Adam Isacson

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


April 2021

Weekly border update: April 30, 2021

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. 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.

Aid is forthcoming for Central America

Vice President Kamala Harris met virtually on April 26 with the president of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, to discuss cooperation to address the causes of large-scale migration from his country. It was their second such meeting, following a conversation on March 30. “We want to work with you to address both the acute causes as well as the root causes in a way that will bring hope to the people of Guatemala that there will be an opportunity for them if they stay at home,” the vice president said in joint remarks before the meeting.

This distinction between “acute causes” and “root causes” is at the center of the Biden administration’s current thinking about how to assist Central America. The first category includes the effects of recent hurricanes, droughts, and the pandemic. The second includes poverty, climate change, corruption and poor governance, and “violence against women, Indigenous people, LGBTQ people, and Afro-descendants.”

Harris said she plans to visit Guatemala in June. “But from here to June,” Giammattei replied, “I believe that we should build a roadmap between government and government so that we can reach agreements so that we can then work on.”

Complicated partners

The vice president held a meeting April 27 with Guatemalan non-governmental leaders, and plans to have a call next week with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Harris has not spoken with, or announced plans to speak with, the presidents of El Salvador and Honduras.

The first, Nayib Bukele, has raised concerns about recent authoritarian behavior, and refused to meet with U.S. Special Envoy Ricardo Zúñiga during his April 7 visit to San Salvador. (Bukele had failed to get meetings with the brand-new Biden administration when he flew, with little advance notice, to pandemic-shuttered Washington at the beginning of February.) The second, Juan Orlando Hernández, was re-elected in a 2017 vote that was likely fraudulent, and is named as a co-conspirator in U.S. judicial actions against Honduran  drug traffickers, including his brother who was sentenced to life in U.S. prison in March.

There are strong concerns about official corruption in Guatemala, too. A years-long backlash against anti-corruption reformers swept out a UN-backed international prosecutorial body (the CICIG) in 2019, and is now undermining the highest courts’ ability to hold accountable those who engage in graft or collude with organized crime. This month, the legislature’s leadership refused to swear in Gloria Porras, an anti-corruption judge, to Guatemala’s Constitutional Court. She fled to the United States, while Giammattei’s chief of staff was swiftly sworn in to another seat on the court. The day of the Harris-Giammattei meeting, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two well-connected current and former Guatemalan congressional representatives.

Biden administration officials see a connection between corruption and the poverty and insecurity that drive migration. “[A]ddressing corruption is at the center of what the Biden administration has focused on in seeking to create those enabling conditions for broad-based improvement in Central America,” Zúñiga told reporters on April 22. Regional governments’ track record on corruption, then, will complicate working with them on root causes. “The governments are going to be part of that but, quite frankly, they’re probably going to be unwilling partners,” Dan Restrepo, the National Security Council’s Western Hemisphere director during Barack Obama’s first term, told Bloomberg.

This may mean carefully working around some elected leaders and executive-branch agencies. Zúñiga reiterated that an administration priority will be “supporting those within the countries—and that’s civil society as well as public servants—who are involved in efforts to promote transparency and combat corruption and impunity.” He added that the administration may coordinate this work with “an anti-corruption task force that is going to involve the Department of Justice and other U.S. agencies, with the support of the Department of State.”

An April 28 edition of WOLA’s podcast discusses the complexities of working with Central America’s leaders on migration’s underlying causes.

Aid packages

To confront “acute causes” of migration, the White House announced April 27 that the U.S. government is reprogramming $310 million in current-year assistance to meet immediate humanitarian needs for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

  • About $104 million will come from the Department of State “to meet the immediate safety and protection needs of refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, and other vulnerable populations,” a fact sheet reads; this probably means it will come through the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
  • $26 million will come from the Department of Defense “to increase its partnership activities in the region to provide essential health, education, and disaster relief services.”
  • $125 million will be USAID funding, mainly emergency food and agricultural assistance: $55 million for Honduras, $54 million for Guatemala, and $16 million for El Salvador.
  • The Department of Agriculture will provide an additional $55 million in food security assistance.

While details of the longer-term “root causes” aid package have yet to emerge, Zúñiga previewed that the 2022 budget request to Congress—which is likely to be submitted next week—will include $861 million for Central America. “It’s an initial payment on the $4 billion over four years that President Biden announced before coming into office,” he said. The administration envisions the money going to three areas: good governance and anti-corruption; economic development; and security and justice.

Another Guatemalan border task force

On April 26 Vice President Harris and President Giammattei agreed on another, less “root cause”-focused aid activity: U.S. support for a Guatemalan border security task force. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will send 16 trainers to Guatemala “to train local officials in strengthening border infrastructure,” Reuters reported. “The effort will be spearheaded on the Guatemalan side by the Division of Border Ports and Airports,” according to the Associated Press. This likely dovetails with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s April 12 disclosure that “Guatemala surged 1,500 police and military personnel to its southern border with Honduras and agreed to set up 12 checkpoints along the migratory route.” It’s less clear how—if at all—this “border task force” effort overlaps with the Obama administration’s past assistance to Guatemalan military-police-prosecutor border-zone “Inter-Agency Task Forces” created in 2013, a program that appears to have been abandoned.

Harris and Giammattei also reportedly agreed that the United States would help Guatemala build shelters for deported or expelled migrants, along with some assistance to assist deportees’ transition.

“Operation Sentinel”

Finally, on April 27 DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced a stepped-up effort to target the smugglers who make possible most migrants’ journey through Mexico to the U.S. border. “We will identify the smugglers and their associates and employ a series of targeted actions and sanctions against them. We will have a broad approach and a strong one. It will include every authority in our arsenal,” Mayorkas told CNN and other reporters. Tools may include revoking visas and travel documents, and freezing assets and the ability to use U.S. financial institutions. “Operation Sentinel” will involve Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division (ICE-HSI), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the State Department, and, within the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

No other details about Operation Sentinel are yet available, so it’s not clear how the effort will be assured of targeting the infrastructure on which smuggling networks depend. Migrant smuggling is a very decentralized activity. While smugglers have to pay Mexico cartels to pass through their territory, they are not cartels themselves; they tend to be small and regional. “A Mexico based official” with ICE-HSI explained to the Los Angeles Times that “cartels make millions merely charging tolls, whereas low-level human smugglers work in ‘very disjointed cells.’”

These localized operations depend heavily on official corruption, for instance in order to pass easily through checkpoints on Mexican highways. It remains to be seen whether Operation Sentinel will make a dent in this corruption, or whether it will simply rack up actions against small-time smugglers. The Salvadoran investigative journalism website El Faro reported this week on an outcome that Operation Sentinel would do well to avoid: Salvadoran prosecutors have locked up a single mother who ran a small pupusa restaurant, a man who works as a private guard, and a farmer, charging them with smuggling because they discussed plans to join a migrant caravan on WhatsApp.

Big drop in unaccompanied children in CBP custody

In late March, amid rapidly increasing arrivals of unaccompanied children, U.S. border and migration agencies were estimating that, by the end of May, the government would need 34,100 to 35,500 beds to accommodate them. While things could always change, that projection now appears far too pessimistic.

Against nearly everyone’s expectations, unaccompanied child numbers stopped increasing in April. The month has seen a slow, modest, but real decline in Border Patrols encounters with unaccompanied kids, from an average of 489 per day during the last week of March to an average of 431 per day during April 25-28, according to CBP’s daily reports on unaccompanied child encounters and processing.

As new arrivals have eased, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has opened up many emergency facilities to house children while seeking to place them with relatives or sponsors in the United States, with whom they will live while their asylum or protection cases are adjudicated.

As a result, there has been a spectacular drop in the number of children spending many days crowded in Border Patrol’s inadequate, prison-line holding facilities as they await ORR placement. On March 28, 5,767 children were in Border Patrol custody. On April 28, that number had fallen 83 percent to 954, and the average time in custody had dropped to 28 hours, from 133 hours on March 28.

As grim images of children sleeping on floors fade away, the next challenge is to reduce the population in ORR’s shelters, which is still growing but much more slowly than it was during the first half of the month. This means quickly identifying and vetting the relatives or sponsors with whom children will live. During the last week of March, ORR was only discharging 245 children per day. By April 25-28 it had increased that rate to 403 per day.

This is important progress, but even at reduced numbers, as noted above, CBP is still encountering 431 kids per day, so the overall number of children in U.S. government custody—in the low 20,000s for the past two weeks—continues to edge slightly upward.

As ORR placement capacity increases, we expect this “total in U.S. custody” number to decline—unless, for some reason, unaccompanied child arrivals at the border start increasing again in May. It is impossible to predict whether that will happen, or whether April’s gradual declines will continue.

After children are placed with families, of course, the U.S. government’s woefully inadequate asylum system presents another bottleneck: what is usually a years-long wait for hearing dates and decisions from badly backlogged, overwhelmed immigration courts.

Reactions to the “Bipartisan Border Solutions Act”

Four border-state legislators from both parties and both houses of Congress introduced a bill on April 22 seeking, in their words, “to respond to the surge in migrants coming across our southern border.” The “Bipartisan Border Solutions Act” (S. 1358) is sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), and by Representatives Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and Tony Gonzales (R-Texas).

Among its provisions are:

  • Creating at least four processing centers to receive newly apprehended, mostly asylum-seeking, migrants.

Processing capacity is urgently needed so that asylum seekers may approach ports of entry, and request protection, without having to spend weeks or months on waiting lists in Mexican border towns. However, critics of the legislation point out that the “processing” the bill proposes would include “credible fear screening interviews and potentially full asylum interviews…conducted within 72 hours—an absurd time frame for life-and-death adjudications,” as Human Rights First describes it. “While this bill includes some positive provisions,” an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) response warns, “any proposal that further increases reliance on Customs and Border Protection in the asylum and detention process is a step in the wrong direction, given the agency’s record of abuse.”

  • Authorizing DHS to carry out pilot programs to speed up asylum screening (credible fear determinations) and adjudication.
  • During “irregular migration influx events,” allowing immigration courts to move recently apprehended asylum seekers’ cases to the top of their dockets.

Critics of the legislation warn that past “pilot programs” and “rocket docket” efforts badly weakened due process guarantees for asylum seekers. During the Trump administration, CBP implemented two pilot programs, Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) and Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP), that turned around quick asylum decisions—nearly all of them rejections—in a matter of days while families remained in CBP custody with no meaningful access to counsel. Past docket-adjusting initiatives “lead to massive due process violations with few, if any, gains in efficiency,” warned the Arizona-based Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project.

  • Raising vetting standards for family members or sponsors before placing unaccompanied children with them.

A concern about this provision is that it could backlog ORR’s already struggling efforts to place children with families, forcing them to spend even more time in the agency’s shelter system—including in ORR’s thrown-together emergency facilities currently in heavy use.

  • Improving legal orientation and access to counsel (though not paying for counsel).
  • Improving transportation of asylum-seeking migrants and coordination with NGOs and receiving communities.
  • Hiring 150 more immigration judge teams (there are currently about 520), 250 Border Patrol processing coordinators (non-law enforcement personnel who specialize in processing of asylum seekers), and 300 asylum officers at USCIS, among other personnel.
  • Improving congressional oversight with new reporting requirements.

The legislation’s critics are generally supportive of these points, with some caveats.

S. 1358’s endorsers are largely business groups: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Business Immigration Coalition, Texas Association of Business, New American Economy, Americans for Prosperity, and The LIBRE Initiative. The National Immigration Forum, too, calls it “a positive step that bodes well for the chances for immigration reforms this year.”

Groups that quickly lined up in opposition to the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act include the ACLU, Human Rights First, the Women’s Refugee Commission, Church World Service, the Florence Project, and the National Immigrant Justice Center.


  • Mexico’s Interior Department released data showing that migration forces detained 14,254 undocumented people in March 2021, the most since August 2019. 51 percent were from Honduras, 36 percent from Guatemala, 7 percent from El Salvador, and 6 percent from other countries. Along migrant routes in southern Mexico, shelters are full, turning people away amid COVID-19 capacity restrictions. Meanwhile, a government human rights body reported that at least 2,000 migrants were reported as disappeared in Mexican territory in 2020.
  • Guatemalan President Giammattei is to travel to Mexico on May 3 and meet with Mexican President López Obrador the following day. López Obrador indicated that the discussion “is related to the next call he will have with [U.S. Vice President] Harris” next week.
  • An investigation by the Los Angeles Times’s Molly O’Toole documents how the “Title 42” pandemic policy, which expels Central American migrants back into Mexico, has been an enormous boon to kidnappers and other organized crime bands that prey on them in Mexican border communities. At the Dallas Morning News, Dianne Solís and Alfredo Corchado report on the previously unthinkable, but now widespread, practice of expelling Central American families with children into high-crime Mexican border towns in the middle of the night.
  • The Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff reports on migrants who were kidnapped after the Trump administration sent them to Mexican border towns to await their U.S. asylum hearings under the “Remain in Mexico” program. As their captivity forced them to miss their U.S. hearing dates, they are now absurdly blocked from applying for asylum. Syracuse University’s TRAC public records project meanwhile reports that people enrolled in Remain in Mexico speak 40 different languages.
  • The sheriff of Harris County, Texas, Ed González, is the Biden administration’s nominee to direct Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). González, whose county includes Houston, has criticized aggressive ICE tactics that target migrants with no criminal records.
  • The New York Times posted a video along with data analysis finding that “ICE detention facilities had an average infection rate five times that of prisons and 20 times that of the general population.” The Times elsewhere reported that CBP is releasing asylum-seeking migrant families into U.S. border communities without testing them for the virus, leaving that up to private charities.
  • 10,000 migrants, mainly from Haiti, Cuba, and several African countries, are in northern Colombia awaiting a chance to migrate northward through Panama, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.
  • At Texas Monthly, Aaron Nelsen reports on migrant smugglers’ widespread use of simple ladders to defeat the border wall. Meanwhile local news in Arizona reports that construction equipment is “collecting dust” as the Biden administration’s wall-building pause continues.
  • Arizona Public Media published a video short about members of the Hia C-ed O’odham nation who resisted border wall construction on their lands in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, including the ecologically fragile Quitobaquito Springs, in 2020.
  • 92 academics from the United States and Mexico signed a letter proposing six practical recommendations for next steps that both countries should take to restore asylum and improve logistics.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is launching an internal review to weed out white supremacy and extremism among its workforce.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Lucas Dumphreys photo at Associated Press. Caption: “An activist from the NGO ‘Rio de Paz’ digs a mock grave in the sand by symbolic body bags on Copacabana beach.”

(Even more here)

April 30, 2021

Central America Regional

Research on foreign aid and migration provides no evidence that foreign aid will significantly reduce migration from the Northern Triangle. In fact, it might even increase it

Central America Regional, U.S.-Mexico Border

Pollster Civiqs found that 85 percent of survey respondents agreed that the United States needs to engage with other countries to address migration patterns


“Esto se generó como consecuencia de una manifestación que se tornó violenta y que requirió del uso de la fuerza por parte de la Policía Nacional, siendo un evidente acto del servicio que por supuesto deberá ser investigado pero por la Justicia Castrense”, se lee

An additional 2,500 members of security forces will be deployed in Cali

Según el ministro de Defensa, Diego Molano, el uniformado fue secuestrado por disidencias de las Farc

The strike, known as the Paro Nacional, was a reaction to proposed tax hikes by the administration of embattled Colombian President Iván Duque, but the marches soon became a backlash to tensions and economic turmoil caused by the pandemic

El Paro Nacional 28A, convocado contra la reforma tributaria del gobierno Duque, dejó un saldo de centenares de heridos entre miembros manifestantes, gestores de convivencia y uniformados

Así lo manifestaron hoy los excombatientes Carlos Antonio Lozada y Pastor Alape, a través de una rueda de prensa virtual, quienes aseguraron que sí hubo una política de secuestro en su organización

Colombia, Venezuela

Autoridades colombianas indicaron que la cifra de 5.888 personas que estaban en Arauquita, ha comenzado a disminuir de forma paulatina

Haiti, Honduras

La diáspora haitiana que cruza por Centroamérica se ha vuelto difícil de medir por sus condiciones de precariedad absoluta, el tráfico de personas y el cruce por puntos ciegos


El General Gallardo Rodríguez, amigo entrañable de SinEmbargo, murió a causa de complicaciones del coronavirus. Fue conocido por denunciar desde el interior de las Fuerzas Armadas las arbitrariedades cometidas por el Ejército

Yunes Linares fue Gobernador de Veracruz de 2016 a 2018. En ese bienio, se asegura, permitió que el cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación se asentara

As things stand now, the lucrative trade shows no signs of slowing, and use of the drug in Mexico is likely to continue

No es admisible distorsionar la realidad sumando peras y manzanas o pensando en abstracciones con más valor propagandístico que utilidad analítica


Victim testimonies, confidential interviews and reconstructions of official reports collected by a Central American think tank in an independent investigation prepared at the request of a US agency revealed that the Nicaraguan Army was never neutral

South America Regional

Last week, Latin America accounted for 35 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the world, despite having just 8 percent of the global population

U.S.-Mexico Border

Despite the considerations, Department of Homeland Security officials are expected to still turn around the vast majority of immigrants at the border

The average time that kids are in CBP custody is now 28 hours, compared to 133 hours on March 28, the official said, a nearly 80% reduction in time spent in Border Patrol detention

Biden said his administration inherited “one god-awful mess at the border” from former President Donald Trump. He said it’s the result of “the failure to have a real transition — cooperation from the last administration, like every other administration has done.”

Around 400 migrants expelled from the United States have camped out in a plaza in the dangerous Mexican border city of Reynosa, the aid group Doctors Without Borders said


A new report by the inspector general at the U.S. Agency for International Development raises doubts about whether the deployment of aid was driven more by the U.S. pursuit of regime change than by technical analysis of needs

The day ahead: April 30, 2021

I’m most reachable late morning and mid-to-late afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’m just now finishing up our latest weekly border update, and have some early afternoon coalition meetings and a meeting with a student group late in the day. Otherwise I should be reachable.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

A pesar de la lluvia, la Plaza de Bolívar fue el principal escenario de manifestación y confrontación. / Óscar Pérez
Óscar Pérez photo at El Espectador. Caption: “A pesar de la lluvia, la Plaza de Bolívar fue el principal escenario de manifestación y confrontación.”

(Even more here)

April 29, 2021


El coronel Jhonny Aguilera fue acusado de recibir sobornos de un narcotraficante cuando ejercía como jefe de la Felcc en Santa Cruz


At the heart of the issue, said Amparo, lies an ingrained impunity that has made it nearly impossible to hold police accountable for abuse

Central America Regional, Mexico

Whatever you think about the Sowing Life program specifically, though, the U.S.’ assertion that climate and immigration need to be dealt with separately is confounding


Fayber Camilo Cufiño, asesinado el 14 de abril; Jhon Sebastián Ávila, el 17 de abril; Yeison Ayala, el 18 de abril; Luis Fernando Córdoba, el 20; Adolfo Rodríguez, el 21; Mayiber Tapias, el 21; y Hernando Guerrero, asesinado el 25 de abril

Unions insisted Wednesday’s demonstrations would go ahead despite a court order to postpone it on coronavirus concerns

La falta de experiencia política de su gabinete y la crisis de seguridad que vive el distrito, comienzan a pasarle factura a Vidal

Cali será militarizada y también se decretó toque de queda a partir de la 1:00 p.m. En Bogotá ya hay denuncias por posibles abusos del ESMAD

Uribe hizo la solicitud en vísperas del anuncio, por parte del Comité de Paro, de la continuación de las protestas este jueves

Colombia, Venezuela

The ELN and FARC dissidents run similar illicit businesses, such as drug trafficking and illegal gold mining, and both work alongside local Venezuelan authorities and security forces, but each guerrilla faction manages its trafficking routes and contraband shipments separately

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

The usually younger, better trained, less corrupted and, yes, more idealistic folks proving their worth in government agencies, NGOs and private companies

Guatemala, Mexico

El presidente mexicano anticipó que la reunión con Giammattei está relacionada con la próxima llamada que tendrá con Harris


Ante el aumento en 2019 del control migratorio en todas las fronteras del país y a fin de evitar la detención policial, las mujeres centroamericanas que llegan al sur de México empezaron a cambiar sus estrategias migratorias y sus rutas

El candidato morenista dijo que si la DEA lo estaba buscando, no entendía cómo no lo había encontrado aún, tomando en cuenta que sus datos son públicos

The Mexican criminal organizations at the center of producing the drug — including in counterfeit pill form — have the infrastructure, the contacts and the personnel to mass-produce it

Estados Unidos tiene programada la liberación de Eduardo Arellano Félix, heredero del cártel de Tijuana, para el próximo 18 de agosto, tras cumplir 10 de los 15 años de condena


La abolición del Ejército no debe hacerse de forma apresurada sino como un proceso de transformación hacia una Fuerza de Seguridad Pública

“La segunda responsabilidad es del Ejército, aunque intenten evadirlo, porque son grupos (los irregulares) que están actuando en conjunto con la Policía, entonces (la misma) está deslegitimada y no tiene capacidad de desarmarlos y desarticularlos”

En entrevista con Expediente Público, Arturo Valenzuela, exsubsecretario de EE.UU. para América Latina hace un balance de los 100 días del gobierno de Joe Biden y asegura que el tema de las elecciones y el autoritarismo en Nicaragua, está en el radar


At the moment, Peru’s politics look like the result of putting a mad political scientist in a lab to think up nightmare scenarios for how a democracy might go off the rails

U.S.-Mexico Border

“The consequence of Title 42 is that this is essentially a gold rush for human smugglers”


El oficial no ha dado un saldo preciso sobre los efectivos fallecidos y heridos en los últimos días

El secretario de Estado de Estados Unidos, Anthony Blinken, afirmó el miércoles 28 de abril que su país está trabajando con el fin de poder aumentar la capacidad de los venezolanos para que estén informados, donde destacó que manejan varias iniciativas

The day ahead: April 29, 2021

I’m more available today, but not in early afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’m in a couple of border coalition meetings in the early afternoon, but had otherwise set aside two blocks of time today to write, including the next weekly border update.

WOLA Podcast: The Complexity of Engaging with Central America

The birds in my backyard and I recorded a podcast with two WOLA colleagues who are longtime experts on Central America, just as the Biden administration goes into overdrive on a big new policy push to address the reasons why so many people migrate from the region. Here’s the text from the podcast landing page.

Top Biden administration officials, including Vice President Harris, are developing a new approach to Central America. The theme is familiar: addressing migration’s “root causes.” Violence and corruption, as well as relatively new factors such as climate change, have caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes seeking a better life.

This week’s podcast focuses both on the factors displacing people as well as what the U.S. government’s plans to address the displacement. Our President, Geoff Thale, as well as our director for Citizen Security, Adriana Beltran, talk with Adam Isacson about the Biden administration’s short and long-term plans for the region, what can be done to implement an effective anti-corruption strategy, how to protect marginalized groups/human rights defenders, and the political considerations that come with legislating on an issue that will certainly last beyond Biden’s time in office.

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

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Andrew Brown photo at Arizona Public Media.

(Even more here)

April 28, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

“I do not support #ICERaids that threaten to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom do not represent a threat to the U.S.,” Gonzalez said in a tweet in July 2019


Even if the armed forces aren’t there to help save Bolsonaro, the president’s decision to draw them deeper into politics could be a sign of backsliding from Brazil’s nearly 40 years of democratic advances

Central America Regional, Guatemala

Following the Harris-Giammattei meeting, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo told a news conference that Guatemala and the United States agreed “to establish a new joint border protection task force”


Desde Washington Organización para la protección de los derechos humanos, alerta sobre la situación de los líderes sociales

Con todo y lo que implica vivir entre la pobreza, las balas y las amenazas, nada resulta peor que vivir en medio de las aspersiones

“Observamos con preocupación que, a través de dicha normativa, el Gobierno nacional pretende reanudar de forma inminente las fumigaciones aéreas con glifosato, en franco desconocimiento de los derechos a la participación y la consulta previa de las comunidades afectadas”

Como entidad civil armada que es, la Policía Nacional debe dejar de depender del ministro de Defensa

Aproximadamente 1.000 docentes de Antioquia y Córdoba, que ganaron concurso para trabajar en municipios PDET, tienen miedo de llegar a los territorios, pues están amenazados por grupos ilegales

Lowrey brought along foreign military sales experts from USASAC’s SOUTHCOM division

Colombia, Panama

Más de 10.000 personas migrantes y refugiadas esperan en la frontera colombiana para ingresar a Panamá a través de la peligrosa selva del Darién a que los Gobiernos de estos países definan acciones para ofrecerles un tránsito seguro

Colombia, Venezuela

Nuevos enfrentamientos en Apure (Venezuela), ejecuciones extrajudiciales y capturas arbitrarias son algunos hechos que podrían generar más desplazamientos en la frontera colombo-venezolana

Sus narraciones sobre el conflicto describen el uso de tanques, aviones, así como del arresto y tortura de campesinos de la zona


The formal end of the Castro era has elicited polarized reactions among Cubans, with Party loyalists expressing unquestioning faith in the system, and disbelievers signalling cynicism about the future

El Salvador

Basta que tenga pruebas de que los acusados, por ejemplo, escribieron un post en redes sociales promocionando la caravana migrante

The omission until this week of the role of Hazelwood in public accounts of the massacre owes to a “sophisticated cover-up” orchestrated by the Reagan administration and the civil-military junta which ruled El Salvador at the time


El Estado mexicano ha reconocido este martes su responsabilidad parcial en el caso de la muerte violenta de Digna Ochoa y Plácido, una defensora de derechos humanos cuyo cuerpo fue hallado sin vida en su oficina de Ciudad de México en 2001

Lawmakers from López Obrador’s party have triggered outrage by voting to add two years to the four-year term of the Supreme Court chief justice, Arturo Zaldívar. Zaldívar is generally regarded as sympathetic to the president

Los datos lo confirman: de tener una población superior a 16 mil habitantes, hoy apenas rebasan las 8 mil personas

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

Yesterday, Vice President Harris announced that the United States is providing $310 million in increased assistance to the Northern Triangle, including $255 million in assistance to meet immediate and urgent humanitarian needs


EL Congreso ha aprobado un proyecto de ley de la bancada fujimorista que intenta subordinar las rondas campesinas a las Fuerzas Armadas y a la Policía Nacional, a través de la conversión de éstas en comités de autodefensa

U.S.-Mexico Border

The homeland security review calls for a team of senior officials to determine whether extremist ideology is prevalent in its various agencies, including the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Secret Service and the Coast Guard

Environmental and cultural groups say they want a permanent end to the project, and are pushing to remove segments in sensitive areas, like Quitobaquito, altogether


The government says it has insufficient time and space to test migrants upon their arrival. So while migrants get a basic health screening, testing is being postponed until their release to local community groups, cities and counties

While powerful drug cartels and other sophisticated groups often profit from migration by charging fees to smugglers passing through their territory, it can be challenging for authorities to demonstrate their direct role

What’s strangest of all is that the Biden administration has continued the policy, despite its grave consequences

The day ahead: April 28, 2021

My schedule is jammed until mid-afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’m meeting with a colleague who works on the Colombia peace process, another starting out in a partner organization, recording a podcast, and have an internal meeting. At 8PM Eastern tonight, I’ll be participating in my first-ever panel discussion at Clubhouse, about the border. If it’s urgent to reach me, the best window of time is between mid-afternoon and the end of the workday.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Nicolo Filippo Rosso photo at Bloomberg. Caption: “Migrants climb over a border wall in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on April 1.”

(Even more here)

April 27, 2021


The health authority, Anvisa, said that questions remained about the vaccine’s development, safety and manufacturing. All five of its directors voted against the vaccine


En 38 meses de gobierno del presidente Iván Duque, la Comisión Nacional de Garantías de Seguridad, órgano creado por el Acuerdo de Paz para desmantelar los grupos herederos del paramilitarismo y que debería sesionar una vez al mes, solo se ha reunido en seis ocasiones

Comando de Frontera tiene relaciones con la empresa petrolera, dicho por los los propios armados son los que han expresado eso en las reuniones a las que han citado a las comunidades

Monseñor Luis José Rueda, quien es arzobispo de Bogotá y primado de Colombia, hizo duras críticas sobre la aspersión aérea con glifosato contra los cultivos ilícitos

Es la primera vez que una convocatoria del Comité del Paro coincide con un pico de contagio. Y en esta ocasión, coincide con el peor

A través de una carta 33 congresistas de la República y Angelo Cardona de la Oficina Internacional de Paz, le pidieron al presidente Iván Duque que transfiera un billón de pesos del sector Defensa al sector Salud para hacer frente a la crisis

“A los niños los están masacrando en sus casas. Y tenemos que decirlo así: es una violencia invisible, porque ocurre en el interior de los hogares”

Mientras los grupos armados consolidaban su control, las fallas en la implementación del Acuerdo de Paz se multiplicaron

Colombia, Venezuela

Fundaredes y del exparlamentario Walter Márquez, aseguraron la noche del sábado 24 de abril que durante los enfrentamientos en el sector La Capilla resultaron fallecidos efectivos de la FAN

En las últimas 72 horas se vienen desarrollando “cruentos combates con los grupos irregulares armados colombianos”

El Salvador

On Monday April 26, Professor Terry Karl will testify about the command responsibility of Salvadoran military leaders now on trial for their role in the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which over a thousand men, women, and children were murdered by Salvadoran troops

Un informe del Congreso estadounidense publicado en 1993 señaló que funcionarios de Estados Unidos, de todos los niveles, mintieron e ignoraron las flagrantes violaciones a los derechos humanos cometidas por el Gobierno de El Salvador

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

The president of Honduras is accused by U.S. prosecutors of being part of a cocaine trafficking conspiracy, the president of El Salvador refused to see a U.S. envoy and the Guatemalan congress wouldn’t swear in a corruption-fighting judge


The U.S. will send 16 employees of the Department of Homeland Security to aid in the effort. The United States will also help Guatemala to build shelters for returned migrants and help the migrants transition back to life

This action targets Gustavo Adolfo Alejos Cambara, the former Chief of Staff for the Alvaro Colom presidential administration, and Felipe Alejos Lorenzana, an elected delegate to the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala


Haiti’s epidemic of kidnappings is the latest crisis to befall this Caribbean island nation of around 11 million people, roiled by deepening political unrest and economic misery


La sentencia que fue favorable para MUCD señala el plazo de cinco años para labores de seguridad es excesivo y que no cumple con el criterio de delimitación geográfica, porque ordena la participación de los militares en todo el país

Les niegan el acceso con los argumentos de que no hay espacio o de que no reciben familias por la pandemia de Covid-19

En el último Censo de población identificaron que, un millón 212 mil 252 personas nacidas en otro país residen en México

Las autoridades de Tamaulipas y de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional se negaron a proporcionar información sobre el caso, pero habitantes de la región denunciaron los incidentes a través de las redes sociales

Los padres anunciaron la movilización a pesar del covid-19 por la falta de avance en las investigaciones de gobierno


-¡Somos Daniel, constructores de la paz! En este 2021, a 42 años, seguiremos defendiendo nuestro derecho a la revolución con el comandante Daniel y la compañera Rosario Murillo– gritan todos

U.S.-Mexico Border, Western Hemisphere Regional

Of the Biden presidency’s 94 executive actions on immigration so far, 52 have set the stage for undoing Trump administration measures

U.S.-Mexico Border

We propose the followingrecommendations and suggestions as a framework for action that will helpavoid a humanitariancrisis related tomigrants passing throughthe border region


In the past two weeks, Maduro conceded to longstanding U.S. demands that the World Food Program be allowed to establish a foothold in the country at a time of growing hunger. His allies also vowed to work with the U.S.-backed opposition to vaccinate Venezuelans

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from Tal Cual (Venezuela).

(Even more here)

April 26, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

The Times found a pattern of neglect and secrecy that helped fuel outbreaks both inside and outside ICE detention facilities


El presidente de Brasil, Jair Bolsonaro, amenazó con sacar a la calle a las Fuerzas Armadas para garantizar el orden en caso de que las restricciones establecidas por los gobernadores para frenar el COVID-19 promuevan lo que el mandatario calificó como “caos”


Bienvenida la retractación del mensaje de la canciller en el Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU. Pero el Gobierno y su partido deben abandonar los discursos paralelos y contradictorios sobre la paz con las Farc

El homicidio de Rodríguez fue uno de los cometidos en esta, la peor semana en términos de asesinatos de excombatientes de las Farc

Naciones Unidas ve con especial preocupación la problemática que atraviesa el departamento del Cauca, donde se evidencia el deterioro de la situación de derechos humanos y seguridad

El asesinato de la gobernadora indígena Sandra Liliana Peña del resguardo La Laguna Siberia, en Caldono (Cauca), fue el detonante para que las autoridades tradicionales reunidas en el Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (CRIC) reafirmaran que debían hacer una limpieza de sus territorios ancestrales

¿Y el Estado? ¿Dónde estaba? “La Fuerza Pública cumple el simple papel de notarios del conflicto”

La versión que entregó el detenido, sin embargo, sugiere que la verdadera trama detrás de la masacre apenas empieza a develarse

Colombia, Venezuela

Venezuela’s economic collapse has so thoroughly gutted the country that insurgents have embedded themselves across large stretches of its territory, seizing upon the nation’s undoing to establish mini-states

En la tarde y la noche del viernes 23 de abril se reportaron nuevos enfrentamientos y sobrevuelos

Venezuelan security forces have committed egregious abuses against local residents during a weeks-long operation against armed groups on the border with Colombia

El Salvador

During the 14th edition of the U.S.-El Salvador Staff Talks in 2019, both commanders signed memorandums of understanding outlining agreed-to actions (ATAs), in which both armies would train together to strengthen the knowledge to combat transnational threats


The program’s estimated cost is $256 million, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said on its website


Under AMLO “a very quick evolution” has taken place, and the armed forces now have an unprecedented level of involvement in national affairs

“La gravedad de las violaciones a derechos humanos en contra de la población migrante es contundente”, advirtió la FMOPDH, formada por la Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH)


Es inaceptable que se pretenda cambiar la historia y menos aún que se les acuse irresponsablemente de la muerte de 30,000 peruanos

U.S.-Mexico Border

The bill would improve both the Department of Homeland Security’s and the Department of Justice’s capacity to manage migration influxes and adjudicate asylum claims in a timely manner

Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell and Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez represent districts facing surge in crossings from Mexico

Tens of thousands of asylum seekers were unable to attend their hearings under the Trump administration’s remain in Mexico policy. Their cases have been closed, and they’re stuck

The day ahead: April 26, 2021

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

I have about seven hours of meetings on the calendar today, with scattered interstitial time in between. Three internal meetings, an interview with a researcher, and a Colombia coalition meeting. As a result, my replies to any effort to contact me are likely to be delayed today.

Weekly e-mail update is out

I just sent off another e-mail update to those who’ve subscribed. This edition is pretty bare-bones. I spent much of last week in meetings, reducing time available for writing or creating—and since there’s been a modest slowdown in attention to the situation at the border, I finally had the chance to spend many hours last week processing and answering 2,000 emails that had built up since early March when the child/family situation started to become all-consuming. As a result, this update reflects what I managed actually to produce last week:

  • Full text of this week’s U.S.-Mexico border update;
  • Full text of this week’s Colombia peace update;
  • Latin America-related online events for this week;
  • And a smaller number than usual of 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, April 26

  • 4:00-5:30 at Latin America & the Global Cold War (RSVP required).
  • 4:30-5:30 at A Conversation with Horacio Rodríguez Larreta (RSVP required).

Tuesday, April 27

  • 11:30-12:30 at IRI Eventbrite: What’s Next for Perú? Analysis of the April 11 Elections and Beyond (RSVP required).
  • 12:00-1:30 at The Biden administration’s drug policy strategy and lessons from Portugal (RSVP required).
  • 2:00 at Hearing of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, & Operations: Unaccompanied Children at the Border: Stakeholder Perspectives on the way Forward.
  • 2:00-4:00 at How Do We Support Students and Their Teachers in the Reopening of Schools? The Role of Diagnostic Learning Evaluations (RSVP required).
  • 5:00-6:00 at Beyond the headlines: Central American migrant’s human journey (RSVP required).

Wednesday, April 28

Thursday, April 29

  • 10:00-11:30 at Energy Transition in Latin America – The Role of the Private Sector (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-3:30 at The future of immigration policy in the United States (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-5:00 at CEJIL Zoom: ¿Hacía dónde va la CIDH? (RSVP required).
  • 4:00-5:00 at Renewing U.S. Hemispheric Engagement in a Changing World, a Keynote Address by Governor Bill Richardson (RSVP required).

Friday, April 30

  • 11:30 at Florida International University Zoom: The Policy Challenges of Central American Migration: The Human Rights Perspective (RSVP required).

Colombia Peace Update: April 24, 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.

Attacks on indigenous communities intensify in Cauca

It was another bitter week in the department of Cauca in southwestern Colombia, the most dangerous of Colombia’s 32 departments to be a social leader. Cauca is enticing to drug traffickers and armed groups because the Pan-American highway traverses it, it has an extensive Pacific coast, and the Colombian government is absent from most rural areas. Cauca has the largest indigenous population of all departments. The rural population—which is the majority of the department’s 1.5 million people, much of them Afro-descendant and indigenous—is both caught in the crossfire and more organized than counterparts in most regions of Colombia.

Many areas that had been under FARC influence before the 2016 peace accord are disputed between some of three or four FARC dissident groups, the ELN, and neo-paramilitary and organized crime bands. Violence has flared up in 2021. Just in the past week:

  • On April 17 the Army killed 14 members of the “Carlos Patiño Front” dissident group in the rural part of Argelia municipality, in southern Cauca. One soldier died. Army Commander Gen. Eduardo Zapateiro said that a column of troops was attacked. Fighting between this dissident group and the ELN has terrorized Argelia’s rural population all year, causing thousands to displace. The Carlos Patiño is aligned with the largest network of FARC dissidents, headed by alias “Gentil Duarte.” It inexplicably still has an active Facebook page.
  • On April 20, in the northern part of Cauca, assailants shot and killed Sandra Liliana Peña Chocue, the 34-year-old governor of the La Laguna Sibera indigenous reserve in Caldono municipality. Peña, a member of the Nasa nation who had led local efforts to eradicate coca plants, was killed as she rode her motorcycle in rural Caldono.
  • Indigenous communities in northern Cauca, mainly within the framework of the Cauca National Indigenous Council (CRIC), quickly mobilized to demand respect for their territory and organizations, joining in a coca eradication effort to carry on Sandra Liliana Peña’s work. This, too, was attacked on April 22, as several assailants opened fire on the eradicators and members of the Indigenous Guard, an unarmed but very disciplined security force, in rural Caldono. The attack injured about 31 Indigenous people. The Indigenous Guard captured seven of the attackers and one of their vehicles. According to the CRIC, the eradication effort continued after the attack.

While the attackers were almost certainly FARC dissidents, the CRIC’s statement evidenced the community’s intense distrust of the national government and its armed forces:

Today we were outraged to hear in a TV newscast, General Marco Mayorga Niño, commander of the III Army Division, assuring that “it has been agreed to coordinate with the authorities the eradication of coca found in the area,” and “to dialogue with the Indigenous Guard about coordinating security activities in the reserves’ territories.“ None of this corresponds to the truth.

On March 26, the nearby municipality of Corinto had been rocked by a car bomb that went off just outside the mayor’s office in the center of town. (An earlier update covers this incident.) Like this week’s attacks in Caldono, the car bombing was probably carried out by the Dagoberto Ramos Mobile Column, the most powerful FARC dissident group in this part of Cauca. Like the Carlos Patiño Front further south, the Dagoberto Ramos is linked to the Gentil Duarte network. A third dissident group, the Jaime Martínez (also active on Facebook), operates nearby and also appears to be part of the Gentil Duarte structure.

“After the peace agreement, there were several months of very significant calm, but after that it’s been changing and there has developed a much more complicated situation than before the accord,” Dionisio Rodriguez Paz of the Cococauca organization said during the presentation of a CINEP human rights report this week.

A report from several local human rights groups cited by El Espectador recalls that Cauca, with about 3 percent of Colombia’s population, concentrates 28 percent of its murders of social leaders, which increased by 40 percent in the department from 2019 to 2020. Of 271 leaders killed in Cauca since the peace accord’s 2016 signing, 50.9 percent were Indigenous leaders.

Foreign Minister’s comment at UN meeting generates outrage

Concerns about social leaders were a frequent topic of discussion among international diplomats at the UN Security Council’s quarterly meeting to review aspects of peace accord implementation, held virtually on April 21.

Ambassadors praised some aspects of implementation, like the enrollment of 50 percent of demobilized guerrillas in collective and individual productive projects, and several welcomed the government’s proposal to expand the mandate of the UN Verification Mission to include compliance with the post-conflict transitional justice system’s (JEP’s) sentences. But they echoed concerns about rising violence, especially in areas of former FARC influence. “It is urgent that the policies and measures taken by the State—including the recent Strategic Security Plan—translate into better results, especially in the 25 municipalities that concentrate most of this violence,” read the statement from the UN Verification Mission’s director, Carlos Ruiz Massieu.

A big point was the continued slaughter of demobilized FARC members. The JEP’s president, Eduardo Cifuentes, said on April 19 that at least 276 former guerrillas had been killed since the peace accord went into effect. The latest was Ever Castro, a former FARC medic shot to death in Meta department on April 18. Castro’s killing happened only four days after another former FARC member, Fayber Camilo Cufiño, was killed in the same zone. “Much of the country was committed to the peace process until they noticed that we’d surrendered our weapons; after we turned in our guns, they left us on our own,” lamented to El Espectador Alexa Rochi, a fellow ex-combatant and close friend of Castro.

The figure of 276 murders represents more than 1 out of every 50 of the 13,185 guerrillas who passed through the peace accords’ demobilization process. Colombia’s Constitutional Court is reportedly studying legal petitions (tutelas) seeking to declare that the government’s insufficient protection of ex-combatants has reached an “unconstitutional state of affairs,” a term in Colombian law that would require the executive branch to take emergency measures.

In this context, part of the Colombian government’s remarks before the Security Council, as read by Foreign Minister Claudia Blum, were especially disconcerting. “The existence of FARC dissident groups,” she told the UN body, “should be considered as an example of non-compliance, precisely, of the former guerrillas who are now converted into a political party.”

Dissident groups are led by ex-guerrillas who rejected the accord or who abandoned the demobilization process and rearmed—a common outcome in peace processes. Perhaps 10 percent of former FARC members have chosen this path. Many if not most of the new groups’ members are new recruits with no prior FARC membership.

That the former FARC political party is somehow coordinating with the dissidents, perhaps using them as a “Plan B,” is an occasional talking point on Colombia’s right. (A few years ago, WOLA staff were surprised to hear it from a Trump administration official.) Blum appeared to be reinforcing this unfounded theory, further endangering the large majority of ex-guerrillas who have given up arms—a population already facing serious threat.

The “Plan B” theory is especially bizarre when one recalls that the dissidents are among the most frequent killers of their former comrades who demobilized. Estimates ranging from about 44 to 49 percent of ex-FARC killings were carried out by dissident groups. How then, could the demobilized guerrillas be responsible—using the Foreign Minister’s logic—for the existence of the same groups that are killing them?

La Silla Vacía pointed out another serious misstatement in Blum’s comments before the UN. “So far in 2021,” she said, “the total number of victimizations has fallen 51 percent compared to the same period of last year.” The online investigative site recalled that killings dropped by only 10 percent, from 20 during the first 3 months of 2020 to 18 during the first 3 months of 2021.

Expressions of disagreement with Blum’s comments came quickly.

  • “For the United Nations it is very clear first to distinguish between the dissidents who have never been part of the process, those who were part of the process and unjustifiably left it, and the 90 percent who remain in the process and have been fulfilling their obligations,” said UN mission chief Ruiz Massieu. “For us this distinction is very clear.”
  • “I reject the statements made by Foreign Minister Blum,” tweeted the leader of the former FARC party (Comunes), Rodrigo Londoño. “Her speech is untrue and puts a target on the heads of the thousands of signatories of the Peace Accord who are committed to the fulfillment of what was agreed, despite the permanent non-compliance of this government.” Londoño went on to call for Blum’s resignation.
  • “That the government would say this makes those who are killing us feel authorized to attack us,” said ex-FARC senator Julián Gallo.
  • “I protest the statements made by the Foreign Minister,” tweeted Humberto de la Calle, who was the Colombian government’s chief negotiator during the 2012-16 FARC talks. “She puts at risk the lives of former combatants who laid down their arms. It is the negation of the accord. It is a provocation. I demand retraction.”

In an April 22 tweet, the Colombian Presidency official most in charge of peace accord implementation, Counselor for Stabilization Emilio Archila, raised eyebrows with a tweet thread that appeared to contradict the Foreign Minister’s UN comments. The dissidents “are the ones who have to answer individually, and this is not a responsibility that belongs to the Comunes party,” he wrote, tagging Londoño. Later that day, Archila’s office and the Foreign Ministry issued a joint statement that at least partially walked back Blum’s much-derided words at the UN:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Counselor’s Office emphasize that Colombia’s [UN] statement emphatically recognizes and reiterates the National Government’s support for the reincorporation process of the former combatants committed to the process, in its multiple political, economic, and social dimensions, and its commitment to their security and protection, and those of the members of the political party that emerged from it.

Fumigation edges closer to approval

In August 2018, Iván Duque assumed Colombia’s presidency vowing to restart a U.S.-backed program to eradicate coca by spraying a controversial herbicide, glyphosate, from aircraft. Thirty-two months later, this “fumigation” program is very close to restarting. “It seems like the return of illicit crop fumigation using glyphosate is imminent,” noted Elizabeth Dickinson of the International Crisis Group at Razón Pública. “There is a high probability that in 2021 we will see the planes take off for the coca-growing areas,” wrote Juan Carlos Garzón and Ana María Rueda of the Ideas for Peace Foundation. As we noted in last week’s update, sources in Colombia’s presidency predicted to La Silla Vacía that aerial spraying could restart in June.

Following a World Health Organization study determining that glyphosate could be carcinogenic, Colombia suspended fumigation in 2015, after 21 years in which police and U.S. contractor-piloted planes sprayed 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) in an effort to kill coca. In 2017, Colombia’s Constitutional Court laid out several criteria that would have to be met before any eventual restart of the spray program. (Those are laid out in last week’s update.) With a decree, an environmental finding, and a health study, Colombia’s government claims to have met these criteria.

The only step that remains is for the National Narcotics Council (CNE), a body made up of relevant ministers and heads of some other branches of government, to meet and ratify the program’s restart. As the Council’s current members are all considered close to the government, this step may happen with few obstacles. “The most likely scenario,” write Garzón and Rueda, “is that in 2021 spraying will begin in a dozen municipalities—in one of the six ‘nuclei’ for which the Anla [Colombia’s National Environmental Licensing Agency] has already given authorization.”

The main remaining potential obstacle to a renewed fumigation program is a Constitutional Court review of a legal complaint (tutela) filed by several Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. The Court has indicated it will hand down a decision in about a month.

The communities argue that they were not given an opportunity to participate in prior informed consultation on one of the Court’s required steps, the determination of environmental risk. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government sought to hold these consultations virtually over the internet. But most of the affected ethnic communities are in remote areas without broadband signal, if any.

As it weighs the evidence, the Constitutional Court has sent lists of tough questions to the Anla and the National Police. If the Court decides that barely accessible virtual meetings fail to meet its criteria, then the fumigation program’s restart will be substantially delayed. If the Court gives the program a green light, the “June” timetable mentioned above is likely.

If that happens, Garzón and Rueda predict that protests will quickly follow (though a recent La Silla Vacía report contended that coca-growers’ organizations are much weakened):

The photo of the [first] plane spraying will cause tensions and mobilizations that have already been anticipated. Beyond the discussion of whether the communities’ resistance is organic, spontaneous, or pressured by armed groups, this will be a difficult situation for the government to handle in a context of high social discontent that has been accumulating throughout the pandemic. This could be the spark that triggers and coheres protests and blockades.

Opposition to fumigation, on public health, environmental, and “bad drug policy” grounds, continues to mount. 39 NGOs sent a letter to the Constitutional Court asking the justices to rule in favor of the Indigenous and Afro-descendant complainants and suspend the spray program. A petition on, meanwhile, is nearing 35,000 signatures.


  • WOLA’s “Con Líderes Hay Paz” campaign hosted an event featuring stirring testimonies from prominent social leaders from Chocó, Buenaventura, Cali, and Córdoba.
  • Colombian Army Colonel Pedro Pérez has gone missing in Saravena, Arauca, a town along the Venezuelan border with a long history of ELN influence. He was last seen, off duty, leaving a Saravena hotel with a woman on April 17. In another strange story, Semana revealed that another member of the Army, Sergeant Antonio Misse, may have been taken by Venezuelan forces while off duty on the Colombian side of the border near Cúcuta in December, and remains in Venezuelan custody.
  • About 5,877 Venezuelans displaced by fighting between Venezuelan forces and a FARC dissident group remain in 58 “informal reception points” in Arauca as of April 15, UNHCR reports. Though fighting has died down, very few have felt safe to return. A La Silla Vacía analysis contends that the ELN, which has strong influence over this zone of Arauca and Apure, Venezuela but has stayed to the margins of the latest fighting, is emerging as “the big winner.”
  • The Jesuit think tank CINEP released a flurry of publications this week. The 62nd edition of Noche y Niebla, a publication synthesizing results of the group’s extensive conflict database, counts 846 victims of “social-political violence” in 2020, with 300 of them in Cauca. CINEP also published the latest edition of its long-running Cien Días political analysis magazine, and a fivepart series in El Espectador about the ELN, drawn from a recently published book.
  • Two police officers were shot and killed, probably by FARC dissidents, in the town center of Puerto Rico, Caquetá.
  • The Colombian Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit (UNP), charged with providing security for prominent ex-guerrillas, is limiting their domestic travel. Comunes (ex-FARC) party Senator Julián Gallo had to go to court to get the UNP to provide security, as agreed in the peace accord, so he could carry out party business outside Bogotá. The judge who considered his case determined that the UNP had “placed in danger” the former FARC leader. On April 20 former FARC members of the Commission to Search for People Believed to be Disappeared, a body created by the peace accord, denounced that they are unable to do their work because the UNP is refusing to send bodyguards to accompany them on many of their missions.
  • A bill seeking to legalize and regulate production, processing, and distribution of coca leaf passed its first step, gaining approval of a Colombian Senate committee. Members of the governing Centro Democrático party boycotted the 12-0 vote. By an 8-5 vote, a different Senate committee rejected a bill that would have prohibited aerial fumigation of coca with glyphosate.
  • Journalist Jeremy McDermott of the investigative website InsightCrime is being sued for libel—a criminal charge in Colombia, potentially involving prison and steep fines—for a meticulously documented 2020 series showing that a Colombian businessman living in Spain is, in fact, a paramilitary-tied narcotrafficker. McDermott made a strong case that Guillermo Acevedo is a shadowy criminal warlord known as “Memo Fantasma”; Acevedo is pressing charges.
  • VICE has produced a seven-episode podcast about the case of Drummond Coal, an Alabama-based mining company with large investments in Colombia, whose managers in Cesar stand accused of working with paramilitary groups to put down a unionization effort 20 years ago.
  • Basing his 150-page analysis on 50 interviews with specialists and advocates, Mariano Aguirre unpacks the many causes of Colombia’s massive late-2019 social protests, and offers insight into how donor nations should shift their priorities. Lots of insight here into Colombia’s current challenges.
  • An investigation by La Silla Vacía takes down the Chief Prosecutor’s Office’s (Fiscalía’s) tendency to rely on the term “clarifications” (esclarecimientos) when reporting its results, especially results for its efforts to bring to justice the killers of social leaders and ex-combatants. The term, which indicates that prosecutors have at least identified suspects, “adds up so many categories of judicial events—including several that do not provide the truth about who committed the crimes—that, in the end, it clarifies little about the progress of justice.”

Weekly Border Update: April 23, 2021

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border.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.

Pressure grows to end Title 42

The Biden administration continues to apply “Title 42,” a public health order that the Trump administration put into place at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. As implemented, Title 42 allows Border Patrol to expel migrants it encounters back to their countries of origin—or, if they are Salvadoran, Guatemalan, or Honduran, back into Mexico. In most cases, expulsion occurs in as little as an hour or two. In nearly all cases, it occurs without migrants getting any chance to ask for asylum or other protection.

Over 85 percent of single adult migrants and about a third of migrants arriving as families with children are expelled. The Biden administration is not expelling children who arrive unaccompanied, unless they are from Mexico (and a court prohibited the Trump administration, too, from expelling children during its last two months). CBP is flying Central American families every day from south Texas—where Mexico has placed limits on expulsions—to El Paso and San Diego, then expelling them there.

“By sending asylum seekers back to danger without asylum assessments, the administration fails to protect refugees and blatantly violates U.S. refugee laws and treaties,” reads a report published on April 20 by Human Rights First, Al Otro Lado, and the Haitian Bridge Alliance. The product of a big team of researchers, the 33-page document offers an up-to-the-moment view of the suffering that the Biden administration’s application of Title 42 is causing. Failure to Protect is a very informative, but brutal, read.

Its most alarming topline finding: “Human Rights First has tracked at least 492 attacks and kidnappings suffered by asylum seekers turned away or stranded in Mexico since President Biden took office in January 2021.” The organizations count 17 countries, from Russia to Venezuela to Somalia, whose citizens have been expelled since Biden was sworn in. Since February 2021, 27 expulsion flights have sent 1,400 adults and children back to Haiti.

Among the report’s many alarming examples:

  • “In February 2021, a 37-year-old asylum seeker who fled Haiti after being kidnapped, beaten, and raped because of her involvement with a political opposition group was expelled to Haiti with her husband and baby, where they are now in hiding.”
  • “Nicaraguan authorities detained a Nicaraguan political activist, her husband, and seven-year-old child for 11 days, interrogated, and beat the couple after CBP expelled the family along with approximately 200 other Nicaraguans in June 2020.”
  • “Nine- and fourteen-year-old Honduran children were kidnapped with their asylum-seeking mother in Monterrey in March 2021 after CBP expelled them three times since December 2020.”
  • “In February 2021, a Guatemalan woman who had been expelled by CBP to Mexicali after attempting to seek asylum was raped in Tijuana.”
  • “CBP expelled a 15-year-old Guatemalan boy and his asylum-seeking mother to Ciudad Juárez where they had been kidnapped in February 2021. The woman told Human Rights First researchers that when she tried to explain the danger she faced, U.S. immigration officers told her that they didn’t care because ‘the president is not giving political asylum to anyone.’ CBP expelled the family to dangerous Ciudad Juárez at night during a snowstorm after they were held in CBP custody for days without food or water.”
  • “At least 20 LGBTQ Jamaican asylum seekers are stranded in Mexico facing violence and discrimination, but they are too terrified to approach the U.S.-Mexico border to request protection for fear they will be immediately expelled to Jamaica where they would face continued persecution.”

The report also includes numerous outrageous accounts of Border Patrol agents’ casual cruelty and aggressive behavior toward migrant parents and children—so many that they could form a separate report.

The organizations highlight the painful trend of expelled families deciding to separate inside Mexico, sending children back across the border unaccompanied, where they might end up in immigration proceedings inside the United States, perhaps living with relatives. Mounting evidence points to these Title 42-induced family separations happening more often than we had imagined. Citing secondary sources, the report reads:

16 percent of unaccompanied children screened by Immigrant Defenders Law Center between December 2020 and March 24, 2021 had traveled to the border with a parent or other family member who was blocked from seeking protection with the child due to the Title 42 expulsion policy. In April 2021, a Border Patrol official told CNN that more than 400 unaccompanied children taken into custody in South Texas had previously tried to enter the United States with their families.

More accounts of Title 42-related family separations surfaced this week in reporting by KPBS in Tijuana and the Guardian in Reynosa.

Litigation against Title 42 remains active in Washington, DC Circuit Court. On April 22 the ACLU agreed with the Biden administration on the latest of several extensions of a pause in its lawsuit against the expulsions policy. The court is set to resume on May 3.

Increases in migration appear to be flattening out

For migrant families who don’t get expelled, most U.S. border cities have a charity-run facility that provides a short-term place to sleep, food, clothing, and help with travel arrangements. “Respite centers” like Catholic Charities of Rio Grande Valley, Annunciation House in El Paso, Casa Alitas in Tucson, and the San Diego Rapid Response Network receive asylum-seeking migrants whom Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has released from custody, usually with a notice to appear in immigration court.

The expulsion of so many families to Mexico has left these respite centers below capacity, even at a time when U.S. authorities are encountering large numbers. Annunciation House is taking in 30 to 35 migrants per day, even as one or two planeloads of 100-plus migrants each arrives in El Paso each day: the rest are expelled into Ciudad Juárez. Sister Norma Pimentel of Catholic Charities told Axios that her shelters in the Rio Grande Valley, the sector where 67 percent of family migrants were apprehended in March, are receiving 400 to 800 migrants, mostly families. That sounds like a lot, but she noted, “I haven’t seen the numbers as high as 2019.” That number, roughly extrapolated border-wide, points to only a minor increase, if any, over the number of family migrants encountered at the border in March.

Indeed, the rate of growth of family and child arrivals seems to have hit a pause in April. Weekly CBP apprehension data seen by WOLA points to Border Patrol’s “encounters” of family and unaccompanied child migrants receding slightly during the first half of April, after more than doubling from February to March. The percentage of families who are expelled into Mexico appears to remain in the 30-40 percent range (this number includes a small number of Mexican families). Encounters with single adults, well over 80 percent of whom are expelled, continue to rise, but at a slower pace than in March.

Daily Border Patrol data shows slightly more unaccompanied children arriving at the border this week, mildly reversing a trend of steady declines since late March. There is some good news, though: on April 21, for the first time since the current jump in child migrant encounters began, the number of unaccompanied children in U.S. government custody actually declined. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) discharged—placed with families or sponsors in the United States—more children (480) than Border Patrol newly apprehended at the border (419). On this chart, the green exceeded the blue for the first time:

A lull in April doesn’t necessarily mean that this spring’s increase in migration has flattened out for good. There is a pattern. Though spring is usually a time when migration jumps, Border Patrol migrant apprehension data for 2014, 2015, 2018, and 2019 show small April increases sandwiched between larger increases in March and May. The May increases, though, were never larger in percentage terms than March.

As unaccompanied children don’t get expelled, the overall downward trend in child arrivals since late March can’t be ascribed to Title 42 serving as a “deterrent.” An increase in Mexico’s migrant interdiction operations could be contributing: Tonatiuh Guillen, a longtime Mexican migration expert who briefly headed the Interior Department’s National Migration Institute (INM), told the Wall Street Journal that “apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border are likely to go down this month in part as a result of Mexico’s actions.” That hypothesis is difficult to prove at the moment, though.

Mexico sends troops and talks trees

The Failure to Protect report calls out Mexico’s government for acceding to the Biden administration’s requests to cooperate with the Title 42 expulsions, noting that doing so “continues to facilitate U.S. violations of international protections for refugees.”

Mexico has also deployed larger numbers of its new National Guard and regular armed forces along its northern and southern borders to interdict migrants. Near Guatemala, the Wall Street Journal reports citing Mexican officials, Mexico has deployed about 9,000 soldiers and guardsmen along with 150 immigration officers from the INM. The immigration agency has installed “dozens of checkpoints” along roads in the southern border states of Chiapas and Tabasco, where agents, accompanied by security forces, are pulling many undocumented Central Americans off of buses, then detaining and deporting them.

At Mexico’s northern border, guardsmen have been stationed at some sites where large numbers of families had been crossing the Rio Grande and awaiting Border Patrol apprehension on the riverbank south of the border wall. (One must be standing on U.S. soil in order to request asylum in the United States.)

Alfredo Corchado of the Dallas Morning News talked to some of the National Guard troops at a frequent crossing point in downtown Ciudad Juárez, where the Rio Grande is barely 10-15 feet wide and shallow, and the border wall looms dozens of yards away. One member of the National Guard estimated that crossings in that area had fallen 70 to 80 percent since his unit was deployed there. He doubted, though, that this has deterred asylum-seeking families.

“We’ve pushed them outside to desolate areas, out in the desert,” he said, conceding their efforts only put the migrants and their children in a more dangerous situation. “The desert doesn’t serve as a deterrence. They, women and children, cross in spite of the rattlesnakes, giant spiders, the hot sun. That’s what poverty does to you. The American dream is so alluring that you risk it all.”

The Failure to Protect report, meanwhile, recalls the human rights dangers associated with increased security-force deployments, which WOLA has documented in much past reporting. “Mexican police, immigration officials and other government authorities are directly involved in kidnappings, extortion and other violent attacks against asylum seekers and migrants forcibly returned by DHS to Mexico,” it reads.

Mexico hasn’t yet reported its migrant apprehension and detention data from March. However, the Wall Street Journal obtained statistics pointing to a 32 percent jump in INM apprehensions of Central American migrants from February to March, to 15,800. U.S. apprehensions of migrants jumped 72 percent from February to March.

UNICEF said that the number of non-Mexican migrant children currently in Mexico grew from 380 in January to 3,500 at the end of March, with 275 minors entering the country every day—some coming from Central America, and some being expelled with parents from the United States. Children make up about 30 percent of the population in Mexico’s migrant shelters, the UN agency reported, and half of them traveled unaccompanied. “These children arrive after perilous journeys of up to two months, alone, exhausted and afraid,” said UNICEF director Henrietta Fore. According to the Mexican daily Milenio, “She explained that at every step they are at risk of violence and exploitation, gang recruitment and trafficking, which has tripled in the last 15 years.”

The INM reported that Mexico will be opening up 17 temporary shelters for child migrants in Chiapas and Tabasco, which will be run by the government’s child and family welfare agency (DIF).

Milenio found that an increasing number of families are migrating without making large payments to smugglers. Instead, more Central American parents with children are walking hundreds of miles and boarding cargo trains, an enormously risky journey. Migrants told the paper that Mexican authorities they encounter are less likely to detain them if they are traveling with children. “Hundreds of migrants believe that they have found in children a way to access certain benefits,” Milenio reports, but “the reality is that they expose them to bad weather, kidnapping, poor nutrition, disease, and the risk posed by La Bestia,” the notorious cargo trains.

This route is very dangerous. On April 20, two Honduran migrants were shot dead, and three more wounded, as they tried to flee a gang seeking to rob them along the railroad tracks, in broad daylight, in a rural zone of Tabasco state.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recorded an April 18 video from Palenque, Chiapas, a town along one of the main train routes. There, he laid out a proposal for cooperation with the United States to address Central American migration. Central American and Mexican migrants seeking to emigrate, he said, should work for three years in Mexico planting trees and other crops in a reforestation program his government calls Sembrando Vida (“sowing life”). Upon completion of this obligation, the United States should grant these migrants a six-month temporary work visa, along with the right to apply for U.S. citizenship.

López Obrador said he would present this plan, which he billed as an environmental initiative, during the April 22 Leaders Summit on Climate virtually hosted by President Joe Biden. U.S. officials did not appear interested in discussing the idea at the summit, however. In response to a question from the Mexican daily Reforma, an unnamed senior U.S. official stated, “This is not a conversation about migration but a conversation about climate change. We are not focused on the interplay of issues.” The official added, “We just recently heard [President López Obrador’s proposal] and it doesn’t sound like it has had a chance to be part of extensive discussions in Mexico or between Mexico and the United States.”


  • Vice President Kamala Harris is to talk to Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on April 26, and take part in a virtual roundtable with Guatemalan “community-based organizations” on April 27, Axios reports. She may visit Central America in June.
  • The Washington Post and New York Times dig deep into President Biden’s awkward April 16 double about-face on the U.S. government’s annual refugee cap. Susan Gzesh of the University of Chicago points out at Just Security that “almost no Guatemalans, Hondurans, or Salvadorans have ever been welcomed to the United States through USRAP,” the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
  • The Biden administration has ordered U.S. border and immigration agencies to stop using terms like “alien,” “illegal alien,” and “assimilation” in their communications.
  • A group of senators from both parties met on April 21 to discuss how immigration reform legislation might move forward. According to The Hill, “the starting points” are a Republican demand for a “streamlined” asylum process at the border that would reduce the number of unaccompanied children allowed into the United States, and a Democratic demand that so-called “Dreamers” be given a path to citizenship. Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) led the meeting of four Democrats and four Republicans. At an April 20 meeting with Congressional Hispanic Caucus members, meanwhile, President Biden indicated he might favor allowing immigration reform legislation to go forward under “reconciliation,” Senate rules allowing budget-related bills to pass on a simple majority without a filibuster.
  • The process of winding down the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program, known as Migrant Protection Protocols or MPP, is proceeding slowly. As of the end of March, TRAC Immigration reports, 3,911 of 26,432 Remain in Mexico subjects with pending asylum cases had been allowed into the United States—or at least, had changed their venues away from MPP courts to normal immigration courts elsewhere in the country.
  • Republican border-state governors are actively opposing any alteration of the Trump administration’s border and migration policies. Arizona’s governor, Doug Ducey, announced a $25 million deployment of his state’s National Guard to the border, although his state’s border sectors account for only 18 percent of Border Patrol’s migrant encounters since October. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, working in tandem with a legal group that former Trump advisor Stephen Miller is billing as the opposite of the ACLU, is suing to force the Biden administration to expel unaccompanied children under Title 42.
  • At the Intercept, Ryan Deveraux files a lengthy, multi-source report from Arizona and Sonora. It finds that the Biden administration’s persistent application of Title 42 expulsions “is making one of the deadliest stretches of the U.S.-Mexico divide more dangerous, endangering the people the president purports to support and enriching the illicit networks he purports to oppose.” Many expulsions are happening in the middle of the night.
  • About 90 days after the White House launched a 60-day review of the future of Donald Trump’s border wall, “the wall’s future remains in limbo and the review continues” amid increasingly mixed messages, ABC News reports.
  • A Vice investigation details how U.S. money-transfer companies profit from ransom payments wired to those who kidnap migrants in Mexico from their relatives in the United States.
  • At Talking Points Memo, Tierney Sneed tells the story of how Donald Trump’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) got over its misgivings and embraced “We Build the Wall,” a private, donor-supported border wall-building project that, prosecutors allege, turned out to be riddled with fraud.
  • The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shut down an emergency shelter for unaccompanied migrant girls in Houston, after allegations of mistreatment, including telling the girls “to use plastic bags for toilets because there were not enough staff members to accompany them to restrooms.” The facility was run by a non-profit “with no prior experience housing unaccompanied migrant children,” ABC News reports.
  • Border Patrol reported encountering a female Honduran migrant “incoherent and in medical distress” in south Texas on the evening of April 15, while with her adult daughter and two young children. The woman died at the McAllen, Texas hospital early the next morning.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 23, 2021


Tens of millions of Brazilians are facing hunger or food insecurity as the country’s Covid-19 crisis drags on, killing thousands of people every day

Central America Regional

We are also looking at a – putting together an anti-corruption task force that is going to involve the Department of Justice and other U.S. agencies, with the support of the Department of State, to focus on particular cases involving corruption

Central America Regional, El Salvador

Formed in Los Angeles by refugees fleeing US-backed violence in El Salvador, MS-13 has wreaked havoc in Central America

Central America Regional, Mexico

Hay quienes estiman que podría adaptarse perfectamente a los países centroamericanos y ayudar a sus comunidades pobres y los que creen que será muy difícil de aplicar y podría desatar una mayor deforestación


Conviene cambiar la actual normativa dejando absolutamente claro que las FF.AA. son obedientes, jerarquizadas y no deliberantes, estableciendo que el Presidente de la República es el comandante en jefe


Luego de que ambos funcionarios entregaran declaraciones contradictorias, salieron a aclarar que esos grupos ilegales no son responsabilidad del partido Comunes

El Jefe de la Misión de Verificación al Proceso de Paz señaló que para ellos está muy clara “la distinción” de quienes están cumpliendo con lo pactado y quienes desertaron

There’s little piety among those running the mines that are the main source of income. They are controlled or at least extorted by organized crime gangs

El debate sobre el glifosato es tan importante como para ponernos a hablar por días sobre su reactivación y tan intrascendente como para que su regreso cambie muy poco la dinámica de la producción de cocaína

La Corte Constitucional aún conoce de cuatro tutelas en las que varias comunidades expusieron que vieron vulnerados sus derechos tras no poder asistir a las audiencias que convocó la última entidad

The attack took place in the rural municipality of Caldono, in Colombia’s Cauca province

El consejero presidencial para la consolidación y estabilización Emilio Archila dijo que quienes nunca se acogieron o abandonaron el proceso “tienen que responder individualmente”

Son palabras que ponen en duda, una vez más, el compromiso que el presidente dice tener con la implementación del Acuerdo de Paz, y confirman que las posiciones más extremas del Centro Democrático tienen poderosos aliados dentro del Estado

Este atentado se produjo en medio de un control territorial por parte del Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (Cric) que buscaba erradicar cultivos de coca en las veredas de Caimito y El Socorro

Colombia, Venezuela

Lo tendrían recluido en la sede de la Dirección General de Contrainteligencia Militar (Dgcim) en Caracas

Con el pasar de los días, los recursos escasean en la población colombiana de Arauquita y aún no se vislumbra una solución a la crisis


According to the Washington Office on Latin America (wola) a human-rights lobby group, the process has been marred by conflicts of interest and criminal manipulation


Mientras que familiares de personas desaparecidas se manifestaron en el acceso principal al salón de Plenos en contra de la reforma, pues elimina la participación de víctimas y defensores en investigaciones


Castillo remains in pole position to win the presidency in a second round ballot set for June, according to a Datum International poll that showed him garnering 41% against 26% for former lawmaker and three-time presidential candidate Fujimori

U.S.-Mexico Border

“Ladders and walls go together like peas and carrots,” says one McAllen Border Patrol agent

Migrants are being returned to Mexico after 10 p.m. at several ports of entry, including in isolated locations along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border

At the moment, the nation doesn’t have much of a sense that the new boss is doing much better at this than the old boss

The day ahead: April 23, 2021

I’m hard to reach today, with a full schedule. (How to contact me)

This morning I’m finishing up a weekly border update, getting our car inspected, meeting a Colombian social leader virtually, taking part in an internal meeting, meeting some Senate staff, and meeting a Colombian legislator. This will all make me hard to contact today.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Eric Gay / AP file photo at NBC News. Caption: “Staff escort immigrants to class at the U.S. government’s holding center for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas, on July 9, 2019.”

(Even more here)

April 22, 2021

Central America Regional

The Biden administration is considering pressing Guatemala to address governance issues in the country, ranging from investment to corruption


Ejemplos puntuales de logros y aciertos de los programas de desarrollo con enfoque territorial demuestran todo lo que podría lograrse, pero también todo el apoyo que se requiere

Después de una dura discusión, la Comisión Primera del Senado votó 12 a favor y cero en contra. El Centro Democrático no votó

The murders, which happened 20 years ago, were committed by paramilitaries who Colombian investigators say were financed by an Alabama coal company

Sandra Liliana Peña, the Nasa people’s governor and an environmental leader for the La Laguna Siberia nature preserve, was traveling on a motorcycle on Tuesday when four armed men shot her and her driver to death

La canciller colombiana, Claudia Blum, afirmó que la existencia de disidencias debía considerarse “como un incumplimiento de la antigua guerrilla convertida ahora en partido Político”

Colombia, Ecuador

Nueve días después de ser elegido presidente de Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso llegó ayer a Colombia para sostener un diálogo con el presidente Iván Duque

El Salvador

Disappearances have been used as an “efficient practice” by gangs to guarantee impunity while still invoking terror among local communities


This critical legislation, which is identical to the Senate version, lays out a comprehensive framework for combating corruption, impunity, and human rights violations in Honduras


Se prevé instalar 17 refugios en la zona sur de México, según declaraciones del jefe del Instituto Nacional de Migración, Francisco Garduño

Padres con niños para evitar ser detenidos y menores no acompañados rodean las vías del tren en Ciudad Sahagún, Hidalgo. Su objetivo es llegar a Estados Unidos

Desde que empezó la pandemia, hemos documentado 20 casos de feminicidios, 20 de violencia sexual, 80 de violencia física y 85 de violencia económica en la región

U.S.-Mexico Border

Biden’s obliviousness or indifference will backfire in the 2022 midterms unless he forges a new and true vision of what immigrants offer: hope of survival, of growth

Kobach and his associates were sent on their way with several pages of instructions on how to submit such a “donation” proposal and with a promise that CBP would be back in touch in a few weeks

The term “border governance” (sometimes referred to as “border management”) and the policies that embody that approach represent a break from the enforcement-only approach and the prevention through deterrence border policies of the past

TRAC found that the immigration cases of nearly 3,911 people out of 26,432 pending cases enrolled in MPP at the end of January were transferred out of MPP hearing locations so far during the Biden administration

The starting points include the Republican demand that the asylum process at the southern border be streamlined so fewer migrant children are released into the United States to await the processing of immigration courts and the Democratic demand that immigrants who were brought into the country illegally at a young age, “Dreamers,” be given a path to citizenship

The day ahead: April 22, 2021

I’ll be hard to reach today, though more likely in the mid-to-late afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’ve got five meetings in rapid succession: three internal, one coalition, and one with an international organization. Then I’ll be writing up our weekly border update. I may be hard to contact as a result.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Veronica G Gardenas photo at The Guardian. Caption: “Migrant families that were sent back from the US under Title 42 in Reynosa, Mexico, on 24 March.”

(Even more here)

April 21, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

El director ejecutivo Juan Pablo Toro aporta con un artículo sobre el rol de las fuerzas armadas de la región, sobre la base de nuestro reciente libro “Desafíos para la Seguridad y la Defensa en el continente americano 2020-2030”

The president was particularly frustrated by the government’s struggle to deal with unaccompanied minors at the border and became increasingly concerned about the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s response to the crisis


The proposal was made as the Brazilian president prepares for a virtual environmental summit with roughly 40 heads of state hosted Thursday and Friday by President Biden


Si bien el gobierno salió a respaldar a la institución, en privado reconocen que el tema generó inquietud. El titular de Defensa afirmó que “las declaraciones de las FF.AA. se ajustan a la Ley de Prensa”

El periodista Eduardo Fuentes utilizó su espacio en “Mentiras Verdaderas” en La Red para criticar la carta del Ejército enviada a La Red por un sketch humorístico realizado por el programa “Políticamente Incorrecto”


Con 276 excombatientes de las Farc asesinados y cientos de ellos sin medidas de protección, el alto tribunal estudia tres tutelas que piden declarar que estos hechos son parte de una implementación precaria de lo pactado en La Habana

Antes de dar la última palabra en este asunto, el alto tribunal cuestionó a todas las partes de este proceso

En la vereda el Placer, cuando se dirigía en motocicleta hacia el Corregimiento de Pescador, en el municipio de Caldono, norte del Cauca, fue asesinada la gobernadora del Resguardo Indígena La Laguna Siberia

Este informe analiza si la cooperación internacional está respondiendo a las demandas de estas protestas

En Pares hablamos con el senador indígena Feliciano Valencia sobre el reciente asesinato de Sandra Liliana Peña, gobernadora del Resguardo de La Laguna, Siberia, del municipio de Caldono

Colombia, Ecuador

The academic program, delivered for the first time in 2020 through distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is taught by Colombian Navy military experts and a U.S. instructor, Marine Corps Captain Walker D. Mills, who serves as an exchange officer

Colombia, Mexico

The Biden administration should largely defund eradication policies in Colombia that happen before alternative livelihood efforts actually produce sufficient legal income. It should also not insist on, let alone fund, aerial spraying


I am speaking out because Guatemala’s democracy, rule of law and stability are under attack at a time when the stakes for the country and its neighbors are especially high


En algunos casos recientes de civiles muertos a manos del Ejército, la familia de la víctima es visitada por un integrante de Sedena o de la Guardia Nacional que le ofrece una cuantiosa indemnización

Virtually all of the money flowed through U.S. companies, mostly through Western Union and MoneyGram but also Walmart and lesser-known companies like Ria. By our rough estimate, criminal organizations in Mexico have made around $800 million

Los centroamericanos intentaron escapar del asalto, pero fueron baleados durante el ataque en la comunidad de Estación Chontalpa, a unos 87 kilómetros de Villahermosa

El ataque habría sido perpetrado por el CJNG; los policías agredidos participaron en un operativo para liberar los caminos que comunican a Aguililla

State and federal security forces have actively colluded with – and even fought alongside – the warring factions

Estados Unidos no está interesado en la propuesta del Presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador de vincular una extensión del programa Sembrando Vida a Centroamérica con un plan que ofrezca visas de trabajo a centroamericanos, dijo hoy un alto funcionario

U.S.-Mexico Border

Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, expressed frustration the Biden administration continues expelling families to Mexico

Human Rights First has tracked at least 492 attacks and kidnappings suffered by asylum seekers turned away or stranded in Mexico since President Biden took office in January 2021

“They arrive in very bad shape. Some of them faint in their seats, especially the children. All of them come with coughs, with vomiting, with stomach illnesses. They don’t bring anything; they take everything from them, even their shoelaces”


Venezuela’s proposed legislation follows similar laws passed by authoritarian and repressive governments elsewhere in the world that have cut off funding for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media outlets

Maduro’s request to the U.N. represents a rare instance of openness to international assistance, and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres should take both Venezuela and its civil society up on their offers

The day ahead: April 21, 2021

I’m reachable late morning and mid-day. (How to contact me)

I’ve got a full calendar today, but did have a cancellation so have some unscheduled time in the late morning and mid-day. I’ve got a couple of interviews with journalists, a meeting with an NGO colleague whom I haven’t met before, a coalition meeting, and of course we should all tune into WOLA’s Colombia “Con Líderes Hay Paz” event at 6PM tonight.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Sandra Sanchez photo at Border Report. Caption: “A migrant woman, far left, is seen with a red wristband on her right arm as she is part of a group of asylum-seekers with several children who were being questioned by a U.S. Border Patrol agents moments after being arrested on April 8, 2021, near La Joya, Texas.”

(Even more here)

April 20, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

It may surprise most Americans that almost no Guatemalans, Hondurans, or Salvadorans have ever been welcomed to the United States through USRAP

The Biden administration has ordered U.S. immigration enforcement agencies to stop using terms such as “alien,” “illegal alien” and “assimilation” when referring to immigrants in the United States


The economy contracted by nearly 10 percent last year, and the country faces a reckoning with the I.M.F. over $45 billion in debts

Central America Regional, Mexico

The eerily similar deaths of George Floyd and Victoria Salazar demonstrate how our own abusive police practices have been shipped abroad in the name of “deterring” migration


“Los comunicados que ayer sacaron las tres ramas de las FF.AA. son derechamente inaceptables y constituyen una violación del rol que les corresponde cumplir en una democracia”

La acusación es inédita y el sindicato del organismo salió a repudiar el accionar policial y denunciar que la mujer ha sido intimidada debido a que la policía indagó en sus redes sociales


Este artículo indaga por el rol de las bases sociales para explicar el rostro territorial de esta insurgencia, la cual muestra un nuevo matiz en el Catatumbo donde el ELN es un actor determinante, más no estructurante

Si se reanuda la fumigación con glifosato, se incumplirían los principales de Punto 4 del Acuerdo de Paz y el Estado seguiría desconociendo el sufrimiento de las zonas más afectadas por el conflicto armado

El Programa de Sustitución de Cultivos Ilícitos (PNIS) que recibió la administración Duque estaba mal estructurado y con pocos recursos para su financiación, indicó a EL NUEVO SIGLO el director de Sustitución de Cultivos Ilícitos, de la Agencia de Renovación del Territorio (ART) Hernando Londoño Acosta

Solo en caso de que la sustitución voluntaria falle, y luego del fracaso adicional de la erradicación manual, podrá acudirse a la aspersión aérea con glifosato

Este uso de los términos asociados a cifras tiene antecedentes. Barbosa fue acusado, por expertos en derechos humanos, de manipular las cifras de homicidios de líderes

El oficial Pedro Enrique Pérez salió de la guarnición militar el pasado sábado 17 de abril y, en extrañas circunstancias, desapareció en Saravena

“Las familias campesinas son las que se ven vulneradas, pero detrás de esto hay grandes capos, grandes redes de narcotráfico que también le invierten dinero a esta guerra y son los que se encargan de combatir al Ejército”

On Monday, the tribunal’s president said that at least 276 former rebels have been killed since laying down their weapons in December 2016 and that 900 community leaders have been slain as well

Colombia, Venezuela

Hoy, el repliegue del frente Décimo, producto de la avanzada militar venezolana, deja al ELN como ganador en una batalla que ni siquiera ha librado. O, por lo menos, no de frente


Integrantes de las pandillas Barrio 18 y Mara Salvatrucha en Guatemala han sido trasladados a distintos centros penitenciarios. En estos nuevos “territorios”, concedidos por el Gobierno, las pandillas han puesto en marcha sus propios planes de rehabilitación. A cambio, deben mantener las calles tranquilas

The former president of the Court was re-elected to the bench on 4 March, and had been due to resume her duties for another five-year term on 14 April

Lawmakers invited Constitutional Court President Gloria Porras to an investiture ceremony in Congress last week after she was re-elected to another five-year term on the bench – only to refuse to swear her in

Anita Isaacs, especialista en Guatemala de Haverford College (Pensilvania), expone cinco rasgos de las élites tradicionales guatemaltecas que, a su juicio, tras décadas de investigación y contacto con ellas, lastran la posibilidad de diálogos fértiles y sobre todo de una democracia más participativa e incluyente

El Faro entrevista en Washington a Gloria Porras, presidenta hasta hace una semana de la Corte de Constitucionalidad de Guatemala y ahora excluida por una maniobra legal que achaca a poderes políticos y del crimen organizado


The number of children arriving in Mexico seeking to cross into the United States increased ninefold from January to March 2021. About 275 arrive each day

Within Mexico, political analysts are already raising the alarm about Lopez Obrador’s troubling embrace of authoritarian rhetoric and his track record on human rights issues

Tanto los estudios históricos críticos como la etnografía han demostrado que la violencia de hoy viene de antes

La detención en México para efectos de extradición de Rafael Caro Quintero es la prioridad número uno de la agencia antinarcóticos, aun por encima de las capturas de El Mencho y el Mayo Zambada

U.S.-Mexico Border

With little clarity as to the status of the wall or timetable for an announcement, Democrats and activists are intent on keeping Biden to his campaign commitment to stop construction

Mexican drug cartels issue colorful wristbands to identify migrants who have paid them for passage across the Rio Grande, how many times they have tried to cross, and who is eligible to cross again if they’ve been sent back

Dozens of migrants expelled from the U.S. to Reynosa walked onto the international bridge with a message for President Joe Biden, the first such protest in the Rio Grande Valley under the current administration


This action is a clear effort to monitor and limit the work of independent civil society organizations, which under Venezuelan law are already required to register with the state

Al parecer, el ejército venezolano no estaba preparado para una confrontación con un grupo armado como la que se registra desde el 21 de marzo. ¿Ayudarán civiles armados?

The day ahead: April 20, 2021

I’m most available early morning and late afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’ve got an interview mid-morning and a mid-afternoon meeting with a colleague from Colombia. Mid-day I’m going to have communications in do-not-disturb in order to get some writing done. I’ll be most reachable at the beginning and end of the day.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Alfredo Corchado photo at the Dallas Morning News. Caption: “Mexico’s National Guard has re-emerged with renewed focus on slowing the flow of migrants trying to reach the United States. These guardsmen stand across the border from El Paso’s downtown this week.”

(Even more here)

April 19, 2021

Western Hemisphere Regional

The Biden administration over the weekend shuttered a Houston warehouse that housed unaccompanied migrant children following allegations that the nonprofit organization running the site failed to provide adequate living conditions


El Presidente planteaba que las Fuerzas Armadas participaran en tareas de control junto a la Policía. Pero la Ley de Seguridad Interior lo prohíbe


A través de una carta publicada en sus redes sociales, la institución señaló que “la manera en que se denosta al Ejército y sus integrantes no demuestra otra cosa que el ánimo de deslegitimarlo y degradarlo

En el programa se hizo un sketch llamado “Entrevista de Verdad”, en donde se parodió una conversación con un militar


Congresistas del partido nacido del Acuerdo de Paz reclamaron que la UNP les niega sistemáticamente “y con diferentes pretextos” el acompañamiento a diferentes lugares para desarrollar su actividad política

En Washington, además de Walters y los viejos guerreros contra las drogas invitados a foros por el embajador Santos, nadie está aplaudiendo

El relator de sustancias tóxicas de la ONU hizo un recuento de todas las acciones que deben emprender los Estados para garantizar los derechos de acceso a la información, a la participación pública efectiva y a la justicia en materia ambiental

Como el resto de estudios sobre glifosato, no es conclusivo acerca de los efectos que la exposición a glifosato puede generar a la salud humana

Fourteen members of the Carlos Patino front – founded by former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels who reject a 2016 peace deal – were killed in the confrontations in Argelia, Cauca

Durante la mañana de este 17 de abril, en el sector de El Plateado en Argelia (Cauca) se presentaron enfrentamientos entre la Tercera División del Ejército y miembros de la disidencia Carlos Patiño

La Comisión de la Verdad, la JEP y la UBPD recorrieron el estero San Antonio, donde habría más de mil desaparecidos por el conflicto armado

Colombia, Venezuela

El líder de varios grupos de disidencias de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), alias ‘Gentil Duarte’, denunció una presunta traición de su otrora compañero líder de la organización guerrillera, alias ‘Iván Márquez’, de financiar a oficiales venezolanos

El Ejército Nacional de Colombia realizó una serie de ejercicios militares en el departamento La Guajira, cerca de la frontera con el estado Zulia


The long-expected and seemingly smooth transition to a younger Castro protege, five years after the death of Fidel Castro, instead inspired mostly resignation and cynicism, if not indifference

Although Fidel held fast to his rallying cry of “socialism or death” until he died in 2016, the younger Mr. Castro grew to realize that reform was necessary to quell growing discontent and began opening up the country’s economy

El Salvador

Eduardo Rogelio Rivas Polanco, bajo cuyo ejercicio ocurrió una reducción histórica de los homicidios, fue destituido del cargo de ministro de Justicia y Seguridad Pública a finales de marzo debido a que, según información de Inteligencia, construía un plan político: convertirse en candidato presidencial


Detentions of Central American migrants jumped 32% to 15,800 in March from February, and more than doubled compared with March of last year

El recrudecimiento cualitativo de la violencia en Jalisco se genera por la normalización de la misma y porque hay un descontrol, complicidades o nexos policiacos con las organizaciones delincuenciales

La brigada estaba compuesta por una ambulancia y elementos de la Policía estatal

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

The increased use of soldiers to stop migration has generated a backlash from human rights and migrant advocates, who point to previous examples of abuse, corruption, overall lack of international accountability and increased militarization of the border

His proposal would ask Central American migrants as well as Mexicans considering emigration to work planting trees and crops across Mexico for three years in return for an eventual six-month US work visa, López Obrador said


La verdad sobre la matanza, las torturas, la operación limpieza, y la demanda de justicia. Aquí puedes descargar el libro digital de forma gratuita


Los electores peruanos se encuentran ante una difícil decisión en la segunda vuelta presidencial, pero, a pesar de todo, Keiko Fujimori representa el mal menor

As schools across Peru closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Pedro Castillo tried to find a way to keep classes going for his 20 fifth- and sixth-grade students. But in his impoverished rural community deep in the Andes, his efforts were futile

A native of Lima, Peru, with 26 years of military service in his country’s Army, Colonel Rubén Requena has been serving as the Partner Nation Military Advisor (PNMA) for U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) since March 2020

U.S.-Mexico Border

Another way to look at the scope of this money juggernaut are the 105,000 contracts, totaling $55bn, that CBP and Ice have given private industry – including Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, G4S, Deloitte and Core Civic, among others

Climate-related events like the twin hurricanes increasingly intensify drivers of migration, including violence, food insecurity and poverty

The Biden administration’s continuation of Trump-era policies — particularly the choking off of asylum access at U.S. ports — is making one of the deadliest stretches of the U.S.-Mexico divide more dangerous, endangering the people the president purports to support and enriching the illicit networks he purports to oppose


El mandatario Nicolás Maduro firmó un decreto que ordena la reestructuración de la Policía Nacional Bolivariana (PNB), cuerpo creado durante la gestión chavista

The day ahead: April 19, 2021

I should be reachable in the afternoon. (How to contact me)

My schedule is heavy this week, but lighter than the untenable insanity of last week, when I was averaging six meetings per day. I hope to catch up on correspondence today after a couple of internal meetings that will take up much of the morning.

Weekly e-mail update is out

I just sent off another e-mail update to those who’ve subscribed. The weekly updates are long, what with all that has been going on in Colombia and especially at the border. This edition contains:

  • Last week’s podcast about Mexico’s approach to the current wave of migration;
  • Full text of this week’s U.S.-Mexico border update;
  • Full text of this week’s Colombia peace update;
  • 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, April 19

  • 3:00-4:30 at Peru and Ecuador: Elections and Democracy in the Andes (RSVP required).

Tuesday, April 20

  • 11:00-12:00 at Is Latin America Maximizing (or Missing Out on) China’s International Development Strategy? (RSVP required).
  • 11:00-1:00 at Protección en Colectivo – Defensores y defensoras indígenas de Derechos Humanos en Colombia (RSVP required).
  • 8:00pm at Lanzamiento Virtual del Informe Anual de Amnistía Internacional en Perú (RSVP required).

Wednesday, April 21

Thursday, April 22

  • 1:00-2:00 at Latin America and the Caribbean’s post-COVID-19 outlook (RSVP required).
  • 1:30 at Crimen y violencia en la frontera colombo-venezolana (RSVP required).

Colombia Peace Update: April 17, 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.

Decree, issued the day of high-level U.S. visit, signals imminent restart of aerial herbicide fumigation

On April 11 and 12 Colombia received its highest-level in-person visit to date from Biden administration officials. Special Assistant to the President and Senior National Security Council Western Hemisphere Director Juan González and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung were in Bogotá, where they met for two hours with President Iván Duque and other high government officials. It was the first stop on a South America trip that took González and Chung later to Argentina and Uruguay.

According to a pre-trip White House statement, the officials were to “discuss economic recovery, security and rural development, the Venezuelan migrant crisis, and Colombia’s regional climate leadership.” Colombian media reported that issues covered included security, “the fight against drug trafficking and transnational crime,” progress in peace accord implementation, economic recovery, and Venezuelan migration.

While perhaps unrelated, hours after the U.S. officials’ visit the Duque government issued a long-expected decree laying out how it will carry out a revived aerial fumigation program. The term refers to spraying herbicides from aircraft over populated areas where farmers grow coca, the crop used to make cocaine. The U.S. government heavily supported a fumigation program between 1994 and 2015, which sprayed 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) of Colombian territory.

Herbicide fumigation was a key component of the strategy known as “Plan Colombia,” and it was controversial because it rarely came with assistance to smallholding farmers, and because communities denounced environmental and health harms. The government of Juan Manuel Santos suspended the program in 2015, after a World Health Organization study determined that the active chemical, glyphosate, could be carcinogenic.

In 2017, Colombia’s Constitutional Court laid out a series of conditions that a future government would have to fulfill before ever restarting a fumigation program, and in 2018, newly elected President Duque made clear his intention to do that. Sources in the Presidency tell La Silla Vacía that they may meet these conditions, and the spray planes could start working, as early as June.

The required steps—summarized here in a way that omits some nuance—are:

✔️ By decree, set up a system for evaluating health and environmental impacts that is independent of the Counternarcotics Police, which carries out fumigation. The April 12 decree establishes this system, requiring the Counternarcotics Police to report monthly to environmental and other agencies.

✔️ By decree, set up an independent process for receiving and processing claims from individuals who say they were wrongly sprayed. The April 12 decree establishes this process.

✔️ Gain the environmental licensing authority’s (ANLA’s) approval for the spray program’s environmental management plan. The ANLA issued its approval two days after the Presidency’s decree, on April 14. The plan prohibits the planes from spraying from an altitude greater than 30 meters (98 feet), or in conditions when wind might cause more than 10 meters of spray drift.

The 507-page document also notes that spraying may occur in 104 of Colombia’s 1,122 municipalities, in the departments of Antioquía, Bolívar, Caquetá, Cauca, Córdoba, Chocó, Guaviare, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Santander, Valle del Cauca, and Vichada. Planes may use bases in San José del Guaviare, Guaviare; Cumaribo, Vichada; Villagarzón, Putumayo; Larandia, Caquetá; Tumaco, Nariño; Guapi, Cauca; Barrancabermeja, Santander; Caucasia, Antioquia; Cúcuta and Tibú, Norte de Santander; Condoto, Chocó; and Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca. Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz said that Norte de Santander and its conflictive Catatumbo region will come first. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s crop monitoring report covering 2019, Catatumbo has the country’s largest concentration of coca crops.

✔️ Have the National Health Institute (INS, sort of like the United States’ Centers for Disease Control) perform a study finding that the planned spraying poses a low health risk. While this study, commissioned to the University of Córdoba, won’t be made public until the entire process is complete, it is all but finished.

🔲 Gain the approval of the National Narcotics Council (CNE), a body made up of relevant ministers and heads of some other branches of government. The CNE has the authority to undo the spray program’s 2015 suspension. As the Council’s current members are all considered close to the government, this step may happen quickly.

Among the CNE’s members, though, is Health Minister Fernando Ruiz who, when serving as a vice-minister during Juan Manuel Santos’s government in 2015, defended the fumigation program’s suspension on public health grounds. “The main cancer attributed to glyphosate is Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer in the lymphatic organ that can develop 15 to 20 years after exposure,” Ruiz told an interviewer. This puts the Minister in an awkward position. He is seeking to have an alternate take his place in the CNE proceedings as an “ad hoc” minister who might approve the fumigation.

With this week’s decree and environmental approval, and with a decree last week (reported in our last update) seeking to divert challenges to fumigation away from the courts, the fight over fumigation “seems to have tipped in favor of the government,” El Espectador reported.

Critics like María Alejandra Vélez of the Universidad de los Andes Center for Security and Drugs Studies (CESED) contend that the April 12 decree is flawed. It “is focused on reaction and not on prevention, as it explains how complaints of possible damages will be handled, but not how to prevent them,” she told El Espectador. Isabel Pereira of DeJusticia worries that the ANLA and other agencies charged with oversight have almost no presence in remote areas where spraying will occur. Ana María Rueda of the Fundación Ideas para la Paz recalls that the program’s design appears to violate the peace accord: “The spirit of the Accord… was that first, crop substitution should be tried with communities and, if it did not work, then spraying would operate. That was what the [Constitutional] Court asked for, but we do not see it anywhere in the decree.”

A major objection has to do with the Constitutional Court’s requirement that the environmental approval process include informed consultation with communities, especially Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities. The Court has agreed to take up several communities’ complaint that, from remote areas with poor internet service, they haven’t been able to participate meaningfully in “virtual” consultations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Court’s action on the consultation question could be a “roadblock” that prevents fumigation from restarting in June, according to an El Espectador analysis.

If fumigation does restart in coming weeks or months, we can expect a wave of protest across rural Colombia, as happened in 1996 (with heavy FARC encouragement) when the program first got started. The protests might not be massive, though, notes a La Silla Vacía analysis based on interviews with coca growers’ organization leaders in six zones. The investigation finds these organizations weakened by the worsening security situation as new armed groups proliferate, the difficulty of doing organizing work in a climate of constant threats and killings of social leaders, and a social base demotivated by the government’s poor compliance with the peace accord’s crop substitution commitments. “The communities saw fumigation as something off in the distance,” said Pedro Arenas of Viso Mutop.

After the decree’s release, Colombia’s pugnaciously hardline defense minister, Diego Molano, said, “the only ones worried here about precise aerial spraying against coca, which we are about to start, must be the criminals who profit from this criminal business and want to subject our peasant population to a new slavery.”

Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín, a much-cited scholar of rural Colombia, offered a sharply different view in an El Espectador column:

Prioritizing fumigation over substitution is a brutal violation of everything the peace accord stood for. It has two notorious consequences. On the one hand, it affects the core of the agreement (which sought to build a new form of relationship between the central state and the territories). On the other, it carries high legitimacy costs…

What will this country reap if its government persists in sowing poison? These air strikes are perceived—correctly, in my opinion—as an aggression from distant forces that have no regard for the population’s interests. The Duque government responds to territories that have demanded for decades a greater state presence with the “magic formula” of presence through spraying.

Fighting appears reduced, but situation is very tense, in Venezuela border zone

“From Arauquita, Arauca, no explosions have been heard for a week on the other side of the river, on the Venezuelan side,” La Silla Vacía reported on April 12. There has been a notable lull in the combat that began on March 21 between Venezuelan security forces and the “10th Front” FARC dissident group—one of three guerrilla or rearmed guerrilla groups active in Venezuela’s border state of Apure. The official toll of dead and injured has not increased since last week’s update. Security analyst Andrei Serbín (interviewed in this week’s WOLA Venezuela podcast) told Tal Cual there has been a “considerable reduction” in fighting in recent days, but that “doesn’t mean that the threat has been eliminated. The FARC has this ability to lower its profile, avoid confrontation and attack elsewhere.”

The halt in fighting may owe, too, to the steady arrival of more Venezuelan forces into the zone. In addition to regular military units and the feared FAES police shock force, the Maduro regime announced that it would be sending 1,000 members of the citizen militia. This part-time force, which reports directly to the president, is hardly combat-ready—many of its members are middle-aged or older, or more oriented toward political work than fighting—but it may provide logistical and other backup to the Venezuelan forces arrayed near the Colombian border.

Most of the civilian population, meanwhile, appears to have vacated the zone. Colombian Foreign Minister Claudia Blum said that her government had counted 5,737 Venezuelan citizens displaced into Arauca. Though fighting may have slowed, La Silla Vacía reports, “fear of the excesses that their own country’s authorities may commit is the main reason why the displaced still cannot conceive of returning to their homes.” These include “in addition to fleeing the crossfire… detentions, assaults, looting, and even the murder of a family.” Though they have taken a toll on the civilian population, Serbín points out that the Venezuelan military “hasn’t shown a great capacity. It hasn’t demonstrated results.”

On April 10 the 10th Front FARC dissident group’s putative leader, Jorge Eliécer Jiménez Martínez alias “Arturo,” put out an audio message insisting that his group “doesn’t seek problems” with the Venezuelan armed forces, which have singled out the 10th Front for attack even as the ELN and a second dissident group, the “Segunda Marquetalia,” operate in the same region.

The 10th Front is part of the largest network of former FARC guerrillas to rearm, the so-called “1st Front” structure headed by alias “Gentil Duarte,” who rejected the peace accord in 2016 and refused to demobilize. The other main network of dissidents, the Segunda Marquetalia, is headed by Iván Márquez, who was the FARC’s lead negotiator in Havana but rearmed in 2019. Most of both groups’ rank-and-file membership is new recruits with no past membership in the old FARC.

In his message Arturo, a former FARC front leader who deserted in 2004 and spent time in prison, acknowledged that the 10th Front has differences with the Segunda Marquetalia, and called on the Venezuelan Army to stop collaborating with the rival group. He said he is willing to dialogue.

For his part Iván Márquez, whose group is less visible in the zone but purportedly has closer ties to the Maduro regime, released a video on April 13 insisting that the Segunda Marquetalia does not consider neighboring countries’ forces to be “military targets” or “collect taxes” from—that is, extort—their citizens.

On his television program, Diosdado Cabello, a former military officer and legislator who is perhaps the second most powerful figure in Nicolás Maduro’s regime, appeared to issue a warning to all Colombian armed groups inside Venezuela, including the Segunda Marquetalia. “Venezuelan territory is impregnable. This applies to any group, no matter who the leader is, no matter what his name is. If they want to wage war against the Colombian government, they should do it in their territory, don’t do it in ours.”

The border-zone situation continues to highlight the very poor state of relations between Colombia and Venezuela. Blum, Colombia’s foreign minister, said on April 14 that she had communicated to the United Nations about the “serious situation” resulting from “the support given by the illegitimate Venezuelan regime to armed narco-terrorist groups.” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza issued a tweet calling Blum “Doña”—a misogynistic putdown—and demanding that Colombia guard its borders and keep Colombian armed groups out of Venezuelan territory.

Decrees make changes to military justice system

A series of three presidential decrees, made public on April 14, aim to increase the autonomy and performance of Colombia’s military justice system, which is charged with trying and punishing military and police personnel who violate their services’ codes of conduct.

While years of Colombian jurisprudence appear to make clear that violations of civilians’ human rights should be tried in the civilian criminal justice system, many cases still do end up in the military system. Once there, guilty verdicts and punishments are exceedingly rare.

“It’s no secret that citizens have a problem of trust” with the military system, an El Espectador questioner pointed out in an interview this week with the system’s current director, adding that “for most Colombians it is equivalent to impunity.” Shockingly, the system is so untransparent and sluggish—tracking cases with Excel spreadsheets and a written method dating back to the 1960s—that its director cannot say how many cases of “false positive” killings its judges have yet to decide (or to transfer to the civilian system).

The new decrees set regulations to implement reform laws passed in 2010 and 2015. They will move the military justice system out of the Defense Ministry’s purview, creating a new Specialized Administrative Unit within the executive branch. The current head of the military justice system, Fabio Espitia, who served for a time as Colombia’s acting chief prosecutor (Fiscal General), will head this new unit. The unit will have its own prosecutor’s office, investigators, tribunals, and judges. It is to use an oral, accusatory trial system instead of the military system’s current slow, opaque system. This should make it easier to see where cases stand, and what has happened. The president of the civilian Supreme Court will have a seat on its board of directors.

While this is a big step toward autonomy for a justice system that had been within the military chain of command, it is not quite autonomous. While out of the Defense Ministry, the system will still be in the government’s executive branch, under the President, and not the judicial branch. All, or nearly all, of its judges will continue to be active-duty or retired military officers. Espitia defended this to El Espectador, insisting that “in military and police operations there is something called operational law, and this is known to those who are part of the forces. It is only natural that it cannot be known by a civilian.”

The separate justice system, too, still applies to police—which remain part of Colombia’s Defense Ministry—even though police are charged with protecting and serving the population, not confronting enemies in battle. Espitia defended this, too, arguing that Colombia is not a typical country: “the police must be in joint operations with the military to disrupt organized crime groups.”

The unfortunate consequence, though, is that police who abuse human rights may see their cases go to the historically more lenient military justice system even when “organized crime groups” have nothing to do with what happened. An egregious recent case placed before the military system is that of Dilan Cruz, an 18-year-old protester killed in downtown Bogotá in November 2019 by a policeman who clearly appeared to be misusing a nonlethal crowd control weapon.

Another major case of police human rights abuse is the rampage of indiscriminate force against protesters that followed the September 9, 2020 police killing of lawyer Javier Ordóñez. Over two nights, police killed 13 people in the streets of Bogotá. So far, three policemen have been charged, and their lawyers failed to transfer their cases to the military justice system. There was further good news this week, as the civilian Fiscalía decided to transfer the entire September 2020 Bogotá police riot investigation to its human rights unit. That greatly increases the likelihood of a prosecution that takes the entire context into account, rather than treating the cases like individual, unrelated murders.


  • Fr. Fernán González offers a summary of a new book about the ELN published by the Jesuit think tank CINEP. It argues that while the guerrilla group maintains its decentralized, “federated” structure, its center of gravity is shifting toward the front dominated in the eastern department of Arauca, which is the most “successful.” Meanwhile, local organizations that form the ELN’s “social base” are becoming increasingly independent.
  • La Silla Vacía sounds alarms about rapidly increasing violence in rural zones of Valle del Cauca department, whose principal cities, Cali and Buenaventura, get most attention. Actors “include armed groups seeking routes from Cauca and Chocó, criminal micro-trafficking groups, silent narcos, returned extradited persons, and a homegrown [ex-FARC] dissidence in Colombia’s third richest department.”
  • Just to the south, in the department of Cauca, the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación offers an overview of which armed groups are active in which sub-regions.
  • Colombia’s Inspector-General’s office (Procuraduría) called off a longstanding investigation against former chief of police Rodolfo Palomino. Since 2016, Palomino was being investigated for scandals that occurred during his 2013-2016 tenure: revelations of a male prostitution ring using police cadets, wiretaps of journalists, and an irregular land purchase.
  • On April 14 in La Macarena, Meta, Fayber Camilo Cufiño Mondragón became the 264th former FARC combatant killed since the 2016 peace accord.
  • Irregular road-building is feeding a sharp rise in deforestation in Colombia’s Amazon basin, Reuters reports. “According to the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development, more than 280 km [174 miles] of unplanned roads were opened in key areas during the first 100 days of last year. It expects more roads were built in 2020 than in any other year, driven by rising land speculation.”
  • The post-accord transitional justice tribunal (JEP) is calling two senior active-duty generals to testify in May. Gen. Edgar Alberto Rodríguez Sánchez and Gen. Marcos Evangelista Pinto Lizarazo commanded units alleged to have committed large numbers of “false positive” killings. Today, Rodríguez commands the Army’s Education and Doctrine Command, while Pinto commands the Army’s Second Division in northeastern Colombia.
  • FARC dissidents in the Orinoco and Amazon basin departments of Guainía and Vaupés are enriching themselves from illicit mining of the mineral coltan, a source of the elements niobium and tantalum used in the manufacture of mobile phones and other electronics, El Espectador reports.
  • The elements of Colombia’s transitional justice system—the JEP, the Truth Commission, and the Commission to Search for the Disappeared—pledged to assist civil society groups in the search for more than 841 residents of the port city of Buenaventura who disappeared during the conflict. At PRI’s The World, Steven Grattan reports on Buenaventura’s ongoing public security crisis and its impact on social leaders.
  • At Anthropology News, Gwen Burnyeat, a junior research fellow at Oxford, looks at how the Santos government’s rational, unemotional, technocratic “peace pedagogy” efforts got steamrolled by accord opponents’ disinformation campaigns in the runup to the failed October 2016 plebiscite.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters photo at the Washington Post. Caption: “A woman passes by a poster displaying images of Fidel and Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel in Havana this week. The billboard says: ‘We are continuity.'”

(Even more here)

April 16, 2021


While Brazil wants to receive money upfront to pay for the protection of the world’s largest rainforest, the United States is insistent on seeing results first


La Dirección de Inteligencia del Ejército había investigado por medio de escuchas telefónicas a un grupo de funcionarios activos y en retiro -quienes habían denunciado una serie de irregularidades en la institución


Con el cambio avanza en la búsqueda de autonomía, pero se queda corto, ya que la unidad seguirá dependiendo del Gobierno. Además, quienes juzgarán a los uniformados seguirán siendo, en su mayoría, militares y policías

Significa un intento de respuesta al desconcierto que algunas acciones, aparentemente contradictorias de este grupo, despiertan en la opinión pública en general

El gran reto de enfrentar la fragmentación del crimen en el Valle, décadas después de la caída de los grandes carteles del Valle, y del conflicto armado, cuatro años tras la firma del Acuerdo de Paz. Las autoridades y analistas están apenas entendiendo qué pasa


Fidel Castro’s younger brother has hinted for a decade at an expiration date to his public life; he’s expected to step down as first secretary of the Communist Party when it meets this weekend in Havana


Growers expect the price of marijuana to drop further and think their trade will become economically unfeasible

“Espero que hablen, que digan qué hicieron, si lo asesinaron o algo, cualquier cosa que nos diera información de ellos”, dice

Un juez federal de Reynosa, vinculó a proceso a 30 marinos por la desaparición forzada de cuatro personas en Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, en 2018. El Consejo del Poder Judicial informó que los elementos navales permanecerán el prisión al menos 6 meses

Lejos de una vida apacible y de convivencia, la población de Michoacán ha vivido por años el terror impuesto por el crimen organizado. En esa entidad el narcotráfico se ha convertido en un cogobierno

Fiscales estadounidenses dijeron el jueves que tienen más de un millón de páginas en documentos para ser usados como pruebas contra el ex secretario de Seguridad Pública de México, Genaro García Luna

U.S.-Mexico Border

A Texas judge allowed the government this week to take possession of a family’s land because the Biden administration has yet to end lawsuits seeking property along the border

Of the 50 Facebook pages identified in the Tech Transparency Project report, more than half were created since mid-November and of those, a dozen popped up in the last month

Father Pat Murphy blames a combination of migrants’ misinformed asylum expectations, limited shelter space due to COVID-19, and U.S. Title 42 expulsions for creating the present situation


Hasta ahora ni el Ministro de la Defensa ni el jefe del Ceofan se han trasladado a la zona de conflicto

Weekly Border Update: April 16, 2021

With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. 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.

Tucson Police Chief is CBP commissioner nominee

On April 12 the Biden White House revealed its nominee to head U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agency that includes Border Patrol and all land, sea, and air ports of entry. Chris Magnus, the current chief of police of Tucson, Arizona, would be only the second Senate-confirmed CBP commissioner since January 2017: except for Kevin McAleenan’s 13-month tenure in 2018 and 2019, all commissioners since then have been in an “acting” role.

A native of Michigan, Magnus has served as police chief in Fargo, North Dakota; Richmond, California; and, since 2016, Tucson, a city about an hour’s drive from the U.S.-Mexico border. While heading this 1,000-person department, he has favored community policing, de-escalation, and other law enforcement strategies often labeled as “progressive.” Magnus was the 2020 recipient of the Police Executive Research Forum’s (PERF’s) Leadership Award. (The Obama administration, under then-CBP commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, had hired PERF to perform a 2014 review of the agency’s use-of-force policies.)

Though he opposed a 2019 ballot initiative to declare Tucson a “sanctuary city” refusing to share information with ICE about detained individuals, Magnus has a broadly liberal record, which at times has earned him “frosty” relations with Border Patrol, as the Washington Post put it.

  • In 2014, as chief of the Bay Area city of Richmond, California, Magnus was photographed holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign.
  • In March 2017, he cut short his department’s cooperation with a Border Patrol manhunt for an apprehended migrant who had escaped a hospital, angering the agency. The following year, Border Patrol’s hardline union, which endorsed Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries, called Magnus “an ultraliberal social engineer who was given a badge and a gun by the City of Tucson” in a Facebook post.
  • In a 2017 New York Times op-ed, Magnus argued that the Trump administration’s rhetoric and policies were complicating law enforcement because undocumented communities were less willing to come forward with information.
  • In June 2018 he tweeted strong opposition to the Trump administration’s child separations policy, asking, “Is this consistent with the oath you took to serve & protect? Is this humane or moral? Does this make your community safer?”
  • He opposed the Trump administration’s border wall in December 2018 congressional testimony and a February 2019 NPR interview.
  • In 2019, amid an increase in asylum-seeking migration, Magnus tweeted, “it’s worth being reminded why human beings flee from their homelands in the first place (not unlike a lot of our ancestors).”
  • In 2020, Magnus refused to accept so-called “Stonegarden” grants to local law enforcement from Trump’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS), because the administration was prohibiting expenditures for humanitarian aid to asylum seekers.

Magnus’s nomination received statements of support from both of Arizona’s Democratic senators. If confirmed, he would be the first openly gay CBP commissioner.

The White House also revealed its nominee to head U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, the DHS component that runs legal immigration, including refugee and asylum processing). As expected, it is Ur Jaddou, who was a senior USCIS official during the Obama administration. During the Trump years, Jaddou worked at the progressive immigration reform group America’s Voice, where she ran an oversight campaign called DHS Watch.

The Biden administration has yet to name a director to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Unaccompanied children situation may be easing; family expulsions continue

Data about unaccompanied migrant children in U.S. custody point to a modest easing of the situation, after weeks of concern about children packed into inadequate CBP and Border Patrol facilities. As of April 14:

  • Border Patrol had apprehended a daily average of 431 unaccompanied non-Mexican children so far this week, down from an average of 475 per day the previous week and 489 the week before that.
  • The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has been taking over 700 children per day out of CBP custody during the past two weeks, placing them in its network of shelters and emergency facilities.
  • With more kids leaving CBP custody than entering it, the number stuck in CBP’s holding facilities has dropped sharply, from 5,767 on March 28 to 2,581 on April 14. CNN reported on April 12, however, that the average child still spends about 122 hours in CBP custody, far exceeding the 72 hours required by law.
  • The number in ORR’s shelter network has marched steadily upward, from 11,551 on March 23 to 19,537 on April 14. It should top 20,000 any day now.
  • ORR still faces challenges in getting kids out of its shelters, placing them with relatives or sponsors in the United States. ORR discharged a daily average of 281 children per day last week, which increased only to 283 per day so far this week.
  • Subtracting the number leaving ORR custody from the number newly entering CBP custody reveals the net daily overall increase of children in the U.S. government’s care. That daily increase averaged 194 children per day last week, and 148 per day so far this week. For the population of unaccompanied kids in U.S. custody to fall, this daily number needs to fall into negative territory. On this chart, the green needs to start exceeding the blue:

Getting children out of ORR custody is the most urgent bottleneck right now. While more than 80 percent of children have relatives in the United States, shelters still must perform some vetting to ensure that they are not inadvertently handing children off to traffickers. The agency has also been occupied trying to stand up large temporary facilities around the country to create space to get kids out of CBP’s austere holding spaces.

Reuters reports that White House officials—especially domestic policy adviser and Obama-era national security advisor Susan Rice—are exerting pressure on ORR and its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to move faster. A source tells the wire service that “getting yelled at” in interagency meetings is taking a toll on ORR and HHS staff. “Everyone’s working around the clock, and there’s a big morale issue,” an official said. “These are people who signed up to help kids.”

ORR “has temporarily waived some vetting requirements, including most background checks on adults who live in the same household as sponsors who are close relatives,” according to Reuters, and has reduced the amount of time children spend in its shelters from 42 to 31 days. Still, Neha Desai, an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law, told Reuters that the majority of kids in the emergency shelters still don’t have case managers assigned to them to begin vetting their relatives.

As the number of unaccompanied children newly arriving declines, it’s likely that the number of migrants arriving as intact family units continues to increase. While we haven’t seen numbers from April, this was the fastest-growing category of apprehended migrant at the border in March, growing 174 percent over February.

Unlike unaccompanied children, the Biden administration is endeavoring to use a Trump-era pandemic order to expel back into Mexico, in a matter of hours, as many families from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (the “Northern Triangle” countries) as it can. In nearly all cases, these so-called “Title 42” expulsions happen without regard to families’ fear of returning to their countries.

As the number of family members from the Northern Triangle increases (40,582 in March), Mexico has hit limits. It is accepting expulsions of a larger number, but a smaller percentage, of families: about 31 percent of the total in March. Mexico cites a late 2020 law that prohibits detention of children in adult facilities. Mexico’s law “certainly snuck up on us,” a senior Biden administration official told the Washington Post.

Of the nine sectors into which CBP divides the border, by far the most arrive in south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley region. There, Border Patrol is processing families outdoors under the Anzalduas International Bridge near McAllen and at a nearly adjacent temporary site known as TOPS. Indoor processing happens at a large tent facility in nearby Donna. These sites are mostly off-limits to reporters, but the Rio Grande Valley Monitor shared some drone footage this week showing Border Patrol agents with bullhorns lining families up on benches.

CBP continues to expel large numbers of Central American families, particularly those with older children, each day from the Rio Grande Valley into dangerous Mexican border towns like Reynosa and Matamoros. When Mexico refuses expulsions in this region, DHS puts about 200 family members per day on planes to El Paso and San Diego, from where they expel them into Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana. (100 per day per city appears to be a limit that Mexico has set.)

Expelled migrants interviewed by the New Humanitarian in Juárez and by the San Diego Union Tribune in Tijuana coincide in saying that U.S. agents “tricked” them, lying that they were being admitted into the United States while boarding them on aircraft out of Texas. They only discovered they were returned to Mexico after their U.S. escorts left them there. Both border cities have seen distraught Central American parents forced to ask strangers what city they were in.

In Tijuana, Mexican authorities give the families a 30-day permit to remain in the country with instructions to return to their home countries. They are then taken to one of the city’s very full, mostly charity-run, migrant shelters.

Meanwhile, as last week’s update noted, more than 11 expelled families per day appear to be making the terrible decision to separate while in Mexican territory. Knowing that unaccompanied children aren’t being expelled, parents who find themselves returned to Mexico are sending their children to walk north, across the border, alone. CNN—which reported that Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol had apprehended, in a 28-day period, 435 unaccompanied children who had already been expelled with their parents—spoke to tearful expelled parents who had said goodbye to their children at the borderline.

Mexico’s deployment of forces gets scrutiny

Senior officials revealed this week that the Biden administration recently reached agreements with Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala to deploy more security forces to deter migration, without mention of migrants’ protection or asylum needs. These agreements appear to be informal rather than written.

Tyler Moran, the White House Domestic Policy Council’s special assistant to the President for immigration, told MSNBC on April 12, “We’ve secured agreements for them to put more troops on their own border. Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala have all agreed to do this.” Moran insisted that such action “not only is going to prevent the traffickers, and the smugglers, and cartels that take advantage of the kids on their way here, but also to protect those children.”

Later that day, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki gave reporters a bit more detail.

[T]here have been a series of bilateral discussions between our leadership and the regional governments of Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala. Through those discussions, there was a commitment, as you mentioned, to increase border security.

So, Mexico made the decision to maintain 10,000 troops at its southern border, resulting in twice as many daily migrant interdictions. Guatemala surged 1,500 police and military personnel to its southern border with Honduras and agreed to set up 12 checkpoints along the migratory route. Honduras surged 7,000 police and military to disperse a large contingent of migrants.

Psaki attributed these moves to “discussions with the region about what steps can be taken to help reduce the number of migrants who are coming to the U.S.-Mexico border,” adding, “I think the objective is to make it more difficult to make the journey and make crossing the borders more—more difficult.

This was news in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, where leaders had made no prior reference to agreements with the United States. Honduras’s defense minister, Fredy Díaz, confirmed that an agreement existed. He added that at the moment, his country is not moving new security forces to its border with Guatemala to interdict migrants. Instead, he told the Honduran network HRN, his ministry is working on a plan for military support to police to slow migration, insisting that “the armed forces have stood out for their respect for the law and human rights.”

On April 13 Mexico’s President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, confirmed to reporters that his government had deployed at least 12,000 officials to the country’s southern region, including immigration agents, soldiers and national guardsmen, and health and child welfare officials. Mexico had said on March 22 that nearly 9,000 troops and guardsmen were stationed near its northern and southern borders.

López Obrador portrayed the deployment as an effort to protect migrant children. “We’ve never seen trafficking of minors on this scale,” he said, adding, “To protect children we are going to reinforce the surveillance, the protection, the care on our southern border because it’s to defend human rights.” The president appeared to allege that smugglers are using children to help migrants pass as family units, a practice that occurs, but not frequently.

López Obrador said he will meet next week with the governors of Mexico’s southern states that border Guatemala and Belize, and that the director of the country’s child and family welfare agency (DIF) would relocate for some time to the southern border-zone city of Tapachula. He promised that Mexico would accompany the United States in increasing investments to create economic opportunity and alleviate migration’s “push factors” in Central America, including through aid programs like “Sembrando Vida” and “Jóvenes Construyendo el Futuro,” which to date have devoted very few resources.

Tonatiuh Guillén, a leading Mexican migration expert who briefly headed Mexico’s migration authority (INM) at the beginning of the López Obrador government, lamented to the Guardian that his country’s migration system has “turned into a very strong and very heavy control apparatus, largely due to pressure from the U.S. government.” Reporting from the remote Mexico-Guatemala border crossing of Frontera Corozal, however, Guardian reporter David Agren saw no evidence of a crackdown: “it looked like business as usual” as Central American families crossed the Usumacinta River and began a long walk through the edges of the Lacandón jungle en route to Palenque, Chiapas.

Some Mexican security forces are arrayed along this jungle route, Agren reported, manning checkpoints. “But migrants said they simply paid to pass through – or were robbed by the officers they met.” The prevalence of corruption among the Mexican forces deployed to control movement in the southern border zone is a large unaddressed factor as the López Obrador government sends more personnel. “It’s a cartel. They’re acting in cahoots with smugglers…with taxi and bus drivers. It’s a network taking advantage of migrants,” Father Gabriel Romero of the “La 72” migrant shelter in Tenosique told Agren. Added Guillén, the former INM director: “Governments in Mexico, the United States and Central America have never really put much of an effort into controlling these trafficking organizations.”

No pause to border wall property seizures in Texas

The White House’s 2022 discretionary funding request to Congress, a summary document known as the “skinny budget,” would end border wall construction. It requests $1.2 billion for CBP’s border security infrastructure needs, but specifies that none will go toward border barriers. It also “proposes the cancellation of prior-year balances that are unobligated at the end of 2021,” shutting down any previously funded construction.

That doesn’t necessarily stop border wall construction, however, during fiscal 2021, which ends on September 30. For now, wall-building has been “paused” since Inauguration Day, but contracts have not been canceled. As noted in last week’s update, CBP may have communicated to DHS a preference to continue building in areas where the pause in construction has left “gaps.”

In south Texas, where most land bordering the Rio Grande is privately held, the Justice Department has not stopped eminent domain proceedings to seize more than 215 property owners’ land for wall construction. On April 13 the Cavazos family, which has held riverfront property since Texas was under Spanish rule, saw a court order the condemnation of 6 1/2 acres of its farmland. “We are utterly devastated,” Baudilla Cavazos said in a statement. “We thought President Joe Biden would protect us. Now we’ve lost our land. We don’t even know what comes next.”

In February, the Justice Department had postponed the Cavazos family’s land seizure case, which has been before a U.S. district court. When it came up again in April, Justice did not seek to postpone again, for unclear reasons.

Throughout the border zone, environmental activists and tribal leaders “are urging the government to begin habitat restoration efforts and take down sections of wall that are blocking wildlife migration pathways so that animals can once again move freely,” the Arizona Republic reported in a very detailed piece documenting damage to desert ecosystems. In Arizona, “We watched in horror as construction crews dynamited our ancestors’ gravesites, chopped ceremonial plants to bits and cleaved our sacred lands in two with a deadly mass of metal,” wrote Tohono O’odham Nation community organizer Hon’mana Seukteoma in a Medium column. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, meanwhile, called for a return to the formula of immigration reform with a large increase in border security, which he called “high wall, big gate.”


  • In a new edition of WOLA’s Podcast, four staff experts look at Mexico’s response to the increase in migration, including Mexico’s U.S.-encouraged deployment of security forces and acceptance of more expelled Central American families.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris has been learning about “root causes” of migration from Central America, including a virtual meeting on April 13 with directors of several organizations (including WOLA). She may visit the region “soon.” As the Biden administration’s point person for working with the region, the vice president faces the dilemma of working with Central American leaders who “are considered complicit” in creating some of the conditions causing people to migrate, the Los Angeles Times observes.
  • Local activists ridiculed Republican members of Congress who, on a visit to the Rio Grande Valley, boarded a Texas Department of Public Security gunboat. Wearing tactical vests and with a Fox News crew in tow, the delegation motored past a playground, waterslide, and picnic areas on the Mexican side of the river.
  • Asked repeatedly about the border and migration situation at an April 13 House Armed Services Committee hearing, the general and admiral who command U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Southern Command sought to emphasize the multiple, complex causes of the current large-scale migration and the need for a “whole of government” response.
  • A report and series of working papers from the Migration Policy Institute surveys how “to lay the foundation for a regional migration system that privileges safe, orderly, and legal movement,” evaluating current legal frameworks and asylum capacity in Mexico, the Northern Triangle, Costa Rica, and Panama.
  • At the Intercept, Ryan Deveraux talked to beleaguered humanitarian volunteers helping asylum-seeking families whom Border Patrol, upon releasing them from custody, is leaving in Arizona desert towns with few services.
  • In a key family separation lawsuit, the Biden administration’s Justice Department has decided not to share internal documents revealing the Trump administration’s decisionmaking leading up to the 2018 “zero tolerance” policy that caused DHS to take thousands of migrant children away from their parents. Among the documents that will remain classified, NBC News reports, is “the agenda from a May 3, 2018 meeting, which… included a show of hands vote to move forward with separating families.”
  • Reuters points out that the White House’s 2022 “skinny budget” includes a 22 percent increase in funding for internal affairs offices at CBP and ICE, partially to “ensure that workforce complaints—‘including those related to white supremacy or ideological and non-ideological beliefs’—are investigated quickly.”
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