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.

Categories

Get a weekly update in your email




June 2021

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Óscar Pérez photo at El Espectador (Colombia). Caption: “El artefacto cuesta cerca de $400 millones.”

(Even more here)

June 4, 2021

Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela

Unattended social, political, and economic maladies sparked social unrest in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and Bolivia before the pandemic. Now, entirely predictably, the unrest has returned—most seriously, so far, in Colombia

Brazil

Pazuello even climbed into a sound truck with Bolsonaro and gave a brief speech

Opinion polls suggest support for impeachment is growing: 57 percent are now in favor, up 11 percentage points from three months ago

Colombia

Varias personas que estaban en el lugar denunciaron que el joven habría recibido un disparo por parte de la Policía Antinarcóticos

Con creciente preocupación, desde Temblores ONG continuamos registrando el aumento de violaciones a derechos humanos por parte de la Fuerza Pública

En medio de una nueva jornada de movilizaciones que vive el país este miércoles, Fabio Arias, fiscal de la Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) anunció una gran movilización en la capital del país

Desde el Comité piensan que hay una estrategia deliberada de dilación en la negociación. Una promovida, dicen, por la línea dura del uribismo

Sin embargo, la prohibición de este dispositivo es temporal y podrá ser usado nuevamente cuando la Policía Metropolitana de Popayán y el Esmad cumplan con una serie de recomendaciones

Todavía hay 111 personas que hasta el 30 de mayo siguen estando reportadas como perdidas, según las cifras oficiales, y otras 47 están en el limbo porque la Fiscalía no ha decidido empezar a buscarlas

El Salvador

Delgado dijo en conferencia de prensa que la cooperación entre la Fiscalía y la CICIES terminará en 30 días y que solicitará a la cancillería salvadoreña que se anule ese convenio

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

El enviado especial del Departamento de Estado para el Triángulo Norte, Ricardo Zúñiga, afirmó que «estamos al lado de las víctimas de la corrupción en Centroamérica»

Guatemala

Aproximadamente 150 elementos castrenses, entre cadetes y tropa, estarán asignados a esa labor durante la estancia de Harris

Guatemala, Mexico

We hope that the Vice President’s first visit shows that she, and the United States, are standing with the people and communities organizing for change, and not with corrupt and abusive government officials

Mexico

His constant attacks on the media and a penchant for post-truth politics only add to the unease

What truly could emerge from Sunday’s vote is a clearer picture of whether López Obrador’s movement, built on his personal popularity and little else, will outlast him

Las autoridades han reconocido que el crimen organizado trata de interferir en el proceso electoral, aunque no han brindado información detallada sobre el número de las amenazas, ataques y asesinatos

InSight Crime breaks down why Veracruz has been particularly vulnerable to attempts to intimidate or kill politicians, whether by organized crime or by other interests

El gobierno de Estados Unidos condicionó a México entregar fondos por 6 millones de dólares para actividades militares a cambio de que el gobierno de Andrés Manuel López Obrador demuestre que “está implementando medidas antinarcóticos creíbles y estrategias de aplicación de la ley

Este anuncio se dio unas semanas después de que el presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador se quejó del financiamiento que la Agencia para el Desarrollo Internacional (Usaid) y la Fundación Nacional para la Democracia (NED) dan a organizaciones

Nicaragua

The region and the international community must stand together with the Nicaraguan people in support of their right to freely choose their government

Peru

Agobiados por una imparable pandemia del coronavirus, los peruanos eligen el domingo a su próximo Presidente entre dos candidatos que representan los extremos

U.S.-Mexico Border

DHS was informed that the Biden White House wanted Mayorkas to tell Mexican officials the US government wants more to be done, including increasing arrests of those coming through Mexico

Huang and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lawyers are set to discuss the repercussions of the Texas directive with shelter officials on Monday

The consortium of groups is determining who is most vulnerable out of those waiting in Mexico to get into the U.S., and the criteria they are using has not been made public

Remain in Mexico is no longer the most immediate crisis. But it will nevertheless go down as one of the most significant policies of the Trump era, one that was monumental in shifting how the US handles asylum

Weekly border update: June 4, 2021

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

(Due to staff absence, there will be no border update next week. We will report again on June 18.)

Preparations for vice-presidential visit to Mexico and Central America

Vice President Kamala Harris departs for Guatemala late on June 6 for her first foreign trip since taking office. She will spend June 7 in Guatemala and June 8 in Mexico. The trip is part of her designated role as the White House’s point person for partnering with Mexico and Central America on the “root causes” of migration.

Harris and her staff have resisted Republican and some media portrayals of her role as involving the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. It does not: the vice president is focusing on diplomatic efforts with Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. At a June 1 briefing for reporters, vice presidential staff said “she will focus on economic development, climate and food insecurity, and women and young people,” CNN reported.

In past months, Harris has held virtual meetings with Presidents Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala and Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico. She has met with experts, former officials, and reform advocates from the region and from the United States. The Biden administration has announced $310 million in emergency assistance for the Central American “Northern Triangle” countries. The foreign aid appropriation request that the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) sent to Congress on May 28 asks for $832.6 million in new assistance to Central America for 2022. On May 27 Harris announced that 12 U.S. companies and organizations, including MasterCard, Microsoft, and Nestlé Nespresso, would be increasing their investments in the region.


2022 Foreign Aid Request by Country

  • Belize $250,000
  • Costa Rica $725,000
  • El Salvador $95,800,000
  • Guatemala $127,450,000
  • Honduras $95,800,000
  • Nicaragua $15,000,000
  • Panama $725,000
  • Central America regional funds $496,850,000

Total $832,600,000

2022 Foreign Aid Request by Account

  • USAID Global Health Programs $13,000,000
  • State Department Global Health Programs $43,600,000
  • Development Assistance $391,735,000
  • Economic Support Fund $131,000,000
  • International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement $219,665,000
  • NADR – Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction $2,000,000
  • International Military Education and Training $4,100,000
  • Foreign Military Financing $27,500,000

Total $832,600,000

This request would increase Foreign Military Financing (FMF), the State Department’s main non-drug military aid program, by a surprising $15.1 million over 2020 levels. That year, the seven Central American countries got a combined $12.4 million, of which only $1.9 million went to the Northern Triangle (El Salvador). In 2021, Congress banned FMF for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras completely. (See Section 7045(a)(2)(D) of Division K here).

We are working to find out which countries would get the expanded FMF in 2022, and for what. The budget request only says: “In Central America, FMF will support the Administration’s Root Causes Strategy by addressing gaps in maritime interdiction and domain awareness capabilities to improve security.”


In her meeting with the president of Guatemala, CBS News reports, Harris “is expected to focus on the administration’s concerns with deep-rooted government corruption, threats to the country’s judicial independence and long-running U.S.-Guatemalan missions to target drug traffickers and the Guatemalan government’s desire for more economic aid, especially in the form of private sector investment.” Harris will also meet “Guatemalan community leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs,” Mazin Alfaqih, the vice president’s special adviser for the Northern Triangle, told reporters.

Concerns about corruption and impunity in Guatemala are growing, as explained in a June 2 statement from the Washington Office on Latin America, the Latin America Working Group, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Due Process of Law Foundation, and the Center for Justice and International Law. “In Guatemala, the rule of law has continued to deteriorate rapidly since the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala was shut down in 2019,” it reads. Recent alarming examples include a refusal to allow anti-corruption judge Gloria Porras to take her Constitutional Court seat, legal actions against prosecutors and judges who have led past anti-corruption efforts, and the impending enactment of a law that would allow the government to dissolve non-governmental organizations.

The leaders will also discuss measures to reduce asylum-seeking migration from Guatemala, whose citizens were “encountered” by U.S. border agents 128,441 times between October and April. The agenda with Guatemala includes increasing “the number of border security personnel,” CNN reports. “The US will also increase the number of its own security forces on the ground to provide training, Alfaqih said.” The White House is also working with Guatemala on the opening of the first of what will be several “migrant resource centers… that would offer assistance to would-be migrants in their home countries.”

In Mexico, beyond her meeting with López Obrador, Vice President Harris will meet with female entrepreneurs and labor leaders, said Hillary Quam, Harris’s special adviser for the Western Hemisphere. The statement from WOLA and colleagues points out serious concerns about “security, the rule of law, judicial independence, human rights violations, and the role of the military” in Mexico. President López Obrador has given the armed forces a host of new internal roles without making the institution more accountable for human rights abuses or corruption. He “has also repeatedly sought to discredit civil society organizations and journalists that he perceives as critical of his government,” including recent demands that USAID stop funding press freedom and transparency organizations in Mexico.

That Harris is visiting Guatemala but not El Salvador and Honduras points to the fraught state of the Biden administration’s relations with the Central American countries whose citizens migrate most to the United States. In all three, the Biden administration plans to provide little government-to-government assistance in its proposed 2022-2025 $4 billion aid package, for which the $832 million request for 2022 is a first tranche.

Giammattei, CBS News observes, “is seen as leading a more stable government than Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras, whose brother was indicted in the U.S. for drug possession last year and Nayib Bukele of El Salvador, whose party now has total control of the country’s government and has moved in recent weeks to strip the nation’s judicial sector of many of its rights.” The vice president has not had conversations with Hernández or Bukele; “her staff is finding the best way to engage,” reports the Los Angeles Times’ Tracey Wilkinson.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Costa Rica on June 1 and 2 engaging with some of those other governments. At a meeting with the region’s foreign ministers and Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, Blinken planned to have “a very frank and honest” exchange of views, Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, told Wilkinson. Blinken had separate one-on-one meetings with Ebrard and with the ministers of each Northern Triangle country.

In remarks while in Costa Rica, Blinken warned would-be migrants against taking “a very dangerous journey north,” adding, “People die along the way. They experience violence, and those who do make it to our border are turned around, because the border is not open.”

Some analysts worry that administration officials’ desire to stem migration in the short term could move them in a transactional direction, easing pressure on issues like corruption and democracy when leaders do more to stop migrants. In Honduras, where serious allegations beset President Juan Orlando Hernández, “the Biden administration refuses to denounce him,” writes journalist James Fredrick in a June 3 Washington Post opinion piece. “In fact, Biden administration officials are working with Hernández to try to prevent Hondurans from fleeing.”

The June 2 statement from WOLA and partner organizations voices concern “that in the name of reaching immigration enforcement agreements to limit the number of arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Biden administration will overlook pressing human rights, rule of law, and governance issues that should be addressed with the governments of Mexico and Guatemala.”

While Mexico and Guatemala have embraced immigration enforcement, partly as a result of U.S. pressure, this neither represents an effective and holistic response to migration, nor should it be a pretext to avoid conversations about corruption, insecurity, judicial independence, and attacks against civil society organizations, journalists and justice officials.

In the midst of these concerning human rights trends, Biden administration officials have praised the Mexican and Guatemalan governments for militarized crackdowns on migrants—actions that provoke further human rights violations. In the April meeting between Guatemalan President Giammattei and Vice President Harris, the governments announced an agreement for the United States to train members of a Guatemalan task force charged with border security and immigration enforcement. Media reports leading up to Harris’s May meeting with López Obrador revealed that U.S. officials are discussing proposals for additional enforcement actions, including asking Mexico to increase detentions and deportations of migrants.

A June 4 letter to Vice President Harris from 17 organizations, including WOLA, similarly calls to ensure “that combating corruption, advancing the rule of law, and promoting respect for human rights will be central to the U.S. approach” toward the region. “At the same time,” it continues, “we are concerned by the continued focus on expanding migration enforcement in the region instead of increasing access to protection for refugees.”

Vice presidential spokespeople would not say whether conversations would cover another area where Mexico has been accommodating: the continued use of the “Title 42” pandemic authority at the border. The United States has employed Title 42 since March 2020 to expel over 200,000 non-Mexican migrants back across the border into Mexico.

Other recent moves have been less transactional. Vice President Harris met recently with four former Guatemalan prosecutors and judges who led anti-corruption efforts. USAID suspended assistance to Salvadoran security and justice institutions whose independence is now deeply in question after President Bukele and his congressional majority fired top judges and the chief prosecutor and redirected the aid to civil society and human rights organizations. In Costa Rica, Blinken said that “we’re meeting at a moment when democracy and human rights are being undermined in many parts of the region,” citing moves against judicial independence, the free press, NGOs, and opposition parties.

“Remain in Mexico” comes to a formal end as administration plans changes to asylum

With a June 1 memorandum, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas brought a formal end to the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols policy (MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico”). In 2019 and 2020, MPP forced 71,000 non-Mexican asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their court hearing dates in the United States, which for many families meant months or years stranded in dangerous Mexican border cities. Human Rights First documented at least 1,544 cases of murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, and other violent assaults committed against those whom the Trump administration forced to “Remain in Mexico.”

On January 20, the new Biden administration paused new referrals into MPP. On February 2, a White House executive order called on agencies to review the program and decide whether to terminate it. Mayorkas’s June 1 memo finalizing the end of “Remain in Mexico” signals the end of that review.

Starting on February 19, the administration started letting into the United States asylum-seekers who had been in Mexico awaiting their court dates. The Los Angeles Times reported on June 1 that 11,200 people with active cases have since been brought onto U.S. soil to await their hearings with relatives or other contacts.

Many more—probably about 15,000—still have pending cases. They are either waiting their turn to be allowed into the United States, in a process managed in cooperation with Mexican authorities, UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and NGOs, or their whereabouts are unknown. In addition, tens of thousands more had their asylum cases terminated, usually because they failed to show up on their appointed hearing dates. In at least a few cases, migrants missed those dates because they were actually being held by kidnappers in Mexico. The Biden administration has not decided whether a process will be in place to reconsider their cases.

Meanwhile the Biden administration, with a slowly growing number of exceptions, continues to maintain the “Title 42” pandemic policy. As discussed above, Title 42 has sent well over 200,000 Central American migrants back across the border into Mexico, without a chance to ask for asylum, since March 2020. Administration officials continue to offer no timeline for the policy’s lifting, even as new COVID-19 cases ebb and restrictions ease across the United States.

The result has been a confusing “lottery,” as NBC News puts it, for migrant families. In April, 35 percent of non-Mexican families (16,100 out of 46,499) whom Border Patrol apprehended were expelled under Title 42. The rest, however, got to stay in the United States to pursue their petitions for protection. In the same part of the border at different times, a family with small children can be expelled and a single adult can be allowed in.

The main reason for the inconsistency, Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector Chief Brian Hastings told NBC, “is that some enter on days when Mexico cannot take them back…  ‘When they run out of shelter space a lot of times they were telling different Border Patrol sectors, ‘No, we can no longer take any additional people because we don’t have additional housing or we don’t have additional space in a lot of our facilities.’’”

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed revealed that the Biden administration is planning a significant change to the U.S. asylum system designed to ease immigration courts’ backlog of more than 1.3 million cases for just over 500 judges. It would allow asylum officers—employees of DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—to decide most asylum cases instead of immigration court judges.

Right now, asylum officers have this power in the cases of asylum-seekers who are already in the United States. For those recently apprehended at the border, though, asylum officers’ role is usually limited to performing initial “credible fear” screenings. Those whose cases meet that standard then move on into the clogged court system.

Instead, many asylum cases would end with the asylum officer’s decision, which could be appealed to the courts. This greater role for asylum officers was a key recommendation developed by the Migration Policy Institute in an October 2020 brief. “DHS officials have estimated that officers could end up adjudicating upward of 300,000 cases a year,” BuzzFeed reports.

More single adult migrants may mean more dehydration and exposure deaths on U.S. soil

The Washington Post and NBC News reported new information raising alarms that 2021 could be a record-breaking year for deaths of migrants on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border zone. Between 1998 and 2019, Border Patrol reports finding the remains of 7,805 migrants who perished of dehydration, hypothermia, animal attacks, drowning, or similar causes while seeking to avoid apprehension in very remote areas. Advocates insist the real number is much higher.

Between a pandemic-caused economic depression and because Title 42 expulsions make it easy for expelled migrants to cross again, Border Patrol is encountering more single adult migrants in fiscal 2021 than it has since the mid-2000s. The agency encountered adults 108,301 times in April, and Reuters and the Post say preliminary figures point to a further increase in May. Unlike families and children, who are mostly seeking asylum and want to be apprehended, most of this larger number of single adults instead seeks to avoid apprehension. This means they are walking long distances in sparsely populated areas, usually deserts, where the chances of being detected are smaller.

Numbers are up in south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley sector, where for years migrants have perished as they sought to walk around a Border Patrol highway checkpoint in Brooks County, about 80 miles north of the border. Border Patrol Agent Brandon Copp, lead coordinator for CBP’s Missing Migrants Program, told NBC that this spring, even before the weather gets truly hot, he “is already responding to one to two reports of dead bodies found in the Rio Grande Valley sector each week. He said rescues of migrants in distress are up 150 percent year to year, while deaths are up 58 percent.”

Brooks County Sheriff’s Deputy Don White told the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff, “It’s going to be a brutal summer… I’ve never seen so many people coming through, it’s just crazy right now.” The county has already recovered 34 bodies and remains so far this year.

In southern Arizona, where the Pima County (Tucson) Medical Examiner’s office found more remains in 2020 (220) than it had in a decade, “2021 looks like it will be pretty significant as well,” Medical Examiner Greg Hess told the Post. Miroff cites authorities who say “dangerous crossings have also increased” in the mountains of California between San Diego and the Imperial Valley.

Border-wide, Border Patrol “is on pace to make more than 10,000 rescues during fiscal 2021, twice the number recorded in 2019 and 2020,” the Post reveals. A CBP Air and Marine Operations official noted that many of these are happening in “mountain regions, which used to be exclusively narcotics traffic.”

Border Patrol is adding 15 rescue beacons in the Rio Grande Valley so that lost or struggling migrants can more easily call for help, NBC reports. Legislation passed in December 2020 authorizes the addition of up to 170 more rescue beacons border-wide.

The Post notes that the Trump administration’s border wall construction, much of it in Arizona and New Mexico deserts, hasn’t kept migrants from crossing in dangerous areas. “Officials say the barriers have made little difference in terms of where they are encountering bodies or human remains.”

Links

  • WOLA held an event May 27 with partners along the Mexico-Guatemala border to discuss the impact of migrant enforcement policies there. We posted video this week. At Border Report, reporter Julian Resendiz noted panelists’ observations about how corruption enables smuggling in Mexico: “buses or trailers carrying migrants often pass right through some checkpoints after paying a $100 per-head fee.”
  • A June 3 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Inspector-General’s Office (OIG) “has not adhered to a number of professional standards for federal OIGs and key practices for effective management.” As a result, oversight of DHS was weakened during the Trump administration, a moment when it was badly needed. During those years, the Department’s leadership was mostly “acting,” and its personnel became involved in controversial missions ranging from family separations to combating protesters in Portland, Oregon and elsewhere.
  • Amid pandemic border closures, drug traffickers have depended more heavily on U.S. citizens to bring their product in from Mexico, the Associated Press reports. “U.S. citizens were apprehended nearly seven times more often than Mexican citizens between October 2020 and March 31 for trying to smuggle drugs in vehicles,” according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data AP cites. This is a big jump over “roughly twice as often” in 2018 and 2019. “The use of American citizens kind of ebbs and flows. Drug organizations… are much more adept at changing than the government is,” former Border Patrol sector chief Victor Manjarrez told AP.
  • The Biden administration announced a new plan to speed asylum decisions for migrants recently apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, by placing them in a separate immigration docket with the goal of handing down a decision within 300 days. However, “immigrant advocacy groups say that prioritizing speed comes at the cost of due process,” Rolling Stone reported. CBS News points out that during past so-called “rocket docket” experiences, the faster timeframe made it harder for asylum seeking families to secure legal representation. The plan will be rolled out at immigration courts in 10 cities.
  • Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), who is running for re-election this year, issued a disaster declaration for 34 border counties, citing an “ongoing surge” of migrants and accusing the Biden administration of inaction. Rep. Henry Cuéllar, a conservative Democrat who represents a large swath of borderland, called Abbott’s move “a state version of [former President Donald Trump] declaring a border emergency.”
  • Part of Abbott’s order would end licenses for 52 Texas childcare facilities contracted by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to house children who arrived unaccompanied at the border. These facilities were housing 4,223 unaccompanied children as of May 19, the Dallas Morning News reports. (Temporary emergency facilities housing children, like Fort Bliss, Texas, are not licensed and would be unaffected by Abbott’s order.) An HHS spokesperson told the DMN that staff are “assessing” the disaster declaration “and do not intend to close any facilities as a result of the order.”
  • Sen. Rick Scott (R-Florida) announced that he is using procedural mechanisms to slow approvals of the Biden administration’s Homeland Security nominees until the President visits the U.S.-Mexico border. Those whose approvals could be delayed include nominees John Tien for deputy secretary, Jonathan Meyer for general counsel, and Robert Silvers as undersecretary for strategy, policy and plans. It is not clear whether nominees to head CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be affected.
  • Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) jointly toured Border Patrol facilities, including migrant shelters and “soft-sided” (tent-based) processing centers for apprehended migrants, in both of their states on June 1 and 2. The senators are co-sponsors of the “Bipartisan Border Solutions Act,” discussed in our April 30 update. The legislation would increase processing capacity and access to legal services at the border, but advocates have criticized provisions that would seek to hand down asylum decisions within as little as 72 hours, raising due process concerns.
  • Reps. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), Adriano Espaillat (D-New York), and Sylvia García (D-Texas) reintroduced the “Homeland Security Improvement Act” (H.R. 3557), legislation that passed the House in 2019. It seeks to improve internal controls, training, use of force policies, and other aspects of human rights and effectiveness at CBP and elsewhere within DHS.
  • As we await official statistics on migrants apprehended during the month of May, USA Today reports that the number of asylum-seeking family members may be reduced in Texas’s busy Rio Grande Valley. The Catholic Charities respite center, which receives nearly all families let out of Border Patrol custody, was receiving about 800 people a day in April, but “as of May, the organization had seen a decrease to 200 to 300 people daily.” In the USA Today article, local Rio Grande Valley officials and volunteers say that the Biden administration has been “slow” and is not coordinating with them enough on migrant reception.
  • Mexican asylum seekers “are the invisible refugees, a group that has historically been excluded from the U.S. asylum system and rarely featured in the media or even academic research,” in part due to “the uncomfortable and inconvenient political truths that recognizing them would pose for U.S.-Mexico relations,” a team of six U.S. and Mexican researchers writes at NACLA.
  • At Florida Public Radio’s WRLN, Tim Padgett reports on a big recent increase in asylum-seeking migrants from Venezuela at the U.S.-Mexico border, especially in the remote crossing between Ciudad Acuña, Mexico and Del Rio, Texas. Many arrived in Mexico by flying there: reporter Dudley Althaus said “they were sort of what we call business-class border migrants. More professionals and fewer laborers than you see among the Central Americans.”

The day ahead: June 4, 2021

I’m doing a lot of writing, but mostly around today. I’m out all of next week. (How to contact me)

I rolled out of bed this morning and got to work on our weekly border update, forgetting to do this “day ahead” post. I’m done with that, it’ll be posted soon, and am otherwise mostly around.

This is my last day on the job until June 14: I’m taking next week off to rest up after 5 nonstop months, and to get organized for the next several months.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

John Moore, Getty Images photo at USA Today. Caption: “A U.S. Border Patrol agent gathers personal effects from immigrants July 2, 2019, in Los Ebanos, Texas, before they are transferred to a processing center in McAllen.”

(Even more here)

June 3, 2021

Brazil

O comandante do Exército, general Paulo Sérgio Nogueira, resolveu arquivar o procedimento aberto contra o general Eduardo Pazuello, ex-ministro da Saúde, pela participação em ato político ao lado do presidente Jair Bolsonaro

1,576 cases — the highest since 1985, according to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT)

Brazil. Special report from The Economist

Central America Regional

The diplomat conceded “it is not enough to say: ‘Don’t come’,” adding: “We have to work together to make it safer for people across Central America to stay in their homes and communities without fear”

Norma Torres, la única legisladora nacida en Centroamérica, solo aprobará una estrategia de desarrollo para esa región si hay un plan efectivo contra la corrupción

Colombia

El senador Iván Cepeda e Iván Velásquez, exmagistrado auxiliar de la Corte Suprema, interpusieron acciones legales en contra del documento expedido recientemente por Iván Duque en lugares donde se presentaron alteraciones al orden público

What is the Centaur state? Following Loïc Wacquant, it serves the interests of the upper classes, disciplines and regulates the lower classes, and is fearful of popular majorities

Jhon Danny Rosero Estrella, un joven universitario de 22 años, murió en la tarde de este lunes luego de recibir impactos de arma de fuego en medio de los fuertes choques entre la fuerza pública y los manifestantes

Aunque hubo aciertos, los miembros del ESMAD incumplieron su deber y desacataron las normas que regulan sus acciones durante el paro nacional. ¿Qué soluciones existen?

Por petición de la Fundación Defensa de Inocentes, la Sala de Reconocimiento de la JEP estudia si suspender a los congresistas de las extintas Farc vinculados con el macrocaso de secuestro y detenerlos en ETCR

Colombia, Venezuela

Facing a scarcity of information, and a heated discourse from both Venezuelan and Colombian diplomats, this is an attempt to lay out what we do and do not know about the ongoing conflict

Guatemala, Mexico

While Mexico and Guatemala have embraced immigration enforcement, partly as a result of U.S. pressure, this neither represents an effective and holistic response to migration, nor should it be a pretext to avoid conversations about corruption, insecurity, judicial independence, and attacks against civil society organizations, journalists and justice officials

Honduras

El juicio oral y público por la muerte de Berta Cáceres está a punto de culminar, mientras denuncian que hay más personas involucradas en el caso

Mexico

Mario Figueroa is a first-time candidate for mayor of Taxco. He’s already been shot once

El Mandatario lanzó el señalamiento tras ser cuestionado sobre el riesgo de que se registre en el País un “golpe de Estado blando”

Las fuerzas estatales y federales de seguridad han recibido siete ataques directos en lo que va del año, que han dejado tres policías heridos y 11 civiles muertos

Peru

Bosworth, quien escribe análisis sobre política latinoamericana desde hace dos décadas, cree que ninguno de los dos candidatos -el izquierdista Pedro Castillo y la derechista Keiko Fujimori- encarna la voluntad de una gran parte de los peruanos

U.S.-Mexico Border

Adult migrants continue to be the largest share of border crossers, however, and smuggling guides often send them through rugged desert and mountain areas where deaths from exposure rise with extreme heat

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General has faced work quality concerns, high leadership turnover, and more. This office is critical for ensuring independent and objective oversight of DHS

It’s Groundhog Day at the border, and Biden is mindlessly laying the foundation for more problems in a few years. We’ve watched it all play out before

Though the White House acknowledges border communities are important to handling an influx of arrivals at the border, community leaders and officials want more communication from Washington

Venezuela

El Instituto Naval de EEUU informó este martes 2 de junio que un barco de guerra perteneciente a la Armada de Irán salió de su puerto a finales de abril con siete de barcos de alta velocidad con armamento antiaéreo

Las últimas balaceras protagonizadas por supuestos miembros de la megabanda de El Coqui que opera en la Cota 905, al suroeste de Caracas, demuestran cómo uno de los grupos de crimen organizado más peligrosos de Venezuela ha fortalecido su poder y el control territorial

Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy only made Maduro stronger. Now, Biden has to chart a new course

Colombia Peace Update: May 29, 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. This week’s edition is several days late, as other program activities left insufficient time to draft it.

Nationwide protests enter a fifth week

Street protests, concentrations, and road blockades that began on April 28 continued all week around Colombia. As before, protests, vandalism, and security forces’ and third parties’ violent response were most intense in Cali and elsewhere in the country’s southwest.

As of May 28 Temblores, an NGO that tracks human rights abuse by police, had counted:

  • 43 people allegedly killed by the security forces, plus 27 cases under verification.
  • 1,133 “victims of physical violence.”
  • 175 uses of lethal firearms.
  • 22 victims of sexual violence and 6 victims of gender-based violence.

As of May 28 Temblores counted 47 people who had suffered eye injuries from “non-lethal” police projectile weapons, some of them probably misused by improperly aiming at protesters’ faces, a practice that human rights defenders also documented during protests in Chile. In a May 26 virtual session of Colombia’s Senate, Paola Holguín, a member of the governing Centro Democrático party, sparked outrage when she told opposition senators, “Don’t fool Colombians and don’t fool the international community and stop crying out of one eye.”

Among other non-governmental observers reporting violence:

  • As of May 26, Human Rights Watch had counted 63 people probably killed since the protests began, of whom it had been able to confirm 28: 26 civilians and 2 police agents.
  • The New York Times published an analysis of multiple citizen videos that “shows how officers used indiscriminate and, in some cases, lethal force against civilians.”
  • Colombia’s non-governmental Freedom of the Press Foundation (FLIP) counted more than 129 aggressions committed against nearly 150 reporters.

As of May 28, the government’s count included:

  • 45 civilians killed, of whom it categorized 17 of having a direct link to protest activities, 9 being verified, and 19 unlinked to the protests.
  • 2 police killed.
  • 168 disciplinary investigations opened against security-force members.
  • 1,081 civilians and 1,163 members of the security forces wounded. 5 security-force members who remain hospitalized.
  • 141 “impacts” on government infrastructure, plus 111 small urban police posts (CAIs) “affected.” Of the 153 stations of Bogotá’s Transmilenio transit system, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría) reported on May 25, 139 were “affected,” nearly 50 so severely that they are inoperable.
  • 2,768 roadblocks.

The investigative website La Silla Vacía analyzed the violence statistics compiled by three entities: the government; Human Rights Watch; and Temblores in cooperation with another NGO, Indepaz. It found the largest discrepancy among the three in the number of deaths reported as “related to protests.” La Silla’s reporters asked the Chief Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía) how it determined that 19 deaths were not protest-related. “As of the date of publication of this article, no response had been received either by phone or mail.” The human rights groups, which have not “dismissed” any cases, were “more transparent” than the government about their methodology.

Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, continued to see the most protests and related violence. At key intersections and traffic circles near poor neighborhoods, protesters have established weeks-long concentrations, blocking road traffic, fending off security forces, and adopting a communal or mutual aid ethic. Those on the front lines call themselves the ”Primera Línea.” (A 16-minute Vice video, posted May 28, gives an up-close look at some of these concentrations.)

May 19-23 saw frequent violence around a concentration and nearby supermarket in the eastern neighborhood of Calipso. At least two young people were killed, as was a 22-year-old policeman, one of two police killed in Colombia since protests began. Some of the violence was the work of an increasingly frequent phenomenon in Cali: armed civilians firing on crowds with no interference from nearby police.

On May 24 south of Calipso, in the Puerto Rellena area that protesters have renamed “Puerto Resistencia,” a gunman in a truck killed Armando Álvarez, a medical worker who had been tending to protesters. “Álvarez handled medical attention for injured people and accompanied the victims’ families, which is why he was known as the ‘guardian angel’ of Puerto Resistencia,” Contagio Radio reported.

May 28 was the worst day of violence in Cali, with about 13 deaths reported in several concentrations around the city. Most if not all of the killing was the work of armed men in civilian clothing. Citizen videos, including some from a particularly intrepid freelance photographer who goes by the Twitter and Instagram handle @jahfrann, show these armed men firing weapons alongside police, who don’t respond at all.

In Cali’s La Luna neighborhood on May 28, protesters caught and beat to death a man who had shot several people, killing two. The gunman, Fredy Bermúdez Ortiz, turned out to be an off-duty agent of the Technical Investigations Corps (CTI), the Fiscalía’s judicial police.

Tuluá, a town about 60 miles north of Cali along the Pan-American Highway, saw intense violence on May 25. The previous day, four young people were massacred, in an event possibly unrelated to the protests, and flyers had circulated around the city threatening protesters. Clashes with police began the morning of the 25th, according to Spain’s EFE news service, “when authorities preventively detained a score of people, including some minors, after clearing blockaded roads on the city’s north and south sides, the mayor said.”

The situation escalated into a riot. By the end of the day, 18 businesses in downtown Tuluá were vandalized or looted, and—in images that shocked the country—the town’s courthouse was burned to the ground. An 18-year-old law student was killed, apparently by gunfire. Thousands of judicial case documents, few if any of them digitized, were lost. “Attacks like those of tonight in Tuluá stop being vandalism and become terrorist acts,” said Defense Minister Diego Molano, who added that authorities had arrested in Tuluá a suspected member of the “Dagoberto Ramos” ex-FARC dissident group, which is usually more active south of Cali.

Bogotá continued to see massive, and generally more peaceful, protests, with greatest numbers on May 26, the four-week anniversary of the general strike’s launch. These have been concentrated around the Monument to the Heroes, a park not far from the city’s financial district, and around the Las Américas mass-transit portal in a working-class area in the city’s southwest. Protesters have rechristened Portal Las Américas as “Portal de la Resistencia.”

Visiting Cali on the evening of May 28, following the city’s very violent day, President Iván Duque issued a decree authorizing the military to play a greater role in keeping public order in eight of Colombia’s departments (provinces): seven in the south and west, and one (Norte de Santander) in the northeast. Decree 575 activates “military assistance,” a legal authorization allowing the military’s temporary use for “emergency or public calamity.” The decree requires mayors and governors in the eight departments to cooperate with the deployed soldiers or “be subject to sanctions,” which are unspecified.

“About 7,000 uniformed personnel from all armed forces will be in the streets,” El Tiempo reported. Defense Minister Molano tweeted video of rucksack-bearing troops boarding aircraft as they deployed to Cali (and some to Popayán, the capital of Cauca to the south). “This deployment will almost triple our capacity throughout the province in less than 24 hours, ensuring assistance in nerve centers where we have seen acts of vandalism, violence and low-intensity urban terrorism,” Duque said. He added that the security forces will devote more intelligence resources to prove the government’s thesis that Colombia’s armed groups are behind acts of vandalism. “Islands of anarchy cannot exist in our country,” the President proclaimed.

Human rights advocates, including WOLA, voiced concern about the large deployment of troops, who have been trained and experienced in combat during Colombia’s armed conflict but have little experience in techniques that require a much lighter touch, like crowd control and de-escalation of tense situations.

Citing persistent examples of excessive use of force, opposition members of Congress sought a censure vote against Defense Minister Molano, who since taking office in February has made occasional headlines with aggressive statements. Molano’s resignation is among the many demands of the Strike Committee that organized the initial April 28 protests.

The legislature’s ability to terminate cabinet members via censure votes came about in the 1991 constitution, adjusted by a 2007 law. While the Congress has sought to censure ministers 29 times, no censure effort has ever succeeded in revoking one. The process has served mainly to draw attention to strong critiques of a minister’s performance.

The House of Representatives met for seven hours on May 24. After some strong speeches on both sides, in both chambers, by week’s end it did not appear that opposition legislators had the votes necessary to fire Molano. “Traditional politicians see this in two colors: that to vote for the motion is to vote for the strikes and

[leftist politician and likely 2022 presidential candidate Gustavo]

Petro,” a representative from the center-right Cambio Radical party told La Silla Vacía.

“No one should have been injured, in their personal integrity or life, by this violence,” Molano told the House of Representatives. “While I regret each one of those who have been affected, the responsibility is not of the police, but of those who generate violence.” He added his view that “institutions are under attack” in a coordinated way. “How curious that not only in Cali, but also in Bogota, in Barranquilla, in Cartagena, we have had systematic attacks on institutions. Why the mayors’ offices? Why the governors’ offices? What we see today in Tuluá, where a justice unit has just been incinerated.”

Negotiations continued, haltingly, in Bogotá between the government and the Strike Committee, which is largely made up of labor union leaders though other sectors have representation. Early in the week, media reported that the two sides has reached a “pre-agreement” laying the groundwork for more structured negotiations. The Strike Committee developed a list of short-term demands to discuss in these negotiations, focused mainly on labor rights, basic income and suspension of utility payments, access to education, and women’s rights.

By week’s end, though, negotiations remained as far off as they had been when the week began. Both sides had pre-conditions that remained unmet. The Strike Committee demanded that the government cease using excessive force and “guarantee the right to social protest.” The government demanded that the Committee publicly call for an end to road blockades that have contributed to shortages of basic goods.

“Some members of the Strike Committee have insisted on exclusively promoting the figure of ‘humanitarian corridors’ [exceptions allowing essential goods to pass through roadblocks], without condemning the blockades,” said the government’s chief negotiator following a meeting on May 27. “For the National Government, this point is non-negotiable.”

That government official is Emilio Archila, who as the Presidency’s High Commissioner for Stabilization is also responsible for most peace accord implementation. As the lead government representative in talks with the Strike Committee, Archila replaces High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos who, as discussed below, resigned on May 24.

Government and Strike Committee representatives were to meet again on May 30. The government’s insistence on lifting roadblocks is likely to be at the center of discussions.

Citing the Defense Ministry, Reuters reported on May 26 that 73 roadblocks were active around the country. The term in this case generally does not refer to the urban concentration sites where “Primera Línea” and other “resistance” groups have stopped city traffic: it refers to groups of people using barriers and debris to stop traffic on roads that are usually the only routes between major cities.

Highway roadblocks are leading to shortages of basic goods in urban markets and gas lines in some cities. They have blocked much cargo activity in Buenaventura, Colombia’s principal port. They threaten to affect fuel transfers from the key refinery in Barrancabermeja, Santander.

The roadblocks give protesters important bargaining power with the government. In a communique, the Strike Committee insisted that the “so-called blockades,” or “temporary and intermittent road closures,” are part of “legitimate possibilities” for protest.

Because they cause shortages and economic harm, though, prolonged roadblocks—those less “temporary and intermittent”—carry a large public opinion cost for the protesters. The cost is especially high when roadblocks stop ambulances and other vehicles on urgent medical missions, like oxygen deliveries. An especially strong outcry followed the death of an intubated newborn baby, in the pre-dawn hours of May 22, in a blocked ambulance on the road between Buenaventura and Cali.

Stopping roadblocks was the main demand of perhaps 10,000 white-clad protesters who marched in downtown Cali on May 25 to demand an end to the situation. Hundreds took part in similar marches in the provincial capitals of Neiva, Huila and Popayán, Cauca.

Vice President visits Washington

Colombia’s vice president and newly named foreign minister, Marta Lucía Ramírez, paid a week-long visit to the United States—first New York, then Washington—to tell the Colombian government’s side of the story. As a member of the Conservative party—not the more right-populist Centro Democrático party of President Duque and former president Álvaro Uribe—Ramirez presented the government’s case to U.S. audiences in more moderate terms, avoiding some of the fire-breathing rhetoric of Uribe and other CD politicians.

In Washington, where Ramírez held about 20 meetings, those audiences included several members of Congress (Senators Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), Robert Menéndez (D-New Jersey), and Marco Rubio (R-Florida); Reps. Albio Sires (D-New Jersey) and Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts)); members of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH); non-governmental or semi-governmental organizations like WOLA, Human Rights Watch, and the U.S. Institute for Peace; OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro; and finally, on May 28, Secretary of State Antony Blinken. La Silla Vacía notes that Ramírez did not secure meetings with Vice President Kamala Harris or Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont).

Secretary Blinken “expressed his concern and condolences for the loss of life during recent protests in Colombia and reiterated the unquestionable right of citizens to protest peacefully,” according to a State Department readout. “He welcomed the national dialogue President Duque has convened as an opportunity for the Colombian people to work together to construct a peaceful, prosperous future.” This was likely a reference to the slow-moving talks between the government and the Strike Committee.

The State Department’s public-facing remarks made no mention of concern about the security forces’ recent human rights performance. Following his May 28 meeting, Sen. Murphy raised the issue: “the Colombian authorities’ treatment of protestors—specifically the use of lethal force—is very disturbing. I communicated my concerns directly to Vice President Ramirez this week, and I specifically urged the Colombian government to immediately allow in international human rights bodies so that there can be an independent accounting of the violence that has consumed the country.” On the other end of the spectrum, after meeting with Florida-based Colombian business leaders, Sen. Rubio said he saw “an orchestrated attack against the stability of Colombia’s democratic future.”

At the White House’s May 24 press briefing, a reporter asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki whether she was prepared to “denounce police brutality in Colombia… from this lectern.” A similar call came in a May 26 letter from three U.S. labor federations (AFL-CIO, SEIU, and Teamsters). Psaki responded obliquely:

Well, I will say we welcome announcements by the Colombian government to investigate allegations of excessive use of force by police. The Colombian government, as you know, has activated a special urgent search unit to investigate reports of missing persons, with 35 search teams deployed nationwide to follow reports received through their 24-hour hotlines.

We encourage the authorities to continue to work to locate all missing persons as quickly as possible, and we certainly encourage those actions.

Numerous human rights advocates had been making calls similar to Sen. Murphy’s: that the Colombian government accept an in situ visit from the CIDH, an autonomous body of the OAS. The CIDH on May 7 communicated to the Duque government its desire to pay such a visit. Being present in Colombia, CIDH President Antonia Urrejola told El Espectador, “would allow direct information to be gathered and a dialogue to be held with all sectors in order to generate recommendations to guide the roadmap for overcoming the crisis.”

On May 24, following a meeting with OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro, Ramírez turned down a CIDH visit for the time being, on the grounds that “it is necessary to wait for the government’s investigative agencies themselves to finish their work” and share their information with the Commission. The refusal drew quick criticism amid observations that only governments like those of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela tend to reject CIDH visits.

By May 25, after meeting with Urrejola and other CIDH commissioners, Vice President Ramírez said the Commission was welcome after its June 29 regular public hearings about the situation in Colombia. The CIDH put out a statement “emphasizing the importance of a working visit as soon as possible.”

On May 26 Ramírez said the Commission could visit “any time it wants,” even “tomorrow and we wouldn’t have any problem.” Colombia sent a letter on the evening of May 27 accepting a visit. The letter asks that the Commission’s work cover protesters’ road blockades, including a request that they cease. Another letter, dated May 25, invites Almagro to visit.

On May 27, while the Vice President was in Washington, President Duque spoke at a virtual event hosted by two Washington-based think tanks, the Woodrow Wilson Center and Inter-American Dialogue. Duque said that abuses committed by security forces must be investigated, as well as violent acts committsed by civilians against security forces. He added that the Fiscalía is investigating 17 such cases.

Duque blamed acts of violence and vandalism on the “influence of armed groups that promote this type of behavior to create uncertainty.” Several days earlier, Duque had told Forbes, “The police on an annual basis undertake more than 30 million police procedures. Are there cases of abuse within 30 million police procedures? Yes, there are—there might be.”

Dialogue President Michael Shifter had some unvarnished words for Duque in his initial questioning, La Silla Vacía noted: “The perception in Washington is that your government has not been able to handle the crisis, that there are Colombians who are not happy with your work. We all condemn the vandalism, but the protests seem to have legitimate grievances, some longstanding, some new. There are credible reports of police abuse.”

New high commissioner for peace

Since the first days of the Duque administration Miguel Ceballos, a former Georgetown University professor and vice-minister of Justice, had served as high commissioner for peace. The position, created in the 1990s, leads government efforts to negotiate with armed groups, and usually with other groups making strong demands, like the Strike Committee.

Though President Duque later revealed that Ceballos had declared an intention to leave his post months earlier, the High Commissioner abruptly announced his resignation on May 24. In an interview with El Tiempo columnist María Isabel Rueda, Ceballos said he was unhappy that former president Álvaro Uribe, the founder of the governing Centro Democrático party, had made contacts with leaders of the ELN guerrillas without first consulting him. As High Commissioner, Ceballos was the official charged with authorizing such contacts.

Ceballos indicated interest in running for the presidency in 2022; with only modest name recognition and without support of a political party—he left the Conservative party in 2016—such a run would be a longshot.

President Duque quickly named a new high commissioner: Juan Camilo Restrepo, the vice-minister of agriculture for rural development. Restrepo is a controversial choice.

Contagio Radio notes that he headed Colombia’s Association of Banana Producers, some of whose members are suspected of supporting paramilitary groups in the past. During Restrepo’s tenure, the Association published declarations of Raúl Hasbún, a northwest Colombian banana-zone businessman who went to prison for actually being a paramilitary leader. Restrepo later headed a company, AUGURA, that donated 33 million pesos (then about US$11,000) to the campaign to defeat the 2016 peace accord in a plebiscite held in October of that year.

The former FARC political party, Comunes, criticized Restrepo’s nomination in a statement issued May 27. “How is he going to implement the accord if he doesn’t even agree with it or believe in it?” it reads.

The 2022 U.S. aid request

On May 28 the Biden administration sent to Congress its detailed budget request for the 2022 fiscal year. It would provide Colombia with $453,850,000 next year, which is $8,525,000 or 2 percent less than what Congress specified for Colombia in the 2021 foreign aid appropriation.

Of that $453 million, $216 million (in fact, probably $252 million adding likely judicial aid) would go through USAID accounts that pay for economic development and civilian institution-building, including peace accord implementation. $42 million would definitely be military or police aid. $196 million (in fact, probably $160 million subtracting likely judicial aid) would go through State Department accounts that can pay for either military/police or economic aid, like counter-narcotics programs. This latter category includes $21 million for demining programs, an amount that has stayed steady since 2017.

This amount does not include an unspecified amount of additional aid to help Colombia attend to the Venezuelan migrant population.

An additional amount of aid reaches Colombia’s military and police outside this foreign aid budget. It goes through the Defense Department’s budget, which includes its own separate “train and equip” authorities. While we don’t know how much that Defense aid would be for 2021 (and don’t have the 2020 Defense number yet either), between 2016 and 2019 it ranged from $55 million to $96 million, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The $453.85 million 2022 request for Colombia closely follows the same lines as appropriations passed since the outgoing Obama administration’s 2017 “Peace Colombia” aid package became law:

  • $402.4 million in 2017
  • $436.7 million in 2018
  • $422.2 million in 2019
  • $461.1 million in 2020 (plus about $124 million in counter-drug funds that the Trump administration transferred to Colombia after stripping it from Central America aid)
  • $462.4 million in 2021

The only notable adjustment is a proposed $14 million decrease in the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) program, from $189 million in 2021 to $175 million in 2022. This program supports drug eradication and interdiction operations, as well as assistance to the Fiscalía and other parts of Colombia’s justice system. INCLE is by far the largest source of assistance to Colombia’s National Police, which is currently under a cloud as evidence of protest-related abuses continues to mount.

Links

  • WOLA and four other groups hosted a May 28 event, with archived video, about police violence in the context of protests.
  • Two articles in Colombian media outlets by WOLA’s Adam Isacson look at the protests’ meaning and the potential U.S. role. “People are no longer afraid to express what they feel,” reads an interview with El Espectador journalist Cecilia Orozco. At Razón Pública, a column discusses how the National Strike is being viewed from Washington.
  • Notre Dame University’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, which the 2016 peace accord gives a role in verifying both sides’ compliance with commitments, issued on May 25 its fifth report on accord implementation. “A significant difference exists between the current peacebuilding funds and what is needed to meet the goals established in the Framework Plan for Implementation,” it finds.
  • The Defensoría counted 34 murders of social leaders during the first three months of 2021. This would be a significant drop from 54 it counted during the first quarter of 2020. (The NGO Indepaz, which often has the highest of all major estimates, had counted 42 social-leader killings as of March 31.)
  • Several U.S. and Colombian human rights organizations met on May 28 with officials from the State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor to discuss concerns.
  • Four men armed with assault rifles entered a former FARC demobilization site (ETCR) in rural Tumaco, Nariño, on May 24. They threatened a demobilized guerrilla at his home, then departed.
  • Pilar Rueda, who coordinates the gender team at the Special Jurisdiction for Peace’s (JEP) Investigations and Accusations Unit, told El Espectador she is “sure” that the post-conflict transitional justice tribunal will do more to take up the many cases of sexual violence committed during the armed conflict with the FARC.
  • At La Silla Vacía, Juan Carlos Garzón of the Fundación Ideas para la Paz looks at violence data for the first four months of 2021 and finds a troubling increase in homicides and other measures. “While the pandemic may be part of the explanation, the state’s security strategy, along with the fragmentation of illegal armed groups, plays a central role. Above all, because the increases recorded, specifically in conflict zones, surpassed the records of the pre-pandemic years to levels we had not seen in the past decade.”
  • Russia’s Foreign Ministry summoned Colombia’s ambassador to Moscow to explain comments by Defense Minister Molano, who had said Russian “cyberattacks” were helping to drive the country’s ongoing protests.
  • A proof-of-life video was sent to the mother of Army Colonel Pedro Enrique Pérez, who disappeared while off duty on April 18, after visiting a hotel with a woman in Saravena, Arauca, a municipality on the Venezuelan border with a large presence of armed groups. Col. Pérez is believed to be in Venezuelan territory, a captive of the 10th Front ex-FARC dissident group, which operates on both sides of the border.
  • As of May 28, eight Venezuelan soldiers remained captive of the 10th Front dissidents in Apure, across the border from Arauca. Fighting between Venezuela’s security forces and the 10th Front has been frequent since March 21. In a new proof of life video, some of the soldiers appeal to the Maduro regime for help arranging their release.
  • On May 27 the Fiscalía arrested and charged 11 people in Arauca with conspiracy to support the 10th Front ex-FARC dissident group. The 10th Front is the same group that has been fighting Venezuelan government forces across the border from Arauca, in Apure. Among the arrested is an official from the Arauca city mayor’s office and several members of the Asociación Campesina de Arauca (ACA), a large and politically active local campesino organization. At least one ACA member was arrested at 4:00 AM and taken away in a truck without license plates.
  • Between 2:00 and 4:00 AM on May 24, police operating on Fiscalía orders carried out nine raids on residences in Cali and Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca, arresting seven people whom they accused of being part of the support network of the “Segunda Marquetalia” ex-FARC dissident group. El Espectador noted with alarm that three of those arrested are directors of a well-regarded cooperative set up after the peace accord to help former combatants earn a living.
  • “The Duque government is on its way out and has neither the will nor the legitimacy to address the underlying issues behind the National Strike,” writes Andrei Gómez Suárez of Rodeemos el Diálogo. Therefore, “it is necessary to prepare the conditions for a national dialogue when the next government arrives with sufficient determination to make the necessary structural transformations.”
  • “It is easy to deduce that it is the government itself that has contributed to the prolonged and increasingly massive strike,” writes Sandra Borda of the Universidad de los Andes.
  • “In the last month, 14,782 Colombians have died from Covid, and 84,724 since the pandemic began, almost double the number of all combatants killed during the entire armed conflict in Colombia measured since 1958,” reports La Silla Vacía, in coverage of the latest bimonthly Invamer poll, which in fact shows the pandemic low on the list of Colombians’ main concerns.

WOLA Podcast: What’s at Stake in Peru’s Coming Elections

The latest WOLA Podcast is about Peru, where presidential elections are happening on Sunday. I started by asking WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt, a political scientist at George Mason University, “Is it really a Leninist versus a corrupt right winger?” She said, “pretty much,” and we went on from there.

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

Peruvians go to the polls on June 6 for a runoff election between two presidential candidates who, in April 11 first-round voting, combined for barely 30 percent of the vote. The candidates, Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori, represent ideological extremes in a country hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, which both heightened and highlighted gaping social divisions and failures of the past 30 years’ economic model.

Amid growing tensions about possible outcomes, this podcast episode features a panoramic discussion with WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt, the author or editor of four books about Peru, including Political Violence and the Authoritarian State in Peru: Silencing Civil Society which, though published in 2007, is a very important volume for understanding the complexity Peru is facing today.

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

The day ahead: June 3, 2021

I’m mostly around, except for meetings mid-day and late afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’m finishing up a very overdue weekly Colombia update, which fell victim to there simply not being enough hours in the day during an insanely busy time. I also plan to write most of a weekly border update today. This should be easier as my schedule is opening up a bit: only two meetings on the calendar today, one about communications strategy and one to talk about Colombia with legislative staff.

I am taking next week off, so will be spending today and tomorrow tying down loose ends.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Luis Robayo photo at El Espectador (Colombia). Caption: “Desde el comienzo de las manifestaciones el 28 de abril, Cali ha sido el epicentro de movilizaciones, pero también de la violencia y la represión.”

(Even more here)

June 2, 2021

Central America Regional

Blinken has avoided publicly criticizing any particular government, focusing instead on Biden administration plans to distribute COVID-19 vaccines and other assistance

Colombia

Entre 2017 y 2021, 20 entidades estatales suscribieron al menos 30 contratos y dos órdenes de compra por $45.684.261.058 para adquirir armas de letalidad reducida y elementos de dispersión de multitudes

Los uniformados tienen una norma especial para tramitar los delitos que hayan cometido: el Código Penal Militar, que usa la Justicia Penal Militar para la investigación y juzgamiento de los delitos cometidos en actos relacionados con el servicio por militares y policías

“Lo que necesitamos es que haya total cese de esos bloqueos”

“A soldier is not trained in conflict resolution: they are trained to kill”

A significant proportion of protesters in Colombia’s southwest are Indigenous or Black — making the military police’s racial violence against them into a key issue

La estructura criminal será usada por otros criminales bajo otro rótulo y financiada por distintos sectores que años atrás financiaron a otras estructuras al margen de la ley

Costa Rica, Nicaragua

En su visita a Costa Rica, la primera a Latinoamérica de Antony Blinken como secretario de Estado, reforzó la postura de Estados Unidos sobre las sanciones al gobierno de Daniel Ortega y la crisis de refugiados nicaragüenses

El Salvador

Reflecting on Bukele’s first two years in office, CISPES released a report documenting his repeated actions to empower both the military and police beyond the strict limits imposed by the 1992 Peace Accords

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

The vice president and her staff have made it clear that they want to focus narrowly on diplomatic efforts in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries

She’s been tasked by President Biden with leading the administration’s diplomatic efforts with the Northern Triangle countries and Mexico to help stem the flow of migration at the southern border

Honduras

“El golpe de Estado de 2009 abrió la puerta para que los militares salieran de los cuarteles e invadieran el espacio político, pero el Partido Nacional convirtió a los militares en un brazo armado del partido de gobierno”, dijo la socióloga Leticia Salomón

A través de las pruebas evacuadas por el Ministerio Público, han surgido indicios de complicidad criminal de otros actores en el hostigamiento de Berta Cáceres, COPINH y la comunidad de Rio Blanco, y en la planificación y logística del asesinato

Mexico

Morena’s chances now seem slim in Nuevo Léon. It is not the only border state haemorrhaging support for the ruling party

Campaigning under the slogan “Military Force,” the 28 candidates — 16 women and 12 men — promise to bring order to Naucalpan, a city of 800,000 residents

The government needs to keep trying to break bonds between criminals and authorities, beginning with efforts tailored to the country’s hardest-hit areas

Pese al asedio criminal, los elementos de la Policía de Michoacán y del Ejército ya no están presentes desde hace una semana sobre la vía Apatzingán-Aguililla

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

Our binational research team has documented hundreds of hours of testimonials from displaced Mexican women, children, men, and families who fled horrific violence in their home communities. They are the invisible refugees

Nicaragua

In the latest attempt to eliminate potential challengers to Ortega in the Nov. 7 elections, prosecutors asked the country’s electoral tribunal to bar Chamorro from running or holding public office

Peru

During the Sixth Annual U.S.-Peruvian Army Staff Talks held virtually on May 20, the two armies strengthened the relationship between both nations by agreeing to future military-to-military training opportunities

U.S.-Mexico Border

U.S. citizens were apprehended nearly seven times more often than Mexican citizens between October 2020 and March 31 for trying to smuggle drugs in vehicles

On some days here in the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest section of the U.S.-Mexico border, families like Anna and Walter are expelled, while on others, single males who’ve come looking for work are allowed to stay pending their hearings

Abbott’s move potentially could force relocation of up to one-fourth of the children nationwide

The announcement appeared to be a foregone conclusion after Biden promised as a candidate to end the policy, known informally as “Remain in Mexico,” but he left a window open by ordering a review before shutting it down permanently

The two senators toured facilities in Tucson housing migrants apprehended along Arizona’s border with Mexico, including unaccompanied children. The pair is scheduled on Wednesday to visit similar facilities along Texas’ Rio Grande Valley

The hyper-politicized Honduran military

Here’s the great Leticia Salomón of the Centro de Documentación de Honduras, who has been studying Honduran civil-military relations since the 1980s, excerpted in criterio.hn’s coverage of a conference:

“The 2009 coup d’état opened the door for the military to leave the barracks and invade political space, but the National Party [of President Juan Orlando Hernández] turned the military into an armed wing of the governing party,” said sociologist Leticia Salomón during a forum held Tuesday on the anti-military struggle of Berta Cáceres.

Moreover, President Juan Orlando Hernández “in his legal and illegal presidential terms” turned them into “guardians of a personal political project impregnated with corruption and drug trafficking,” the sociologist also said at the virtual event organized by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh) with the participation of analysts from Honduras, Guatemala and the United States.

The military are also “executioners” of a new version of the “old enemy”, as the defenders of territory and resources are seen, who must be “fought, imprisoned or killed.”

Salomón reflected that “it seems that the old positions of the 80’s are always being revived and that they are there hidden, dormant and always ready to come out at any moment to regain space and to try to impose a vision that is extremely harmful and damaging for the country.”

This reconceptualization of the “old enemy” introduces the concept of criminalization, which has three components. The first, the military and police ready to repress; the second, churches and the media ideologizing the conflict “and introducing a Manichean vision” that turns into good and evil those who are fighting for or against the defense of territories and resources; and the third, the use of the justice system against defenders, in which prosecutors and judges play a fundamental role.

These three instances became the executors of “a conservative, repressive, Manichean and anti-democratic political project”, and explain the role of the military who have specific functions, which, in addition, “they carry out with great enthusiasm”, said the sociologist.

Leticia Salomón (from Criterio).

…”The great challenge is to identify who, how, and when will begin the dismantling of this political project and its replacement by another that is capable of recovering sovereignty over the territories, reestablishing a rule of law at the service of national interests, restoring respect for life, for the defenders of resources, and for the defenders of defenders,” Leticia Salomón also said in her message.

She considered that it is necessary to rethink a different model of armed forces and police, and to give “a gigantic shake-up to the justice system” to restore confidence and eliminate the feeling of defenselessness “in which we all find ourselves”.

…Finally, the sociologist reflected that Berta’s anti-militarist struggle, and that of all those who have been carrying it out in recent years, should not only be encouraged and remembered, but should be instilled as an urgent and necessary demand for change in Honduras.

“Just idiotic”

This guy’s book was self-aggrandizing, boring and repetitive, and taught me very little about what it was like to grow up in poverty in Appalachia. And bald-faced lies like this cruel tweet make me wonder if anything he wrote was true at all.

But you see, J.D. Vance wants to be the next Republican senator from Ohio, now that Rob Portman is retiring—which apparently requires him to go full Trump.

While I doubt that anyone planning to vote for him cares, let the record show: 89 percent of fentanyl is seized at land ports of entry (official border crossings). If any fentanyl was ever seized on the body of one of the 71,000 non-Mexican asylum seekers whom the Trump administration forced to remain in Mexico, I’ve never heard about it.

But research by Human Rights First tells us that at least 1,544 asylum seekers were kidnapped, raped, extorted, or otherwise assaulted since 2019, after the U.S. government dumped them, homeless and vulnerable, in organized crime-heavy Mexican border cities.

The day ahead: June 2, 2021

I’m hard to contact today. (How to contact me)

I’m writing like crazy this morning through mid-day. Then we’re recording a podcast about Peru, and then I’ve got a Colombia coalition meeting. Then I’m going to keep writing.

Some articles I found interesting this morning (and yesterday morning)

Photo from La Silla Vacía (Colombia).

(Even more here)

June 1, 2021

Brazil

Opponents of President Jair Bolsonaro have mounted the largest protests since the beginning of the pandemic, suggesting new volatility before next year’s elections

Central America Regional

U.S. relations with the governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, in particular, are badly strained, complicating President Biden’s plan to use $4 billion over the next four years

Colombia

El fiscal general Francisco Barbosa recordó, durante la carta, que la Justicia Penal Militar no es competente para conocer graves violaciones a los derechos humanos

El Gobierno, en cabeza de la canciller y vicepresidenta, Marta Lucía Ramírez, ya está moviendo las fichas para que esa visita sea lo más pronto posible

  • Forrest Hylton, La Resistencia (London Review of Books, June 1, 2021).

Ninis (young people without education or job prospects) from urban peripheries have been the leading force on the barricades and they have faced the brunt of police terror

Todo lo anterior, con una advertencia clara: “Los gobernadores y alcaldes que omitan el cumplimiento de lo dispuesto en este decreto, serán sujetos de las sanciones a que haya lugar”

Nine people died Monday after armed men broke into a coffee farm in the municipality of Algeciras, in southern Colombia

Álvaro Herrera, el joven estudiante de interpretación musical en la Universidad del Valle, entregó detalles sobre lo que le sucedió el pasado viernes 28 de mayo cuando fue capturado

Lo que está ocurriendo en Colombia con civiles armados saliendo a disparar es una tendencia preocupante

The time for the Biden administration to boldly speak up about the situation in Colombia is long overdue

Colombia, Venezuela

Los ocho integrantes de las Fuerzas Especiales de Venezuela capturados y hechos prisioneros por el Frente Décimo “Martin Villa” de las disidencias de la Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC EP), fueron liberados ayer, 31 de mayo

Un día antes de la liberación de los militares secuestrados, la FAN se retiró de Apure como parte de un cese al fuego con el grupo guerrillero colombiano

Mexico

El crimen organizado obliga a los partidos a suspender campaña en lugares como Aguililla o Apatzingán por no tener garantizada la seguridad. Candidatos se ven obligados a renunciar tras recibir amenazas

Violence in parts of Mexico’s western state of Michoacán has reached such a level that Catholic priests there have shifted from trying to negotiate peace to helping residents flee

A través de la USAID y la Fundación Nacional para la Democracia de Estados Unidos, el dinero otorgado por Washington ayuda a a fortalecer a organizaciones civiles y mejorar iniciativas públicas, como el Sistema Nacional Anticorrupción

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

Gonzalez said “invisible” caravans of up to 300 people continue to cross the Mexico-Guatemala border. He alleges that buses or trailers carrying migrants often pass right through some checkpoints

U.S.-Mexico Border, Venezuela

As doors close to them in South America – and as they misconstrue TPS in the U.S. – Venezuelan refugees are flocking to the U.S.-Mexico border and South Florida

May 31, 2021

Brazil

Several witnesses said police executed at least three suspects; four detainees said police beat them; and there are multiple pieces of evidence indicating that officers removed bodies from the crime scene to destroy evidence

La tendencia de Bolsonaro es seguir estirando la soga. La de los comandantes del ejército, encontrar un término medio: un castigo claro, pero no extremo, bajo el compromiso de Pazuello de, finalmente, pasar a retiro

A prominent newspaper columnist. Multiple Indigenous leaders. Doctors, academics and scientists. All of them, in recent weeks and months, have been subject to subpoenas, investigations, or other more implicit efforts to silence the criticism they’ve leveled

Protests in over 200 cities and towns in Brazil sparked by president’s handling of the Covid pandemic

Colombia

Es claro y hasta lógico encontrar posiciones encontradas entre los sectores políticos. Pero al trasladar las dudas a la Academia, la determinación presidencial no sale muy bien librada

La directora de la Unidad de Búsqueda, Luz Marina Monzón, pidió a las autoridades no utilizar el concepto de “persona no localizada” en el Paro Nacional, como lo hace la Fiscalía, pues se trataría de un “eufemismo” con el cual se intentaría negar la desaparición

No solo agrava la crisis, al privilegiar la fuerza sobre el diálogo, sino que además tiene al menos cuatro puntos en que es inconstitucional, tanto por lo que dice como por lo que omite

En medio de agentes policiales que no reaccionaron para contener dichas acciones ni realizaron capturas, se repitieron las mismas escenas

I communicated my concerns directly to Vice President Ramirez this week, and I specifically urged the Colombian government to immediately allow in international human rights bodies so that there can be an independent accounting of the violence that has consumed the country

Hace dos meses cumplió con las condiciones que en 2017 le impuso la Corte Constitucional para volver a usar el herbicida y aún no ha dado el último paso para esto

One of the demonstrators said she would like “a Colombia “free from drug traffickers, free from (the guerrillas of) the FARC and free from the left.”

Ni el Gobierno va a avanzar si el Comité no rechaza públicamente los bloqueos de carreteras, ni el Comité va a rechazar la obstrucción de vías, que, con aperturas intermitentes, piensan hace parte de la protesta legítima

Se refirieron a los bloqueos como “cortes temporales e intermitentes de vías”, insistiendo en que hacen parte de las “posibilidades legítimas de la protesta”, siempre que no afecten la vida, la salud, la integridad, el medio ambiente y la alimentación

As of Thursday 17 civilians have died in connection with protests, the government said. Human rights groups say dozens more have been killed by security forces. Two police officers were also earlier reported killed

Dijo que hay 7.000 hombres desplegados para evitar bloqueos

Las víctimas continúan firmes en su apuesta de llegar al Congreso a defender lo acordado

Entre las víctimas hay estudiantes, profesores, trabajadores e indígenas. Algunos fueron asesinados a bala, otro a golpes y uno quedó incinerado tras incendio en un almacén

“Hago un llamado a toda la comunidad internacional a la solidaridad con los policías víctimas y sus familias, así como con la Institución”, se lee en una carta enviada por el ministro de Defensa, Diego Molano a ocho organizaciones internacionales

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has voiced deep concern at recent events in the Colombian city of Cali, where reports indicate that, since 28 May, fourteen people have died, and 98 people have been injured, 54 of them by firearms

Los policías no intervinieron mientras civiles les disparaban a manifestantes en el sector de Ciudad Jardín. La Dijin anunció que serán investigados y judicializados junto a los ciudadanos que se observan en los videos

Colombia, Venezuela

Distintos grupos de paramilitares, guerrilla y otros, operan holgadamente en varios estados del país

Fundaredes, organización que hace monitoreo a la zona de Apure, reportó que terminaron los intensos enfrentamientos que ya cumplían dos meses

Mexico

They’re part of a group of at least 565 politicians or candidates that have been targeted by some sort of crime

The violence has struck across party lines, but the most frequent targets have been those opposing incumbent parties

“Nunca hubo la intención de construir una policía civil. El proyecto siempre fue tener una extensión de las fuerzas armadas haciendo labores de policía”

The cartel kidnapped several members of an elite police force in the state of Guanajuato, tortured them to obtain names and addresses of fellow officers and is now hunting down and killing police at their homes, on their days off, in front of their families

Quemaron 17 vehículos y cinco comercios en seis alcaldías; Apatzingán, la más afectada por bombas molotov

U.S.-Mexico Border

It remains critical that we continue our efforts to reestablish procedures that protect immigrant rights and uphold the values of our nation to ensure immigrants and their families are entitled to respect for their humanity

Venezuela

Tehran’s intent in sending the vessels in the direction of the Western Hemisphere remains a mystery, as does their cargo

Se hace necesario enfocar nuestra mira en actuar efectiva y positivamente, colaborar entre nosotros desde nuestras fortalezas, aprovechando las oportunidades de mejorar progresivamente, superando todas estas carencias

As Venezuela collapses, armed gangs are taking over parts of the capital, exposing President Maduro’s vulnerability even in his seat of power

The Cheetos are one of many perplexing details about yesterday’s Venezuelan military captive release

There’s a lot we still don’t know about the eight Venezuelan soldiers who got released on May 31, after 38 days as captives of an ex-FARC dissident group. The “10th Front” dissident group captured them during combat on April 23 near the Colombian border, in Venezuela’s Apure state. There, fighting between Venezuelan forces and the 10th Front, which broke out on March 21, has displaced about 7,000 Venezuelan residents.

What we don’t know, besides whether a bag of Cheetos is really a great way to welcome someone back to freedom, is laid out in a good overview by Sofía Nederr at Venezuela’s Tal Cual.

  • Do three soldiers remain in captivity, as the director of Venezuela’s FundaRedes, Javier Tarazona, claims? (Tarazona gets a lot right, but he also claims that the ex-FARC leaders who are committed to the peace process, like Rodrigo Londoño, are aiding the dissidents, and there’s no proof of that at all.)
  • FundaRedes says that on May 30, there may have been a “truce” during which Venezuelan forces pulled out of territory in order to make possible the captives’ release, possibly to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
  • Tarazona says the dissidents—or some Colombian armed groups, anyway—maintain five “safe houses” in four Venezuelan states.
  • Tarazona claims the Venezuelan armed forces’ leadership has ordered the ex-captives not to talk about what happened or how they were freed.
  • It’s still not clear why Venezuelan forces are fighting the 10th Front dissidents, and leaving unmolested Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) and “Segunda Marquetalia” dissident group, which both operate in Apure.

The FARC dissidents, whose leadership has years of experience as guerrillas (though much of the membership is probably new recruits), has hit the Venezuelan military hard, killing at least 16 of them.

Newer Posts
Older Posts
Get a weekly update in your e-mail:




This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.