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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August 2022

In the classroom this fall

By the end of this weekend, I’ll have completed a draft syllabus for Security in the Americas, a course I’ll be teaching every Monday evening this fall at George Washington University.

There is a lot to talk about: the list of topics I want to cover is about 50% longer than the number of class sessions. Also, I’ve got so much great work archived in my database, it will take me a while to select just a few readings for each session. I also have to figure out how to engage and evaluate everyone.

I’ve guest-lectured countless classes, but have never taught an entire course. In fact, I haven’t been affiliated with a university since I received my M.A. in 1994. So, apologies in advance to the students who’ll be watching me figure things out in real time.

Latin America Security-Related News: August 12, 2022

(Even more here)

August 12, 2022

Argentina, Venezuela

La justicia argentina procedió el jueves a la incautación de un avión de carga de origen venezolano en repuesta a una solicitud de Estados Unidos que considera hubo irregularidades en la adquisición de la aeronave a una compañía aérea de Irán

Brazil

The second letter, published in newspapers last Friday, carries the endorsement of hundreds of companies in banking, oil, construction and transportation — sectors that traditionally have been averse to taking public political stances

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) fears for Brazil’s democracy as it heads into a raucous presidential election in October, and he wants the U.S. Senate to officially stand on the side of voters — regardless of who they choose

Colombia

The 800-soldier unit racked up at least 60 misconduct offenses, including incidents with alcohol, drugs and adultery; a battalion commander was fired; members of one advising team are facing punishment for their behavior in Colombia; and another team’s actions in Honduras are under investigation

El Pnis será la primera prueba de fuego que tendrá que enfrentar la política de drogas de Gustavo Petro.

The ELN’s cards are on the table, and it seems that both the new government and illegal groups are open to exploring peace talks

What does the law mean for women and the punitive penal system? WOLA explores those questions and more

Organizaciones sociales, oficinas de Naciones Unidas y un sector del Congreso le hicieron llegar al presidente Gustavo Petro un documento con ejes y líneas de acciones urgentes para detener los asesinatos sistemáticos a líderes, lideresas, defensores de derechos humanos y firmantes de paz

Colombia, Cuba

El canciller Álvaro Leyva llegó a La Habana a la cabeza de una delegación colombiana para entablar contactos con los representantes del ELN

Colombia, Venezuela

  • Rocio San Miguel, ¿el Fin de los Tancol? (Asociación Civil Control Ciudadano (Venezuela), August 12, 2022).

Terroristas armados narcotraficantes de Colombia, en su acrónimo TANCOL, fue el término escogido por el mandatario venezolano

El Salvador

Desde que El Salvador entró en Régimen de Excepción, una madre, su hija e hijo van de casa en casa, de un hotel a otro, porque tienen miedo de terminar en la cárcel

Guatemala

Con la consigna de #NoNosCallarán, cientos de guatemaltecos salieron ayer a las calles de la capital para manifestar su rechazo a la corrupción en el gobierno del presidente Alejandro Giammattei

Guatemala arrests a crusading journalist

Mexico

El registro de los dos últimos minutos de vuelo que tienen las llamadas cajas negras será clave a la hora de determinar la causa del desplome

Si bien las autoridades de Chihuahua no han informado si hay relación entre los diversos hechos, tiendas y gasolineras de la ciudad cerraron temporalmente debido a la violencia

Por fuera de la propia Constitución que expresamente coloca a la Guardia Nacional bajo un mando civil y a la espalda del Poder Constituyente y del Legislativo, AMLO manda un mensaje político peligroso para la democracia mexicana en dos sentidos

Posterior a ese enfrentamiento, miembros del CJNG incendiaron automóviles, unidades de transporte público, tiendas de conveniencia y diversos comercios

Nicaragua

With virtually no independent journalists left inside and foreign reporters banned from entering, Nicaragua has become ‘an information black hole’

Peru

La fiscalía peruana inició una nueva investigación preliminar contra el presidente Pedro Castillo y su ministro de Transportes por presuntamente integrar una organización criminal. Esta es la sexta indagación contra el mandatario, un caso inédito en la historia peruana

Cerca de 15 aeronaves convergieron en precisa coordinación sobre la zona de Massapato y Undurabe, frente a la quebrada de Jajasmayo, en la zona de Vizcatán

U.S.-Mexico Border

Border agents improperly shared confidential information about u.S. journalists, activists and others with mexican law enforcement, putting them at risk in a country with a dismal record on human rights

The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is now hiring the very people that Congress is investigating, BPCITs

Colombia’s weak peso

I just paid $46.59 per night to stay in the Holiday Inn right in the middle of Bogotá’s business district. A perfectly quiet, clean chain hotel with fast internet, hot water, and free breakfast.

The Colombian peso is so weak right now: in part because the dollar is strong everywhere, but in part because investors had a little freakout after Colombians elected a “leftist” president.

On this last trip, I found myself tipping cab drivers 50% (tips aren’t usually a thing in taxis) because the rides were so cheap (like $7 for a half-hour trip) that they barely seemed enough to cover the gas.

Latin America Security-Related News: August 11, 2022

(Even more here)

August 11, 2022

Argentina, Bolivia, Chile

A California-sized piece of South America is stifling production of lithium at a time when battery makers desperately need it

Colombia, Venezuela

Expertos consideran que el anuncio de restablecimiento de relaciones militares entre Venezuela y Colombia es positivo

Colombia

Feared Gulf Clan has unleashed terror campaign since arrest of leader in May but keen to talk to leftist president Gustavo Petro

Por ahora parece que va a haber más zanahoria que garrote

One of the world’s largest sustainable development agencies has worked with energy companies to quash opposition and keep oil flowing, even in sensitive areas

En su más reciente volumen del Informe Final, la Comisión de la Verdad puso su lupa sobre episodios en los que las entidades públicas terminaron siendo arma para la guerra. Uno de ellos es el caso del exfiscal Luis Camilo Osorio

Guatemala

Time is no longer on the side of the U.S. and of those who support democracy

Honduras

Though the roots of the country’s land battles go back decades, there is new hope that turmoil over disputed plantations — the cause of so many killings and enforced disappearances — could finally be settling down

Mexico

La secretaria de Seguridad Pública, Rosa Icela Rodríguez, hará entrega de las responsabilidades de la Guardia Nacional a la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional el próximo 16 de septiembre durante el desfile militar

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Enviará una propuesta al Congreso, pese a que “los conservadores están en huelga y todo lo rechazan”

Members of the well-armed and brazen Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion blocked roads and lit fire to cabs, buses and stores in the states of Jalisco and Guanajuato

U.S.-Mexico Border

The agent approached the area and observed the man sustained a severe head wound from an apparent fall from the secondary barrier

Texas state troopers have taken custody of and returned to the border several thousand migrants who illegally crossed from Mexico, according to the governor’s office

737 migrants per day in the Darién Gap last month

Panama’s government published data on the number of people whom its migration authorities registered coming through the dangerous Darién Gap migration route, in the country’s far east along the Colombia border.

The 22,582 migrants who came through the Darién in July (737 per day) were the fourth-largest monthly total that Panama has ever measured. The top three were in August-October 2021, when a large number of Haitian migrants took this very dangerous route.

This year, migration of Haitian citizens is reduced, but a stunning number of Venezuelans are now passing through the Darién. Three-quarters of July’s migrants in this region (16,864, or 544 per day) came from Venezuela.

In January, at strong U.S. suggestion, Mexico established a visa requirement for Venezuelan citizens arriving in the country, which sharply reduced the number of Venezuelans arriving by air, many of whom were traveling to the U.S. border to seek asylum. U.S.-bound migration of Venezuelans fell in February, but is now recovering as migrants take the far more dangerous land route.

In the first 7 months of 2021, Panama registered 45,029 migrants in the Darién. The total for the first 7 months of 2022 is 71,012.

Some photos from yesterday’s presidential inauguration in Colombia

It was an honor to be in the audience at yesterday’s swearing-in of President Gustavo Petro and Vice President Francia Márquez. Here is a Flickr album of 40 photos taken with my little point-and-shoot camera, which has a decent zoom lens.

Some of them came out well. Feel free to use them with attribution.

And here’s me during the break in the action while we waited for them to bring out Bolívar’s sword.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: August 5, 2022

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 travel, WOLA will not publish a Weekly Border Update on August 12. The next update will appear on August 19.

This week:

  • As the Senate nears a vote on a big “Inflation Reduction Act,” a procedural quirk may provide Republican senators with an opportunity to add amendments curtailing the right to seek asylum, building more border walls, and otherwise hardening the border.
  • A month after the Supreme Court green-lighted the Biden administration’s efforts to end “Remain in Mexico,” some in the administration appear to favor keeping the program in place for now.
  • Confiscation of religious headgear, falsification of migration forms, post-midnight expulsions of small children,  a 33-hour detention of a 9-year-old U.S. citizen, and another fatal vehicle pursuit highlight continued concerns about human rights at CBP and Border Patrol.

“Vote-a-Rama” in U.S. Senate could include anti-migrant amendments

Before it leaves for its August recess, the U.S. Senate—which is divided evenly between 50 Democrats (including Democrat-leaning independents) and 50 Republicans—will debate and possibly approve the “Inflation Reduction Act,” a large budget bill reflecting Biden administration priorities, especially health care and climate provisions. The Senate’s complicated rules allow budget-only measures like this one to pass with a simple majority, avoiding the 60-vote “filibuster” threshold that prevents much legislation from being considered.

The resulting process, called “reconciliation,” requires that the bill be open to amendments on unrelated topics during a grueling, many-hours-long procedure that usually drags on until the pre-dawn hours of the next day. Called “vote-a-rama,” it offers an opportunity for senators from the body’s large Republican minority to introduce amendments that could restrict migration, codify obstacles to the right to seek asylum, or otherwise harden the U.S.-Mexico border.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), the principal sponsor of a bill that would keep in place Title 42, the pandemic provision that eliminates the right to seek asylum at the border, told Roll Call on August 2 “that Republicans have some immigration-related amendments ‘in the queue,’ though he declined to provide specifics.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) added that “he thought border security would come up during the vote-a-rama process.”

Amendments could seek to enshrine into permanent law the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico program, which forces asylum seekers to await their U.S. court dates inside Mexico, or Title 42, empowering U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to expel migrants indefinitely for public health reasons. Amendments could also seek to re-start construction of the Trump administration’s border wall, which Joe Biden halted when he assumed office in January 2021.

It is possible that some of these amendments to the spending bill could pass with a simple majority. They will have solid Republican support, and a small number of moderate and conservative Democrats, or Democrats facing tough re-election races in states where immigration is unpopular with swing voters, could end up voting for them as well. Several conservative or vulnerable Democrats are already co-sponsors of Lankford’s legislation that would keep Title 42 in place for months after the end of the U.S. COVID-19 emergency, which could last for years. (Currently Title 42, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had intended to lift on May 23, remains in place by order of a federal judge in Louisiana.)

Should such amendments succeed, however, the larger “Inflation Reduction Act” bill—which, if it passes, would do so with the slimmest of majorities—could be in jeopardy. The anti-migrant measures could lead progressive and pro-immigration Democratic senators to vote against the entire bill. If hardline “poison pill” border and immigration provisions added during “vote-a-rama” cause even a few of those senators to vote “no,” the bill will fail.

At the Washington Post, columnist Greg Sargent called the likelihood of Republican immigration amendments a “ticking time bomb still threatening the big climate deal.” Sargent cited an e-mailed statement from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), who warned that “Adoption of amendments that would end access to asylum or expand Trump’s border wall…will put reconciliation at risk.” This, Sargent said, “is a not-so-veiled suggestion that adoption of such poison pills might imperil the whole climate deal.” Menendez repeated this language on Twitter.

WOLA, one of many groups to issue statements opposing harmful “vote-a-rama” amendments, warned that such provisions could usher in “a harmful regime that could cause years of real human suffering.” A letter from 286 U.S. non-governmental organizations, including WOLA, urged senators to oppose any legislation that might “end asylum at the border”; “harm immigrants’ health, economic well-being, or education”; or “further bloat enforcement or militarize the border.”

As of Thursday morning (August 4), the timetable is not clear. The Senate’s Democratic leadership is awaiting word from the body’s parliamentarian on how the rules of debate will proceed, while trying to secure the support of the remaining Democratic holdout, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona). “Several Democratic senators” cited by Roll Call said they expect the “vote-a-rama” process to begin “as soon as this weekend.”

“Remain in Mexico” is not over yet

With a 5-4 decision on June 30, the Supreme Court upheld the Biden administration’s ability to cancel the “Remain in Mexico” policy, an initiative begun by the Trump administration in 2019 that sent over 70,000 asylum-seeking migrants back across the border into Mexico to await their U.S. immigration hearings. Evidence that the Biden administration is preparing to end the policy, however, is scarce.

President Joe Biden began shutting down Remain in Mexico, which he regarded as cruel and ineffective, after taking office in January 2021, but a Texas federal judge in August 2021 ordered the White House to restart it. The program re-launched in December; since then, about 5,000 more migrants have been sent back to Mexico to await their U.S. hearings. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling overruled that August 2021 decision, giving a green light to “re-terminate” Remain in Mexico.

A month later, though, Remain in Mexico continues to operate, sending dozens of migrants back to Mexico each day.

Read More

At Razón Pública: Iván Velásquez, ministro de Defensa: por qué y para qué

The Colombian publication Razón Pública today published a new piece by me about the defense and security challenges the country is facing, six days before it swears in a new president. That president will be the first leftist politician in Colombia’s modern history, and his choice to lead the Defense Ministry, Iván Velásquez, is one of Latin America’s best-known anti-corruption fighters.

I argue here that Velásquez is a good choice because he at least stands a credible chance of making progress on three urgent security priorities:

  • Combating corruption within the officer corps;
  • Increasing government presence in abandoned marginal rural areas where armed groups and coca thrive; and
  • Deeply reforming and civilianizing the police.

We’ll be adapting some of the language in this column for a WOLA commentary later this week, which will have an English version.

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