Adam Isacson

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


December 2022

Latin America Security-Related News: December 30, 2022

(Even more here)

December 30, 2022


 Ana Ionova, In Brazil’s Amazon, Land Grabbers Scramble to Claim Disputed Indigenous Reserve (Mongabay*, December 30, 2022).

The Apyterewa Indigenous Territory, on the banks of the Xingu river in Pará, suffered accelerated illegal deforestation during the Bolsonaro government

* Fabiano Maisonnave, Brazil’s Lula Picks Amazon Defender for Environment Minister (Associated Press, *Associated Press*, December 30, 2022).

Marina Silva’s naming is a good sign for Amazon protection during Lula’s government


 Las Noticias de la Paz y la Guerra en Colombia Que Marcaron el 2022 (El Espectador (Colombia)*, December 30, 2022).

A rundown of top peace and conflict stories in 2022, a very busy year for such stories in Colombia


 El 2022 Dejo un Record de Asesinatos en Ecuador: 4.450 Casos; Solo 308 Fueron Resueltos (El Universo (Ecuador)*, December 30, 2022).

Homicides in Ecuador came close to doubling from 2021 to 2022


 Jorge Burgos, Viena Hernandez, Desplazamiento Forzado, la Amenaza Que Mantiene en Vilo a los Hondurenos y Hondurenas (Criterio (Honduras)*, December 30, 2022).

VIolence has internally displaced at least a quarter million Hondurans


“No Habra Impunidad”: Presidenta Boluarte Promete Investigar Muertes en Protestas (Reuters, *La Tercera (Chile)*, December 30, 2022).

Peru’s new president says that prosecutors will investigate security-force members who killed protesters amid the country’s political crisis

U.S.-Mexico Border

 Martha Pskowski, Texas National Guard Lines Section of Rio Grande in el Paso With Shipping Containers (The El Paso Times*, December 30, 2022).

Texas’s state government laid 10 shipping containers along the river in El Paso, just as it has done in Eagle Pass. The barrier does not block asylum seekers from the riverbank


 Maduro en la Salutacion a la Fanb: «Hay 4.5 Millones de Milicianos en el Pais» (Asociación Civil Control Ciudadano (Venezuela)*, December 30, 2022).

Maduro claims that about one-sixth of Venezuela’s population are members of a citizen militia

 Catherine Osborn, Will the World Ditch Its Punitive Approach to Venezuela in 2023? (Foreign Policy*, December 30, 2022).

Broad sanctions didn’t work in Cuba, and they’re not working in Venezuela, where Maduro is approaching 10 years in power

 En 2022 10.737 Personas Murieron por Causas Violentas en Venezuela, Dice Informe Anual del Ovv (Efecto Cocuyo (Venezuela)*, December 30, 2022).

The Venezuelan Violence Observatory’s 2022 homicide estimate points to a homicide rate over 40 per 100,000 residents

Latin America Security-Related News: December 29, 2022

(Even more here)

December 29, 2022


 Laia Mataix Gomez, Colombia Views Development as Only Way to End Coca’s Reign (La Prensa Latina*, December 29, 2022).

Felipe Tascón, the new director of Colombia’s alternative development program, calls for rural “industrialization”

 Javier Patino C., El Nuevo ‘Round’ en la Lucha Contra las Drogas (Revista Cambio (Colombia)*, December 29, 2022).

The Petro government’s approach to narco-trafficking goes easy on small-scale coca growers and seeks to go after powerful traffickers

 Ana Leon, Un Diciembre en Saravena, Donde la Guerrilla Mato la Navidad (La Silla Vacia (Colombia)*, December 29, 2022).

Another bad year for security in Saravena, Arauca, despite the Petro government’s peace efforts, as fighting persists between the ELN and FARC dissidents

Cuba, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, U.S.-Mexico Border

* Mica Rosenberg, Ted Hesson, U.S. Plans to Expand Border Expulsions for Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians (Reuters, *Reuters*, December 29, 2022).

The Biden administration is considering expelling Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Haitian asylum seekers back into Mexico using the undead Title 42 pandemic policy. No word from Mexico about whether it would take them


 Jorge Martinez, Victor Hugo Michel, Capacitara Eu a Mexico en la Lucha Contra el Armamento 3d (Milenio (Mexico)*, December 29, 2022).

3D-printed weapons are becoming a problem for Mexico, and ATF will provide training in countering them

* Edgar H. Clemente, Maria Verza, Thriving Network of Fixers Preys on Migrants Crossing Mexico (Associated Press, *Associated Press*, December 29, 2022).

Detailed investigation of the middlemen who connect migrants with smugglers and corrupt officials, making transit to the U.S. border possible in exchange for hefty fees

* Elliot Spagat, Mexico Draws More Asylum-Seekers Despite Grisly Violence (Associated Press, *Associated Press*, December 29, 2022).

Mexico is a very dangerous place for migrants, but also the world’s number-three recipient of asylum applications

U.S.-Mexico Border

 Sandra Sanchez, Bathroom Crisis for Migrants at Makeshift Camp in Matamoros, Mexico (Border Report*, December 29, 2022).

3,000 people are now living in a new encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville. There are two portable toilets

 Zolan Kanno-Youngs, ‘This Is Not About the Pandemic Anymore’: Public Health Law Is Embraced as Border Band-Aid (The New York Times*, December 29, 2022).

It’s a serious stretch to continue claiming that Title 42 is a public health policy

 James Dobbins, Miriam Jordan, Will Lifting Title 42 Cause a Border Crisis? It’s Already Here. (The New York Times*, December 29, 2022).

Title 42 has not reduced migration, which is near record levels


 Ana Vanessa Herrero, Karen Deyoung, Samantha Schmidt, End of an Era as Venezuela’s Opposition Moves to End Guaido Experiment (The Washington Post*, December 29, 2022).

As the Maduro regime strengthens, Venezuela’s opposition casts about for new tactics

Title 42 is still with us for many more months. Perhaps a year or more.

The Supreme Court just voted 5-4 to stay lower courts’ termination of the Title 42 pandemic order, which has expelled migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border 2.5 million times since March 2020, often without a chance to seek asylum. The Court is keeping the controversial measure in place while it decides whether Republican-run states can go ahead with a challenge.

Title 42 is not a public health measure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found it unnecessary back on April 1. It’s an internationally condemned block to the right to seek protection, and it’s generating profound misery.

Migrant Encounters in Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector

For a second straight month, El Paso is the number-one sector for migrant encounters, among Border Patrol’s nine U.S.-Mexico border sectors. In March, El Paso was number five.

Nicaragua (dark gray, 15,305 migrants) was the number-one nationality in November. In October, number one was Venezuela (dark red, 17,807 migrants

Nationalities of migrants at the US-Mexico border, September to November

(For all countries whose citizens were encountered at least 1,000 times in a month):

  • Largest increases:
    • Ecuador +120%
    • Russia +110% (a record, Russia is now in the top 10)
    • Nicaragua +88% (a record)
    • Cuba +32% (second most in a month)
  • Largest decreases:
    • Venezuela -77% (a result of Title 42 being applied, as of mid-October, to expel Venezuelans into Mexico)
    • Brazil -59%
    • El Salvador -12%
    • Honduras -10%
  • Colombia is now #4.

34 members of Congress send a letter on Colombia

“We applaud the Biden Administration’s support for the historic 2016 Peace Accord, and we encourage the State Department and USAID to use the new government’s commitment to fully implement the accord as an opportunity to increase investment and reenergize areas of weak implementation.”

Read the full letter here.

Title 42 Must End. Here are Five Reasons Why

Just posted at, drafted by WOLA’s communications team with much input and edits from Maureen Meyer and me. As Title 42’s end date nears a Supreme Court showdown, here in 1,280 words are 5 reasons why it should terminate, as soon as possible.

Title 42 Must End. Here are Five Reasons Why (in <1,300 words):

  1. It’s illegal
  2. It wasn’t designed to protect public health
  3. It creates a discriminatory system
  4. It puts people in need of protection in further danger
  5. It undermines the U.S. ability to promote a protection-centered response to regional migration

Read the whole thing here.

WOLA Podcast: Peru’s Turmoil and “the Danger of a Much Deeper Crisis”

Perhaps you’ve been focused on the crisis at the border, the gang crackdown in El Salvador, Brazil’s presidential transition, human rights violations in Venezuela and Nicaragua, Colombia’s peace talks, or something else. But Peru is having a moment that, if unaddressed, could quickly devolve into something much worse.

I spoke to Jo-Marie Burt, a senior fellow at WOLA who closely follows Peru, to talk about what’s been happening. It’s very much worth a listen. Here’s the content of WOLA’s podcast landing page.

A deeply divided country with the world’s highest COVID death rate, Peru has suffered a series of political crises. After the latest, it is now governed by its seventh president in less than seven years.

December 2022 has seen a president’s failed attempt to dissolve Congress and subsequent jailing, and now large-scale protests met with a military crackdown. Divisions between the capital, Lima, and the rural, largely indigenous interior have been heightened by President Pedro Castillo’s exit. The military is playing a more active, openly political, role.

WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt explains how Peru got here, the political divisions, the role of the international community, and the dangerous—but avoidable—possible outcomes of the present crisis.

Download the podcast .mp3 file here. Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

“The highest degree of irresponsibility”

“Buying planes in the midst of a crisis like the one we’re experiencing is the highest degree of irresponsibility for a leader,” candidate Gustavo Petro said in 2021.

Now, in a reversal, President Petro will purchase 16 fighter jets, choosing between the U.S. F-16, Sweden’s Gripen, and France’s Rafale.

Each will cost dozens of millions of dollars. Colombia has few threat scenarios for which fighter jets would be of use.

What will get cut to pay for this? Peace accord implementation?

Border Patrol’s “Green Line” flag

Both of these photos appeared on social media yesterday. Can’t the U.S. Border Patrol just use a regular American flag at its events, instead of this “green line” flag? At least when involving children?

I understand that the design is meant to honor fallen agents. But it also portrays Border Patrol as a line of defense protecting “good” people from “others.” Who is implied to be on the other side of that line?

Several days after January 6, 2021, I wrote about why I’m uncomfortable with the pro-police “Blue Line” flag, which appeared often that day even as rioters attacked police at the Capitol.

Title 42 didn’t deter migration

It’s so perplexing that people are convinced that Title 42 slowed migration, and that its lifting will be a major change.

Here’s what happened to single-adult migrant encounters at the US-Mexico border after Title 42 went into effect. Not a deterrent, to say the least.

Title 42 did not similarly increase child and family migration over what came before. But it didn’t reduce it, either.

The 4 countries whose citizens could be expelled across the land border into Mexico? Title 42 slowed growth in their migration, though it remained high. But citizens of all other countries surpassed them since last summer.

Title 42 did NOT reduce US-bound migration of non-Mexicans through Mexico, which has hit all-time record levels.

Northbound migration through Panama’s treacherous Darién Gap was rare before Title 42, which did nothing to deter it.

By increasing incentives not to turn themselves in to US authorities, Title 42 probably contributed to today’s horrific amount of migrant deaths on US soil along the border.

Title 42 had no impact on drugs crossing the border. Fentanyl, for instance, is almost entirely seized at ports of entry (blue) and checkpoints (brown), it appears in most cases by US citizens.

If Title 42 ends, a short-term increase is likely. Asylum seekers from 5 countries subject to land-border expulsions into Mexico will finally have a chance to seek protection, after being bottled up for 33 months.

But don’t believe for a moment that Title 42 ever reduced migration.

(P.S.: These and other charts are at WOLA’s Border Oversight page.)

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: December 16, 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 holiday absence, WOLA will not publish Border Updates on December 23 or 30. Updates will resume on January 6.

This week:

  • As the December 21 expiration date looms for Title 42, a court challenge seeks to preserve the pandemic expulsions policy and the Biden administration is considering other measures, from a “transit ban” to pressure on Mexico, to limit access to asylum. The result of the next few weeks may have long-term consequences for the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • About 1,500 mostly Nicaraguan migrants—many of them victims of a mass kidnapping in northern Mexico—crossed from Ciudad Juárez to El Paso all at once on December 11. They are part of a sudden recent rise in migration to Border Patrol’s El Paso sector—which as recently as March was fifth of nine border sectors in migrant encounters—that is straining local services.
  • Arizona activists’ direct action appears to have halted the outgoing Republican governor’s effort to use thousands of shipping containers to fill a 10-mile border wall gap in an environmentally fragile national forest. The Biden administration had been slow to respond to the construction on federal land.

A pivotal moment for the future of asylum in the United States

December 21, the federal court-ordered expiration date for the “Title 42” pandemic expulsions policy, is drawing near. The coming days and weeks may set precedents with lasting consequences for the right, enshrined in U.S. law more than 40 years ago, to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In March 2020, at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration invoked Section 265 of Title 42, U.S. Code, a quarantine provision, to swiftly expel undocumented migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border. It made no exception for asylum seekers, and Mexico agreed to accept expulsions of its own citizens, and citizens of three Central American countries, across the land border. The Biden administration continued to implement Title 42; both administrations have used it about 2.5 million times to expel migrants.

A Washington, DC federal district judge struck down Title 42 on November 15, finding its use “arbitrary and capricious,” but acceding to an administration request for five weeks to prepare for its end. As of December 21, the pandemic policy is to expire. Most observers expect a short-term increase in migration at the border, as many migrants who had been unable to request asylum upon reaching U.S. soil would once again be able to do so.

Republican state attorneys-general are seeking to challenge the November 15 ruling and preserve Title 42. Nineteen “red states” filed an emergency motion to the Washington, DC Circuit Court of Appeals asking it to suspend the District Court’s ruling and keep Title 42 in place past December 21. The states asked the Appeals Court to decide by December 16, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which led a coalition of groups whose suit successfully challenged Title 42, agreed.

If the Appeals Court denies their request, the states are asking it to declare an “administrative stay” keeping Title 42 in place for one more week, which would give the states time to appeal to the Supreme Court. It would then be up to the Supreme Court’s conservative majority whether to declare a stay, keeping Title 42 in place for the duration of appeals—which could last well over a year.

Amid the uncertainty, a December 14 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) document and media reports point to options that the Biden administration is weighing in the event that Title 42 expires on December 21. Internal discussions, and discussions with Mexico, are taking place as the migrant population increases.

The number of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encounters with migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border exceeded 9,000 per day on three occasions during the first week and a half of December, a record-breaking pace, Axios reported, adding, “Officials now are preparing for the possibility of between 12,000 to 14,000 migrants attempting to cross every day.”

The December 14 DHS document warns of “a potential for a higher number of single adults and families to be provisionally released from DHS custody into communities without NGO or other sponsor support, pending the outcome of their immigration court proceedings.“ The chief of CBP’s Border Patrol component, Raúl Ortiz, echoed that warning of large-scale direct releases in a December 9 internal memo.

In order to accommodate the likely short-term migration increase, DHS is asking Congress for $3.4 billion over its 2023 budget request which, like the rest of the federal budget, still awaits legislative approval.

According to the DHS document, in a post-Title 42 climate the Department will increase use of Expedited Removal, a form of rapid deportation for those whom CBP personnel deem not to be asylum-seekers or otherwise needing protection. It will also seek to hold more single adult asylum seekers in detention, and refer for criminal prosecution “those whose conduct warrants it”—which according to DHS includes “noncitizens seeking to evade apprehension, repeat offenders, and those engaging in smuggling efforts.”

Press reports point to more severe steps that the administration is currently considering but has not yet decided to implement.

Axios reported that officials have internally circulated “a draft rule that would impose an asylum ban for roughly five months—initially.” It is not clear what legal basis such a rule might have.

NBC News reported that officials are “solidifying plans” to implement a so-called “transit ban,” refusing asylum applications from non-Mexican migrants who did not first attempt to seek asylum in other countries along their route to the United States. Unless they can prove that they require protection under the International Convention Against Torture, a higher standard than asylum, migrants “would have to show they first sought and were denied asylum in a country they passed through on their way to the U.S. border, four sources familiar with the planning say.”

Axios added that possible exceptions to the transit ban may apply to those who “are facing extreme circumstances, such as a medical emergency or other immediate, severe harm,” and perhaps for those who, under a new process, use CBP’s “CBP One” app to schedule an appointment at a port of entry (official border crossing).

The Trump administration sought to impose a similar severe limit on asylum in 2019; a federal court overturned it after the ACLU and other organizations filed suit. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, asked by NBC News about this controversial proposal, “did not deny that a so-called transit ban was under consideration,” even as he called the U.S. asylum system “one of our crown jewels.”

NBC and the El Paso Times, covering Mayorkas’s December 13 visit to El Paso, reported that the administration is also considering a mechanism to allow migrants from Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua to apply online for humanitarian parole in the United States. The program would be similar to one created in October for up to 24,000 Venezuelans, approving two years’ parole with work permits for those  who hold passports and have someone to sponsor them in the United States. Many poorer and threatened Venezuelans are unable to meet those two criteria.

The administration is leaning on Mexico, meanwhile, “to ensure that the surge of migrants bused to Juárez, to the border, over the weekend doesn’t happen again,” the El Paso Times reported, referring to a group of about 1,500 migrants discussed in this update’s next section. Roberto Velasco, Mexico’s senior diplomat for North American affairs, told the Dallas Morning News that “sensitive” and “delicate” negotiations with his U.S. counterparts are “intense” and happening “round-the-clock.”

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