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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Latin America

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Jesús Eduardo Guerrero, ElSur photo at SinEmbargo (Mexico). Caption: “Vecinos del pueblo de la sierra de Chichihualco se quejan de que pidieron la presencia de las autoridades y éstas no acudieron hasta el sábado. No hay una cantidad de muertos exacta.”

(Even more here)

June 2, 2020


Members of the community show videos of heavily armored riot police firing tear gas and destroying houses. Some who refused to leave were still inside their homes when the demolitions began

Organizaciones sociales cuestionan que, a la fecha, esa justicia no enviado informe alguno a la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, lo cual no es solo una obligación fijada en el Acuerdo de Paz, sino que serviría para el esclarecimiento de la verdad

La ANLA (Autoridad Nacional de Licencias Ambientales) y la Policía no podrán continuar con las reuniones informativas -o audiencias virtuales- que vienen realizando para cumplir con uno de los requisitos que le impuso la Corte Constitucional al Gobierno si quiere retomar al aspersión aérea

Denuncian que en ningún Gobierno como el actual se han descuidado tanto las acciones sociales y ambientales en el territorio ancestral

“No vamos a permitir que esta situación lamentable sea considerada como un falso positivo del Estado colombiano, ya que el hermano U’wa asesinado nunca estuvo vinculado al grupo insurgente Eln”

Mediante una carta, más de 50 miembros de varias bancadas exigen que el mandatario explique por qué no fueron informados sobre la supuesta llegada de tropas al país, teniendo en cuenta que esta facultad le corresponde al Senado

Colombia, Cuba

La conducta de Colombia “ha servido y facilitado los argumentos para los propósitos agresivos de los Estados Unidos contra nuestra nación y que ha brindado su ‘espaldarazo’ a las infamias estadounidenses”, dijo la cancillería cubana en un comunicado

El Salvador

Recae sobre Bukele la responsabilidad de haber desmantelado la frágil institucionalidad que heredó, sin construir una nueva


Last March, former Kaibil soldier Gilberto Jordán, 64, was deported from the United States to his native Guatemala, where he was immediately arrested for his involvement in the December 1982 massacre

El Fiscal Sandoval tiene una carrera de más de 15 años de experiencia en el MP y junto al equipo de la FECI ha conocido los casos más relevantes de redes de corrupción y violaciones a los derechos humanos del país


A pesar de que una comisión encabezada por el comisario municipal les pidió que llegaran para protegerlos, se negaron a ir

Critics have said the government is minimizing the virus’s effects, since the country has one of the lowest testing rates in all of Latin America

Bring the Trainers Home: This Is No Time for U.S. Military Personnel To Be Advising Offensive Operations in Colombia

(Cross-posted from

On May 28 the United States’ embassy caused a commotion in Colombia by posting a brief announcement that “a U.S. Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB)” will arrive in early June “to help Colombia in its fight against drug trafficking.” The SFAB should stay home. This is not a time for the United States to be sending dozens of combat advisors and trainers to “post-conflict” Colombia.

What is an “SFAB?”

On June 1, about 45 or 50 Army personnel departed from their base at Fort Benning, Georgia, for Colombia. They will stay in COVID-19 quarantine for two weeks, then spend about four months in the country. 

Their unit, the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, was commissioned in early 2018 and has deployed to Afghanistan, Europe, and Africa. Its sole mission is to train and advise foreign military units, a task that had been heavily up to Special Operations Forces in the past. This will be the first time an SFAB has deployed anywhere in Latin America.

Colombian Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo told the daily El Espectador, “The purpose is to advise the general staffs” of three regional task forces (discussed below) and the Colombian Army’s Counter-Narcotics Brigade, a unit created in 2000 with resources from the Clinton administration’s initial “Plan Colombia” aid package. “It’s a consultative and technical advising role, which will be carried out within the military unit’s installations, not in the field.… The U.S. advisory personnel will not participate in military operations.”

Is this a big deployment? Is it new?

A contingent of 45 or 50 U.S. troops is large, but far from unprecedented in Colombia. A State Department response to a 2010 inquiry, the last time WOLA has received solid numbers on the U.S. military and contractor presence in Colombia, showed that during the 2000s the number of U.S. military personnel there ranged from a low of 91 to a high of 563. As Colombia’s remains one of the largest U.S. diplomatic and security missions in the world, we doubt that the numbers have declined significantly since then. Adding 45 or 50 more to this total is noteworthy, but not earth-shaking.

While many of these U.S. military personnel are probably reporting to work at the embassy in Bogotá, many others are continually visiting Colombian military bases around the country, providing training and advising ongoing operations. 

Is this about Venezuela?

U.S. and Colombian officials are billing the SFAB mission as support for the “Zonas Futuro” territorial governance and counter-drug strategy discussed below. They are also portraying it as the land component of a large ongoing counter-drug naval deployment in the Caribbean and the eastern Pacific. As with that deployment, which began in April, observers, mostly on Colombia’s left, see another target or audience: the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

Does the SFAB aim to address cocaine flows, help Colombia govern conflictive territories, or send a message to Venezuela? The answer, of course, may well be “all of the above.” 

The profile that the U.S. government gives the deployment will tell us whether the SFAB has Venezuela in mind. Over the past 20 years, most such visits have been secretive: due to force-protection concerns and a tendency to classify information, it has been very hard to get information about what U.S. trainers are doing in Colombia. If, though, the SFAB deployment is instead the subject of regular tweets from the U.S. embassy and Southern Command accounts, if reporters are invited to witness training and advising missions and talk to the instructors, then we’ll know that the U.S. government wants to send a message to Colombia’s neighbor. Similarly, in 2020 we’ve seen significant public-affairs efforts promoting the “Enhanced Counter-Narcotics Operations” naval deployment, “rare access” to a January paratrooper exercise in Tolima, and a March humanitarian exercise in La Guajira.

If Venezuela is the audience, the SFAB may do more harm than good in Caracas. U.S. saber-rattling has so far appeared to increase unity within the Maduro regime and its armed forces. It may also be increasing divisions within the opposition: as WOLA’s Venezuela program has noted, while some in the opposition favor a political solution, U.S. operations embolden hardliners who cling to hope of a military intervention.

The U.S. Embassy says the trainers are helping with “Zonas Futuro.” What are those?

The SFAB will “focus its efforts primarily on the ‘Zonas Futuro’ defined by the National Government,” reads the U.S. Embassy announcement. The Zonas Futuro are an initiative spearheaded by the National Security Council of Colombia’s Presidency. Their stated goal is to introduce government presence in five abandoned, violent regions, making up less than 3 percent of Colombia’s national territory, with much armed-group presence and drug production or transshipment.

The five “Zonas” are comprised of parts of:

  • Tumaco, in Colombia’s southwest corner bordering Ecuador and the Pacific, the country’s number-one coca producing municipality;
  • The Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander department in the northeast, near the Venezuelan border, a zone of heavy ELN presence and cocaine production;
  • The area around the Chiribiquete National Park in Caquetá department, a zone of significant FARC dissident activity;
  • The department of Arauca, bordering Venezuela in northeastern Colombia, a longtime ELN stronghold; and
  • The Bajo Cauca region of northeastern Antioquia department and adjoining southern Córdoba department, a cocaine-producing zone brutally contested by two neo-paramilitary groups, FARC dissidents, and the ELN.

Defense Minister Trujillo told local media that the U.S. trainers will be accompanying military units in the first three of these zones: Tumaco (the Colombian armed forces’ Hércules Task Force), Catatumbo (the Vulcano Task Force), and Chiribiquete (the Omega Task Force). They will also accompany the Army Counter-Narcotics Brigade, which operates throughout the country.

Colombian government security planners interviewed by WOLA say that the goal of the Zonas Futuro is to make possible the entry of the entire Colombian government into these abandoned territories: not just soldiers and police, but civilian service-providers. 

That’s a noble goal, and it is also the goal of the 2016 peace accord, the first chapter of which sets out to bring government services into 170 of Colombia’s 1,100 most neglected and conflictive municipalities (counties). Though the presidential Counselor for Stabilization and Consolidation, the government of President Iván Duque has voiced a strong rhetorical commitment to fulfilling this first chapter by implementing Territorially Focused Development Plans (Los Programas de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial PDET) in these 170 municipalities. The PDETs have far less of a military component than the Zonas Futuro.

The Zonas Futuro territories are entirely located within PDET territories. The government is implementing the PDETs slowly, though, with funding levels that aren’t keeping up even with their 15-year timeframe. In the subset that are Zonas Futuro, the idea is to speed up implementation, with a big military presence at the outset, which implies offensive operations against the armed groups currently located there.

We can surmise, then, that the U.S. SFAB trainers deployed to the “Zonas Futuro” will be advising the Colombian military task forces’ offensive operations. These are likely to come with intensified forced coca eradication.

Does it make sense to send an SFAB to Colombia right now?

The decision to send a contingent of several dozen military advisors to Colombia right now is misguided.

The Zonas Futuro aren’t the first time that Colombia has attempted to bring governance to historically neglected regions in a planned, sequenced fashion: this has been tried a few times in recent decades. Past efforts have tended to run aground when the civilian part of the government fails to show up. 

If anything, then, the U.S. government should be helping Colombia to avoid a repeat of that by contributing to the buildup of civilian government capacities in the “Zonas Futuro” (and the PDET zones as a whole). Instead, tragically, the focus is once more on the military component.

The SFAB will be working in areas where Colombian government coca eradicators have already killed three people, two farmers and an indigenous person, since February. If the “Zonas Futuro” seek to win the population’s buy-in to establish a functioning government presence, the experience of coca eradication this year is making that goal ever more distant. U.S. funding and pressure is encouraging Colombia to intensify ground-based eradication, adding new eradication teams and entering new territories. As this happens, we’re hearing more reports of wantonly aggressive behavior from security forces, the opposite of a “hearts and minds” campaign.

Worse, the U.S. deployment is tantamount to a public endorsement of forcibly eradicating smallholding families’ crops in a way that is completely unlinked to basic food security support for those who lose what was their only, very modest, source of income. After the eradicators leave, families go hungry. We know from years of experience that eradication unlinked to assistance doesn’t work. And now it’s happening in the middle of a pandemic, which adds a vicious new layer of cruelty. El Espectador asked Defense Minister Trujillo why coca eradication was happening during the pandemic in an absence of food security assistance to farmers. He replied flatly that coca is illegal and eradicating is “our constitutional duty.”

Still worse, the SFAB trainers are arriving at a time when the Colombian Army’s intelligence apparatus has been revealed to be keeping illegal dossiers of personal information about judges, journalists, human rights defenders, opposition politicians, and even some fellow officers. It’s far from clear right now that there will be judicial accountability for this behavior. Sending 45 or 50 new U.S. trainers in the midst of this tense climate makes for very poor optics. It looks like a pat on the back.

It’s shocking, in fact, that the United States is sending trainers at all at a moment like this. As our cities become battlegrounds over severe and unaccountable human rights violations at home, as a torture-endorsing U.S. President makes daily statements escalating the violence, what can the U.S. trainers’ message be to their Colombian counterparts right now? “Do as we say, not as we do?” In fact, we have no visibility over the messages about human rights that U.S. personnel will convey behind closed doors in the far-flung headquarters of Colombia’s military task forces.

This is no time for U.S. forces to be advising offensive military operations elsewhere, with our own house in such disorder and with Colombia’s military taking alarming steps backward on human rights. The SFAB needs to come home.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Andrés Pérez photo at La Tercera (Chile). Caption: “Los efectivos en el vehículo multipropósito Humvee 4×4.”

(Even more here)

June 1, 2020


The demonstration by several hundred black-clad members of football fan groups in Sao Paulo appeared to be the largest anti-Bolsonaro street march in months

The operations raised questions surrounding mounting evidence that the Brazilian equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigations — the agency at the center of a recent, dramatic power struggle in the Bolsonaro administration — is being leveraged for political purposes

“We must resist the destruction of the democratic order to avoid what happened in the Weimar Republic when Hitler, after he was elected by popular vote … did not hesitate annulling the constitution and imposing a totalitarian system in 1933,” de Mello told other judges

The Movimento Estamos Juntos (We’re In This Together Movement) was launched on Saturday as Brazil overtook France to become the country with the fourth highest official death toll


También advierte que “no podríamos contener una manifestación, por ejemplo”. Y destaca que la relación con la gente, en las calles, ha sido muy fluida y respetuosa. Hoy el foco está en el coronavirus

En el proyecto de ley gubernamental el Congreso Nacional ve mermadas sus facultades de supervisión de la actividad de inteligencia


Un militar declaró que un general le dijo que la información llegaba a manos del excomandante del Ejército, general (r) Nicacio Martínez, quien lo niega. La Fiscalía tiene esta información, pero no ha iniciado investigaciones formales

  • Daniel Coronell, El Vuelo Fatal (Los Danieles (Colombia), June 1, 2020).

La relación entre el hoy senador Álvaro Uribe Vélez e Israel Londoño Mejía, cuñado de los narcotraficantes Jorge Luis, Juan David y Fabio Ochoa Vásquez, no se limitó a la venta de un pequeño apartamento

Robinson Salazar, mandatario de ese municipio de Norte de Santander, dice que el Gobierno nacional se está equivocando. Le preocupa que si llegan erradicadores se van a presentar protestas en medio de la pandemia

El crecimiento exponencial de las disidencias guerrilleras quedó confirmado en un documento oficial y reservado al que EL TIEMPO tuvo acceso

Todo es tan raro y nos han mentido tanto, que a esta caperucita roja le veo cola peluda

Tres campesinos y un indígena awá han muerto este año en medio de operativos de erradicación forzada de cultivos de coca

En entrevista con este diario, Carlos Holmes Trujillo defendió su estrategia contra el narcotráfico, pese a los llamados de las organizaciones sociales para suspender la erradicación forzada

Cuba, Venezuela

The resulting inertia will degrade U.S. sanctions as an effective tool, further human suffering in Cuba and Venezuela, and exacerbate international polarization at the most inopportune of times


Jarrín aseguró que, cuando los militares salen a apoyar a la Policía Nacional en el control del orden y la paz social, hacen uso de las armas que “son esencialmente no letales”


Este sábado el gobierno decretó estado de Sitio en tres municipios de Sololá debido a los últimos acontecimientos reportados


Mexico’s president brushed aside his own cabinet’s announcement, suggesting, without evidence, that the vast majority of the calls for help were little more than pranks

“Mexico is having a very, very hard time, as you know, with covid, especially along the border,” Trump told reporters on Thursday. “Fortunately,” he added, “we have a brand-new wall along there, and the wall is saving us”


Long lines have formed at the country’s hospitals, and pharmacies have run out of basic medicines. The popular baseball season has been suspended, with players refusing to take the field


El director del JRS de Venezuela, Eduardo Soto*, tiene información de primera mano sobre lo que ocurre en la porosa frontera entre Colombia y Venezuela, con los más de 60.000 mil migrantes —según cifras oficiales— que han regresado al país

Latin America-related online events this week

Monday, June 1

  • 11:00-12:00 at Riqueza desperdiciada: la nueva política energética (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-4:00 at Argentina – Between Covid-19 and Default (RSVP required).

Tuesday, June 2

Wednesday, June 3

  • 10:00 at COVID-19 and the Global Fight Against Mass Incarceration (RSVP required).
  • 3:30-5:00 at Bilateral Cooperation During the H1N1 Pandemic: Lessons from the U.S.-Mexico Border (RSVP required).

Thursday, June 4

  • 9:00-12:30 at Venezuela’s Crisis from Global Perspectives: Identifying Drivers, Transitions, and Pathways out of Crisis (RSVP required).
  • 2:00 at The next phase of the US-Brazil economic relationship: Bilateral perspectives (RSVP required).
  • 7:00 at Conflicto armado, debilidad estatal y opinion pública (RSVP required).

Friday, June 5

  • 4:00-5:00 at El Cambio Climático y su Impacto en el Caribe (RSVP required).

5 links from the past week

  • I haven’t gotten through all of this yet, but a coalition of media outlets from 14 countries, from Mexico to Colombia to Cameroon to Nepal, has put together a remarkable series of multimedia reports about migrants from far corners of the world transiting Latin America en route to the United States. It’s called Migrants from Another World, it’s bilingual, and I command you to visit it.
  • El Salvador’s El Faro visited the dangerous border town of Matamoros, Mexico, where thousands of asylum-seeking migrants remain trapped, vulnerable to crime and disease, unable to make their case on the U.S. side of the border. It’s poignant to read this through the eyes of a Central American reporter, as most of those trapped in Matamoros are Central American.
  • Researchers at the University of Texas’s Strauss Center dug through 30 years of data and found that more migrants have died in the state (3,253 in 22 years), mostly of dehydration, exposure, or drowning, than Border Patrol counts in the entire four-state border region.
    – Also on migration, and given honorable mention here because it’s audio, not text: National Public Radio’s Latino USA program created a 2-part series about the Trump administration’s crackdown on people seeking protection in the United States. Part one of The Moving Border reports from the U.S.-Mexico border in Ciudad Juárez; part two reports from the Mexico-Guatemala border in Tapachula.
  • The Venezuelan human rights group PROVEA published an infuriating report about persecution and harassment of civil society during the first two months of the country’s COVID-19 lockdown. It’s in English and Spanish.
  • Somos Defensores, the coalition of Colombian groups that performs careful documentation of attacks on social leaders and human rights defenders, published its annual report covering 2019. It found a decrease in murders of social leaders in 2019—though not as deep a reduction as the government claims—but an increase in other forms of attack and intimidation. One suspects, tragically, that the organization’s 2020 interim reports will show a renewed increase in murders.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from Provea (Venezuela). Caption: “Image of citizens walking under the so-called Alarm State”

(Even more here)

May 29, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

U.S. immigration officials admitted during a federal court hearing Wednesday that they are not conducting COVID-19 testing on every detainee who gets transferred from one detention center to another, saying they don’t have enough tests


Las amenazas de las fuerzas armadas de Bolivia al Senado en el marco del tratamiento de los ascensos prenden una nueva señal de alerta sobre el papel indebido de los militares en el país


De dentro do Palácio do Planalto, o ‘espião’ do presidente conduz investigações e produz dossiês que já provocaram a demissão de ministros

As an American analyst who has studied Brazil for nearly two decades, it has been strange to watch my country’s flag become a powerful anti-establishment symbol there


Las comunidades tienen incertidumbre por su presente inmediato ¿qué puede quedar para el campesinado con esta situación? Tener que desplazarse a otros pueblos porque no hay soluciones a esta crisis humanitaria

El Gobierno en realidad no está cumpliendo exactamente con el contenido de lo pactado en Cuba, podría dejar a muchas víctimas sin su derecho a la verdad y, de paso, le pone una lápida encima al ya moribundo proceso de diálogo con el ELN

Colombia, Venezuela

Aunque en Colombia los cultivos de uso ilícito han aumentado, todos los caminos conducen a Venezuela

Para las FARC el comunicado divulgado por la embajada de EEUU en ese país, en el que se anuncia la llegada de la brigada, experta en la lucha contra el terrorismo, a ese país es alarmante


The action – enacted in response to a January request by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – caps such flights at about 2019 levels, preventing any increase

El Salvador

Salud dijo a la familia que Luis Iván Mejía había muerto por COVID-19. Sospechas de que fue torturado surgieron luego de abrir el ataúd

Guatemala, Honduras

The discovery of large amounts of cocaine in cargo shipped from Honduran and Guatemalan ports has revealed the difficulties in securing maritime shipping operations on the northern stretch of Central America’s Caribbean coast


Estas acciones son parte del fenómeno llamado Gobernanza Criminal, de acuerdo con la doctora Sandra Ley, profesora investigadora del Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas

U.S.-Mexico Border

US Customs and Border Protection, which oversees border wall construction, is painting approximately 450 feet of new border wall in San Luis, Arizona, using a “coal tar epoxy,” in an effort to assess the operational benefits

Nuevo Laredo has earned a reputation for being a city where immigrants are easily kidnapped, extorted, and assaulted by cartels. Deportees could also be targets


During the first month, the so-called Bolivarian Fury, following calls made by Nicolás Maduro himself, went on a wave of harassment against the homes of social leaders and members of the political opposition, as well as people critical of the regime

Entre los hallazgos destaca que cuatro de cada 10 perdieron su empleo y 66% aseguró que depende de donativos para alimentarse, desde la entrada en vigencia de la cuarentena

Washington has said it is weighing a response to the shipments

Venezuela, Western Hemisphere Regional

“I view Iran’s interests with concern […]; we’re tracking that closely and sharing intel with our partners” in the region, the U.S. military high commander said

Some articles I found interesting this morning

AFP photo at El Espectador (Colombia).

(Even more here)

May 28, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

  • Maria Teresa Ronderos, Migrants From Another World (Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística, Animal Politico (Mexico), May 28, 2020).

Every year thousands of people expelled from Asia and Africa cross Latin America looking for the north like swallows disoriented by an altered climate. Along the way, the already painful journey of these extraordinary human beings is made unnecessarily difficult by almost all governments


Drastic measures are being taken to contain the coronavirus in the Villa Azul area of Buenos Aires which has emerged as a hotspot


Mr Bolsonaro’s attitude causes more damage, however. Brazil’s federal system is more president-centred than America’s. To work well in a crisis, all levels of government must co-operate

The Brazilian president is proving that right-wing populism has ways of overcoming self-inflicted disasters


En el informe “Exhumando Justicia y Verdad”, el Movice detalla cómo las alianzas del Bloque Héroes de los Montes de María de las Auc con políticos, empresarios y Fuerza Pública posibilitaron la desaparición de personas que pueden hallarse en 15 fincas y 18 cementerios

En su más reciente informe, Somos Defensores señala que los asesinatos contra líderes sociales disminuyeron en 2019, pero no en la cantidad que afirma el gobierno nacional, y advierte que se incrementaron otras agresiones que no son tenidas en cuenta por las autoridades

Pacelli provides an example of how strong community organization can quickly be repurposed to face the challenges of COVID-19

About 45 soldiers from one of the brigade’s advisory teams based at Fort Benning, Ga., will travel Monday to the South American country

Its mission in Colombia will begin in early June and will last several months, during which it will focus its efforts primarily on the “Zonas Futuro” defined by the National Government

Navarro afirmó que todos los miembros de la brigada de asistencia extranjera que vengan al país cumplirán todos los protocolos de distanciamiento por la pandemia de coronavirus

“Este personal asesorará dentro de las unidades militares a los Estados Mayores de las Fuerzas de Tarea Conjunta Hércules, Vulcano, Omega y de la Brigada contra el Narcotráfico”

Colombia, Venezuela

El secretario de Frontera y Cooperación Internacional para Norte de Santander, Víctor Bautista, advirtió que de no establecerse un manejo conjunto en la frontera colombo-venezolana, la crisis del COVID-19 “nos puede explotar en las manos”


De Luna Ferral is the editor of El Quinto Poder, a local news website based in Papantla, a town in northern Veracruz. She continued editing the website’s Facebook page after her mother was murdered

President López Obrador has boosted the military’s roles in public works, fighting coronavirus and confronting drug cartels, a tack some see as risky

So far this year, at least 215 police officers have been killed across the country, or more than one a day

Las armas y vehículos decomisados estaban destinados al capo Evaristo Cruz, alias “el Vaquero”, jefe de plaza del Cártel del Golfo en la ciudad fronteriza de Matamoros

U.S.-Mexico Border

The letter signed by five key House leaders overseeing immigration cited a May 18 ProPublica/Texas Tribune story that found the U.S. government has aggressively begun to rush the deportations of unaccompanied children in its care to countries where they have been raped, beaten or had a parent killed


  • Javier Ignacio Mayorca, Desapariciones (Tal Cual (Venezuela), May 28, 2020).

En los cuatro meses de 2020, las cifras de personas desaparecidas en Venezuela se han disparado de forma inexplicable ¿Gente que se va sin decir adiós o policías fuera de control?

The two were expected to arrive in Venezuela in the wake of three Iranian tankers carrying gasoline that have reached the country

WOLA Podcast on Venezuela

It’s great to have two Venezuela experts on staff to explain what’s happening there. With great nuance, rare clarity, and zero shouting.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file here. The text from the WOLA landing page is below.

This podcast, WOLA’s first to focus on Venezuela since January, features Geoff Ramsey, WOLA’s director for Venezuela, and David Smilde, a WOLA senior fellow specializing in Venezuela. (Dr. Smilde is the Charles A. and Leo M. Favrot Professor of Human Relations at Tulane University.)

This situation report covers a lot of ground. Ramsey and Smilde explain the current humanitarian situation in Venezuela, with the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic likely to come, along with the effect of sanctions. The discussion moves on to alternatives, like what it would take to bring the country’s ever-worsening crisis to a political solution. This brings up the role of external powers like Russia, China, Iran, and the United States. Ramsey and Smilde unpack the current state of U.S. policy, which at the White House level is heavily driven by Florida electoral politics. They note that the Trump administration’s mixed messages are inadvertently dividing a Venezuelan opposition that is already in a bad moment after a botched mercenary invasion at the beginning of May.

Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde co-manage WOLA’s Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog. Also mentioned in the podcast is a May 2020 paper that both co-authored in the European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, which explores the recent history and theory of negotiation efforts in Venezuela, as well as prospects and necessary conditions for a negotiated solution today.

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

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from (Spain).

(Even more here)

May 27, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

Under the pretext of the coronavirus and embedded in measures to protect public health, authoritarian tendencies are spreading from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego. Three trends are emerging

Latin America has passed Europe and the United States in daily infections

From Argentina to Panama, a number of officials have been forced to resign as reports of fraudulent purchases of ventilators, masks and other medical supplies pile up


Hay malestar en filas militares contra el Alto Mando porque no incluyó en la lista de ascensos a los que cumplen los requisitos. El Ejecutivo remitió la nómina al Senado subsanando las observaciones

Bolivia, Peru

As trafficking routes shrink, in parts of Peru and Bolivia, the price of coca leaf has slumped to one third, or even one sixth, of its previous levels


Unlike drier areas in Australia or California, the rainforest can’t catch on fire unless humans cut trees down. The Amazon is being devastated on an industrial scale, and for what?

Brazil has lost two health ministers in the past six weeks – one was fired, the other resigned – after they disagreed publicly with Bolsonaro over how best to combat the virus


Se trata del coronel en retiro Martín Arrauth. Este oficial fue, según fuentes dentro de las instituciones, hombre de confianza del ex comandante de las fuerzas militares, general Alberto José Mejía

Diego Martínez, peticionario en representación de ese partido ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH), dijo que se acude a esa instancia tras haber intentado por todas las vías garantizar la vida de los excombatientes

Esta fue una de las inquietudes que el colectivo de abogados José Alvear Restrepo y la Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos le manifestaron, a través de una conferencia virtual, a la Corte Penal Internacional

Now, with Colombians focused on the coronavirus emergency, a new window has opened for the government and the Democratic Center to pursue old and new ways to attack peace

Este departamento vive un preocupante recrudecimiento de la violencia. SEMANA cuenta detalles de cómo y por qué llegaron estos niveles de barbarie, que el año pasado dejaron una cifra cercana a los 1.000 muertos. Disidencias, ELN, Clan del Golfo y carteles mexicanos operan allí

Costa Rica

When Indigenous communities attempt to recover land that legally belongs to them in the Térraba territory, they are often met with violence


We visit Tapachula, a Mexican city on the border with Guatemala that has become a frontier for this trend and is overwhelmed by desperate migrants arriving from across the globe

The López Obrador administration has only deepened the militarized nature of public security in Mexico and made civilian policing at the federal level nearly obsolete

Lockdowns and an easy supply of weapons have been a fatal combination for Mexican women

El ejercicio multinacional se realizará a finales de agosto en aguas de los Estados Unidos (costas de Hawaii y California) y en el participarán alrededor de 25 países, entre los cuales México estaba invitado

If both governments cooperated on taking down real transnational criminal organizations as enthusiastically as they have worked in suppressing migrant caravans made up of thousands of impoverished and terrified potential refugees, cartels would be in real trouble

U.S.-Mexico Border

Since March, the government has filed 24 federal cases against South Texas landowners for the border wall, more than the previous eight months combined

Of the 170 miles of primary wall that have been built, three miles are in places where no barrier existed before

Folks in black “No Border Wall” T-shirts marched in the streets earlier this year. They share their movement with sedate bankers in starched, white shirts and gray suits who are just as passionate


First lady Cilia Flores has a long record as a power broker in Venezuela. Now, with the help of a jailed former bodyguard, U.S. prosecutors are preparing to charge her with crimes that could include drug trafficking and corruption

As of May 25, 2020, Venezuela had 1,121 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and 10 deaths. The real number is almost certainly much higher

The day ahead: May 27, 2020

I may be reachable in the afternoon between meetings. (How to contact me)

I’m on a writing deadline in the morning and will have e-mail and chat apps closed until I finish. I’ve got internal meetings in the late morning, and will be sitting in on an online event about militaries in Latin America in the afternoon.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Photo from (Spain).

(Even more here)

May 26, 2020


El operativo Verde Brasil 2 ya está en marcha e involucra a 3.800 efectivos del Ejército, 110 vehículos, 20 embarcaciones y 12 aviones, con bases en Belém, Porto Velho y Cuiabá

Mainstream media outlets Globo and Folha de S.Paulo later announced they would stop covering Bolsonaro’s informal press conferences outside the residence due to concern for their journalists’ safety

Doctors and psychologists say denial at the grassroots stems from a mixture of misinformation, lack of education, insufficient testing and conflicting messages from the country’s leaders


Las instrucciones del Jefe de Estado fueron claras: privilegiar la vida y evitar que se detengan las acciones de la Paz con Legalidad, particularmente, en los territorios más vulnerables

“Entre el 20 de marzo y el 20 de mayo se registraron 1.321 homicidios en todo el país, mientras que en el mismo periodo del año anterior se presentaron 2.012 casos, lo que equivale a una reducción del 34 %”, indicó la Policía

Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela

Returnee flows of people on the move raise concerns about the increased risk of COVID-19 infection in that population group

Colombia, Venezuela

Iván Simonovis, comisionado de seguridad e inteligencia, mostró imágenes de satélite y un video en el que, asegura, aparece el rearmado jefe guerrillero de las extintas Farc

Cuba, Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

The clinic, run by U.S. volunteers with Florida-based nonprofit Global Response Management, has been staffed since it opened last fall almost entirely by asylum seekers. Most are Cubans like Tamayo with prior medical training


Recent violence in Copán has been linked to the fall of the Valle clan beginning in 2014, and the later arrest of Tony Hernández and surrender of Ardón to US authorities in 2018


  • Catalina Perez Correa, Acuerdo Militarista (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, El Universal (Mexico), May 26, 2020).

No es subordinada, pues los castrenses tendrán que “coordinarse” mas no “subordinarse” a las autoridades civiles. Y no es “complementaria”, pues las Fuerzas Armadas seguirán siendo los protagonistas centrales

Los laboratorios de metanfetamina que se dedican al abastecimiento de la demanda internacional y local han sido localizados en una variedad de lugares que van desde casas en fraccionamientos, bodegas en zonas industriales, locales abandonados, o espacios montados ex profeso en sierras y caminos apartados

Mexico, Venezuela

Mexico could, and should, use its good offices and long history of non-intervention, to help the Venezuelan people by encouraging the acceptance and execution of an a-political humanitarian response

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

This nation is far from flattening the COVID-19 curve, but thousands of maquiladora employees are set to return to work after the government caved in to intense pressure from the Trump administration

Matamoros, ciudad controlada por La Maña, la crisis humanitaria se resume en un campamento a la orilla del río Bravo: 2,000 personas de Centroamérica, Venezuela, Cuba y otros países, sobreviven hacinados


El Ministro de Hacienda y Crédito Público Iván Acosta podría continuar en su cargo hasta terminar su mandato, pero se vería imposibilitado de firmar convenios o préstamos en nombre de Nicaragua

U.S.-Mexico Border

The federal government plans to build 69 miles of the massive barrier through the city’s historic downtown but not if opponents in Laredo have anything to do with it

Critics argue that this spot between Nogales and Sasabe is so remote and rugged, that the cost to build and damage done by a border wall far outweigh any benefit


A second tanker dispatched by Iran was welcomed Monday by Venezuelan naval frigates and helicopters as it entered national waters

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Eraldo Peres/AP photo at The Telegraph (UK). Caption: “Kretan Kaingang, an indigenous leader, wears a protective face with a hashtag that reads in Portuguese: ‘Out Bolsonaro’ during a protest demanding the president is impeached on May 21”

(Even more here)

May 25, 2020

Western Hemisphere Regional

Since the beginning of the pandemic, medical experts and immigrant advocates have warned that the highly contagious coronavirus would put detainees at risk

In place of wide-scale releases, ICE has adopted a practice of consolidating people suspected of having Covid-19 in designated areas and waiting to see if they get better or worse


El jefe del Estado Mayor Conjunto de las FF.AA. sostiene que en la crisis por el coronavirus la sociedad ha revalorizado el papel de las instituciones militares en la Argentina


El ministro de Gobierno comprende la molestia que existe al interior de la institución castrense. Los militares dieron un plazo de una semana para que el Legislativo ratifique la disposición


The deadliest police force in Brazil, maybe in the world, Rio police are known for rushing armored trucks and helicopters into the favelas in what are described merely as “police operations”

Jair Bolsonaro swore 34 times during a two-hour cabinet meeting some think could help bring his four-year term to a premature end

Between political implosion and a virus out of control, Mr Bolsonaro faces the prospect of becoming known as the man who broke Brazil


La Resolución, que no detalla motivos para el retiro, explica que el llamado a calificar servicios “no significa sanción, despido ni exclusión deshonrosa de la institución”

Los detalles de la amenaza revelan que sabían en qué carros se movían, cuántos hijos tenían y hasta el trabajo de sus parejas

Resulta que los primeros en salir de la institución fueron los oficiales que presuntamente filtraron la información de chuzadas y seguimiento y no los que las ejecutaron

Holmes Trujillo, quien actuó como vocero del uribismo en la campaña del No para el plebiscito, sugirió examinar “si conviene o no hacer algunos cambios hacia adelante (en la implementación del acuerdo), sin afectar siquiera el texto del acuerdo”

Timochenko aceptó este domingo que el nombre de Farc da “un mensaje bastante complicado, que incluso genera distancias cuando va uno a hablar con la gente”

La ceguera muestra el panorama nacional y hace e?nfasis en el negacionismo que caracteriza al Gobierno Nacional, de mu?ltiples asuntos relacionados con la cri?tica situacio?n de seguridad y de los derechos humanos pero, en particular, sobre la problema?tica de criminalidad de li?deres y lideresas sociales

Los homicidios disminuyeron 16% a nivel nacional y los desplazamientos forzados aumentaron el 5%.


To expect that if only things get bad enough, Cubans will rise up, when they are struggling just to stand, is not just unrealistic. It is cruel


Se dio un plazo de dos años al Estado mexicano para crear este observatorio independiente, pero transcurrido casi el 75% del tiempo ONG revela resistencias del gobierno

Para las mujeres la militarización ha sido sinónimo de violencia sexual, por eso la presencia de las fuerzas armadas en labores de seguridad pública debe ser únicamente excepcional y temporal


The US Treasury Department imposed on Friday sanctions on the head of the Nicaraguan Army, Julio Cesar Aviles Castillo, and on the Finance Minister, Ivan Adolfo Acosta Montalvan, “for supporting the corrupt regime” of Daniel Ortega


El ministro de Defensa, Walter Martos Ruíz, informó este sábado que las Fuerzas Armadas y la Policía Nacional del Perú (PNP) continuarán realizando operaciones inopinadas para garantizar el cumpliento del estado de emergencia


Appealing the ruling and avoiding prison through presidential immunity, he is instead running for re-election


Las planta están siendo construidas a partir del contrato suscrito por el Gobierno venezolano con la empresa rusa Rosoboronexport en 2006, estando previsto que iniciaran su producción en 2009, lo cual no pudo ser posible

The first of five Iranian tankers carrying fuel for gasoline-starved Venezuela entered the South American country’s exclusive economic zone on Saturday, despite a U.S. official’s warning that Washington was considering a response

As the first vessel entered Venezuelan waters late Saturday, Iran’s national anthem sounded on Venezuela state television against images of the late Islamic revolutionary Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

Latin America-related online events this week

Tuesday, May 26

  • 9:00 at A Window of Opportunity: Support to the Rule of Law in Guatemala (RSVP required).
  • 11:00-1:00 at Violent Non-State Actors and COVID-19: Challenge or Opportunity? (RSVP required).

Wednesday, May 27

Thursday, May 28

  • 11:00-12:00 at Addressing the China Challenge in Latin America (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-3:00 at Voices from the Border: Voices from the Guatemala ACA (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-3:00 at A Pandemic of Violence: A Global Discussion of COVID-19 and Gender-Based Violence (RSVP required).

5 links from the past week

  • A team of reporters at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project looks at the state of the global cocaine trade during the coronavirus lockdown. They find an uneven picture: some big disruptions, but “a frenetic pace” of trafficking in many places.
  • At InsightCrime, Héctor Silva Ávalos, Ángela Olaya, and Seth Robbins document the sloppy official cover-up of the murder of Sherill Hernández, the head of a police anti-corruption unit. It “fits into a pattern in Honduras in which high-profile death inquiries are slow-walked, riddled with errors and then dismissed without much explanation.” The article points to serious trouble within the Technical Criminal Investigation Agency (ATIC), a unit that has received a lot of U.S. aid.
  • The New York Times digs into some of the data and finds that police in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil—never models for proper use of force—are committing an orgy of violence against civilians right now in those cities’ favelas, with a green light from authorities. Amazing photos from Dado Galdieri.
  • My WOLA colleagues David Smilde and Geoff Ramsey have immersed themselves in the literature on negotiation, and apply it to Venezuela in a piece for the European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies. “Negotiations between the United States, Russia, China, and Cuba are probably the only way to make progress in Venezuela,” they conclude, but with the Trump administration in power, “it is difficult to imagine this happening in the near future.”
  • Rachel Schmidtke and Yael Schacher of Refugees International, and Ariana Sawyer of Human Rights Watch, have done a lot of fieldwork in Guatemala documenting implementation of a so-called “safe third country” or “asylum cooperation” agreement. Between November and March, U.S. authorities shipped to Guatemala 939 Salvadoran and Honduran asylum seekers who had been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, instructing them to go ask for asylum in Guatemala’s system. This report offers a very grim look at what happened to them afterward.

Latin America RSS feeds

Here’s my most up-to-date OPML file of RSS feeds from Latin American online news outlets, think tanks, and non-governmental organizations.

If that sentence made sense to you, import this file into your RSS reader, and you’ll have the feeds from the 140-plus outlets from around Latin America listed at the end of this post.

If that sentence didn’t make sense to you: RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication,” and it’s a big help if you’ve got a job that involves research or information flows.

I’d say about 75-80 percent of news websites have a “feed” of their content. Add these feeds to an app or website called an RSS reader, and all articles from every newspaper or organization you subscribe to appear, all mixed together, in reverse chronological order, just like your email inbox. (I use FeedWrangler; other good ones are NewsBlur,, and apps like Unread or NetNewsWire.)

The “OPML” file here is a list of about 140 Latin America-related news feeds. I share it to save you time hunting all of these down yourself: just import it into your RSS reader and go.

140-plus feeds in your RSS reader means a daunting amount of information—hundreds or thousands of articles per day. So you need an RSS reader that can search for articles that match a keyword or phrase (like “armed forces” or “Remain in Mexico” or “ELN” or “coca”). Then you’ve got an amazing automated briefing about that topic.

Included in this OPML file: “colombia” – Google News, Explore Feed, Agencia Ocote, Americas, Americas Quarterly, Animal Político, article – Mother Jones, BBC News – US & Canada, BBC News – World, Bloggings by boz, Borderland Beat, Brasil Wire, Caretas, CERAC – Centro de Recursos para el Análisis de Conflictos, Chiapasparalelo, – Política, Confidencial, CONNECTAS, Contra Corriente, Control Ciudadano, Corporación Nuevo Arcoiris, Cosecha Roja, Cristosal,, Crímenes sin Castigo, Defendamos La Paz Colombia,, Dejusticia, Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor – United States Department of State, Diario Co Latino, Distintas Latitudes, Diálogo Americas, Efecto Cocuyo, El Chigüire Bipolar, El Cohete a la Luna, El Colombiano | noticias de Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia y el mundo., El Comercio, El MostradorEl Mostrador, EL TIEMPO.COM – Política, EL TIEMPO.COM – Proceso de Paz, – , ElHeraldo RSS Feeds – INICIO, ElHeraldo RSS Feeds – Opinion, ELIMPARCIAL.COM | Noticias de Tijuana, México, elPeriodico de Guatemala, ELUNIVERSO.COM – Noticias, ELUNIVERSO.COM – Opinión, Everything, Expediente Público, Folha de S.Paulo – Em cima da hora – Principal, Foreign Policy, Fundación Paz y Reconciliación, Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación, GatoEncerrado, Global | The Atlantic, GovDelivery – Frontline – The Multimedia Magazine of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, GovDelivery – Media Releases, IDL | Instituto de defensa Legal, In These Times, INESC, Inicio – Consejo de Redacción, Instituto Igarapé, INSYDE, Joy Olson’s blog, Just Security, Kaja Negra, L.A. Times – World News, La Jornada: Política, La Jornada: Sociedad y Justicia, La Nación, La Opinión, La Tercera, Latin America Working Group, Latin America – Global Voices, Law Enforcement, Narcotics, Anti-corruption – United States Department of State, Lo último, MercoPress, Mexico Institute, Mientras Tanto en México, Milenio: Últimas Noticias de México – Actualidad global – Grupo Milenio, Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano, News, Politics, Opinion, Commentary, and Analysis, Nicaragua Investiga, Noticias de Colombia | El Colombiano, NYT > Opinion, NYT > Opinion > Sunday Review, NYT > The New York Times Magazine, NYT > Top Stories, NYT > Top Stories, NYT > U.S. > Politics, NYT > World > Americas, Nómada, Guatemala., OGlobo, Onda Local – noticias, pais, Plaza Pública RSS Feed, Portada de Página12, Prensa Libre, Proceso Portal de Noticias, Prodavinci, PROVEA, Proyecto Puente, Radio Progreso, Razón Pública, Reforma, Reforma, Remezcla, Revista Factum, RioOnWatch, Ríodoce, SinEmbargo MX, TalCual, The American Interest, The Atlantic, The Baffler, The Christian Science Monitor | World, The Economist: International, The Economist: Special report, The Economist: The Americas, The Guardian, The Intercept, The New York Review of Books, Two Weeks Notice: A Latin American Politics Blog, USATODAY – World Top Stories, Revista VEJA, acervo digital, notícias, blogs, colunistas, vídeos, Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, Western Hemisphere – United States Department of State, WOLA, World, Útero.Pe

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