Adam Isacson

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

Notes and Comments

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.

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.

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.

Lowlife Dictator Lowers Himself Still Further

Nicaraguan author Gioconda Belli earned her money by writing novels that changed how people feel and see the world.

Tweet from Gioconda Belli @GiocondaBelliP:

Ayer la dictadura Ortega Murillo consumó la confiscación de mi casa de habitación en Managua, enviando policías a ocuparla. Es una casa que para siempre contendrá el recuerdo de mi energía creativa, la huella de mis libros y el paisaje que más amaba. Lo que era queda en mí.

Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega—who made his money by stealing from, terrorizing, and traumatizing people—just seized Belli’s home this week.

Good on Colombian President Gustavo Petro for showing solidarity and observing, “Ortega hace lo mismo que Pinochet.”

Border Patrol is Once Again Keeping Asylum Seekers Outdoors, Between the Border Wall Layers, South of San Diego

From the Tijuana daily El Imparcial.

Border Patrol is once again keeping hundreds of asylum-seeking migrants outdoors, without even bathroom facilities, for one to two days between the double layers of the border wall between San Diego and Tijuana.

The last time we saw this practice, in May, it generated an outcry, including a letter from Democratic members of Congress and a complaint filed by the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

Now it’s happening again. From California Public Radio:

The camp is in San Ysidro, between the primary and secondary border walls. Migrants there sleep outside with little protection from the elements. There are no bathrooms, leaving men, women and children to relieve themselves in nearby bushes.

…Customs and Border Patrol personnel give the migrants water bottles, cheese and crackers. Everything else comes from volunteers in San Diego and Tijuana, according to several migrants interviewed by KPBS.

Volunteers provided fruits, blankets, medicine, diapers, menstrual pads and generators to charge people’s phones.

…Migrants interviewed in the camp Tuesday told KPBS that they were not free to leave the camp whenever they wished. All of them had wristbands given to them by CBP personnel. Many of the people in the camp want to pursue asylum claims in the United States.

Volunteers told California Public Radio that the migrants are spending between 24 and 36 hours in the camp before agents pick them up for processing. In the meantime, they must relieve themselves in bushes between the fence lines.

Border Patrol claims that they are facing capacity challenges. These challenges are certain to increase as numbers of migrants, many of them asylum seekers, have been growing since July and may continue to grow into the fall. If that happens, and if Border Patrol is allowed to keep using the space between the walls as an open-air pen, then the wait times will get longer.

Many of the asylum seekers have given up on waiting for the “CBP One” smartphone app to cough up an appointment. Enrique Lucero, the director of Tijuana’s municipal migrant affairs office, told the local El Imparcial “there are between 5,500 and 6,000 migrants in city government-recognized shelters, who are waiting to obtain a CBP One appointment to begin their asylum process in a way that is safe and ordered by the United States.”

At the San Ysidro port of entry, CBP is taking 385 CBP One appointments per day—16 times smaller than the officially known portion of Tijuana’s migrant shelter population—plus maybe 10 more “walk-ups,” according to an August 31 report from the University of Texas’s Strauss Center.

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