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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March 2021

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Guillermo Arias/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images photo in The Wall Street Journal. Caption: “An aerial view of a migrants’ camp in Tijuana on March 17.”

(Even more here)

March 25, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

As new research shows huge setbacks to education and inequality, the region’s leaders seem to be “sleepwalking”

Central America Regional, Guatemala

El hecho es que el combate a la corrupción sí será un eje central: el eje de la política del Presidente Biden para Centro América, porque, como podemos ver, entre el crimen organizado y la corrupción pública, eso es un elemento fundamental en el deterioro

Colombia

He asks the US Congress to “again call on the government of Colombia to make a final decision to implement the Peace Agreement in a comprehensive way”

Colombia, Venezuela

Pares habló con Anderson Rodríguez, presidente de la Asosicación Campesina de Arauca, para conocer sobre la situación que se está viviendo en el municipio de Arauquita

Thousands of Venezuelans are seeking shelter in Colombia this week following clashes between Venezuela’s military and a Colombian armed group in a community along the nations’ shared border

El Salvador

Reduced to ignominy, Saravia has been a pizza delivery man, a used car salesman and a drug money launderer. Now he is burning in the hell he helped create during a time when killing “communists” was a sport

Guatemala, U.S.-Mexico Border

The biggest cash cow for the smugglers knows as coyotes are the individuals and families that are lured to the U.S. with the promise that their guides will try three or more times to get them safely across the border

Haiti

In a recent interview, the Haitian leader lamented that he has the confidence of only a small sliver of his people

Almost all of these expulsions are occurring under what is referred to as the “ Title 42” policy enacted by the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”)

Black migrants face rates of arrest, detention, and deportation disproportionate to their numbers in this country

Mexico

El mandatario informó que las 2.7 millones de dosis AstraZeneca, procedentes de Estados Unidos, llegarán el domingo o el lunes entrante

El 16.6% de los entrevistados está “muy de acuerdo” y otro 23.5% “algo de acuerdo” con un gobierno militar (40% en total). El restante 60% rechazó este tipo de gobierno

U.S.-Mexico Border

Biden on Thursday said he was negotiating with the president of Mexico to address the refusals to take back families at the border: “I think we are going to see that can change.”

Single adults account for 82% of the apprehensions so far this fiscal year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. Some 60% of all single adults apprehended were Mexicans

The Biden administration says it is attempting to build a new immigration model that will deliver asylum decisions in the U.S. much more quickly and vet more people for their eligibility in their home countries—but both will take time

It is a task that carries political risks for Harris, a potential future presidential candidate. Border woes have been an intractable problem for multiple presidents

More than 16,500 unaccompanied migrant children were in federal custody as of early Wednesday. More than 11,500 of those children were being housed in shelters and emergency housing sites, while another 5,000 were stranded in overcrowded Border Patrol facilities

Up to 600 families were assembled in recent days at the site under the Anzalduas International Bridge in Mission, Texas, sleeping in the dirt, exposed to the elements, without much food or access to medical care

The Border Patrol has started releasing migrant families in Yuma, Ajo and Gila Bend, where nonprofits and local government officials are trying to care for them despite the COVID-19 restrictions and the community’s lack of infrastructure

Venezuela

La CIDH destacó que el uso de la jurisdicción penal militar se intensifica durante los episodios de protestas, como ocurrió en el año 2017, cuando más de 750 personas civiles fueron presentadas ante esos espacios

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

March 24, 2021

Argentina

El mandatario argentino encabezó un acto en honor a los grupos de mujeres que “tuvieron el coraje que la sociedad no tuvo” para enfrentar a la dictadura en el país

Argentina, Venezuela

Las sanciones y bloqueos impuestos a Venezuela y a sus autoridades, así como los intentos de desestabilización ocurridos en 2020, no han hecho más que agravar la situación de su población

Bolivia, Mexico

Luis Alberto Arce Catacora, Presidente del Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia, agradeció esta mañana, conmovido, a México y a su Jefe del Poder Ejecutivo, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, por haberle dado asilo –junto a Evo Morales y otros

Brazil

The military, they argue, has neither the tools, the mentality, nor the structure to target and pursue those responsible for the destruction

The Supreme Court’s ruling is “practically checkmate” for the country’s Car Wash corruption investigation

Central America Regional, U.S.-Mexico Border

For all the justified outrage over the lack of proper facilities to house the thousands of young immigrants at the border, for most of those children — and for the parents who, in many cases, sent them on their way to the United States — the alternative is much worse

Colombia

The amicus brief supports a petition to transfer the criminal investigation into the 2019 death of an 18-year-old protester, Dilan Cruz, at the hands of police to the ordinary justice system from the military courts, where it currently stands

Los seis integrantes de la sociedad civil que están en la Comisión se apartaron del documento final, y, en una carta enviada al comisionado de Paz, Miguel Ceballos, se quejaron de que la mayoría de sus propuestas habían sido ignoradas

En Colombia seguimos hablando de la existencia de al menos cinco conflictos armados no internacionales, cuyos actores continúan afectando la dignidad y la vida de la población civil

El Gobierno pidió perdón y reconoció una responsabilidad parcial. “Nos parece lamentable teniendo en cuenta la gravedad de las violaciones”, respondió una de las abogadas de Bedoya

“Es como los casos que denuncio todos los días, donde el marido golpea a la mujer y al otro día le dice ‘perdóname, te quiero pero estaba de mal genio’. Eso es lo que el Estado ha hecho conmigo ante la Corte”

3.119 personas y 1.311 familias se han desplazado forzosamente este año. Así lo revela el Sistema de Monitoreo de Riesgos y Prevención de la Unidad de Investigación y Acusación de la JEP

Colombia, Venezuela

Rocío San Miguel, presidenta de Control Ciudadano, subraya que cuando se asume una política de neutralidad frente a grupos guerrilleros en guerra con otros, las retaliaciones que se desencadenan tienen un efecto más duro en la población

No hay un saldo consolidado de bajas o heridos, no está claro si se bombardeó o no, ni siquiera es explícito contra quién es el operativo

El Salvador

Fue sustituido por un excandidato a diputado de GANA sin experiencia en la conducción de cárceles de máxima seguridad, que a su vez fue sustituido por un abogado sin ninguna experiencia en centros penales

They were not moving large amounts of drugs. With one bold operation, Pitbul hoped to change that equation

Guatemala

Se aprestan a cobrarles la factura a quienes son y fueron piezas clave en la lucha contra la impunidad

Honduras

There is a high probability that the features of the 2017 electoral process will be repeated, when the weakness of the electoral institutions was clear, and the lack of confidence and credibility of the results brought a crisis of governability

Evidence presented in court over two weeks provided a searing assessment of the president, whose government’s failure to build a lawful state and a robust economy has helped drive hundreds of thousands of despairing citizens to emigrate

Mexico

La capacitación de primer nivel permitirá al personal de la Sedena integrarse como auxiliar en las funciones de comercio exterior

El presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador ha encargado a las Fuerzas Armadas al menos 27 tareas que anteriormente se encontraban en manos de civiles

“Nuestra tradición humanista nos compromete a reforzar las acciones para atender a las personas que se encuentran en riesgo al migrar, especialmente a las niñas, niños y adolescentes acompañados y no acompañados”

It is alarming that the Mexican government is sending in more troops to crack down on asylum seekers and migrants, even as Mexico’s refugee agency still lacks presence at the ports of entry

  • Humberto Beck, Carlos Bravo Regidor, Patrick Iber, The Immovable Amlo (Dissent, March 24, 2021).

AMLO continues to decry the faults of neoliberalism, but his government is, for the most part, failing to build an effective alternative to it. Yet even as former supporters have slowly stepped away from the government and criticism has mounted, AMLO’s level of popular support remains high

“Ya nosotros en Guardia Nacional contamos con cerca de 100 mil elementos, están terminados 155 cuarteles y está en proceso de construcción otro número importante”

La Fiscalía General de la República (FGR) arraigó por 40 días al sujeto identificado como Erick del Toro López, alias “El M3”, señalado como supuesto jefe de sicarios del Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación

Son identificados como integrantes de La Familia Michoacana y habrían ordenado y organizado el ataque contra los policías mexiquenses

Habrá una caída modesta en el número de víctimas en el año en su conjunto

ATF found that 70 percent of firearms reported to have been recovered in Mexico from 2014 through 2018 and submitted for tracing were U.S. sourced. However, ATF does not receive complete data about thousands of firearms

Mexican Defense Secretary Luis Crescencio Sandoval announced Monday that 8,715 army and National Guard troops were deployed at the country’s northern and southern borders to detain unauthorized migrants

Swelling numbers of Mexicans are heading north across the border, propelled by a deep economic crash and drawn by promises of a stimulus-fueled resurgence in the U.S.

Roberto, a smuggler who said he is linked to a powerful cartel in Ciudad Juarez, said his network is now flying minors directly from Central America to the U.S. border by plane

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

More help in facing the pandemic is one thing López Obrador already said he asked of Biden. Additional resources to help Mexico deal with the migrants gathering at their shared border could be another

U.S.-Mexico Border

Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Monday introduced the Stopping Border Surges Act, a bill to address loopholes in our immigration system

DHS had both a multi- component task force in place at the border and a plan for land migration surges, but used neither during the 2019 surge.

The San Diego Convention Center is expected to host migrant children until July 1. About 90 percent of the unaccompanied children who will be in the shelter have family members in the United States

I’m not asking for open borders. I’m simply asking for open minds

Evidence reveals the usual seasonal bump — plus some of the people who waited during the pandemic

The solution cannot be to turn away these children and send them back to harm in their home countries. It is legal to seek asylum

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed Tuesday that the Department of Defense “has received a request for assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children”

The Biden administration is leaning on a public health law invoked by the Trump administration to quickly expel migrants who are encountered at the US-Mexico border, typically single adults and some families

Biden administration officials are set to visit both countries this week as critics call for more actions to stem the influx. Apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border are on pace to hit highs not seen in 20 years

Venezuela

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for the U.S. to end what he called the “misguided” policy

The day ahead: March 24, 2021

I’m somewhat reachable in the morning and not at all in the afternoon. (How to contact me)

I just took my daughter across town to take her SAT exam. They grow up so fast. (Not really, it feels like it’s been a long time.)

While that’s going on, I’ve got a lot else on the calendar: two border coalition meetings, a meeting with legislative staff, an interview. I may be hard to get in touch with today.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) photo at Axios. Caption: “Migrants in the Donna overflow facility.”

(Even more here)

March 23, 2021

Bolivia

The more than 1,500 pages in the case file against Morales, which we reviewed, contained zero evidence he had committed acts that would appropriately be considered terrorism. Similarly, the terrorism charges against Áñez are grossly disproportionate

Brazil

The national security law, which dates from 1983, near the end of the country’s military dictatorship, states it is a crime to harm the heads of the three branches of government or expose them to danger. That vague definition has recently been used

Central America Regional

Estados Unidos ha nombrado enviado especial para el Triángulo Norte al hombre que en 2014 negoció la reapertura de relaciones con Cuba y diseñó la estrategia de ayuda a Centroamérica con que Obama respondió a la crisis de los niños migrantes

Colombia

En los últimos cuatro años, se han registrado 375 homicidios que habrían sido cometidos por agentes. Por lo menos ocho tuvieron lugar en estaciones de Policía. Presentamos cuatro de esas historias

Duque le jugará más a las presiones políticas internas por lograr resultados a corto plazo del Centro Democrático, que a una estrategia de largo plazo, como la que vienen pidiendo algunos Demócratas en Washington

Colombia, Honduras, Panama

U.S. Army South hosted a pre-deployment training seminar, Operation Alamo Shield Mission Prep, at their headquarters February 23-25, to prepare teams assigned to the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (1st SFAB) for future training and advising missions in Colombia, Honduras, and Panama

Colombia, Venezuela

El Gobierno de Nicolás Maduro en Venezuela confirmó que durante este domingo las fuerzas militares de ese país desarrollaron una operación en el estado venezolano de Apure, limítrofe con el departamento de Arauca, en el que murieron dos militares

Se calcula, que unas 2000 personas, es decir, casi un 30 % esta en Venezuela, en datos bien conservadores

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

The Special Envoy will engage with regional governments, including but not limited to Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, on a range of issues in order to seek to improve conditions in Central America

Honduras

El presidente Biden necesita cambiar la estrategia hacia Honduras pero primero debe combatir las inercias de la política exterior estadounidense

In or about 2013, FUENTES RAMIREZ paid a bribe of at least approximately $25,000 to Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado (“JOH”), who was at the time the president of the Honduran National Congress, and allowed JOH to access millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine

Mexico

Damián Genovés Tercero murió a manos de elementos del Ejército Mexicano, en una ejecución extrajudicial, según se mira en un video que un oficial del propio Ejército entregó al padre de la víctima; a pesar de que los autores confesaron el delito, la justicia no llega

Luego del enfrentamiento fue detenido Erick Joel Del Toro López, alias “El M-3” y presunto jefe regional del Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación

Nicaragua

FIDH – Federación Internacional por los Derechos Humanos y el Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH) publican un informe de más de 70 páginas sobre esta ola de represión y terror

Vivimos bajo un estado policial que ha conculcado por las vías de hecho las libertades de reunión, asociación y movilización, y las libertades de prensa y de expresión

U.S.-Mexico Border

Border officials are on pace to take in more than 17,000 minors this month, which would be an all-time high

Badly misinformed, the migrants harbor false hope that President Joe Biden will open entry to the United States briefly and without notice

The new process allows caseworkers to partially fill out applications necessary for the release of children during interviews with their parents or legal guardians, instead of having the prospective sponsors complete the forms

While President Biden has taken some steps to change Trump’s asylum policies, many are still in effect to keep asylum seekers out of the country they hope will protect them. Those policies are not being applied evenly

Some of the migrants mistakenly believed they had 90 days to apply for permission to remain in the U.S.; that they already had permission, or that their paperwork contained a phone number for them to contact immigration officials

The criteria to be allowed into the U.S. are a closely held secret. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has referred only to “acute vulnerabilities” that qualify families for release in the United States to pursue asylum instead of immediate expulsion

According to data obtained by NBC News, Border Patrol apprehended 1,807 migrants who were traveling as parts of families on Friday, and only 179 of them were expelled back into Mexico

As of Saturday, there were 10,000 migrants in CBP custody overall. Nearly half were unaccompanied minors — thousands of whom had been waiting for more than 3 days

They also shed the plastic bracelets they had been issued by smugglers to signify they had paid for their passage. The brush around them was littered with scores of the bracelets

The Senators wrote, “We write to urge you to use your full authorities to effectively respond to and successfully manage the ongoing crisis at our Southwest Border”

The day ahead: March 23, 2021

I’m around, other than meetings mid-day and mid-afternoon. (How to contact me)

As happens when an issue one works on takes over the national news, the border situation is occupying me all day long. I realized I had to get a good night’s sleep yesterday, when in a Spanish interview it took me 3 seconds to remember the verb “expulsar“—and I did sleep well.

Today I’m briefing 2 groups of congressional staff, but otherwise have no pre-planned meetings and should be reachable as I catch up my news database and my e-mail and other communications inboxes. I’d also like to carve out some time to write, but am not sure that will happen.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

March 22, 2021

Brazil

A potential clash is looming in northern Brazil between the Munduruku people and mining prospectors armed with rifles and handguns who have intruded into Indigenous lands in the Tapajós River basin of Para state

Central America Regional

The Famine Early Warning System has projected that food insecurity will consequently ramp up in Honduras from now until August or September

Colombia

Hoy esta aún más claro que el glifosato está vinculado con riesgos de desarrollar cáncer, enfermedades dermatológicas, respiratorias, y abortos en la población que reside en zonas de aspersión. Estos riesgos no son especulaciones

In one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, environmentalists are being targeted for their efforts to preserve sensitive habitats used by drug traffickers and armed gangs, and their activism against legal and illegal mining, agriculture, fossil fuel extraction, and hydroelectric plants and dams

Los altos índices de violencia, el choque por la independencia judicial, la falta de avances en la implementación del proceso de paz se topan este año con un proceso electoral

Tres asesinatos que se registraron en la localidad reviven el temor entre los campesinos por una nueva oleada de violencia

Colombia, Venezuela

De acuerdo con residentes de La Victoria, en la localidad se escuchan explosiones y ráfagas de disparos desde helicópteros, que apuntarían a militantes de las FARC encabezados por alias Farley

Guatemala, Mexico

Relatives, friends and neighbors in Comitancillo watched the broadcast in their homes as they made final preparations for the arrival of the bodies and for the wakes and burials to follow

Mexico

“Lo que más nos preocupa es que haya más medidas de contención y rechazo al migrante en lugar de crear una hoja de ruta con enfoque de derechos humanos para recibir a este flujo de personas con necesidades de protección”

Del 01 de enero a la fecha se han detectado 4 mil 180 menores de edad acompañados y no acompañados

Those turned away weren’t migrants, they were the small-time Guatemalan merchants and residents from Tecun Uman, across the river, who buy in bulk in Mexico to re-sell in Guatemala

Los agentes migratorios fueron dispersados en los puntos por donde se suele traficar mercancía informal y pasan cientos de migrantes

La zona centro del país, que abarca estados como Michoacán, Guerrero, Ciudad de México, Morelos y el Estado de México, se ha vuelto disputa de al menos 13 grupos del crimen organizado

Guanajuato, Baja California, Jalisco, Estado de México, Michoacán y Chihuahua son los estados donde se concentra el delito de homicidio doloso

U.S.-Mexico Border

There are more than 600 children who have been in custody for more than 10 days, documents show

Today, Border Patrol agents are making both the initial and — in the vast majority of cases — final decision over who gets to stay, giving law enforcement unprecedented power over the fate of vulnerable populations

Migrant children and families are dangerously packed into holding facilities on the southwest border, lawmakers and child­-welfare monitors warned Friday, as Customs and Border Protection weighed taking the emergency step of putting migrant families on airplanes

The belief that the end of the Trump administration has opened the border has spread throughout the region alongside another rumor: Young children are the ticket in

“You’re sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor. They are sort of bunched, you know, about six inches to a foot from each other,” Murphy said on NPR Saturday. “We’ve got to ultimately do better”

When 149 migrants were escorted onto a bridge by U.S. Border Patrol agents, they had no idea where they were being taken. Many collapsed, crying, when they learned they were back in Mexico

“The only thing that could stop families is legislation and actually doing the work to help Central America — and that’s not happening”

Career immigration officials, overwhelmed by the earlier surges, have long warned the flow of migrants to the border could ramp up again

Folks tuning in to ABC’s This Week were treated to the Powerhouse Roundtable panelists parked in front of a fence in El Paso, as if they were College GameDay hosts getting ready for a big Alabama-LSU game down in Death Valley

Weekly e-mail update is out

I just sent off another e-mail update to those who’ve subscribed. It explains why it’s a day later than usual: I work on the border, the border is one of the main news stories right now, and I hardly have time to go to the bathroom lately. This email contains:

  • An excerpt from WOLA’s big explainer about the border situation;
  • Video from last Thursday’s Colombia event;
  • Full text of this week’s U.S.-Mexico border update;
  • Full text of this week’s Colombia peace 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

Monday, March 22

  • 6:30-7:00pm at seaif.org: Una conversación entre mujeres con coraje (RSVP required).

Tuesday, March 23

Wednesday, March 24

Thursday, March 25

Friday, March 26

  • 10:30-12:00 at thedialogue.org: Afro-descendants: Striving for Equality in Latin America (RSVP required).

Colombia Peace Update: March 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.

Jineth Bedoya’s Inter-American Court case delayed as government “walks out” of hearing

One of Colombia’s most emblematic human rights cases suffered a momentary but confounding setback, as government representatives abruptly withdrew from a hearing at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

This Court is an OAS-affiliated body, based in Costa Rica, that hears cases when signatory nations’ judiciaries have proved unable to win redress for victims. It was holding a virtual hearing on March 15 for oral arguments in the case of Jineth Bedoya, a prominent journalist who was abducted, raped, and tortured, with security forces’ involvement, in 2000.

That year Bedoya, then a reporter at El Espectador, was investigating networks of arms trafficking, human trafficking, and other criminal activity linking paramilitaries, guerrillas, organized crime, and members of the security forces. These networks centered on Bogotá’s La Modelo prison, which both then and now has been a violent place. (A year ago, on March 21, 2020, guards killed 24 prisoners there, apparently shooting to kill, while putting down a riot.) “La Modelo was the ‘office’ from which all crime in the country was connected,” reads an account from Bedoya reproduced this week by journalist Cecilia Orozco.

In May 2000, Bedoya was receiving threats from paramilitaries as she investigated a massacre of 32 prisoners at La Modelo. On the morning of May 25, 2000, she showed up at the prison gate—which is not far from the Chief Prosecutor’s office (Fiscalía) and the U.S. embassy—for an arranged meeting with paramilitaries who had been threatening her. “It was a trap,” Bedoya recalls. She was abducted from the front door of the prison and driven out of the city, tortured, and repeatedly raped. “Then I don’t know what happened. I was left abandoned on a road, almost dead.”

Even as a respected reporter from mainstream media outlets (she later moved to El Tiempo), and even as a 2012 State Department “International Woman of Courage,” Jineth Bedoya has been unable to win justice for what happened to her. Only three of her attackers—low-level actors—have been sentenced. The Fiscalía mysteriously lost key evidence. “For 11 years the prosecutor who was in charge of the case would call me to suggest that I investigate, and give the results to him.” The Fiscalía forced her to narrate, and relive, what was done to her on 12 different occasions. One of her sources was killed an hour after meeting with her. She learned that a corrupt National Police General ordered her abduction.

She went to the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission, which issued recommendations to Colombia for her case. These went unmet. The next step was to go to the Inter-American Human Rights Court, which took her case in May 2019. It reached its oral arguments phase, with hearings set to begin on March 15, 2021. The Guardian hailed what appeared to be a big step toward justice:

“To bring my case before an international court not only vindicates what happened to me, as a woman and a journalist,” Bedoya said in a video shared on Twitter. “It opens a window of hope for thousands of women and girls who, like me, had to face sexual violence in the midst of the Colombian armed conflict.”

That’s not quite what happened. The hearing, held virtually due to COVID-19, began with justices asking Bedoya questions. After a while, the government’s representative asked to speak.

That representative was Camilo Gómez, head of the National Agency for the Legal Defense of the State (ANDJE) in President Iván Duque’s government. From 2000 to 2002 Gómez was the high commissioner for peace—the government’s chief negotiator—for then-president Andrés Pastrana’s failed effort to negotiate peace with the FARC.

Instead of addressing what happened to Bedoya, Gómez charged that the Court’s six judges were “pre-judging” Colombia during the day’s questioning, and called for all but one of them to be recused. The government’s legal team then abruptly exited the virtual hearing. The judges heard from one more witness, then suspended the Court’s proceedings while they determined what to do next.

Condemnation of the government’s response came quick. “The Colombian government’s decision to effectively stomp out of the Inter-American Court hearing shows the authorities’ shocking disregard for the violence inflicted on Jineth Bedoya, and is a slap in the face to every Colombian journalist—especially women journalists—fighting impunity,” said Natalie Southwick of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “I have been litigating before the Inter-American Court for 25 years, said Bedoya’s lawyer Viviana Krsticevic, the director of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), “and this is unusual, unheard of, we are surprised that the State of Colombia is doing what even really authoritarian governments like Fujimori’s government in Peru, Ortega’s in Nicaragua, Maduro’s in Venezuela, did not do.”

On March 17 Camilo Gómez sent Bedoya a letter, which he made public on Twitter, suggesting an out-of-court settlement. Such offers have happened before, said Jonathan Bock of the Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP), but they have merely been offers of monetary payments without the government recognizing its responsibility for what happened to Bedoya. Bedoya’s legal team refused, adding that making the letter public was “an act of harassment and malicious litigation.”

On March 18 the Court’s judges, led by the one justice whom Gómez had not called to be recused, rejected the Colombian government’s request for new judges. Jineth Bedoya’s hearing is set to restart on March 22 as though nothing had happened.

Numerous activists and analysts voiced puzzlement at the Colombian government’s behavior, showing insensitivity to a high-profile victim while inviting a legal defeat. Santiago Medina-Villarreal, a former lawyer at the Inter-American Court, fears that the government is playing a long game, sending a message ahead of future cases scheduled to go before the Court. “With this attitude, the State intends to undermine with doubts the judges’ appearance of impartiality.” An effort to de-legitimize the Court, Krsticevic told El Tiempo, “would be very serious for Colombia and the region.”

“They killed me on the morning of May 25 [2000],” Jineth Bedoya writes. “I believed that words are the best way to transform pain. But my life is over: having to see the marks of sexual violence and torture on my body every day is something that does not allow me to close this cycle definitively.”

U.S. officials point to outlines of Biden approach to coca and peace

While eradicating record amounts of coca manually, Colombia continues to move toward restarting a U.S.-backed program to spray herbicides from aircraft over territories where the plant is grown. Citing health concerns, the government of Juan Manuel Santos had suspended this program in 2015. As past weekly updates have noted, the new Biden administration is not opposing continued U.S. support for “fumigation.” In fact, February and March State Department documents hailed the Duque government’s efforts to relaunch the program.

On March 14, El Tiempo’s longtime Washington correspondent, Sergio Gómez, shed a bit more light on the Biden administration’s thinking, excerpting views on eradication and peace accord implementation from interviews with several officials. In general, these officials and legislative staff told Gómez that they don’t see fumigation or forced eradication as keys to long-term reductions in coca-growing. Instead, they voiced a preference for implementation of the 2016 peace accord and increasing government presence in long-abandoned rural territories.

Here are a few highlights indicating how official thinking may be evolving:

  • ”A senior U.S. Embassy official in Bogotá authorized to speak on this issue: “Essentially, our idea is that the territorial transformation that would come from the full implementation of the accords is the best long-term security strategy and the most promising and sustainable solution to the problem of illicit crops.”
  • Another U.S. Embassy official: “The clearest lesson from the period from 2012 to 2017, when cultivation went from its lowest point to its highest in just 5 years, is that Colombia was successful in reducing crops, but not in sustaining those gains. … The best way to sustain them is to increase the presence of the state and offer economic opportunities in rural areas. You can’t just eradicate and attack criminal groups.”
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who voiced disappointment with a February State Department document praising fumigation: “We want to help Colombia reduce coca production and cocaine trafficking, but as we have seen over the years sustainable progress is not measured in the number of hectares eradicated. Government presence—in the territories most affected by this problem—is not achieved simply by sending in armed forces. Nor do we see evidence that illegal armed groups are being dismantled, especially when so many social leaders are being threatened and killed.”
  • A senior legislative aide, who said that the State Department’s recent written praise for forced eradication “seemed ‘outdated’ or the work of some Trump administration holdover”: “We want to see progress in coca reduction, but we don’t see anything that gives us confidence that the Duque government has a sustainable strategy to achieve it.”
  • Another congressional staffer: “When Plan Colombia kicked off in 2000, the goal was to reduce coca cultivation by half in 5 years. And here we are, 20 years later and there is still the same or more drugs than two decades ago with a ‘new plan’—agreed between Duque and Trump—that again seeks to reduce crops by half in another 5 years.”

Sen. Leahy’s office told El TIempo “that the Senator ‘would oppose the use of U.S. funds to finance aerial spraying’ when it resumes,” which could mean a fight if the Biden administration decides to keep supporting the controversial herbicide spray program.

The ELN and Ecuador’s elections

The candidate who led February 7 first-round voting for Ecuador’s presidential election is vehemently denying allegations that his campaign received support from Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas. Andrés Arauz, the candidate favored by left-populist ex-president Rafael Correa, is threatening legal action.

On October 25, a Colombian Army raid in Chocó killed Andrés Felipe Vanegas, alias “Uriel,” a mid-ranking ELN leader who had a high profile because he gave frequent interviews. At the site of the raid, soldiers reportedly recovered computers and other data devices with over 3 terabytes of information.

On January 30, the Colombian newsmagazine Semana received some of that information from official sources. An e-mail from Uriel to two other ELN members, presumed to be contacts in Ecuador, appeared to refer to a US$80,000 “investment” in “supporting hope.” Andrés Arauz’s political coalition is called the “Union for Hope.”

On February 12, a few days after Arauz led first-round voting with 32.7 percent, Colombia’s prosecutor-general (FIscal), Francisco Barbosa, paid a quick visit to Quito to hand over to his Ecuadorian counterpart all evidence from “Uriel” pointing to links between the ELN and Arauz.

Last week Arauz enlisted the aid of a Colombian jurist, former Fiscal Eduardo Montealegre, an opponent of Colombia’s current ruling party whose term coincided completely with the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos. As El Colombiano explains, the Ecuadorian candidate granted Montealegre power of attorney “to investigate and file a complaint for falsehood and procedural fraud against Colombia due to allegations linking him to the ELN.”

Arauz called the allegations a “crude setup.” He argued that “Uriel” operated far from Colombia’s border with Ecuador, and questioned the Colombian armed forces’ honesty, arguing that they have engaged in a cover-up of thousands of extrajudicial executions—the so-called “false positives” human rights scandal. He added that he sees Colombia’s conservative government engaging in “a state policy to delegitimize and undermine governments with progressive tendencies.” The ELN, for its part, also rejects the allegations, calling them “fake news.”

We are unlikely to learn what really happened before April 11, when Ecuadorians vote in the presidential runoff election. Polling is sparse, but the race appears close between Arauz and center-right candidate Guillermo Lasso.

Links

  • WOLA hosted a discussion on March 18 about the Colombian military’s “false positives” killings, which the transitional justice system (JEP) revealed in February to have likely been more extensive than most knew. On March 17, the Mothers of False Positives (MAFAPO) presented a report to the Truth Commission.
  • In May 2019, the New York Times had triggered an outcry by reporting that Colombia’s Army leadership was returning to “body counts” as a measure of success, setting numerical goals for units to meet. The Inspector-General’s office (Procuraduría) just completed an investigation begun that month, exonerating the Army’s commander at the time, Gen. Nicacio Martínez, of “pressuring or requiring” generals “to meet minimum targets for casualties, captures or demobilizations.”
  • El Tiempo reported that coroners have identified the bodies of eight of the ten people killed in a March 2 bombing raid on a FARC dissident site in Guaviare. One of the eight was a 16-year-old girl. (El Nuevo Siglo reported that coroners determined a second girl, age 15, was also killed in the attack, but the El Tiempo story makes no mention of this.) As noted in last week’s update, charges that child combatants were among the dead led Defense Minister Diego Molano to make some very crude remarks about child combatants.
  • Colombia’s Congress briefly faced a legislative proposal to extend President Duque’s term by two years, along with those of members of Congress, mayors, governors, high court judges, the chief prosecutor, and other top officials. The initiative quickly collapsed after news of it emerged, and 15 legislators withdrew their signatures.
  • “In the coming months, negotiations will be concluded for the acquisition of 24 new, state-of-the-art fighter planes,” Semana reports. The purchase could total US$4 billion.
  • The next step for the witness-tampering case against former president Álvaro Uribe will take place on April 6, when a judge will consider the Fiscalía’s request to drop the charges. (See the overview of the case in our March 6 update.)
  • The JEP’s “top-down” investigation of the FARC’s mass kidnappings, which featured the indictment of eight top leaders in February, is moving down the chain of command, with three mid-level leaders providing grim testimony of the inhuman treatment to which they subjected their kidnap victims.

5 links from the past week

  • With a document collection, the National Security Archive marks the tenth anniversary of the Allende massacre in Coahuila, Mexico, when Zetas—apparently responding to information leaked by a Mexican intelligence official—obliterated an entire town.
  • At the New York Review of Books, Delphine Schrank covers the human toll of the two strong hurricanes that hit Honduras within two weeks of each other last fall.
  • James Fredrick at NPR looks at the accusations of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández’s collusion with narcotraffickers, which have been piling up in a U.S. court.
  • At Vice, Nathaniel Janowitz reports on what the brutal rise of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel has meant for life in Guadalajara, Mexico’s “second city.”
  • There was a lot of coverage of the situation at the border last week, but little of it was long-form or in depth. This New York Times piece looking at short, medium, and long-term options was useful.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

March 19, 2021

Bolivia

Esta inquietud llegó primero el sábado, a través de un comunicado, pero el jueves ésta fue expuesta durante una reunión virtual entre Guterres y el presidente Luis Arce

Chile

El grito de guerra del Mandatario fue el preámbulo del deterioro en la relación del Ejecutivo y las FF.AA. Esto llegó a tal punto y desconfianza, que los generales terminaron siendo acompañados por abogados a las reuniones con el gobierno para protegerse

En tiempos recientes de Chile no estamos acostumbrados a que las Fuerzas Armadas tengan un alto protagonismo, pero lamentablemente las circunstancias políticas y sociales por las cuales estamos atravesando desde hace aproximadamente 18 meses las ubican en el centro del huracán

Colombia

Colombia insists the aerial spraying of coca, the base ingredient for cocaine, is the best option in the war on drugs. More than 150 experts say it can cause serious health problems and environmental destruction

Aunque los magistrados se han comprometido a investigar la violencia sexual y basada en género en los siete casos abiertos, mantienen un debate interno sobre si seguir trabajándolo transversalmente o si apostarle a un caso

Tras negar todo lo que el Estado colombiano pidió, el organismo continuará el proceso el próximo lunes como si nada hubiese pasado

Queda en el aire la grotesca actitud frente a Jineth Bedoya, una mujer que es el rostro de muchas mujeres que han sufrido la violencia sexual en el marco del conflicto armado en Colombia

Colombia, Ecuador

Arauz dio poder al exfiscal Eduardo Montealegre para que persiga el “burdo montaje” que estaría viviendo ad portas de la segunda vuelta

Guatemala

Está prohibido por el derecho internacional establecer como causal disciplinaria o, en este caso, de antejuicio, actuaciones relacionadas con el juicio o criterio jurídico

Honduras

Los testimonios escuchados apuntan a que el negocio del tráfico de drogas no podría haber prosperado sin el estrecho apoyo de Juan Orlando Hernández

En la actualidad no hay fuerzas políticas capaces e interesadas en terminar con el narcotráfico y la corrupción. Aunque las hubiera, reducir sus efectos e intensidad tomaría décadas, por mucha voluntad que presente el actual gobierno de Estados Unidos

For Hernández’s critics in the Central American country, the sanctions would be welcome punishment at the highest level of government

Mexico

En Chiapas, fueron desplegados elementos de seguridad en la frontera sur de México, luego de que la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores anunciara que sería cerrada la frontera con Guatemala

To date, only a handful of Zetas and corrupt police officials have been convicted in a case that involves dozens of crime scenes, hundreds of victims, and the documented participation of numerous Zetas and public officials

“Para prevenir la propagación de #COVID19, México impondrá a partir del 19 de marzo de 2021, restricciones al tránsito terrestre para actividades no esenciales en su frontera norte y sur”, informó la Cancillería

While Mexico State contains suburbs of the capital, it also includes lawless mountain and scrub lands like the one where the attack occurred

De los casi 30 mil elementos que formaban parte de la Policía Federal (PF) y que se pretendía que se integraran a la Guardia Nacional, 12 mil agentes solicitaron su baja y recibieron una compensación económica

Esta realidad perturbadora, que impacta la frontera con Estados Unidos, es la que el Presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador rechaza que exista

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

Mexico has agreed to increase its presence on its southern border with Guatemala to deter migration from Central America, one of the government officials said, and local Mexican officials say their country has recently stepped up efforts to stop migrants

The requests for more migration cooperation fit an increasingly familiar pattern in which the United States turns to the Mexican government for enforcement help during moments of crisis

Con la diversificación de sus patrones de operación mantuvieron el tráfico de drogas entre Ciudad Juárez y El Paso

Peru

96 de 161 agentes (el 60 por ciento del personal) de la División de Investigación de Delitos de Alta Complejidad (Diviac), fueron sumariamente cambiados de su unidad a varias otras dependencias

U.S.-Mexico Border

Mayorkas will be joined by top members on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senators Gary Peters and Rob Portman, as well as leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Homeland Security, Senators Chris Murphy and Shelley Moore Capito

The Foreign Relations Department did not explain why the measure was announced now, more than a year after the start of the pandemic

Immigration advocates praised the move, but the closure adds to growing confusion over which migrants are let in or left out

Bringing in teenagers while still setting up basic services “was kind of like building a plane as it’s taking off”

“The message isn’t, ‘Don’t come now,’ it’s, ‘Don’t come in this way, ever,’” Roberta Jacobson, the White House’s southern border coordinator, told Reuters

In fact, the Biden administration has not eased entry for most irregular migrants. It’s continuing to expel thousands under Title 42

Venezuela

Mientras persista la utilización de la Fuerza Armada Nacional como principal medio para el control del poder en Venezuela, lo cual incluye la instrumentalización del elemento partidista-ideolo?gico de la institucio?n, no existe posibilidad alguna de iniciar un proceso para su reinstitucionalizacio?n y profesionalización

While success is not guaranteed, this week’s extension of a key deadline in the process of naming a new National Electoral Council (CNE) suggests negotiations are progressing

Weekly Border Update: March 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. Since what’s happening at the border is one of the principal events in this week’s U.S. news, this update is a “double issue,” longer than normal. See past weekly updates here.

Administration scrambles to accommodate children while expelling most others

Unaccompanied children

Border Patrol apprehended 561 unaccompanied children across the U.S.-Mexico border on March 15, up from a daily average of 332 per day in February. On a March 18 call, senior Biden administration officials told reporters that about 14,000 migrant children who had arrived without a parent or guardian were in U.S. government custody.

Of these, 9,562 were in the shelter system of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR, part of the Department of Health and Human Services or HHS), where COVID-19 response had lowered a 13,200-bed systemwide capacity to about 8,000. Once they are in these shelters, ORR works to place the children with a relative or other sponsor in the United States, with whom they stay while the U.S. immigration court system decides whether deportation would endanger them. In more than 80 percent of cases, a relative is located, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas notified this week. In more than 40 percent of cases, that relative is a parent or legal guardian.

(Read more about how the processing and sheltering of unaccompanied migrant children are supposed to work, and how the caseload has grown, in our updates of March 12March 5, and February 26 and in a new explainer document that WOLA published on March 17.)

The remaining 4,500 unaccompanied children were stuck in Border Patrol stations and processing centers as of March 18, awaiting placement in ORR’s shelters. This shatters the previous high of 2,600 kids in temporary Border Patrol custody, set in June 2019. 

By law, children are not supposed to be in short-term Border Patrol custody for more than 72 hours. The agency’s austere holding facilities—which resemble the holding tanks in a local police station or, as some say, “cages”—are not designed for vulnerable populations. As of March 14, though, when 4,200 kids were in Border Patrol facilities, about 3,000 had been there longer than 72 hours. The average time in custody climbed to 120 hours by March 17. CNN reported on March 15 that more than 300 of the kids had been stuck for more than 10 days.

Two attorneys who visited CBP’s temporary migrant processing facility in Donna, Texas on March 11 came away horrified by what they heard from 20 interviews with kids. The Donna facility, which is mostly sturdy tents, can hold 250 people but had about 1,000 at the time, and children said they had gone days without showering. Kids are sleeping on gym mats or on benches and concrete floors, under thin mylar blankets. Many have been stuck in crowded tents for days. A “staggering” number of the 1,000 kids at Donna are under 10 years old, one of the lawyers told the New York Times.

The main bottleneck here is at ORR: the agency’s shelter system is nearly out of space, and can’t place children with sponsors as fast as new kids are arriving at Border Patrol facilities. The federal government is taking several measures to increase its capacity:

  • On March 12 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allowed ORR to return its bed space back to pre-pandemic levels.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA, part of DHS) converted the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas into a shelter for up to 3,000 migrant boys age 15 to 17.
  • FEMA has also converted an oil workers’ camp in Midland, Texas, into temporary shelter space for another 700 children, and HHS is looking at other facilities in Texas, Arizona, California, Florida, and Virgina.
  • On March 17 FEMA awarded $110 million in funds appropriated by the American Rescue Plan Act “to eligible local nonprofit and governmental organizations and state governmental facilities” working with migrants.
  • Secretary Mayorkas reported that more than 560 DHS employees had volunteered “to support HHS in our collective efforts to address the needs of the unaccompanied children.”

Families and expulsions

“We will have, I believe, by next month enough of those beds to take care of these children who have no place to go,” President Joe Biden told ABC News. “Let’s get somethin’ straight though,” the president added (with the contraction in the original transcript). “The vast majority of people crossin’ the border are being sent back. Are being sent back, immediately sent back.”

This is true. As last week’s update noted, 72 percent of migrants Border Patrol encountered at the border in February were expelled, usually within hours, without seeing the inside of a CBP facility or having a chance to ask for asylum or protection. They are either flown back to their own countries or, if they are Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, or Honduran, sent back across the border into Mexico, where the Mexican government has agreed to receive most of them.

This is done under a pandemic public health order, known as “Title 42,” that permits rapid expulsions, and which two presidential administrations have now interpreted to mean rapid expulsions without regard to migrants’ protection needs. The Trump administration began employing Title 42 in March 2020.

The Biden administration continues to use it, but it is not expelling unaccompanied children. It is, however, expelling nearly all single adults and a large portion of family units (parents with children).

As CBS News reported a week ago, nearly 60 percent of families Border Patrol encountered in February were not expelled. That is up from 38 percent not expelled in January. There appear to be two main reasons why a family does not get expelled. Either they are from countries to which expulsions are difficult, like Cuba or Venezuela, or they are part of a minority of families from Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) whom Mexico is refusing to take back.

Though there is no public written evidence of a policy, authorities in Mexico’s border state of Tamaulipas have been refusing expulsions of families with small children, citing a lack of family-appropriate shelter space that would violate a recent child welfare law. (Ciudad Juárez faces some capacity limits too, according to the U.S. Border Patrol Chief in El Paso.) 

This has led Border Patrol and ICE to release some asylum-seeking Central American families, with notices to appear in U.S. immigration court, in south Texas border cities. There, charities have been taking in the modest flow of family members: about 150 migrants per day in Brownsville, for instance, where the mayor told local news, “It’s not a threat at this point.”

DHS has found a way, though, to expel many families despite Mexico’s localized restrictions: flying them to parts of the border where they can still expel them. On March 9 authorities in El Paso were notified that two daily planeloads of migrants would begin being flown all the way across the state, from south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley region. Even as shelters prepared to greet the families, by March 13 it was evident that DHS was bringing most from the airport straight to the border, sending them across into Ciudad Juárez. WOLA has heard, but hasn’t yet fully confirmed, that flights are also going to San Diego to expel families into Tijuana.

As the border remains closed with no end to Title 42 in sight, national news covered populations of protection-seeking migrants crowding into Mexican border towns: in a new tent encampment outside Tijuana’s El Chaparral port of entry; among the tearful expelled population in Ciudad Juárez; and at a grim government shelter in Reynosa that is now holding 700 unaccompanied children apprehended by Mexican authorities. 

The Biden administration’s message to them continues to be “don’t come now,” as repeated by the president himself in his ABC News interview:

I can say quite clearly don’t come over. And the process of getting set up, and it’s not gonna take a whole long time, is to be able to apply for asylum in place. So don’t leave your town or city or community. We’re gonna make sure we have facilities in those cities and towns run by department of—by DHS and also access with HHS, the Health and Human Services, to say you can apply for asylum from where you are right now.

David Shahoulian, the DHS assistant secretary for border security and immigration, acknowledged that “the messaging to discourage migrants from coming had not been working and that the administration would need to be clearer in the future,” according to the New York Times. With thousands of expelled families clearly acting on erroneous information, it’s not clear what the administration can do to counteract inaccurate but rapidly propagated messages from smugglers and on social media. “At some point,” longtime Ciudad Juárez migration official Enrique Valenzuela told Public Radio International, “people were tricked into thinking that the U.S. opened its doors all the way to people seeking international protection.”

Reports indicate Biden administration pressing Mexico to interdict more migrants

In a March 1 video call with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the New York Times reported, President Biden asked Mexico to do more to “help solve the problem” of increased immigration flows to the United States. In the same conversation, López Obrador asked Biden for access to stockpiled doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which is not yet approved for use in the United States.

On March 18 the White House announced that the U.S. government would share 2.5 million vaccines with Mexico and 1.5 million with Canada. Mexico, meanwhile, has agreed to do more to contain migration through its territory and to take more families expelled under Title 42, the Times and the Washington Post reported. Both countries’ officials insist that there was no vaccines-for-border-enforcement quid pro quo; a senior Mexican diplomat told the Post that it was a “parallel negotiation.”

Whatever it was, the result could be more Title 42 expulsions of families into Mexico, which as noted above has been refusing to take back Central American families with small children in some areas. “Mexican officials have told the Biden administration they are willing to alter or delay the implementation of a law passed in November that limits their ability to detain minors,” the same article continues. DHS Secretary Mayorkas had hinted at this in a March 16 memo: “We are working with Mexico to increase its capacity to receive expelled families.”

Mexican immigration and security forces have meanwhile stepped up immigration raids throughout its territory. Reuters reported that Mexican forces apprehended about 1,200 Central American migrants, including more than 300 children, along southern Mexican cargo train routes between January 25 and February 16. Another 800 were detained aboard buses and tractor trailers “in recent weeks.” Mexico has not released February migrant apprehension data yet; in January it reported apprehending 9,574 migrants—the second-highest monthly total since the pandemic began—of whom 9,145 were from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador).

A more visible Mexican immigration enforcement effort is expected to be announced soon, according to current and former Mexican officials,” the Washington Post reported on March 18. The new effort, it added, may be targeted less at migrants along the train route—generally the poorest migrant population—and more at the larger number who travel, often in private vehicles, with paid smugglers. Such an operation may require a large anti-corruption component to succeed, since much of smugglers’ high fees are reportedly spread among officials who enable their vehicles to proceed.

Mexico has also agreed to increase its presence—mainly of members of its National Guard, a new militarized police force—near its southern border with Guatemala, according to the New York Times and Reuters. On March 18, Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat announced that it would be closing its southern border to all non-essential traffic, as the United States has done with its southern border. It’s not clear yet what criteria must be met for travel to be “essential.”

Secretary Mayorkas testifies as GOP cranks up “crisis” rhetoric

“We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years. We are expelling most single adults and families. We are not expelling unaccompanied children,” reads a March 16 memo from DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas updating about the situation at the border. The secretary also gave his first major testimony since his nomination process concluded, appearing for four hours before a House Homeland Security Committee that displayed bitter divisions between its Democratic and Republican members.

“The border is secure, and the border is not open,” Mayorkas told the committee. His written testimony laid out very broad outlines for what a new approach to protection-seeking migration might look like, naming three elements: addressing root causes driving migration; helping regional governments offer more asylum or protection in their own countries; and “dramatically” improving the U.S. migrant processing and asylum adjudication systems.

That last point—asylum adjudication—is in bad shape: the testimony notes that backlogs are so bad that “[i]n some locations, there is a more than four-year waiting period for a final hearing.” Mayorkas’s March 16 memo sets a goal of “shorten[ing] from years to months the time it takes to adjudicate an asylum claim while ensuring procedural safeguards and enhancing access to counsel.”

Republican legislators at the March 17 House Homeland hearing were sharply critical. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), a committee member who is also the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, praised “Remain in Mexico” and other Trump-era restrictions on asylum, adding, “With all due respect, this administration has created this crisis. … Cartels and traffickers see that the green light is on at our southern border, and the United States is open for business.”

Several Republicans sought to get Mayorkas to use the word “crisis” to describe the situation at the border. The secretary’s reply to Rep. McCaul was blunt: “A crisis is when a nation is willing to rip a 9-year-old child out of the hands of his or her parent and separate that family to deter future migration.”

“Biden border crisis” is now one of the most prominent messages coming from GOP politicians and media outlets like Fox News and Breitbart. A group of 12 House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) and ranking Homeland Security Committee member John Katko (R-New York), traveled to El Paso on March 15. They delivered statements in front of a half-mile segment of border wall that was built in 2019 by a private non-profit whose leadership—including former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, until Trump pardoned him—is facing fraud charges. “There’s no other way to claim it than a Biden border crisis,” Rep. McCarthy said. Rep. Katko called it “disorder at the border by executive order.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has been vocal about the border situation, made a March 17 appearance using as a backdrop the Dallas convention center where FEMA is sheltering unaccompanied children. “The Biden administration opened the floodgates to any child who wants to come across the border,” he said. Abbott asked the federal government to give Texas law enforcement officers access to the children in the convention center, in order to investigate human trafficking. The Biden administration turned him down on grounds that the children should not be forced to undergo the trauma of repeating their stories several times.

Two sets of Republicans’ claims about the border situation have been widely debunked.

First, Abbott and others had been alleging that the migrant population is spreading COVID-19. In fact, the acting head of FEMA reported that less than 6 percent of tests on migrants have come back positive, lower than Texas’s overall 7.4 percent positivity rate. Migrants in Brownsville showed a similar positivity rate: 210 of nearly 3,000 people tested since January 25, or 6 percent.

Second is terrorism. Katko, McCarthy, and others on the March 15 El Paso visit said Border Patrol agents told them they had apprehended four individuals so far in fiscal year 2021 who were on the U.S. “Known or Suspected Terrorist” list (or perhaps the Terrorist Screening Database). Three were from Yemen and one was from Serbia; McCarthy had also named Iran, Turkey, and China but later had to retract. While the U.S. government is not transparent about this data, four apprehensions of people on the watchlist appears to be normal, according to a Washington Post fact check that surmised, “the real number ranges from around three to a dozen per year.”

Former officials noted that being on this list is only an alert, and does not point to actual involvement in terrorism; it often indicates a degree of separation from a suspected terrorist. Investigative journalist Ryan Deveraux, who looked deeply into this in 2014, tweeted that the database “is a train wreck that has been shown to include huge numbers of people without facts or evidence.”

The “border crisis” narrative is likely to persist until ORR can accommodate the rising numbers of unaccompanied children, and until processing and other capacity exist to allow a long overdue wind-down of Title 42. In the meantime, as the Washington Post and Politico noted, Republicans are seizing on immigration as their banner issue as they endeavor to win back congressional majorities in the 2022 midterm elections.

“Can we just agree not to use these human beings in front of us as political pawns?” Ruben Garcia, director of El Paso’s Annunciation House migrant shelter, told Politico. “Let’s just make sure they’re taken care of.”

Links

  • Don’t miss the 3,200-word explainer that WOLA published this week, covering the current moment for U.S. border policy and migration, and recommendations for what lies ahead.
  • Gen. Glen Vanherck, commander of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters that 3,500 National Guardsmen from 22 states remain deployed at the U.S.-Mexico border. That deployment is “100 percent of the forces” currently at the border, he said,  which implies that the regular military personnel deployed by President Trump in 2019 are no longer there. The troops are manning observation sites looking for border-crossers, using 24 UH-72 helicopters for aerial detection and monitoring, and helping to maintain CBP vehicles. DHS, Gen. Vanherck continued, has indicated it would like the military presence to continue after its next expiration date, the September 30 end of fiscal year 2021. (As noted in our February 26 update,  the military deployment was the subject of a detailed report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).)
  • The New York Times covers the fragments of half-built border wall scattered across wilderness areas as the Biden administration’s pause on barrier construction continues. The Palm Springs Desert Sun looks at segments of wall built at great cost in south-central California’s Jacumba wilderness.
  • The “La 72” migrant shelter, near the Guatemalan border in Tenosique, Mexico, attended to 2,836 people in the pandemic year 2020, according to its annual report released this week. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that “La 72” had already attended to 6,000 migrants so far in 2021.
  • The remains of 16 migrants massacred—probably by state police—on January 22 in Tamaulipas, Mexico, were returned to the migrants’ hometown of Comitancillo, San Marcos, Guatemala. That town, the Wall Street Journal reports, has sent many emigrants to Carthage, Mississippi, where a giant 2019 ICE raid of chicken processing plants caught up one of the murdered migrants, Édgar López, a longtime Carthage resident who was trying to return.
  • Border Patrol agent Alejandro Flores-Bañuelos, age 35, died on March 15 after being struck by a passing vehicle while assisting a traffic collision in southeast California’s El Centro sector.
  • NBC News reports that DHS is requiring that all inquiries to local Border Patrol personnel be routed through the press office in Washington, as was the policy during the Obama administration. Unnamed officials referred to it as a “gag order.”
  • Former Border Patrol agent Jenn Budd, a prominent critic of her former employer and its culture, believes that the agency is manufacturing a sense of crisis at the border right now. She contends that agents likely helped concoct a strange video, which appeared on CNN, depicting smugglers taking a boatload of migrants across the Rio Grande in broad daylight.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from the Wall Street Journal. Caption: “Tents where migrants have been staying in Tijuana, Mexico.”

(Even more here)

March 18, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

100 percent of the forces are currently National Guard forces from 22 states under Title 10 status. Right now the mission is through the end of this fiscal year. It will be the secretary’s decision going forward

Bolivia

La exautoridad militar, que fue aprehendida en lunes en la tarde, fue imputada de sedición, conspiración y terrorismo

Several Mas politicians had been constitutionally in line to fill the presidency ahead of Áñez after his resignation but declined to do so, he noted. “She just caught the ball,” Shultz said

Fair, credible and impartial trials are absolutely necessary in this regard, and that is what the proposal recently formulated by the General Secretariat calls for

Chile

Chile, with 19 million people, would be the first country with a constitution drafted by an assembly equally divided between men and women, according to the United Nations

Colombia

En el Congreso ya circula el texto de una reforma constitucional que propone, además, que dicha ampliación de períodos se extienda a magistrados de las altas cortes, auditor, contralor, procuradora y fiscal general, así como alcaldes, gobernadores, diputados y concejales

Viviana Krsticevic, directora de Cejil, manifestó que nunca se esperaron que el Estado se fuera a retirar del juicio y que si existiera una intención de la Nación de deslegitimar este tribunal internacional, de cara a una eventual sentencia condenatoria, esto sería muy grave

A través de un comunicado, el tribunal internacional declaró improcedente la recusación presentada por Colombia

Cuba

Despite U.S. sanctions, Cuba remains a one-party state. But it is also changing in positive ways, largely due to demographics and the Internet. During this time, the U.S. can either be actively engaged, or watch as our competitors fill the vacuum

Honduras

The Central American nation has become a terrifying case study in what results when climate change, government failure, gang violence, and natural disaster collide

Prosecutors accuse Hernandez of conspiring “along with” his brother, President Juan Orlando Hernandez, to traffic 200 tons of cocaine to the United States

Mexico

Esta idea de convertir al Ejército en actor empresarial es pésima

Se trata de una situación que para cualquier corporación de policía sería ilegal sino fuera porque a la Guardia Nacional se le dio un plazo de dos años para que cumplimentara ese proceso y, con ello, no frenar su despliegue inicial

Mexico would deploy security forces to cut the flow of migrants, the bulk of whom come from Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras

Desde Sinaloa hasta Tijuana, la intervención criminal de Iván Archivaldo y Alfredo Guzmán Salazar, conocidos como “Los Chapitos”, ha intensificado la violencia contra todo aquel lugarteniente que no se someta a su nuevo liderazgo

Our new report into the murder of Regina Martínez Pérez finds strong indications for obstruction of justice by local authorities

U.S.-Mexico Border

The U.S. government’s partial and seemingly conflicting disclosures on this issue hardly inspire confidence. Sensitive matters such as this should be explained in clear and specific terms in a public setting

“The notion that the Southwest border is open to terrorists is ludicrous”

The southern border of the Jacumba Wilderness is now pierced by about 3 miles of 30-foot-tall steel bollard fencing, its construction clearing pristine habitat and bulldozing what are believed to be cultural resources of the Kumeyaay Nation

Of the 114 months since October 2011 for which WOLA has detailed monthly data, February 2021 saw the third-most Border Patrol encounters with migrants

Democrats and Republicans have begun the finger-pointing as to who is responsible for the latest influx of migrants at the border

The White House has resisted the term “crisis” even as Republicans invoke it at every opportunity

The officials say the restrictions are seen as an unofficial “gag order” and are often referred to that way among colleagues

Here’s a thought experiment: If the administration did get the system working faster and more humanely, would Republicans view that as a success? It’s doubtful

The Border Patrol encountered 561 unaccompanied children on Monday, up from an average daily peak of 370 during Trump’s presidency in May 2019 and 354 during a peak in Barack Obama’s presidency in June 2014

We are working to dramatically improve the time spent processing and adjudicating certain asylum claims made at the southern border

Since Jan. 25, 210 migrants have tested positive for COVID-19 — a seven percent positivity rate for the nearly 3,000 people who have been processed. In comparison, the state averaged nearly double that positivity rate at 13 percent

Later today—Extrajudicial Killings in Colombia: The Whistleblower’s Perspective

You may have seen that Colombia’s transitional justice tribunal recently found that the country’s armed forces likely killed a shocking 6,402 civilians between 2002 and 2008. WOLA is putting on an event today at 4:00 Eastern to talk about it, and I’ll be presenting. Here’s the text of the announcement at WOLA’s website, where you can RSVP:

**Due to emergency security concerns, Sergeant Mora will not present during this panel**

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) cordially invites you to our webinar:

Afro-Colombian Sergeant Carlos Eduardo Mora of Colombia’s 15th Mobile Brigade of Ocaña observed inconsistencies in the combat deaths that members of his battalion were reporting in their counterinsurgency statistics. In 2008, Mora denounced his colleagues for killing civilians and later passing them as enemy combats. These extrajudicial killings were widespread throughout the country and became nationally known—and erroneously termed as “false positives”—when a scandal involving 19 murdered young men from the southwestern Bogotá neighborhood of Soacha was undercovered. 

Mora has suffered greatly for his role as a whistleblower, having faced multiple types of retaliation like public humiliation and death threats. His security situation became so serious that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a resolution in 2013 urging the Colombian state to protect Mora and his family.

In February, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP)—Colombia’s transitional justice tribunal devised in the 2016 peace accord—revealed that the Colombian armed forces committed at least 6,402 extrajudicial killings between 2002 and 2008. In light of these disturbing revelations, WOLA’s Director for the Andes Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli will moderate a panel to discuss the role of individuals like Sergeant Mora and hear from two human rights and U.S. military aid experts. Alberto Yepes, Coordinator for the Human Rights Observatory of the Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination (Coordinación Colombia-Europa-Estados Unidos, CCEU) coalition, will discuss the implications of the JEP’s recent order on extrajudicial killings. Adam Isacson, WOLA’s Director for Defense Oversight, will discuss U.S. funding to Colombia’s armed forces and what actions can be taken to guarantee justice in these horrific cases.

Event Details:Thursday, March 18, 2021
4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. EDT (Washington D.C.)
3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. (Bogotá, Colombia)

Panelists:

Simultaneous interpretation between English and Spanish will be available.

Register here.

The day ahead: March 18, 2021

I’m not easy to reach today due to a full schedule. (How to contact me)

I’ll be speaking at an event put on today by WOLA’s Colombia program. I put together what I believe is a blistering talk on the country’s current human rights trajectory, so don’t miss it. I’ve also got on the schedule two interviews, two coalition meetings, and an internal meeting, and I’ll be working on a weekly border update. All that may make me hard to contact today.

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