Adam Isacson

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


September 2023

Humanitarian Parole Recipients By Nationality

Data table

While not 100 percent exact—the Department of Homeland Security isn’t sharing exact numbers—this chart gives a pretty accurate sense of which nationalities’ citizens have benefited from the two-year Humanitarian Parole program that the Biden administration has set up for citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. To qualify for the paroled status in the United States, citizens of those countries must apply online from outside U.S. territory, have a passport, have a U.S.-based sponsor, and undergo a background check.

Haitians have taken fullest advantage of the program since the Biden administration created it for Venezuelan citizens in October 2022, and expanded it to the other three countries in January 2023. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported on September 22:

Through the end of August 2023, over 211,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans had arrived lawfully under the parole processes. This number includes more than 45,000 Cubans, more than 71,000 Haitians, more than 32,000 Nicaraguans, and more than 61,000 Venezuelans who have arrived in the U.S. More than 47,000 Cubans, more than 84,000 Haitians, more than 39,000 Nicaraguans, and more than 68,000 Venezuelans have been vetted and authorized for travel.

They Did What They Said They’d Do

Houston Chronicle headline from September 27: "Ahead of government shutdown, House Republicans vow to 'die on the hill to secure the border'"

This headline is from Wednesday. That was what House Republicans said they’d do, and it’s exactly what they did. They totally died on that hill.

Minutes ago, the House just passed a bill to keep the government open for 45 days—but the chamber’s Republican majority was compelled to cut out the extreme border language that was in earlier versions. They GOP leadership needed Democratic votes to keep the government open.

It turns out that you can’t hold the whole government hostage to a border-militarizing and asylum-killing agenda when you don’t even have the votes within your own party.

UN Report Reveals the United States to be Just Another Country with Endemic Human Rights Problems

I read a lot of UN and other independent reports about the human rights situation in Latin American countries. It’s always interesting, though, to read UN reports about the human rights situation here in the United States.

On September 26, the UN Human Rights Council published the report of a group of experts who visited several U.S. cities in April and May 2023. (Among them was Juan Méndez, who is very well known to Latin America specialists for many past roles, including former president of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and former director of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights.)

The experts’ report is direct and hard-hitting. Though the United States prides itself as a bastion of liberty and democracy, much of the UN experts’ language could just as easily apply to a Latin American nation for which I’ve advocated limits on U.S. security assistance.

The report is available here as a PDF, and at the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights website as a Word (.doc) file. Here are some highlights. Passages that I found especially jaw-dropping are emphasized with highlighting.

On law enforcement agencies’ use of force policies, or remarkable lack thereof:

During the visit, the Mechanism was informed that not all States in the US have regulations on the use of force and that there is no full nationwide regulation on the topic, with only a Supreme Court doctrine and Fourth Amendment rights applicable. The Mechanism is concerned that existing local and national standards on the use of force by law enforcement officials, including the Supreme Court rulings and the Department of Justice’s updated policy, do not meet international standards.

The Mechanism is profoundly concerned that this current regulatory situation is conducive to the early and unjustified use of force, including lethal force, by law enforcement. The Mechanism has received evidence suggesting that numerous law enforcement practices do not prioritize de-escalation and other less harmful methods of control of the situation, contrary to the principles of strict necessity and precaution of international use of force standards.

On lethal use of force:

The Mechanism is alarmed by the figures and circumstances in which people are killed by police in the United States. Every year, more than 1,000 individuals are reportedly killed by law enforcement throughout the country. Available data shows that Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people, and reports suggest that 33% of all persons killed between 2015 and the first half of 2023 were running or driving away or otherwise trying to flee from law enforcement.

The Mechanism was concerned by reports suggesting that in 2022, the US had the higher number of police killings in a decade, with more than 1,200 people killed by law enforcement. Among these, 281 were Black people. The Mechanism is troubled by the fact that 59% (685) of all killings by police in 2022 were related to traffic stops, mental health crisis, or people not alleged to be threatening anyone with a gun.

On racial profiling:

According to a Department of Justice special report , Black persons were three times more likely to experience the threat of force or use of nonfatal force; three times more likely to be shouted at by police; and 11 times more likely to experience police misconduct (slur, bias or sexual misconduct), during their most recent police contact in 2020, than white persons.

In this sense, the Mechanism rejects the “bad apple” theory, suggesting that racial discrimination in policing is the result of isolated actions of a small number of rogue police officers. There is strong evidence that the abusive behaviour of some individual police officers is part of a broader and menacing pattern, connected into larger social, historical, cultural and structural contexts, within which policing is undertaken. Law enforcement officers in the United States share and reproduce values, attitudes and stereotypes of US society and institutions.

On disproportionate incarceration of Black people:

Black people are the most incarcerated and most criminally supervised persons in the United States. In 2021, 1,704,000 Black persons were under criminal administration: 591,000 incarcerated (391,000 in prison and 221,000 in a local jail) and 1,136,000 under probation (864,000) or parole (280,000). An estimated 1 in 19 (rate of 5,350 per 100,000) Black adult was under correctional supervision, compared to 1 in 62 (rate of 1,620 per 100,000) white adult.

…The Mechanism is deeply concerned by these numbers. These significantly disproportionate rates between Black and white persons are staggering.

On long-term incarceration of children:

[T]he Mechanism was shocked by information stating that at least 32,359 individuals are currently incarcerated in the US for offenses they committed when they were children, and that 80% of those are non-white and 58% are Black. 6,301 (19.47%) of these children were sentenced to life term and 3,162 are serving de facto life sentences (sentence over 39 years ).

On the population held in pre-trial detention:

About 451,400 people are detained pretrial on any given day in the United States. In 2002, 29% of people in jails were held pretrial; by 2023, that number increased to 71%. During the visit to the Los Angeles County Jails and the Cook County Jail, the Mechanism was shocked by allegations of inmates being held in pre-trial detention for long periods (i.e. more than 10 years) and for periods longer than the eligible sentence of the offence they may have committed, if convicted.

On the use of forced, unpaid, or poorly paid prison labor, permitted by the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, especially for Black inmates:

The Mechanism is astonished by evidence stating that this access to free or almost free Black work force, through free or poorly paid prison forced labour, exists to this day in the United States, constituting a contemporary form of slavery. Further, it received information stating that workers in prison are assigned hazardous work in unsafe conditions without the training or protective gear needed, and, if they refused to work, even for a medical condition or disability, they are punished accordingly.

The delegation received shocking information over “plantation-style” prisons in Southern States, in which contemporary forms of slavery are reported. Commonly known as “Angola”, the Louisiana State Penitentiary occupies an 18,000-acre former slave plantation, larger than the island of Manhattan. The plantation prison soil worked by incarcerated labour today is the same soil worked by slaves before the civil war. “Angola” currently houses nearly 5000 adult men, the majority of them Black men, forced to labour in the fields (even picking cotton) under the watch of white “freemen” on horseback, in conditions very similar to those of 150 years ago.

On the drug war, racism, and militarization of policing:

[I]n the US Black people are 3.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, albeit comparable usage rates. But in some specific US states, disparities can be greater, as much as six, eight or almost 10 times more likely to be arrested.

The Mechanism joins other UN mandates stating that the ‘war on drugs’ “has been more effective as a system of racial control than as a tool to reduce drug markets. Policing interventions based on racial profiling remain widespread, whilst access to evidence-based treatment and harm reduction for people of African descent remains critically low.”

The Mechanism received information on the inseparable links between the federal drug policy, the federal programs funding and transferring military equipment to law enforcement agencies, and police killings of inhabitants in the US. Black people are more impacted by the use of this kind of equipment and tactics deployed in drug related raids, despite the fact that people of all races use and sell drugs at similar rates. Normalization of military equipment in law enforcement agencies can enable and encourage a type policing that prioritize use of force, including excessive use of force.

On abuse of Black migrants:

During the visit, the Mechanism received several detailed accounts of anti-Black and racially based arbitrary detention and ill-treatment against migrants and asylum seekers of African Descent, including Haitians, by US immigration authorities.

According to information received, Haitian migratory-detained persons were denied access to sufficient food, health care, interpreters, information and legal counsel; after which they were returned to Haiti by plane restrained in handcuffs and shackles causing severe additional psychological suffering due to the association of this practice not only to criminality, but to slavery.

On crowd control and the response to 2020 anti-racism protests:

[T]he Mechanism received accounts on the authorities’ response to anti-racism protests in 2020, that led to thousands of arbitrary arrests and hundreds of people injured, mostly by the misuse or excessive use of less lethal weapons against protestors, such as batons, chemical irritants and kinetic impact weapons (for example rubber bullets). For example, 115 people were shot in the head and neck with kinetic impact projectiles by police between May 26 and July 27, 2020.

Information received make clear that in the 2020 anti-racism protests law enforcement confronted peaceful manifestations with riot gear as a first level response, rather than only in response to specific incidents of violence. Evidence suggests that law enforcement use a variety of unjustified levels of force, including less lethal weapons, against large peaceful demonstrations and against journalists, legal observers and paramedical teams, in violation of human rights standards.

…The Mechanism is particularly concerned over reports that the 2020 anti-racism protests were followed by widespread legislative measures and initiatives in some states, which would unduly restrict the right to peaceful assembly.

On lack of accountability for abuse:

Only 1.9% of all killings by police in the past decade (2013-2022) resulted in police officers being charged with a crime. In 2022, available data indicates the proportion was only in 1% of the cases.

Video: A lot of migration at the border isn’t “illegal.”

We hear a lot that people at the U.S.-Mexico border are being allowed into the United States “illegally.” Well, no.

For decades, U.S. law has stated that if you fear for your life or freedom if returned to your country, you are entitled to due process. Asylum seekers are doing something legal. And many of them qualify.

Here’s a two-minute explanation:

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: September 29, 2023

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.


New data published by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirms that migration increased significantly at the U.S.-Mexico border from July to August. The largest increases were in migrants traveling as families, and migrants from Central America, Cuba, and the Andes. Migration continues to increase in September. Migration had declined in the months following the end of the Title 42 pandemic policy, but by now that lull has completely reversed.

Meeting with the acting commissioner of CBP, Mexican authorities agreed to take measures to reduce concentration of migrants near the common border, including relocating migrants and perhaps even stepping up deportations to some countries. Mexico’s southern-border city of Tapachula continues to fill up as approximately 6,000 migrants arrive every day along Mexico’s border with Guatemala. Migration through Panama’s Darién Gap remains near record levels, and continues to increase through Honduras.

The U.S. government is likely to shut down on October 1 for lack of a congressionally approved budget. The House of Representatives’ Republican majority is coalescing around demands that the Biden administration and the Democratic-majority Senate agree to a list of hard-line border security proposals and asylum restrictions in exchange for keeping the government open.


Read More

The Dangerous Wait for a CBP One Appointment in Tamaulipas, Mexico

An investigation by four veteran Reuters reporters finds a link between the Biden administration’s use of an app that makes asylum seekers wait for weeks in Mexico, and an increase in attacks on migrants, especially rapes of migrant women, in Mexico’s organized crime-dominated northern border state of Tamaulipas.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration in May moved to a new system that required migrants to secure an appointment—via an app known as CBP One—to present themselves at a legal border crossing to enter the United States.

Nine experts, including lawyers, medical professionals, and aid workers, told Reuters the new system has had unintended consequences in the two cities, contributing to a spike in violence.

The high risk of kidnapping and sexual assault in Reynosa and Matamoros is one of the factors pushing migrants to cross illegally, four advocates said. Crossings border-wide surged in September.

Tamaulipas border cities like Matamoros and Reynosa have been notoriously dangerous for years. They’re home to the decades-old Gulf Cartel, the Northeast Cartel (an heir of the Zetas), and other splinter groups that compete violently.

Map showing Tamaulipas' location along the eastern segment of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Tamaulipas, from WikiMedia Commons

These regional cartels have less-solid control of their territory than do larger national cartels like Sinaloa. This makes them more prone to use violence against newcomers and outsiders—including U.S. citizens, four of whom were kidnapped, two killed, in March when they came to Matamoros for a cosmetic surgery procedure. These criminal groups also make somewhat less money from the drug trade than the larger cartels; such “poorer” criminal groups are more likely to fund themselves by preying on vulnerable people, including migrants.

The Mexican state, especially the hyper-corrupt local government in Tamaulipas, is no protection. Officials often collude with organized crime.

So in recent months, when an asylum seeker uses CBP One, they can travel from elsewhere in Mexico to the border and show up at a U.S. port of entry at their appointed time. They do not need to hire a smuggler. That’s great.

What’s less great is that, when the port of entry is in south Texas (Laredo, McAllen-Hidalgo, and Brownsville, which make up 42 percent of CBP One appointments border-wide—605 out of 1,450 daily spots), the asylum seeker must travel through Tamaulipas territory under organized crime control. In order to be sure not to miss their appointment, they may even stay in this territory, near the port of entry, for days or weeks.

When they do that, the cartels—whose eyes and ears in the region are thorough enough to rival Cold-War East Germany—often find them and demand money. Reuters explains:

[C]riminal groups are still demanding these migrants pay to enter their territory, the experts said.

“Rape is part of the torture process to get the money,” said Bertha Bermúdez Tapia, a sociologist at New Mexico State University researching the impacts of Biden’s policy on migrants in Tamaulipas.

“To see my son growing up, and saying his first words, and him not being here…”

You hear a lot about the popularity of El Salvador’s authoritarian-trending president, Nayib Bukele, who has overseen an anti-gang “state of exception” that has jailed more than 1 percent of the country’s population since March 2022.

The result has been a sharp drop in violent crime that has people throughout the Americas saying “we need a Bukele here.” But there’s a dark side that’s evident to all who care enough not to look away.

One who’s not looking away is filmmaker Amada Torruella, whose short film “La Isla” appears today on the website of the New Yorker. It’s about the family of a man who authorities took away during a sweep early in the state of emergency, even though the part of coastal El Salvador where he lives does not have a significant gang presence.

The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer narrates:

The subjects of Torruella’s film are all female—the wives, mothers, and sisters of the men who have been arrested and sent to prison. “We had just come back from doing some shopping,” one of them says, “when suddenly an officer from the Armed Forces approached him.” She sits on a tidy bed in a small house, sifting through legal papers; her partner has been gone eighteen days. “It’s a lie,” she says, of the government’s accusation. Five months later, she’s still not heard anything from him.

Even though El Salvador’s homicide rate is now purported to be nearly as low as Denmark’s, there is no end in sight to the “state of exception” limiting basic rights, which has been renewed 18 times by Bukele’s legislative supermajority. As Bukele heads for re-election next year even though the country’s laws forbid it, he at least needs to end the pain of thousands of innocents caught up in his sweeps.

1 in 300 Hondurans, in a Month

For about every 300 Honduran citizens living in Honduras, 1 was apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in August 2023 alone. That’s 35,173 people out of a population of 10.6 million.

Chart: Citizens of Honduras: CBP Encounters At and Between Ports of Entry

	Between the Ports of Entry (Border Patrol)	At the Ports of Entry (CBP Office of Field Operations)
19-Oct	5449	270
19-Nov	4479	295
19-Dec	4202	180
20-Jan	2567	211
20-Feb	2802	175
20-Mar	3226	124
20-Apr	1872	19
20-May	1712	34
20-Jun	2101	46
20-Jul	2880	25
20-Aug	3983	45
20-Sep	4818	28
20-Oct	7330	40
20-Nov	8146	53
20-Dec	10296	62
21-Jan	11162	70
21-Feb	20102	78
21-Mar	41989	127
21-Apr	37738	467
21-May	30624	1507
21-Jun	32620	2413
21-Jul	42594	2703
21-Aug	39532	2593
21-Sep	26798	280
21-Oct	21779	82
21-Nov	19917	188
21-Dec	17856	285
22-Jan	11726	285
22-Feb	13689	386
22-Mar	15709	504
22-Apr	14261	1473
22-May	17999	1731
22-Jun	22712	1465
22-Jul	18123	2217
22-Aug	13218	3001
22-Sep	12197	2220
22-Oct	10658	3445
22-Nov	10160	2990
22-Dec	10329	2947
23-Jan	8982	2048
23-Feb	10098	837
23-Mar	11524	1831
23-Apr	12112	1106
23-May	17813	3226
23-Jun	10660	4434
23-Jul	23091	2934
23-Aug	31747	3426

Data table

Even more citizens from Guatemala arrived at the border in August (37,937), but Guatemala’s population is larger (18.1 million). That is 1 of every 477 Guatemalan citizens living in Guatemala.

Citizens of Guatemala: CBP Encounters At and Between Ports of Entry

	Between the Ports of Entry (Border Patrol)	At the Ports of Entry (CBP Office of Field Operations)
19-Oct	5788	121
19-Nov	6129	111
19-Dec	6396	94
20-Jan	4487	93
20-Feb	4802	83
20-Mar	4269	60
20-Apr	1340	17
20-May	702	22
20-Jun	997	67
20-Jul	2349	69
20-Aug	4106	40
20-Sep	5878	34
20-Oct	9225	67
20-Nov	10279	44
20-Dec	12394	60
21-Jan	13082	55
21-Feb	19029	125
21-Mar	33921	139
21-Apr	29782	271
21-May	25846	606
21-Jun	29423	823
21-Jul	35674	794
21-Aug	36216	892
21-Sep	24162	126
21-Oct	19301	73
21-Nov	20379	90
21-Dec	20908	101
22-Jan	13746	110
22-Feb	18081	134
22-Mar	21245	147
22-Apr	19453	457
22-May	21076	392
22-Jun	24219	429
22-Jul	19810	402
22-Aug	15092	589
22-Sep	14910	421
22-Oct	14254	593
22-Nov	13970	545
22-Dec	14247	639
23-Jan	11531	439
23-Feb	14016	204
23-Mar	14884	409
23-Apr	14310	273
23-May	14152	667
23-Jun	9548	814
23-Jul	21491	637
23-Aug	37204	733

Data table

Immigration Opponents’ Falsehoods May Be Attracting Migrants

According to an America’s Voice-commissioned poll of 600 people in Central America:

  • 27% recall having heard or seen a US official or politician say “the border is open” within the last 6 months.
  • Among people who report they have heard politicians say “the border is open,” 35% state they believe with Title 42 ending, the Biden administration is cheering people on who cross the border. (Of those who haven’t heard US politicians say this, only 17% think that’s true.)

“Unboxing”: Migración en la Era de Biden

Here (en español) is an episode of DemocraciaAbierta’s #Unboxing program, in which host Sandra Borda (of Colombia’s Universidad de los Andes) and I discuss the Biden administration’s post-Title 42 changes to immigration policy. We recorded this in late May, so it’s not razor-sharp current, but we do go into some detail that you don’t often get in a video interview.

E-mail updates are back

After an inexcusably long time, I’ve produced a “weekly” e-mail about stuff I’ve been working on, for those who’ve signed up to receive them. Resuming these was delayed by the collapse of the service I was using to send them, but that’s no excuse: it’s been on my to-do list since January (yes, I’ve been clicking “postpone 7 days” every week since January, which is pathetic).

This one has links or excerpts from the Border Update, some charts reflecting new data about migration, a couple of brief analyses about Colombia, some news links, a list of upcoming events, and just a few funny posts from others.

If you visit this site a lot, you probably don’t need an e-mail, too. But if you’d like to get more-or-less regular e-mail updates, scroll to the bottom of this page or click here.

Latin America-Related Events in Washington and Online This Week

(Events that I know of, anyway. All times are U.S. Eastern.)

Monday, September 25

  • 3:00-4:00 at,, or A Conversation with President of Ecuador Guillermo Lasso (RSVP required).

Tuesday, September 26

Wednesday, September 27

Thursday, September 28

Friday, September 29

  • 11:00-12:00 at the Wilson Center and online: Catastrophes, Confrontations, and Constraints (Book Launch) (RSVP required).

Nationalities of Migrants at the U.S.-Mexico Border, June Through August

Here are some more graphics made using data that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released late Friday. WOLA’s whole collection of border infographics is at our Border Oversight website.

The tables in the graphic below show the nationalities of migrants who ended up in Border Patrol custody, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border between ports of entry, between June and August 2023. As the tiny numbers on the right edge show, several nationalities experienced triple-digit percentage increases from June to August (that is, they more than doubled).

All Border Patrol Migrant Encounters at the U.S.-Mexico Border

Includes only those encountered between ports of entry.

June 2023
Mexico 33,960
Venezuela 12,549
Other 11,485
Honduras 10,660
Guatemala 9,548
Ecuador 4,706
Colombia 3,916
India 2,513
Peru 2,478
Brazil 2,225
China 2,122
El Salvador 2,041
Turkey 493
Cuba 351
Russia 186
Nicaragua 179

July 2023
Mexico 36,002
Honduras 23,091
Guatemala 21,491
Venezuela 11,432
Other 10,930
Ecuador 9,580
Colombia 5,193
China 3,076
El Salvador 3,062
India 2,696
Peru 2,355
Brazil 2,150
Cuba 632
Turkey 465
Nicaragua 272
Russia 104

August 2023
Mexico 39,512
Guatemala 37,204
Honduras 31,747
Venezuela 22,090
Ecuador 13,238
Other 11,572
Colombia 8,036
El Salvador 5,063
Peru 3,042
Brazil 2,692
India 2,567
China 2,361
Cuba 756
Nicaragua 604
Turkey 400
Russia 85

Data table

The tables in the next graphic show the nationalities of migrants who were able to present themselves at U.S.-Mexico border ports of entry between June and August 2023. Most of them—87 percent in June—made appointments using the “CBP One” smartphone app.

Notable here: Haiti is third in August, as 8,687 of its citizens came to ports of entry, but Haiti does not even appear on the Border Patrol graphic above because zero Haitian citizens crossed between the ports of entry in August.

All Port of Entry Migrant Encounters at the U.S.-Mexico Border

Includes only those encountered at ports of entry.

June 2023
Mexico 15,308
Venezuela 7,907
Haiti 7,331
Honduras 4,434
Cuba 2,330
Other 2,145
Russia 1,242
El Salvador 1,143
Guatemala 814
Colombia 790
Brazil 737
Ecuador 399
Nicaragua 238
Peru 145
China 25
Ukraine 15
India 9
Turkey 8

July 2023
Mexico 17,929
Haiti 10,669
Venezuela 7,532
Other 3,065
Cuba 3,037
Honduras 2,934
Russia 1,736
Brazil 963
El Salvador 891
Colombia 758
Guatemala 637
Ecuador 331
Nicaragua 173
Peru 118
China 29
Ukraine 15
Turkey 8
India 7

August 2023
Mexico 15,990
Venezuela 9,373
Haiti 8,687
Cuba 5,425
Honduras 3,426
Other 2,882
Russia 2,012
El Salvador 1,017
Colombia 908
Brazil 771
Guatemala 733
Ecuador 392
Nicaragua 133
Peru 104
China 18
Ukraine 15
Turkey 7
India 7

Data table

Finally, this graphic combines the above two tables. Here is all nationalities at the border from June through August, regardless of how CBP encountered them.

All CBP Migrant Encounters at the U.S.-Mexico Border

Includes those encountered at, and between, ports of entry.

June 2023
Mexico 49,268
Venezuela 20,456
Honduras 15,094
Other 13,630
Guatemala 10,362
Haiti 7,360
Ecuador 5,105
Colombia 4,706
El Salvador 3,184
Brazil 2,962
Cuba 2,681
Peru 2,623
India 2,522
China 2,147
Russia 1,428
Turkey 501
Nicaragua 417

July 2023
Mexico 53,931
Honduras 26,025
Guatemala 22,128
Venezuela 18,964
Other 13,995
Haiti 10,684
Ecuador 9,911
Colombia 5,951
El Salvador 3,953
Cuba 3,669
Brazil 3,113
China 3,105
India 2,703
Peru 2,473
Russia 1,840
Turkey 473
Nicaragua 445

August 2023
Mexico 55,502
Guatemala 37,937
Honduras 35,173
Venezuela 31,463
Other 14,454
Ecuador 13,630
Colombia 8,944
Haiti 8,687
Cuba 6,181
El Salvador 6,080
Brazil 3,463
Peru 3,146
India 2,574
China 2,379
Russia 2,097
Nicaragua 737
Turkey 407

Data table

Charts: U.S.-Mexico Border Migrant Encounters Since October 2020

With U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) releasing new data last night, we now know what migration at the U.S.-Mexico border looked like through August.

The most notable thing about these charts is the rapid increase in migrant arrivals from June to August, in the areas between ports of entry (official border crossings) where Border Patrol operates. We know that the increase is continuing in September.

June was the first full month after May 11, 2023, when the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy ended. At that moment, many migrants and smugglers refrained from crossing between ports of entry because it wasn’t clear what would happen next, and migration plummeted to levels not seen since February 2021.

As they grew frustrated with clogged “legal pathways” like the CBP One smartphone app, and as they got better information about the likelihood of being able to pursue asylum claims within the United States despite the Biden administration’s harsh new asylum rule, more have been crossing between the official ports of entry and turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents.

This chart shows, by country, who has been ending up in Border Patrol custody after crossing between ports of entry.

Border Patrol Apprehensions by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

August 2023: Mexico 22%, Guatemala 21%, Honduras 18%, Venezuela 12%, Ecuador 7%, Colombia 4%, El Salvador 3%, Peru 2%, All Others <2% 

Since October 2020: Mexico 33%, Guatemala 12.1%, Honduras 11.7%, Venezuela 6.7%, Cuba 6.6%, Nicaragua 5.4%, Colombia 4.8%, El Salvador 4.1%, All Others <4%

Data table

This chart shows, by country, who was able to present themselves at a U.S.-Mexico border port of entry. Of the 51,913 people shown here in August, 87 percent (45,400) had made appointments using CBP One, according to CBP.

Chart: CBP Port of Entry Migrant Encounters by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

August 2023: Mexico 31%, Venezuela 18%, Haiti 17%, Cuba 10%, Honduras 7%, Russia 4%, El Salvador 2%, All Others <2% 

Since October 2020: Mexico 39%, Haiti 15%, Venezuela 8.8%, Russia 8.7%, Honduras 8.5%, Ukraine 4%, All Others <3%

Data table

The following charts combine people at and between ports of entry (CBP plus Border Patrol). Here are migrants arriving as members of family units (parents plus children). Border Patrol encountered more migrants arriving as families in August 2023 (93,108) than in any month in history. The second-place month (84,486) was May 2019, when Donald Trump was president.

Chart: Family Unit Member / Accompanied Minor CBP (Border Patrol Plus Port of Entry)
Migrant Encounters by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

August 2023: Guatemala 23%, Honduras 22%, Mexico 18%, Venezuela 13%, Ecuador 6%, Colombia 4%, All Others <4%

Since October 2020: Honduras 18%, Mexico 12%, Guatemala 10.5%, Venezuela 9.7%, Colombia 8%, Ecuador 6.1%, All Others <6%

Data table

This chart, combining people at and between ports of entry, shows the countries of origin of migrants arriving as unaccompanied minors. August was the number-12 month ever for Border Patrol apprehensions of unaccompanied migrant children: 13,549 last month.

Chart: Unaccompanied Child CBP (Border Patrol Plus Port of Entry) Migrant Encounters
by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

August 2023: Guatemala 38%, Honduras 28%, Mexico 18%, El Salvador 6%, Venezuela 3.2%, Ecuador 3.1%, All Others <1%

Since October 2020: Guatemala 39%, Honduras 26%, Mexico 19%, El Salvador 10%, Ecuador 1.9%, Nicaragua 1.6%, All Others <1%

Data table

And here are single adult migrants. It was an unremarkable month for single adults (28th place for Border Patrol apprehensions, 74,402, since October 2011, which is the first month for which I have Border Patrol breakdowns by demographic group.)

Chart: Single Adult CBP (Border Patrol Plus Port of Entry) Migrant Encounters by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

August 2023: Mexico 31%, Venezuela 16%, Guatemala 5.82%, Honduras 5.76%, Ecuador 5.75%, Haiti 5.0% All Others <5%

Since October 2020: Mexico 47%, Guatemala 8%, Honduras 7.3%, Cuba 6.8%, Venezuela 6%, Nicaragua 5%, All Others <4%

Data table

Finally, this chart combines all migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border: those at and between ports of entry, single adults, families, and children.

All CBP (Border Patrol Plus Port of Entry) Migrant Encounters by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

August 2023: Mexico 24%, Guatemala 16%, Honduras 15%, Venezuela 14%, Ecuador 6%, Colombia 3.8%, Haiti 3.7%, Cuba 2.7%, El Salvador 2.6%, All Others <2%

Since October 2020: Mexico 34%, Honduras 11.4%, Guatemala 11.1%, Venezuela 7%, Cuba 6%, Nicaragua 5%, Colombia 4.4%, El Salvador 4.0%, All Others <4%

Data table

I’m still updating our collection of charts to reflect CBP’s new data dump. But what’s done is at WOLA’s Border Oversight page and downloadable as an 8-megabyte PDF file.

Sheridan Circle Today

Chile President Gabriel Boric right now in Washington’s Sheridan Circle, at today’s memorial of the 1976 state terrorist attack here that killed Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt.

93,108 Migrants Arriving as Family Units Entered Border Patrol Custody in August

Chart: Unaccompanied Children and Families Encountered at the U.S. Border (Border Patrol)

106,657 child and family migrant encounters in August

				12-Jan						12-Jul						13-Jan						13-Jul						14-Jan						14-Jul						15-Jan						15-Jul						16-Jan						16-Jul						17-Jan						17-Jul						18-Jan						18-Jul						19-Jan						19-Jul						20-Jan						20-Jul						21-Jan						21-Jul						22-Jan						22-Jul						23-Jan						23-Jul	
Unaccompanied Children	1465	1446	1259	1635	2077	2755	2703	2541	2071	2118	2289	2044	2333	2392	2218	2260	2986	4120	4206	3985	3384	3607	3718	3550	4181	4344	4327	3706	4845	7176	7701	10578	10620	5499	3138	2426	2519	2610	2858	2118	2385	3126	3273	2943	3833	4182	4638	4485	4943	5604	6757	3089	3092	4209	5162	5594	4750	5026	5767	5699	6704	7346	7187	4405	1910	1041	997	1473	1949	2475	2987	2961	3153	3973	4063	3202	3115	4141	4287	6388	5115	3938	4393	4360	4964	5257	4753	5105	6817	8956	8880	11475	7372	5554	3722	3165	2841	3308	3223	2680	3070	2974	712	966	1603	2426	2998	3756	4687	4475	4852	5688	9263	18716	16900	13878	15022	18681	18492	14180	12625	13745	11704	8607	11779	13892	11857	14420	14929	13003	10993	11539	11654	12780	11829	9034	10418	11853	11062	9443	6736	10041	13549
Family Unit Members	896	848	732	1026	936	1227	1208	925	791	898	918	711	799	776	746	847	923	1310	1384	1315	1250	1651	1907	1947	2414	2786	3311	2286	3281	5752	6511	12772	16330	7405	3296	2301	2162	2415	2891	1622	2041	2782	3087	3861	4042	4503	5159	5273	6025	6471	8973	3143	3050	4451	5620	6783	6627	7569	9353	9609	13115	15588	16139	9300	3123	1126	1118	1580	2322	3389	4631	4191	4836	7016	8119	5654	5475	8873	9648	9485	9449	9258	12760	16658	23116	25164	27507	24188	36530	53204	58713	84486	57358	42543	25049	15824	9721	9006	8595	5161	4610	3455	716	979	1581	1989	2609	3808	4634	4172	4248	7066	19289	53411	48297	40816	50106	76572	79899	62577	41556	43279	49437	30419	25165	34052	37082	51166	44071	42851	39305	44579	46749	49827	60844	25829	25643	33269	46555	45028	31266	60160	93108

Data table

Late on September 22, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data about migration at the U.S.-Mexico border during August 2023.

August was the number-one month ever for Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants traveling as members of families. “Family Unit” apprehensions totaled 93,108 last month.

August was the number-12 month ever for Border Patrol apprehensions of unaccompanied migrant children: 13,549 last month.

Add those numbers, and Border Patrol apprehended 106,657 child and family migrants in August 2023, a record.

August was the number-28 month since October 2011 for Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants traveling as single adults: 74,402 last month. Single adult numbers have been dropping since the end of the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy, which ironically made repeat crossings easier because of less time in custody.

Looks Like the Buoys Didn’t Work

Still from a video published to the NY Times site, with the caption "About 2,500 migrants crossed into Eagle Pass, Texas, from Mexico on a single day."
From the New York Times.

The New York Times reported Wednesday:

The mayor of Eagle Pass said 2,500 migrants arrived in one day, part of a recent surge in crossings along the border that has taxed local, state and federal resources.

The border city of Eagle Pass, Texas is where Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has deployed a world-famous “wall of buoys” in the Rio Grande, about 90 miles of rolls of razor-sharp concertina wire that injured 133 people statewide in July and August, and a huge contingent of state police and National Guard.

Who could possibly have foreseen that so much security theater wouldn’t deter people who are desperate enough to leave their homes, uproot their lives, travel across a continent, and turn themselves in to uniformed U.S. border agents?

The answer, of course is “everyone who’s paying attention.” We all could have guessed that this would happen, and will keep happening. Deterrence at the border is cruel—but it also doesn’t work.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: September 22, 2023

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.


Arrivals of migrants, mostly asylum seekers, at the U.S.-Mexico border rose to about 8,000 per day this week, a level last seen in April 2023 before the termination of the Title 42 policy. As shelters fill and Border Patrol begins releasing processed migrants on border cities’ streets, it is apparent that migrants’ post-Title 42 “wait and see” period is over. Asylum seekers are again opting to turn themselves in to Border Patrol despite the Biden administration’s “carrot and stick” approach of legal pathways and harsh limits on asylum access. Shelters and migrant routes are similarly full throughout Mexico.

Nearly 82,000 people migrated in August through the treacherous Darién Gap jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama. During the first eight months of 2023, over 330,000 people have taken this once-impenetrable route. So far this year, 60 percent have been citizens of Venezuela and 21 percent have been children, despite the dangers of the journey. In this region of dense forest and difficult terrain, governments have limited short-term options to control territory or channel the flow of people.

As the U.S. government heads for a September 30 budget deadline and an increasingly likely shutdown, the U.S. House of Representatives’ narrow, fractious Republican majority may be proposing a bill that would keep the government open through October 31 in exchange for some radical changes to border and migration policy that the Democratic-majority Senate and the Biden White House would be certain to oppose.


Read More

142,000 Migrant Encounters at the U.S.-Mexico Border During the First 17 Days of September

During his marathon morning press conference today, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador shared Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) preliminary U.S.-Mexico Border migration statistics for the first 17 days of September. He showed this slide about 2 hours and 11 minutes into a video embedded on the Presidency’s page.

Screenshot of table grabbed from the video feed

The graphic shows a total of 142,000 migrant encounters over those 17 days. It combines migrants who have entered Border Patrol custody plus those who came to official land-border ports of entry, but doesn’t distinguish between them.

In all of July, the last full month that CBP has reported, this number was 183,503.

If September’s pace continues for all 30 days, by the end of the month CBP would report 250,654 migrant encounters. Only December 2022 (252,325) has exceeded that number.

The most Venezuelan migrants in a single month was 33,804 in September 2022. September 2023, with 25,577 people in 17 days, may exceed that.

2 Percent of Venezuelans Now Qualify for TPS in the United States (But More Than 25 Percent Have Migrated)

Before it collapsed into authoritarianism, poverty, and criminality, Venezuela had 30 million people.

7.71 million have left since the mid-2010s: more than a quarter of the original population.

And now, as of yesterday, more than 2% of them (714,700 people) qualify for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States, as they absolutely should. From DHS:

There are currently approximately 242,700 TPS beneficiaries under Venezuela’s existing TPS designation. There are an additional approximately 472,000 nationals of Venezuela who may be eligible under the redesignation of Venezuela.

Under U.S. asylum law, as amended in 1996, applicants for asylum in the United States cannot obtain a work authorization until their application is six months old. Asylum seekers want to work, and TPS is a way to get around this unhelpful 27-year-old law to enable that.

Darién Gap Migration Through August 2023

Panama just posted updated data, detailed by country, gender, and age, about migration through the Darién Gap in August.

Annual Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

2023: Venezuela 60%, Ecuador 13.0%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 12.9%, China 4%, Colombia 3%, India 1.0%, All Others <1%

Since 2010: Venezuela 43%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 25%, Ecuador 9%, Cuba 8%, Colombia 2.0%, All Others <2%

	2010	2011	2012	2013	2014	2015	2016	2017	2018	2019	2020	2021	2022	2023 (Aug)
Venezuela						2	6	18	65	78	69	2819	150327	201288
Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile)	0	1	0	2	2	8	16742	40	420	10490	5331	101072	27287	42959
Ecuador		15	18	4	1	14	93	50	51	31	40	387	29356	43536
Cuba	79	18	1154	2010	5026	24623	7383	736	329	2691	245	18600	5961	700
Colombia		65	24	26	9	32	16	36	13	23	21	169	5064	11276
China	268	9	11	1		1		6			3	77	2005	12979
India	12	11	48		1	1	20	1127	2962	1920	39	592	4094	3338
Nepal	29	9	213	297	468	2426	1619	2138	868	254	56	523	1631	1659
Bangladesh	53	45	89	398	377	559	580	506	1525	911	123	1657	1884	1158
Other Countries	118	110	220	313	291	1623	3601	2119	2988	5704	538	7830	20675	14811

Data table

It broke all records: 81,946 people passed through this treacherous jungle region in 31 days. The previous monthly record, set in October 2022, was 59,773.

In the first eight months of this year, 333,704 people have migrated through the Darién. Ten years ago, in 2013, the full-year total was 3,051 migrants. In 2011, it was just 281.

Monthly Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

August 2023: Venezuela 77%, Ecuador 11%, Colombia 4%, China 3%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 2%, all others <1%

January 22-Aug 23: Venezuela 60%, Ecuador 13%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 12%, Colombia 2.8%, China 2.6%, all others <2%

	Jan-22	Feb-22	Mar-22	Apr-22	May-22	Jun-22	Jul-22	Aug-22	Sep-22	Oct-22	Nov-22	Dec-22	Jan-23	Feb-23	Mar-23	Apr-23	May-23	Jun-23	Jul-23	Aug-23
Venezuela	1421	1573	1704	2694	9844	11359	17066	23632	38399	40593	668	1374	2337	7097	20816	25395	26409	18501	38033	62700
Ecuador	100	156	121	181	527	555	883	1581	2594	8487	6350	7821	6352	5203	2772	2683	3059	5052	9773	8642
Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile)	807	627	658	785	997	1025	1245	1921	2642	4525	5520	6535	12063	7813	8335	5832	3633	1743	1548	1992
Colombia	48	72	59	72	248	287	407	569	1306	1600	208	188	333	637	1260	1634	1645	894	1884	2989
China	32	39	56	59	67	66	85	119	136	274	377	695	913	1285	1657	1683	1497	1722	1789	2433
India	67	74	88	172	179	228	431	332	350	604	813	756	562	872	1109	446	161	65	96	27
Cuba	367	334	361	634	567	416	574	589	490	663	535	431	142	36	35	59	59	74	123	172
Afghanistan	1	3	40	31	67	82	162	128	180	551	379	596	291	276	359	386	192	217	321	467
Peru	17	23	18	29	88	109	136	247	365	438	34	39	39	100	261	277	394	209	376	653
Other Countries	1842	1361	1722	1477	1310	1506	1833	1986	1742	2038	1748	1862	1602	1338	1495	1902	1913	1245	1444	1871

Data table

60 percent of this year’s migrants through the Darién Gap have been citizens of Venezuela: 201,288 people. In August, the migrant population was 77 percent Venezuelan: 62,700 people.

Jaw-dropping numbers from a region that was viewed as all but impenetrable until perhaps 2021. And there’s little reason why they won’t continue to increase. Any plan to “block” migrants on this route would require a staggeringly large and complex operation that would create additional challenges, like what to do with tens of thousands of stranded migrants.

From MPI: “How the Treacherous Darien Gap Became a Migration Crossroads of the Americas”

The Migration Policy Institute just published a mini-report on migration through the Darién Gap, the dangerous jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama through which almost 82,000 people migrated in August. It’s written by MPI’s Caitlyn Yates, who has spent months doing research there, and Juan Pappier of Human Rights Watch, who has visited at least a couple of times.

The report concludes that trying to block migrants is a fool’s game in this region of primary forest and difficult topography.

the odds seem stacked against efforts to entirely halt trans-Darien movement. Even if it were not, research shows that blocking established pathways does not end migration, but rather pushes people towards new, more dangerous routes. If the more established land passages became inaccessible, it is likely that the maritime routes would be used more frequently, as would other scarcely traveled interior routes deeper in the jungle. The journey through the Darien would also likely become more expensive, as more migrants would be pushed to pay for guides to navigate the jungle’s geography and around authorities.

Migration in and through the Darien Gap is unlikely to end, at least in the near future. The pathway is already one of last resort. Attempting to dissuade asylum seekers and other migrants from crossing or closing off the most established routes is unlikely to deter the thousands already in line for the journey and unknown numbers of future crossers.

Read their report here.

Marta Ruiz on Colombia’s “Reverse Land Reform”

If a drug-funded armed group on the U.S. government’s terrorist list forces thousands of family farmers off their land, can companies who bought that land just a few years later really claim to have done so “in good faith?”

Marta Ruiz, a journalist who served as a commissioner of Colombia’s Truth Commission, asked that question in a September 10 column at the Colombian news site La Silla Vacía. She was writing about the Montes de María, a region near the country’s Caribbean coast where small farmers struggled to win titles to their lands, only to be massively displaced by an early 2000s scorched-earth campaign, including a string of notoriously bloody massacres, by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The AUC were a paramilitary network—on the State Department’s terrorist list between 2001 and 2013—that colluded with large landowners, narcotraffickers, and elements of Colombia’s armed forces.

In late August, Colombian President Gustavo Petro visited El Salado, a village in the Montes de María known for a grisly 2000 massacre. There, he called out Argos, a cement company that is one of Colombia’s largest corporations. (Argos USA’s website calls it “the most sustainable company in the industry.”) Marta Ruiz reported that Petro said:

“Argos took the land of the displaced, I am not going to accuse them of the massacre, but they benefited from the fruit of the massacre and the blood.” The company immediately responded by arguing its good faith in the purchase of 6,600 hectares in the municipalities of Carmen and Ovejas.

Ruiz’s column then recounts the recent history of this troubled region, which is less than two hours’ drive from Cartagena. First, the land-tenure struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, the subject of many histories and academic studies in Colombia.

Populated by mestizos, indigenous people and Afros, it was the scene of strong agrarian struggles against unproductive large estates throughout the 20th century. In fact, it was the site chosen by [1966-1970 president] Carlos Lleras Restrepo to launch the ANUC [government-sanctioned small-farmers’ organization] and his agrarian reform, with much more radical speeches than Petro’s against the rentier landowners and landlords. In those years, many peasant families obtained plots of land of a maximum of 12 hectares, and others after 1994 when, with Law 160, land adjudication resumed.

Then, the paramilitary onslaught of the late 1990s and early 2000s, which reversed so many farmers’ hard-won gains.

By the mid-1990s, the FARC-EP—which were already in the region—became very strong in the mountains, and from there they tried to dominate the entire region. The ranchers, tired of kidnapping and extortion, demanded that [top AUC leader] Carlos Castaño send his army of thugs to that part of the Caribbean. But since a war is expensive and they were not going to finance it, it was obvious that drug traffickers, who eventually became owners of immense lands in the region’s lowlands and coastal areas, would have to enter the war, thus consolidating their illicit trade routes.

Then came the “expediting” of massacres. First was Pichilín, a small village high in the mountains between Colosó and Morroa. Everyone left there, except one old man who ended up talking to the trees. Then followed Macayepo, Chengue, El Salado, Las Brisas, Capaca, Los Guaimaros… I can go on until I fill the page with more than 50 names of villages that were razed to the ground. Between 2000 and 2005 at least one million peasants in the Caribbean region were displaced and lost their land. In Carmen de Bolivar alone, once a prosperous town, 80 percent of the rural inhabitants were exiled.

Home abandoned in Chinulito, Colosó, Sucre (photo by me in 2011)

The AUC went through a sort of demobilization process in the mid-2000s. By then, for a time, the armed forces became the major human rights violators in the Montes de María.

After the demobilization of the AUC…there was a time of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, dispossessions and mass arrests. The latter were a nefarious practice of the public forces because they were based on biased intelligence, based on the stigmatization of entire towns such as Ovejas, where 130 people were arrested in a single day. Between paramilitaries, guerrillas and security forces, a century’s worth of campesino organization was almost wiped out.

In 2007 the final “battle” took place with a bombing where [top regional FARC leader] Martín Caballero died. Thus the guerrillas were annihilated in that region.

President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) oversaw military operations that weakened the FARC, and also oversaw a negotiation process that demobilized the paramilitaries in exchange for light jail sentences. Uribe had the full support of large landowners and business elites, who moved rapidly into the lands abandoned by the small farmers of the Montes de María.

Meanwhile, President Uribe and his closest circle encouraged his countrymen in Medellín and Envigado to buy land and invest in Montes de María.

…The consolidation of Democratic Security [Uribe’s signature security policy] would be done hand in hand with businessmen, and the military committed themselves to the construction of a road that would join the Magdalena River with the Caribbean Sea: the Montes de María transverse road. And they did it. Thus, the counterinsurgency strategy contained an anti-peasant bias which, aligned with a certain vision of development, assured that Colombia’s progress depended on businessmen’s money rather than on the regions’ human capital.

What happened next was a “reverse land reform” throughout the mid-2000s to the early 2010s.

The massive purchase of land was done at a surprising speed and with all kinds of trickery… The businessmen had access to these databases [of forcibly displaced farmers’ delinquent mortgages] and set themselves the task of looking for the displaced in the poverty belts of Sincelejo, Cartagena, and Barranquilla to ask them, through trickery, half-truths and deceit, for the transfer of their titles… The intermediaries took the land and in exchange left the campesinos with despair, fear, lack of protection and defeat. It was an express agrarian counter-reform.

It is a legend, but absolutely true, that in order to consummate this operation, notary offices worked 24 hours a day for several weeks. It was necessary to accelerate because another part of the state’s institutional framework, the one that was trying to return displaced people, announced the protection of the lands and the prohibition of their sale until the circumstances in which these transactions took place were verified.

In 2011, some investors buying up land in the Montes de María portrayed themselves as rural development associations. (Photo by me in El Carmen de Bolívar, Bolívar)

Of the business organizations that bought up all of the land vacated after the paramilitary onslaught, Argos is the best known.

In the midst of such a panorama, Argos bought its first land in San Onofre, Sucre, a municipality where the feared [regional paramilitary leader] Rodrigo Cadena had his headquarters. The company was obliged to compensate for the environmental damage caused by its cement activity by planting forests. Thanks to a forestry incentive law, this compensation became a business: planting teak, a fine and very expensive wood, which has an assured international market… The land was cheap because in their exodus, people left the land. Argos decided not only to stay but to expand to other municipalities and that is when it set its eyes on El Carmen, Ovejas, etc.

Courts, Ruiz noted, have cast doubt on Argos’s claims to have been unaware of the violent dispossession that took place in the lands they purchased, just a few years earlier.

The courts have said that Argos did not comply with the due diligence expected of a multinational company that is listed on the world’s major stock exchanges; that is among the five most powerful groups in the country; and that to top it off is part of global pacts for good human rights practices. According to the judges, it is unlikely that a company of its size and capacity would be unaware of the context in which the land purchases and sales took place, let alone their implications.

Ruiz credits Argos for steps that it has since taken: “once the Victims Law was approved [2011] and the massive purchases scandal became a reputational risk, the business group cancelled its project in those municipalities. It created the Fundación Crecer en Paz, which remains under its tutelage for the management of the 6,600 hectares already acquired.” Farmers have recovered some of the land.

That is more than can be said of other opportunistic investors who benefited, indirectly or directly, from paramilitary violence in the Montes de María. Still, “it is a pity that Argos maintains its anachronistic discourse about the ‘good faith’ that led it to these purchases, instead of gallantly recognizing that its actions were opportunistic and encouraged dispossession. It should ask for forgiveness.”

After all, “Montes de María was not a wasteland in need of corporate colonization as was said in certain circles in Medellín. It was home to many people who had fought fervently to be there.”

These are just a few highlights of a great column about a chapter of Colombia’s conflict that shows what a lot of the fighting was actually about: the strong taking advantage of a crisis to seize land and wealth from the weak.

The U.S. officials who adhered Washington so closely to the project of Álvaro Uribe and his allies—giving him effusive praise, billions in aid, and even the Medal of Freedom—can claim, too, that they were acting in good faith. But they enabled a good deal of harm.

Delaying Tactics Threaten Justice in March 2022 Colombian Military Massacre Case

In March 2022, Colombia’s Army staged an early-morning attack on a large, hung-over gathering of participants in a “community bazaar”—including a few armed-group members, who fired back—in a rural zone of Putumayo, in the country’s south. The soldiers killed several civilians, including a pregnant woman and an Indigenous community leader.

Top defense officials in the government of President Iván Duque insisted that the troops did nothing wrong and that no human rights or international humanitarian law violations took place. Colombian journalistic investigations found otherwise.

Colombia’s civilian Chief Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía) looked into the case, and agreed with the journalists. The Colombian magazine Cambio reported on August 20:

the Prosecutor’s Office deployed an interdisciplinary team that included ballistics experts, forensic doctors, topographers and prosecutors from its Human Rights Unit. The material collected, as CAMBIO was able to verify, reveals that the indigenous governor Pablo Paduro died as a result of a rifle shot by one of the uniformed officers and that the weapon found near his body was never fired or manipulated by him, but was planted on him with the intention of diverting the investigation. In addition, there is incontestable evidence: the dead were 11 and the weapons found were 5, so at least 6 of them did not have the means to shoot at the Army.

The prosecutors, though, are being held up by delaying tactics. Defense attorneys for the accused military personnel made a last-minute appeal to have the case heard in Colombia’s military justice system. The military system is meant for disciplinary infractions (“acts of service”), not human rights abuses; when it does get jurisdiction over a crime against civilians, it almost never convicts. For such cases, it is an impunity factory.

Cambio explained the legal machinations:

The indictment hearing was scheduled for the first days of August, but in an unexpected decision, the 106th judge of Military Criminal Instruction of Puerto Leguízamo [Putumayo] accepted the request of the soldiers’ lawyers and sent the process to the Constitutional Court to resolve a jurisdictional conflict. The judge’s decision has been criticized because a month after the operation, in May 2022, the same Military Criminal Court sent the process to the Prosecutor’s Office, arguing that the possible human rights violations could not be considered acts of service.

The Constitutional Court has yet to decide whether the Alto Remanso massacre case will go to the military justice system, where justice is unlikely, or the civilian system, where prosecutors and investigators have done thorough work and are ready to go. Colleagues at Human Rights Watch just sent an amicus brief to the Constitutional Court asking it to slap down the military attorneys’ gambit, and move the case back to the civilian justice system.

The military attorneys may be happy just to run out the clock. Cambio warns, “For now, the legal process is suspended and waiting for the Constitutional Court to define the conflict of competences. The clock is ticking, and the ghost of the statute of limitations’ expiration is haunting the investigators’ work.”

The Constitutional Court must act quickly.

Latin America-Related Events in Washington and Online This Week

(Events that I know of, anyway. All times are U.S. Eastern.)

Monday, September 18

Tuesday, September 19

  • 9:00-10:30 at Digital Report Launch: Tracking Transatlantic Drug Flows through the Caribbean to Europe (RSVP required).
  • 10:00-11:30 at Open Society Foundations and on BlueJeans: Militarización del Control Migratorio en México (RSVP required).
  • 12:00-1:30 at Guatemala’s 2023 Elections (RSVP required).

Wednesday, September 20

Thursday, September 21

  • 6:30-8:00 at IPS and online: Climate Justice: A Report from the Global South (RSVP required).

Friday, September 22

  • 3:00-5:00 at the MLK Memorial Library: Public Art, Activism, and Historic Memory (RSVP required).

Saturday, September 23

You Can’t Buy Prosperity With Murder

At the Financial Times, Martin Sandbu punches a hole in the myth that Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s long dictatorship (1973-1990) guided Chile’s economy to prosperity with a series of market-fundamentalist economic reforms.

“In terms of economic prosperity, the most generous description of the dictatorship’s achievement is ‘erratic,'” Sandbu writes, pointing out that the economy took nosedives in 1974-5 and 1982-3. By 1990, real GDP per capita was only slightly more than what it was in 1973.

The real prosperity came later, during Chile’s democratic period, averaging 4 percent per year from 1990 to 2010, as this masterfully named chart makes clear.

The Darién Gap Underscores Just How Lousy Governments’ Options Are For Managing In-Transit Migration

One of many reasons—but a big one—why U.S.-bound migration has hit record levels, and may break records again this fall, is that the Darién Gap jungle region straddling Colombia and Panama is no longer an impenetrable barrier.

In fact, the Darién Gap has been crossed over 330,000 times so far this year, including 82,000 crossings in August, according to the latest in a very good series of reports from New York Times correspondent Julie Turkewitz and photographer Federico Ríos.

Federico Ríos photo from the September 14, 2023 New York Times. Caption: “The journey into the jungle begins, led by a guide from the New Light Darién Foundation.”

It’s not really clear what Colombia and Panama can do about it. The options are really lousy:

  • Try to block migrants? Good luck with that. The Darién Gap is dense, roadless jungle (at least for now). If security forces focus on one pathway, another will open up. And what if Colombia and Panama somehow succeed in blocking migrants? What do they then do with hundreds of thousands of stranded people from all over the world? Fly them back to China, India, Afghanistan, Cameroon, and dozens of other destinations, at huge expense and at huge risk to the returnees? Bus them back to threats and penury in Venezuela and Ecuador?
  • Create a safe movement corridor? Channeling migrants through a route that is government-controlled territory—or, better yet, avoids the environmentally fragile forest entirely—would cut organized crime out of the picture. It would reduce many of the alarming security risks that migrants now face. Governments would have biometric records and other data about everyone attempting to pass through. By registering most migrants and permitting them to transit their territory on buses, Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras are already doing this. But the political obstacles to “safe passage” approaches are beyond daunting: the U.S. government (or at least, key officials and members of Congress) would condemn and seek to punish Colombia and Panama for waving everyone northward. U.S. officials would fear that the promise of safe passage would attract still more migrants.
  • ”Soft blocking” of migrants? That more or less describes the situation today in the Darién region (and Mexico, Guatemala, and some South American countries). The official position is that migration is an administrative offense, and migrant smuggling is illegal. A handful get detained or deported, and some (usually very low-level) smugglers get arrested. But either security forces view their checkpoints and patrols as opportunities to shake migrants down for bribes, or organized crime takes over routes. Usually both. Migrants get assaulted, robbed, or worse. Some may spend time in state detention. But if they can run that gauntlet and remain alive—and most do, obviously—very few end up discouraged from proceeding northward.

None of these options is promising: some violate the most basic human rights, some assist organized crime, some are simply impossible, and the least-bad choice would hit a political brick wall.

Faced with these very poor choices, it’s not surprising that leaders like Colombia’s Gustavo Petro are reluctant to make in-transit migration a priority. According to the Times:

Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, acknowledged in an interview that the national government had little control over the region, but added that it was not his goal to stop migration through the Darién anyway — despite the agreement his government signed with the United States.

After all, he argued, the roots of this migration were “the product of poorly taken measures against Latin American peoples,” particularly by the United States, pointing to Washington’s sanctions against Venezuela.

He said he had no intention of sending “horses and whips” to the border to solve a problem that wasn’t of his country’s making.

That last bit is a veiled reference to a September 2021 incident in Del Rio, Texas, where Border Patrol agents on horseback were caught on camera charging at Haitian migrants on the bank of the Rio Grande. The Times continues:

just like the people running the migration business, he [President Petro] presented his hands-off approach to migration as a humanitarian one.

The answer to this crisis, he said, was not to go “chasing migrants” at the border or to force them into “concentration camps” that blocked them from trying to reach the United States.

“I would say yes, I’ll help, but not like you think,” Mr. Petro said of the agreement with the Biden administration, which was big on ambition but thin on details. He said any solution to the issue had to focus on “solving migrants’ social problems, which do not come from Colombia.”

He expects half a million people to cross the Darién this year, he said, and then a million next year.

He may be right.

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