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

5 links: January 20, 2022

(Even more here)

Chile

An army general in charge of a “state of emergency” zone in an area of sometimes violent indigenous protests in southern Chile, causes outrage by defying people to attack his soldiers instead of other targets. “Why don’t you fight us? I invite you.”

Colombia

There will be no aerial herbicide fumigation in Colombian territories where coca is grown. At least not until communities can properly be consulted with, which may take at least a year.

Cuba

Wow. “A report concluded that most cases have environmental or medical causes, but the government remains focused on investigating two dozen incidents that remain unexplained.”

U.S.-Mexico Border

Imagine volunteering to serve your country in the National Guard, only to end up torn from your career and family for months of “mall cop” duty for a governor who needs political props as he enters reelection primary season.

Unless Congress rescinds wall-building money that Trump had requested in prior years, this will be the plan to wall off the Rio Grande virtually from Falcon Lake to the Gulf of Mexico.

WOLA Podcast: “We believe there are multiple armed conflicts”: Kyle Johnson on security in Colombia

There’s a lot going on, security-wise, in Colombia. We spent an hour on Zoom today with longtime colleague Kyle Johnson in Bogotá, who gave WOLA podcast listeners a grim but thorough tour of the complicated security landscape.

Here’s the text from WOLA’s podcast page.

Colombia had a tumultuous start to 2022, as violence broke out in the northeastern department of Arauca, near the Venezuelan border, killing dozens. The armed groups involved are ELN guerrillas and a faction of ex-FARC guerrillas—but the actors are different elsewhere in the country. Colombia’s persistent armed-group violence has become ever more confused, fragmented, and localized, more than five years after a historic peace accord.

To make sense of the situation, Director for Defense Oversight Adam Isacson and Program Assistant Matthew Bocanumenth spoke with Kyle Johnson, an analyst and co-founder of the Bogotá-based Conflict Responses Foundation, a research organization that performs extensive fieldwork in conflict-affected territories.

With a nuanced but clear presentation, Johnson answers our many questions and helps make sense of this complex, troubling moment for security and governance throughout rural Colombia.

The way forward, Johnson argues, goes through negotiations and a renewed effort to implement the 2016 peace accord, especially its governance and rural development provisions. It requires abandoning the longtime focus on meeting eradication targets and taking down the leaders of what are now very decentralized armed and criminal groups.

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

5 links: January 19, 2022

(Even more here)

Western Hemisphere Regional

We all wrote bits of this analysis of what’s gone well (a little) and what really concerns us (a lot) about the Biden administration’s approach to Latin America during its first year.

Colombia, Venezuela

An ex-FARC dissident deserter says 2 foreign mercenaries—possibly American—were among a 26-man team that killed two top rearmed FARC leaders in Venezuela last month. Is he telling the truth? ¯_(ツ)_/¯

El Salvador, Guatemala

“Despite recent attacks on judicial independence in both countries and intense political polarization surrounding the landmark agreements, the courts granted new openings for two watershed civil war-era cases”: El Salvador’s 1989 Jesuit massacre and the genocide in Guatemala’s Ixil Triangle region.

U.S.-Mexico Border

The first of two articles today about military activity—not Border Patrol activity—at the U.S.-Mexico border. Soldiers assigned to a National Guard deployment opened fire against civilians on U.S. soil: “The driver ‘put the vehicle in reverse and then into drive’ before gunning the vehicle in an apparent attempt to ram the first soldier, the incident report read.”

The second of two articles today about military activity—not Border Patrol activity—at the U.S.-Mexico border. “The Pentagon’s approval to support six Border Patrol-owned aerostats was eligible to begin in January, with the additional Defense Department aerostats available starting in April.”

The New Yorker visits the miserable migrant camp, populated mostly by victims of the “Title 42” expulsions policy, in the dangerous border city of Reynosa, Mexico.

5 links: January 18, 2022

(Even more here)

Western Hemisphere Regional

The first of two academic articles here about the nature of organized crime in the Americas, including how much of a political actor it is.

The second of two academic articles here about the nature of organized crime in the Americas, including how much of a political actor it is.

Colombia

Demobilized FARC fighters who want to leave the conflict behind are having a hard time of it amid an eruption of inter-group violence in Colombia’s northeastern department of Arauca.

Guatemala

In Guatemala, police demand Venezuelan migrants pay them to avoid getting sent back across the border into Honduras. When the migrants say they have no money, the cops search their handbags and wallets to make sure.

Nicaragua

Daniel Ortega starts off the year by giving away large landholdings to the armed forces, presumably cementing in their loyalty to his regime.

U.S.-Mexico Border

“One year into the Biden administration, some of the most severe Trump-era policies that have decimated access to asylum—commonly known as ‘Title 42’ and ‘Remain in Mexico’— remain in force.”

Latin America-related online events this week

Wednesday, January 19

  • 11:00 at lse.zoom.us: Inequality and Trade Diversification: How Can Income Inequality in Latin America be reduced beyond Commodity Booms? (RSVP required).
  • 11:00 at migrationpolicy.org: Biden at One: Assessing the Administration’s Immigration Record (RSVP required).
  • 5:00-6:30 at ips-dc.org: Just Transition for Latin America / Una transición justa para América latina (RSVP required).

Thursday, January 20

Saturday, January 22

  • 12:00-2:00 at tinyurl.com/sacredterritories: Sacred territories/Territorios Sagrados (RSVP required).

5 links: January 17, 2022

(Even more here)

Cuba

“More than 620 detainees who have faced or are slated to face trial” after last July’s brief protests.

El Salvador

Very good takedown of El Salvador’s military, which after many post-peace-accord moves toward professionalism has reversed course, lending itself to Nayib Bukele’s political ambitions.

Honduras, Nicaragua

A migrant caravan left Honduras over the weekend and is already being dispersed in Guatemala. What’s new about this one is it’s nearly half Nicaraguan.

U.S.-Mexico Border

The politicized National Guard deployment at the U.S.-Mexico border: “There’s leadership issues, morale issues. Morale is lower and keeps getting lower.”

DHS does something it didn’t do during the Trump version of “Remain in Mexico”: offer statistics about how it was carried out in the previous month.

Five links: January 14, 2022

(Even more here)

Colombia

A gain of Colombia’s 2016 peace accord was the creation of 16 temporary congressional seats that would be open to conflict victims, not political parties. But some creepy people are declaring candidacies for these seats in zones of longtime paramilitary influence, like the northern department of Bolívar.

The U.S. government is giving Colombia up to 200 armored vehicles under the Excess Defense Articles program, which will keep “U.S. organic industrial base production lines hot.”

Cuba, Nicaragua

Nicaragua has stopped requiring visas for citizens of Cuba, which could lead to a new vector for migrants headed across Mexico to the U.S. border.

Mexico, U.S.-Mexico Border

Human Rights First’s latest report on the border finds “over 8,705 reports of kidnappings and other violent attacks against migrants and asylum seekers blocked in and/or expelled to Mexico” since Joe Biden took office.

Watch an award-winning documentary about some of the more than 100,000 Mexicans deported from the United States each year, even after growing up and spending most of their lives here.

5 links: January 13, 2022

(Even more here)

Western Hemisphere Regional

Human Rights Watch’s annual report is out. Includes narratives for 15 Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

Between 2015 and 2019 the State Department provided $38.1 million in “capacity-building assistance that may help disrupt firearms trafficking in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.”

Colombia

The latest quarterly report of the UN monitoring mission in post-accord Colombia finds that 303 ex-FARC members have been killed, out of 13,600 demobilized, since the accord’s late 2016 signing. Murders did drop from 74 in 2020 to 54 in 2021.

El Salvador

The Bukele government appears to be misusing the Pegasus phone-hacking software, produced by the nefarious Israel-based NSO group, against the brave and highly regarded independent media outlet.

U.S.-Mexico Border

The Texas National Guard mission at the border is fully politicized. This use of military personnel “started to change as we got into the fall months and when it appeared certain as well that [Republican Texas Governor Greg] Abbott was going to be facing a primary challenge from the right.”

5 links: January 12, 2022

(Even more here)

Photo published at Border Report. Caption: “Drone footage taken from the National Butterfly Center on Jan. 7, 2022, shows new construction on the border levee south of Mission, Texas. (Photo by the National Butterfly Center)”

Western Hemisphere Regional

Points to people on the left in the U.S. and Europe who still defend the rights-violating regimes in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela because they’re supposedly “left.”

Argentina, Nicaragua

A really creepy Iranian official was present at Daniel Ortega’s re-inauguration in Managua.

El Salvador

With judicial independence all but destroyed in El Salvador, prosecutors who’ve investigated the Bukele government’s negotiations with gangs and other corruption allegations are now being harassed and persecuted.

Honduras, Nicaragua

Another attendee at the charming gathering in Managua that saw Daniel Ortega re-inaugurated: outgoing Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. One of only three Latin American leaders to attend. Perhaps (like former Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes) he’s planning a move to Nicaragua to escape justice.

U.S.-Mexico Border

Is the Biden administration building levee or border wall in south Texas? It’s both, but it’s definitely border wall.

5 links: January 11, 2022

(Even more here)

Brazil

A fleet of small planes services illegal gold mining in and around Indigenous lands in Roraima, Brazil. The difficulty of stopping the flights points to the complexity of fighting organized crime when it’s totally encrusted within “legitimate/legal” local elites—something we see a lot in Colombia, too.

Colombia

In places where everyone has had to coexist with guerrillas for decades—like Arauca, Colombia—civil-society organizations (as well as politicians)) have to maintain some ties. But prosecuting civil society leaders on weak evidence is one of the stupidest ways to try to weaken an insurgency: it stigmatizes vulnerable activists, barely affects the violent group’s strength, and multiplies locals’ distrust in the state.

Guatemala

Good overview of a case that’s finally before Guatemala’s courts: the military’s systematic rape, together with paramilitaries, of dozens of indigenous women in Baja Verapaz in the early 1980s. It’s taken nearly 40 years to get even this amount of justice.

Haiti

“New evidence suggests the man who took over from Haiti’s murdered president had close links to a prime suspect in the assassination — and that the two stayed in contact even after the crime.”

Mexico

Along with hundreds of thousands of migrants, a lot of northbound drugs pass through Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state. It’s kind of remarkable that Chiapas remained violence-free for as long as it has. That’s ending: organized-crime violence is rising fast. Among recent cases is the October murder of journalist Fredy López Arévalo in San Cristobal de las Casas, a charming tourist destination.

5 links: January 10, 2022

(Even more here)

Brazil

Even if Bolsonaro loses in October, the damage he has done to civil-military relations in Brazil, where most military personnel have very hard-right political views, will take many years to undo.

Colombia

The post-accord fragmentation of armed actors in Colombia “began to diminish” in 2021.

Nicaragua

As Daniel Ortega swears himself in for another term as president, some of his most prominent political opponents are in the El Chipote prison where, according to reports from relatives who have managed to visit them very sporadically, they are suffering from malnutrition, mistreatment and barely have access to their lawyers.”

U.S.-Mexico Border

Border Patrol insists on carrying high-speed vehicle chases with a degree of recklessness that most police departments would avoid. Then it sends out its shady “Critical Incident Teams” whose purpose appears to be to help the agents involved avoid accountability.

This is infuriating. “Though Biden administration officials promised access to counsel, the two Colombian men were not allowed to speak with attorneys while in U.S. custody. Officials also failed to vaccinate one of the men for COVID-19. Confused and terrified, the two men found themselves back in Tijuana with the extra stigma of being the first returnees.”

Latin America-related online events this week

Monday, January 10

  • 3:30-4:30 at wilsoncenter.org: Latin America’s Lithium and the Future of Renewable Energy in the United States (RSVP required).
  • 4:00-5:00 at csis.org: Road to the 2022 Summit of the Americas: Trade and Investment (RSVP required).

Tuesday, January 11

  • 11:00-12:00 at wilsoncenter.org: The Alliance for Development in Democracy: A Conversation with Three Foreign Ministers (RSVP required).

Wednesday, January 12

  • 10:00-11:15 at thedialogue.org: Nicaragua 2022 – Is a Political Transition Possible? (RSVP required).
  • 3:00-4:30 at csis.org: Assessing the Impact of Artisanal and Small-Scale and Illegal Mining in the Amazon (RSVP required).

Thursday, January 13

5 links: January 7, 2022

(Even more here)

Brazil

Brazil’s Army has front-loaded its exercise schedule for 2022, clearing the decks so that it can be available during the October 30 presidential elections and their aftermath.

Colombia, Haiti

The U.S. government is carrying out its own investigation of the July assassination of Haiti’s president, diverting a Colombian mercenary witness—apparently with his agreement?—so that he might testify in U.S. court.

Mexico

“On the militarism route, the equation is to centralize decisions as much as possible in the federal authority; on the municipalism route, the equation is to decentralize as much as possible.” Mexico’s government is choosing the former and abandoning the latter.

U.S.-Mexico Border

CBP encountered 55 children on January 2, 68 on January 3, and 81 on January 4. That is down from a range of 145 to 168 per day the previous week, which itself is down from an average of 402 per day during fiscal year 2021.

Mexico, Nicaragua, U.S.-Mexico Border

Nicaraguan asylum seekers placed in the “Remain in Mexico” program plead with their immigration judge not to send them back after their hearing. The judge says to take it up with an asylum officer.

5 links: January 6, 2022

(Even more here)

Brazil

“There are numerous signs that the commitment of Brazil’s armed forces and the military police to democracy is ambiguous at best.” Not great as Brazil heads into elections that may turn out badly for Bolsonaro, many officers’ preferred candidate.

Colombia

More details and rumors emerge about the ELN-FARC dissident violence over the weekend that produced a rising death toll in Colombia’s far northeast. Judicial investigators are finding victims killed at close, pointblank range, which contrasts with the Defense Ministry’s portrayal of combat.

Mexico

In Mexico, where more than 95,000 people have gone missing and disappeared, many victims’ relatives are not pleased that president López Obrador is putting the militarized National Guard in charge of DNA databases.

A useful snapshot of Mexico’s largest current organized crime groups, their origins, and their territories.

U.S.-Mexico Border

The zombified, court-ordered Remain in Mexico 2.0 is now operating at two ports of entry: El Paso and San Diego.

Are Colombia’s peace accords binding?

In a January 4 interview with Emilio Archila, the Colombian government’s lead official for peace accord implementation, El Espectador’s Sebastián Forero asks, “Why do you always talk about [the Duque administration’s] ‘Peace with Legality,’ policy, but not about the Peace Agreement signed in Havana?”

Archila replies that the text of the 2016 accord, which ended 52 years of fighting with the FARC guerrillas, is not binding unless its commitments are enacted into law.

The Constitutional Court said that the Havana agreements did not generate obligations in themselves, except to the extent that they have been incorporated into legislation, as with all laws issued through Fast Track [the brief 2017 period when Congress could quickly pass laws to cement accord commitments into place]. The Court struck a very good balance made between compliance with the agreements—which must occur in good faith during three presidential administrations—and democracy, because each president will continue to be elected with different mandates. …Those who think that the agreements should be applied as they were signed in Havana are wrong, that is not what the Court said. It said that one should take those texts, turn them into legal and policy instruments, and through them put them into effect, which is what we have done.

Of course, this is technically correct. The peace accord isn’t law, it’s just a 300-page document full of promises that the government made in order to secure a 13,000-person armed group’s commitment to disarm.

The problem with this reasoning should be obvious. What happens if a big chunk of the commitments in the peace accord don’t make it into law? That’s what’s happened with about 41 out of 107 laws or norms that Colombia’s Congress would have had to approve in order to realize all of the peace accord’s commitments.

In the reasoning laid out by Archila, because the Congress did not enact these commitments, they are just dead words on a piece of paper signed in Havana. His administration—led by politicians who opposed the peace accord— is under no obligation to honor those that didn’t make it into legislation.

By another reasoning, though, the failure to pass necessary laws equals non-compliance with the peace accord. Colombia’s Congress didn’t act to pass much outstanding legislation, and especially during the government of Iván Duque (2018-present), the executive branch didn’t push hard for it to do so. Now, that same executive can say, “sorry, we can ignore what was signed five years ago because the laws weren’t passed.”

This creates a terrible set of incentives for any future peace dialogues, whether in Colombia or in other countries with similar legal systems. In order to entice an armed group to disarm, a government can promise its leaders far more than it ever intends to fulfill. Then, after the group disarms and demobilizes, that government can blame the legislature for failing to enact its lofty promises, wash its hands, and walk away.

Why would an armed group negotiate on those terms? If four years of negotiations end up with a piece of paper that the government and legislature can pick and choose from later, why pursue such negotiations?

This is a blow to the credibility of accords resulting from peace talks. If such accords lack credibility, then armed conflicts will be condemned to drag on for longer than they otherwise would. Unnecessarily prolonged conflicts mean years of preventable death, abuse, displacement, and tragedy. The implications of Archila’s position are grave.

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