Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.

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April 2021

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 23, 2021

Brazil

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

Chile

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

Colombia

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

Guatemala

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

Mexico

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

Peru

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

Colombia

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

Honduras

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

Mexico

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

Brazil

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

Chile

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”

Colombia

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

Guatemala

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

Mexico

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

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

Argentina

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

Chile

“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

Colombia

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

Guatemala

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

Mexico

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

Venezuela

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

Argentina

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

Chile

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

Colombia

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

Cuba

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

Mexico

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

Nicaragua

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

Peru

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

Venezuela

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 wilsoncenter.org: Peru and Ecuador: Elections and Democracy in the Andes (RSVP required).

Tuesday, April 20

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

Wednesday, April 21

Thursday, April 22

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

Colombia Peace Update: April 17, 2021

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

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.

Links

  • 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

Brazil

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

Chile

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

Colombia

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

Cuba

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

Mexico

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

Venezuela

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.”

Links

  • 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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