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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WOLA Podcast: A Conversation with WOLA’s New President, Carolina Jiménez Sandoval

At the beginning of the month, I recorded a reflective podcast with WOLA’s outgoing president, Geoff Thale. As a counterpart to that, here’s a conversation with our incoming president, Carolina Jiménez. We talk about her past work as a human rights advocate in Venezuela and Mexico, how civil society has evolved throughout Latin America, the threat of authoritarianism, opportunities in US policy, and her next (or first) steps at WOLA.

Enjoy this one. Here’s the text at WOLA’s podcast landing page.

This week, Adam introduces WOLA’s new president, Carolina Jiménez Sandoval, to listeners.

The conversation addresses Carolina’s Venezuelan roots and the international experience that led her to pursuing a career in human rights, concerning trends across the Latin America, and the United States’ complicated legacy and present role in supporting positive initiatives in the region.

They also discuss WOLA’s upcoming Human Rights Awards ceremony and the Colombian groups that will be honored. The discussion paints a picture of what organizations working for human rights are doing to collaborate in a new era, and what the future of advocacy for human rights in Latin America may hold.

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

WOLA Podcast: For Disappearances to End, Justice Must Begin: Justice for Disappeared Mexicans

A stunning 90,000 people have disappeared in Mexico. In a new WOLA podcast, our director for Mexico and Migrant Rights, Stephanie Brewer, emphasizes that the situation isn’t hopeless. She offers a really clear explanation of steps Mexico’s justice system can take, now.

Here’s the text from the podcast landing page at wola.org:

This week, Adam is talking with Stephanie Brewer, WOLA Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights, about our latest campaign: For Disappearances to End, Justice Must BeginThe campaign addresses the more than 90,000 people disappeared in Mexico (mostly since 2006) and the challenges to stopping disappearances.

In this conversation, Adam and Stephanie discuss how the crisis grew to today’s tragic scale, what has worked and has not worked for investigations into disappearances in the country, and some of the major findings of the campaign. Please visit the campaign’s website to see the in-depth findings and learn what you can do to support victims and family members of the disappeared in Mexico.

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

WOLA Podcast: reflecting on 40 years of Latin America human rights advocacy with Geoff Thale

WOLA’s president, Geoff Thale, retired this week. Geoff has been doing citizen advocacy for human rights in Latin America, full time, since the early 80s—before this sort of work was even a “thing.”

The work looks vastly different today. We go over how the region, work in Washington, and the role of places like WOLA have changed in a reflective new podcast episode.


Here’s the language from WOLA’s website:

Geoff Thale has been with the Washington Office on Latin America since 1995, and has served as its president since 2019. Much has changed about advocacy and foreign policy since the beginning of his time in Washington. In this conversation, Adam and Geoff discuss the evolution of human rights advocacy towards Latin America, WOLA, and the opportunities and challenges for human rights advocates working on the region.

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

WOLA Podcast: Aligning Policy with Reality at the U.S.-Mexico Border

I was in El Paso on June 28 and 29 with Joy Olson, WOLA’s former executive director. Joy went on to the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, and to Tamaulipas across the border. We came away from that trip feeling saddened and outraged with some very strong opinions, which you can hear in the latest WOLA Podcast. It’s a lively one.

The .mp3 file is here. And here’s the text from WOLA’s podcast page:

Stories about the U.S.-Mexico border have fallen out of the headlines, but extremely high numbers of migrants continue to arrive at our southern border seeking asylum in the United States. While they’re there, however, they left without protection and are targeted by criminal groups who regularly kidnap migrants to extort money. Many international organizations no longer visit parts of the border because they have been deemed too dangerous.

This week, Adam speaks with Joy Olson, former director of WOLA, who just returned from the border where she carried out dozens of interviews . She came back saddened by expelled migrants’ suffering, perplexed by the Biden administration’s halting measures, and calling for bold policy changes.. They discuss migrant kidnappings, metering, the mechanics of expulsions under Title 42, and what can be done to improve conditions for migrants at the border and improve the U.S. asylum system.

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

WOLA Podcast: A Snapshot of Human Rights and Democracy in Brazil

Many thanks to Camila Asano, the program director at the São Paulo-based think tank Conectas, for joining WOLA’s podcast. Her country is going through a historically difficult—tragic—moment, and she explains why civil society there is a last bulwark against authoritarianism. We must accompany and protect many very brave people during this dark moment.

Thanks as well to WOLA Program Assistant Moses Ngong, who is playing a bigger role in helping me put these podcasts out. Here’s the text of the podcast landing page at wola.org.

Brazil is the second largest country in the hemisphere, but its many complex issues rarely make news in the U.S. In this episode of the WOLA podcast, Camila Asano, Director of Programs at the Brazilian human rights NGO Conectas, joins Adam Isacson and Moses Ngong to discuss recent and ongoing attacks on human rights and democracy in Brazil.

The conversation covers a handful of key issues facing the country today, including:

  • How President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration has worked to antagonize and criminalize human rights defenders
  • What the impact of COVID has been on the country, and the government’s poor response
  • President Bolsonaro’s authoritarian actions attacking democracy and consolidating power
  • Police brutality and reform efforts, especially in light of the recent massacre in the Jacarezinho favela.
  • What Biden and human rights NGOs in the U.S. can do to support Brazilian civil society

Camila’s insights provide valuable context for several issues facing the country’s relatively young democracy and diverse civil society. Please enjoy!

Readings:

Conectas’ publication on Rights in the Pandemic can be found here (read about it in English here).

Their publication on police violence at custody hearings can be found in English here.

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

WOLA podcast—Mexico: the meaning of the Cienfuegos case

Whether you’ve been following this absolutely ridiculous chapter in U.S.-Mexico relations, or whether this is new to you, I recommend this conversation with my newest colleague at WOLA, Mexico and Migrant Rights Director Stephanie Brewer.

The .mp3 file is here. The podcast feed is here. And here’s the text from WOLA’s podcast landing page:

As the Biden administration takes the reins of U.S. foreign policy, relations with Mexico are in an unusually turbulent period. In October, U.S. agents arrested Mexico’s previous defense secretary, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, in the Los Angeles airport. He had been indicted for allegedly working with narcotraffickers. but after an intense pressure campaign by the Mexican government, the Justice Department dropped the charges and let the General return to Mexico. On January 14, Mexico’s chief prosecutor dropped all charges and investigations against Cienfuegos. Then, the Mexican government put the DEA’s evidence file on the internet. Meanwhile, Mexico passed a law putting strict curbs on what U.S. security and counter-drug agents can do in the country.

The Cienfuegos case tells us a lot about the power of Mexico’s military, the independence of its new chief prosecutor, and the near future of the U.S.-Mexico relationship. To explain all of this, we’re joined by WOLA’s new director for Mexico and Migrant rights, Stephanie Brewer. Stephanie also published an explainer brief about the Cienfuegos case on January 19.

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

“The Transition”: a four-volume WOLA podcast miniseries

In the weeks after the U.S. election was called for Joe Biden, I asked my colleagues at WOLA to join me for a series of podcasts. Following the four topics of a series of panels that WOLA hosted over the summer, we looked at some of the main challenges the new administration is sure to face—and how it might break with history and handle them differently this time.

I’m really glad I did these, and that eight of my co-workers took the time to join me. Though I’m still learning about audio quality (these are perfectly listenable but you can see why NPR spends so much on fancy studios), I’m delighted that we now have more than two and a half hours of high-quality analysis from people who are really paying attention to what’s going on. These four .mp3 files form an amazing snapshot of U.S.-Latin America relations on the threshold between two very different U.S. presidencies.

Each of the podcast player widgets below has a little download button (the down-arrow) so you can save the .mp3s. You can always find all of WOLA’s podcasts, going back to 2011, here. Or subscribe using your podcast player, we’re on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you listen to podcasts. The main feed is here.


November 16: U.S. Credibility, Cooperation, and a Changed Tonewith WOLA’s President, Geoff Thale; Vice President for Programs Maureen Meyer; Director for Drug Policy and the Andes John Walsh; Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt; and Venezuela Program Assistant Kristen Martinez-Gugerli.

Even as the Biden administration adopts a changed tone in its relations with the region, there may be some surprising continuities from the Trump years. And the United States, beset domestically with political polarization, human rights controversies, and mismanagement of a public health emergency, suffers from reduced influence and credibility in the region.


November 23: A Rational, Region-Wide Approach to Migrationwith Vice-President for Programs Maureen Meyer.

Trump’s hardline on migration policy is giving way to what promises to be a more humane and managerial approach under Biden. How profound that change will be remains unclear, though, as the United States and the rest of the hemisphere adjust to a reality of high levels of migration, and as the drivers of migration region-wide continue to accelerate.


December 1: The future of Latin America’s anti-corruption fightwith Director for Citizen Security Adriana Beltrán and Mexico Program Assistant Moses Ngong.

Focusing particularly on Mexico and Central America, we discuss who the region’s anti-corruption reformers are, the challenges they face, and how the United States and other international actors can best support them. A key point for the Biden administration is that other policy goals in the Americas will be impossible to achieve without a determined approach to corruption that upholds reformers.


December 11: Authoritarianism, Populism, and Closing Civic Spacewith WOLA’s president, Geoff Thale, and its director for Venezuela, Geoff Ramsey.

For the first time in decades, Latin America is becoming less democratic, amid a rise in populism, authoritarianism, and militarism. The U.S. role in upholding democracy and civic space has been inconsistent at best, and other regional institutions haven’t performed much better. How can the Biden administration change course?

WOLA Podcast: The Transition: Authoritarianism, Populism, and Closing Civic Space

Here’s a great episode closing out a four-part cycle in which we look at what confronts U.S. policy toward Latin America during this sharp break of a presidential transition. Thanks to Geoff Thale and Geoff Ramsey for joining me here.

I’m also happy that I finally figured out the “reduce noise” filter on the Audacity sound editing app. Makes a difference.

The .mp3 file is here. The podcast feed is here. And here’s the text from WOLA’s podcast landing page:

This is part four of a four-part podcast miniseries looking at key issues facing U.S. policy toward Latin America, as Washington transitions from the Trump era to the Biden administration.

This episode focuses on the state of democracy and civic space in the region. For the first time in decades, Latin America is becoming less democratic, amid a rise in populism, authoritarianism, and militarism. The U.S. role in upholding democracy and civic space has been inconsistent at best, and other regional institutions haven’t performed much better. How can the Biden administration change course?

Host Adam Isacson talks about this with WOLA’s president, Geoff Thale, and its director for Venezuela, Geoff Ramsey.

Hear Geoff Ramsey’s and the Venezuela program’s new Venezuela Briefing podcast. And here, view the video of President Trump meeting with regional leaders that Ramsey mentions in this episode’s discussion.

Earlier episodes of this “transition” podcast series covered U.S. credibility (November 16), migration (November 23), and corruption (December 1).

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

WOLA Podcast: When your neighbor is a murderer: Sean Mattison on “escrache” in Argentina

I enjoyed this conversation about victims’ activism in Argentina with filmmaker Sean Mattison. The .mp3 file is here. The podcast feed is here. And here’s the text from WOLA’s podcast landing page:

The New York Times featured a short film by Sean Mattison about Argentina. Atención! Murderer Next Door, posted on November 10, 2020, tells the story of HIJOS, a group of children of victims of Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, who started using a novel technique in the 1990s to pressure for an end to the amnesty that the armed forces’ torturers and killers enjoyed at the time.

Those responsible for the dictatorship’s campaign of tens of thousands of forced disappearances were living side-by-side with regular citizens. HIJOS and other activists started using direct action, gathering outside the perpetrators’ homes and workplaces and making clear to all that “a murderer lives here.”

They called this increasingly creative method “escrache,” which as Mattison explains here doesn’t translate well into English. Escrache worked: it helped build pressure for President Néstor Kirchner to end the post-dictatorship amnesty law in 2003. Argentina has now sentenced more military human rights abusers than has any other Latin American country.

As Mattison discusses, escrache has caught on elsewhere. Versions of escrache are already being aimed at Trump administration officials who led abuses like family separation. While it is not a perfect tool or an appropriate form of activism for all circumstances, it deserves a closer look, which is a future direction for Sean Mattison’s work.

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

WOLA Podcast: The Transition: The future of Latin America’s anti-corruption fight

Here’s a third WOLA podcast in which, as the United States pivots between two very different administrations, we step back and take stock of things. In this one, I talk to my colleagues Adriana Beltrán and Moses Ngong about the region’s fight against corruption: how unpunished corruption underlies so many other problems, who is fighting it, and how we must support them internationally with all we’ve got.

The .mp3 file is here. The podcast feed is here. And here’s the text from WOLA’s podcast landing page:

The United States is in a transition period between the Trump and Biden administrations. For U.S.-Latin American relations, this will mean a sharp shift between two very different visions of how Washington should work with the hemisphere.

In this episode, a third in a series about the transition, we talk about corruption and efforts to fight it. WOLA Director for Citizen Security Adriana Beltrán and Mexico Program Assistant Moses Ngong call corruption “endemic: a system, a network, a web of relations” that underlies many other problems in Latin America, from insecurity, to susceptibility to natural disasters, to forced migration.

Focusing particularly on Mexico and Central America, we discuss who the region’s anti-corruption reformers are, the challenges they face, and how the United States and other international actors can best support them. A key point for the Biden administration is that other policy goals in the Americas will be impossible to achieve without a determined approach to corruption that upholds reformers.

The work of WOLA’s Mexico and Citizen Security programs often takes on corruption. Resources mentioned in the podcast include:

This is the second of a series of discussions in which the podcast will talk about the transition. Last week, we covered migration, and the week before we talked about U.S. credibility and the tone of relations. Next week, the series’ final episode will take on the state of human rights and democracy.

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

WOLA Podcast: The Transition: A Rational, Region-Wide Approach to Migration

Here’s a second WOLA podcast in which, as the United States pivots between two very different administrations, we step back and take stock of things. In this one, Maureen Meyer and I talk about a huge topic: migration. In particular, how to adapt to the “new normal” and respond humanely.

The .mp3 file is here. The podcast feed is here. And here’s the text from WOLA’s podcast landing page.

The United States is in the transition period between the Biden and Trump administrations. For U.S.-Latin American relations, this will mean a sharp shift between two very different visions of how Washington should work with the hemisphere.

Nowhere is this shift likely to be as sharp as on migration policy, with Trump’s hardline giving way to what promises to be a more humane and managerial approach under Biden. How profound that change will be remains unclear, though, as the United States and the rest of the hemisphere adjust to a reality of high levels of migration, and as the drivers of migration region-wide continue to accelerate.

Director for Defense Oversight Adam Isacson and Vice-President for Programs Maureen Meyer have collaborated for nine years on WOLA’s border security and migration efforts. Here, they take stock of the region’s “new normal” of heavy migration flows, and the administrative and policy shifts that the Biden administration—and governments and international organizations regionwide—must undergo in order to adapt.

This is the second of a series of discussions in which the podcast will talk about the transition. Last week, we covered U.S. credibility and the tone of relations. In coming weeks we plan to cover anti-corruption, then the state of human rights and democracy.

WOLA Podcast—The Transition: U.S. Credibility, Cooperation, and a Changed Tone

I thought it would be a good idea to record a few podcasts with colleagues at WOLA to talk about what this U.S. presidential transition means for Washington’s relations with Latin America. Here’s the first of what should be a series of four: more of an overall view of what Biden can do in a context of diminished U.S. standing and credibility in the region.

The .mp3 file is here. The podcast feed is here. And here’s the text from WOLA’s podcast landing page.

The United States is in the transition period between the Biden and Trump administrations. For U.S.-Latin American relations, this will mean a sharp shift between two very different visions of how Washington should work with the hemisphere.

The shift will be sharp in some ways, at least—but not across the board: even amid a changed tone, there may be some surprising continuities. And the United States, beset domestically with political polarization, human rights controversies, and mismanagement of a public health emergency, suffers from reduced influence and credibility in the region.

It’s a complex moment. Discussing it in this episode are WOLA’s President, Geoff Thale; Vice President for Programs Maureen Meyer; Director for Drug Policy and the Andes John Walsh; Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt; and Venezuela Program Assistant Kristin Martinez-Gugerli.

This is the first of a few discussions in which the podcast will talk about the transition. In coming weeks we plan to cover migration and border security; anti-corruption; and the state of human rights and democracy.

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

WOLA Podcast: Peru Abruptly Removes Its President

WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt is back on the podcast to explain—with striking clarity—what the hell just happened in Lima this week, with Peru’s Congress ejecting its president.

The .mp3 file is here. Here’s the narrative text from wola.org:

A supermajority of Peru’s Congress voted on November 9 to force out President Martín Viscarra on grounds of “moral incapacity.” In a country where nearly all presidents since the 1980s have run into serious legal trouble for corruption, Viscarra was seen as relatively cleaner, and enjoyed greater popularity than the Congress. Some analysts view this as an example of Latin America’s ongoing backlash against those who propose even modest anti-corruption reforms. Meanwhile, Peru is suffering one of the world’s highest COVID-19 mortality rates, while elections approach next April.

As street protests gather momentum, the situation in Lima may be even more chaotic than the current post-election drama in Washington. We discuss all of this with Jo-Marie Burt, a senior fellow at WOLA and associate professor of political science at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. Dr. Burt is the author of Silencing Civil Society: Political Violence and the Authoritarian State in Peru (2007) and directed Rights Perú, a collaborative research project on human rights prosecutions in Peru.

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

WOLA Podcast—“It’s all about the families”: Eddie Canales on preventing deaths and identifying missing migrants in Texas borderlands

Here’s a conversation with someone whom I admire a lot. Eddie Canales was concerned about rising numbers of migrants dying of dehydration and exposure while trying to circumvent Border Patrol highway checkpoints, so he founded and runs the South Texas Human Rights Center in the town of Falfurrias, about 80 miles north of the border. The Center puts out aid stations and assists forensic experts who try to identify remains and notify their loved ones.

Here’s the .mp3 file. Or subscribe to the WOLA Podcast at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you listen—the feed is here.

Here’s the descriptive text, on WOLA’s website, for this episode with Eddie Canales:

A discussion with Eduardo “Eddie” Canales, founder and director of the South Texas Human Rights Center in Falfurrias, Texas.

Falfurrias is in Brooks County, an area of ranchland 80 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. It is also one of the deadliest places for migrants. Dozens each year get lost while trying to walk around checkpoints that Border Patrol has placed on highways, and end up dying of dehydration and exposure in the south Texas heat. The South Texas Human Rights Center works to prevent this, putting out dozens of water and aid stations. This involves negotiations and relationship-building with ranchers in an area where most land is private property. It also involves cooperating with efforts to identify the remains and alert relatives in the deceased migrants’ home countries.

Many times a year Eddie, and the technicians with whom he cooperates, help give some closure to parents, spouses, and children who don’t know what happened to a loved one who disappeared after emigrating to the United States. Doing that is expensive—it involves DNA sampling, forensic expertise, and maintenance of databases—and funds are insufficient.

Too often, resource-poor counties like Brooks have had to bear much of the cost. The remains of at least 7,500 people have been found near the border, on U.S. soil, since 2000.

And the crisis may be getting worse. The pandemic economy is leading more single adults to try to cross into the United States. Most of them are seeking to avoid being apprehended. Trying not to be apprehended means going through places like Brooks County, or deserts elsewhere along the border. Just this week, media in Arizona are reporting the largest number of migrant remains since 2013. And the year isn’t over.

The work of humanitarian workers and advocates like Eddie Canales is more important than ever. Join the Beyond the Wall campaign now to learn more.

WOLA Podcast: Demining sacred space in Colombia’s Amazon basin

Nice to have a podcast coincide with a short film’s debut on the New Yorker website. Congratulations to Tom Laffay for this piece of work. The WOLA podcast page is here.

Tom Laffay is an American filmmaker based in Bogotá, recipient of the inaugural 2020 Andrew Berends Fellowship. In 2018, his short film, Nos están matando (They’re killing us), which exposed the plight of Colombian social leaders, reached the halls of the U.S. Congress and the United Nations in Geneva.

This film was commissioned by The New Yorker and supported by The Pulitzer Center.

In this edition of WOLA’s podcast, Laffay discusses his new short film, Siona: Amazon’s Defenders Under Threat. The New Yorker featured it on its website on June 25, 2020. Laffay follows Siona Indigenous leader Adiela Mera Paz in Putumayo, Colombia, as she works to demine her ancestral territory to make it possible for her people displaced by the armed conflict to return. Though the armed conflict with the FARC may have officially ended, the Siona people not only face post-conflict risks, they also face threats from extractive companies. In the episode, Laffay describes the history of the Siona people and their territory, their relationship with yagé, and the courageous work undertaken by leaders like Adiela Mera Paz.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

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