reported that DHS dropped off 341 migrant family members—many of them Cuban, Haitian, or Venezuelan—during the last week of January at a migrant shelter in remote Del Rio, Texas, and that in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, “an IOM-sponsored hotel housing migrants during the pandemic has been at capacity for the past few weeks.”

The statement from Mexico’s INM sees the change in U.S. administration as a key factor behind the increase: “In interviews with the Institute, the people who travel on these trains have stated that, given the change in immigration policy by the new U.S. government, they feel encouraged to reach northern Mexico by various routes.”


  • The Dallas Morning News and El Paso Matters report on an Ecuadorian man and a Guatemalan man who recently fell from a new 30-foot section of border wall near El Paso: one broke both ankles and the other broke his back and pelvis. Border Patrol agents drove them 90 miles to a remote border crossing and expelled them, under Title 42, without medical attention, forcing them to walk across into Mexico.
  • 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. In late January, Border Patrol launched what it calls the “Fearless Five” campaign to commemorate the 5 percent of agents who are women, with a video comparing female agents to diamonds forged by extreme pressure.
  • The latest in a nearly two-and-a-half-year series of updates from the University of Texas’s Strauss Center finds 16,250 asylum seekers on “metering” waitlists in nine Mexican border cities, up from 15,690 in November.
  • A DHS memo obtained by BuzzFeed plans to direct officials to refrain from using words like “alien” and “illegal alien.”
  • A report from the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute finds that “Thirteen border security companies’ executives and top employees contributed three times more to Joe Biden ($5,364,994) than to Donald Trump ($1,730,435)” during the 2020 campaign.
  • Mexico’s government had promised to help “Remain in Mexico” subjects find employment while they awaited their hearing dates on Mexican soil, citing at least 3,700 jobs in border towns. In the end, Animal Político’s Alberto Pradilla revealed, only 64 people found work through the Mexican Labor Department’s efforts. Meanwhile, the same journalist reported, Mexican government programs to assist Central American communities, in order to address migration’s causes, only reached 6 percent of their originally planned population.

The day ahead: February 19, 2021

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

I’m finishing up a border update, then have an internal check-in meeting, two coalition meetings, a meeting with a State Department official, a podcast recording, and a one-on-one with a colleague. I probably won’t be able to respond to messages until the weekend.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from the Wall Street Journal. Caption: “A migrant family from Venezuela embraced at the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition building in Del Rio, Texas, last week.”

(Even more here)

February 18, 2021


Para agilizar la implementación de los PDET, es necesaria la expedición de las hojas de ruta y hoy solo se han expedido 3 de las 16 que se requieren

En Colombia se sigue matando a líderes sociales. Bogotá acusa de ello a “grupos criminales”. Para Washington, la causa radica en la “ineficaz implementación del Acuerdo de Paz”. Biden le pide explicaciones a Duque

La JEP establece que por lo menos 6.402 personas fueron muertas ilegítimamente para ser presentadas como bajas en combate en todo el territorio nacional entre 2002 y 2008

En el borrador de decreto del Ministerio de Justicia se ratifica que la decisión del regreso del Glifosato es del Consejo Nacional de Estupefacientes (CNE)

Esta cifra se aleja considerablemente del informe que entregó la Fiscalía General de la Nación a la JEP, en la que sólo se registraban 2.248 víctimas, entre 1988 y 2014

Colombia, Venezuela

“Hay que decir que en Venezuela hay 6 millones de migrantes colombianos y nunca han necesitado un tratado provisional de protección, ninguna payasería de las Duque está inventando para lavarse la cara”


Cuba is floating the idea of enticing tourists to its shores with the irresistible cocktail of sun, sand and a shot of Sovereign 2


These links between the congressional vice president’s brother and Los Huistas show how one of the country’s main criminal groups continues to enjoy proximity to the highest echelons of power


The military paraphernalia deployed to stop the caravan once again fueled nationalism and fantasies of security in the face of foreign threats. Immigration militarization in Mexico is not new

Las fuerzas armadas de hoy son las mismas del régimen autoritario. Ni siquiera se reformó la ley para que fueran civiles los encargados de las secretarías de Defensa y de Marina, como ocurre en las democracias avanzadas

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

After a year of pandemic-induced paralysis, those in daily contact with migrants believe the flow north could return to the high levels seen in late 2018 and early 2019

U.S.-Mexico Border

  • Todd Miller, Nick Buxton, Biden’s Border (Transnational Institute (The Netherlands), February 18, 2021).

The 13 border security companies’ executives and top employees contributed three times more to Joe Biden ($5,364,994) than to Donald Trump ($1,730,435)

Local officials and aid groups say they haven’t seen such large releases of migrants since 2019, when U.S. border officials were overwhelmed by migrant families

“Biden is going to be dealing with a minority in Congress if he continues down some of these paths,” said one Democratic congressman

The day ahead: February 18, 2021

I’m most reachable from mid-afternoon to end of day. (How to contact me)

I’m writing on a deadline about the border this morning, with an eye on the likely introduction of the Biden administration’s big border-migration legislation. I have one or two border coalition meetings in the early afternoon, then I hope to be doing less urgent work for the rest of the day.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

February 17, 2021


Brazil’s ruinous political leadership, economic mismanagement, and COVID-19 crisis are simply bringing the country’s long-standing challenges into ever-sharper relief

As part of a 2019 agreement with the US, Brazil is looking to expand its space base, but it could mean evicting hundreds of Black families from their ancestral lands


Rodrigo Londoño ‘Timochenko’, pidió que les dieran un espacio en la alianza de partidos de izquierda que empezó a armarse desde el año pasado para las elecciones del 2022

Colombia, Venezuela

Álvarez was a translator and business partner of Jordan Goudreau, the former American Green Beret

El Salvador

I am perplexed and disappointed that the Ambassador’s office would put out inaccurate quotes and attribute them to me. This is a first in my 15 years in Congress and this incident will unfortunately force me to reassess how I engage with El Salvador’s Ambassador

Guatemala, Mexico

The United States has for years exported the control of migratory routes to Mexico and Central America. The repression of the most recent Honduran migrant caravan highlights this shift, but the effort began much earlier, during the Obama administration


Less well known is how mining and natural resource extraction in some areas exacerbate violence and climate change impacts, spurring localized migration

Keyla Martínez, a 26-year-old student, died of asphyxiation when she was being held alone in a police cell. But many don’t buy the police line that she committed suicide

The party that has governed Honduras 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


El INM también responsabiliza a la llegada a la Casa Blanca de Joe Biden del incremento del flujo hacia Estados Unidos

Critics say it reveals the pitfalls of governments seeking to gather more citizen data for law enforcement purposes

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

Individuals should not take any action at this time and should remain where they are to await further instructions

U.S.-Mexico Border

U.S. law makes it very difficult to seize land from private landowners, which the federal government needed to do to build the wall


304 hombres y 25 mujeres; al hacer el desglose por ocupación, se cuentan 206 civiles y 123 efectivos castrenses

The day ahead: February 17, 2021

I’m all booked up today. (How to contact me)

I won’t be setting any productivity records today. There’s a 2-hour all-hands staff planning meeting this morning, then I’m in a planning meeting for our border work. In the afternoon I look forward to being on a panel to discuss changes in U.S. policy at an event put on by Colombian human rights organizations. Then in the evening it’s an online event at my kid’s school. This seven-plus hours of Zoom time will make me hard to contact today.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from Animal Político (Mexico).

(Even more here)

February 16, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

While previous attempts at massive immigration reform have failed under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the Biden White House has signaled support for breaking the legislation into pieces


Brazil’s pro-gun president announced four presidential decrees designed to facilitate legal access to weapons on Saturday morning, as the country’s coronavirus death toll swelled

In the early hours of February 2, the Brazilian Air Force (FAB, in Portuguese) multi-mission KC-390 aircraft dropped paratroopers in joint flights with U.S. Air Force C-17 and C-130 aircraft during Operation Culminating, in Alexandria, Louisiana

Brazil, Haiti, Peru

Militares y policías peruanos han impedido el ingreso desde Brasil de unos 380 migrantes, en su mayoría haitianos, a través de un puente binacional en la Amazonía, informó el lunes el Comando Conjunto de las Fuerzas Armadas

Central America Regional

Multiple sources consulted by InSight Crime in Washington DC and Central America say that creating an institution similar to the CICIG will be complicated and believe that the Biden administration will first resort to other strategies


On January 12, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera signed a decree that enables support of the Armed Forces in border control to combat illegal migration


Un hecho que sigue ocupando un lugar de primer orden en las preocupaciones, es la persistente amenaza y el recurrente asesinato de li?deres sociales, defensores de derechos humanos y de excombatientes de las FARC

Deja en manos de la justicia establecer si hay lugar a sanciones para los exmiembros de la guerrilla al no haber entregado la totalidad del inventario en el plazo establecido

En la Sierra Nevada y en la Troncal del Caribe del Magdalena, donde operó su Bloque Resistencia Tayrona, muchos lo ven todavía como ‘El patrón’


The Cuba Study Group document, obtained by the Herald ahead of its public release on Tuesday, encourages the new administration to abandon the “centerpiece policy of regime change” for an incremental approach

El Salvador

Bukele puso a manera de ejemplo que “antes quién iba a pensar en sacar un celular en el Centro Histórico (de San Salvador), eso era impensable. Gracias al esfuerzo de la Fuerza Armada hemos dados fuertes golpes al tráfico de drogas”

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

Únicamente 64 solicitantes de asilo recibieron un empleo a través de la secretaría de Trabajo. De ellos, 63 se encontraban en Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, y uno solo en Tijuana

U.S.-Mexico Border

Installing a hodgepodge of “smart security” technology paid for with reallocated wall cash, together with limited barrier removal in sensitive areas, appears to be the most likely outcome

With people anticipating that Friday is going to open to MPP crossings, people don’t want to move to a shelter with a roof. They are afraid they will lose their spot in the MPP line

This report provides an update on metering lists, asylum seekers, and migrant shelters along the U.S.-Mexico border amid CBP’s asylum processing suspension. It documents approximately 16,250 asylum seekers on waitlists in 9 Mexican border cities


Siete años han transcurrido sin un especialista del área en la conducción del gabinete económico ministerial y del Banco Central. La industria petrolera, las empresas básicas de Guayana, la petroquímica y el sistema eléctrico nacional han tenido a militares totalmente inexpertos

The day ahead: February 16, 2021

I’ll be hard to reach for most of the day. (How to contact me)

I’m in internal meetings most of the morning, and in the afternoon I’m meeting with a student and have carved out a few hours for writing and for preparing a talk I’m giving tomorrow at a virtual gathering of Colombian NGOs. There will be long stretches today where I’m not able to check or respond to messages. Tomorrow will be similarly packed.

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