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.

Categories

Get a weekly update in your email




Podcast

WOLA Podcast: “How do we define success?” Jonathan Rosen on governments’ approaches to organized crime

I had a fun conversation yesterday with Jonathan Rosen. Here’s the description from WOLA’s site:

Jonathan Rosen, assistant professor of Criminal Justice at Holy Family University in Philadelphia, has published a large body of books, articles, and edited volumes in the past several years on drug policy, organized crime, corruption, state failure, and violence in the Americas.

Here, Dr. Rosen shares a strong critique of “mano dura” approaches to crime and violence, the disjointed and short-term nature of U.S. policymaking toward Latin America, and the persistence of counter-drug strategies that simply don’t work.

He also discusses his experience as an expert witness in about 100 asylum cases involving threatened Latin American citizens in immigration courts around the country.

Listen above or download the .mp3 file.

WOLA Podcast: Practicing Asylum Law in El Paso: “MPP is just—it’s utterly insane”

I enjoyed recording this conversation with someone I admire a lot, El Paso-based asylum attorney Taylor Levy. Here’s the narrative from the WOLA podcast web page:

In mid-2019 the Trump administration ramped up its “Remain in Mexico” program, forcing tens of thousands of non-Mexican asylum seekers to await their hearing dates in Mexican border cities. In order to do her job, Taylor Levy, an asylum attorney in El Paso, Texas, found herself spending most of her time on the other side of the border in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

This gave Levy a firsthand look at the cruelties of the Trump administration’s war on the right to seek asylum at the border—some of them dramatic and shocking, some of them everyday outrages.

In March 2020, when the spread of COVID-19 made a border closure look more likely, Levy relocated to Ciudad Juárez in order to serve her clients. She remained there until the pandemic forced the hotel where she was staying to close down.

In this podcast, Taylor Levy shares some of her recent experiences and some dire warnings about what is to come. Hers is a gripping testimony about what it is like to be on the ground in the middle of one of the worst human rights crises in recent Latin American history—one created by U.S. policy.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

WOLA Podcast: COVID-19, Anti-Democratic Trends, and Human Rights Concerns

Podcasts are coming back after a two-week break. There’ll be a few over the coming week.

For this one, I wrangled together four of my WOLA colleagues to take the temperature of politics and human rights in the region a month and a half into the COVID-19 lockdown. It’s really grim, and challenging to end on an optimistic note. But listen to it and you will learn a lot. Here’s the description from WOLA’s website:

COVID-19 threatens to take many lives in Latin America. It also threatens to leave behind a less democratic, less rights-respecting, more unequal, and more violent region.

An April 13 WOLA commentary laid out many of these concerns. If anything, they’ve grown more urgent since then. Here, five WOLA program directors gather for a discussion of where things stand in several countries in the region.

  • Director for Defense Oversight Adam Isacson talks about El Salvador.
  • Director for the Andes Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli discusses Colombia, Brazil, and Haiti.
  • Director for Venezuela Geoff Ramsey covers Venezuela.
  • Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights Maureen Meyer provides an update about Mexico and the border.
  • Director for Drug Policy and the Andes John Walsh explains drug trafficking trends and the situation in Bolivia.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

WOLA Podcast: Democracy, Displacement, and “Political Cleansing” in Colombia’s Armed Conflict

Here’s a great conversation with Abbey Steele of the University of Amsterdam’s Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences who, as she notes, was my intern at the Center for International Policy way back in the fall of 2000. (Deep in the archives are 3 memos she co-authored during her internship: here, here, and here.)

Today, Abbey is a professor at the University of Amsterdam’s Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences, a scholar of violence and politics who has done most of her work in Colombia. She is the author of Democracy and Displacement in Colombia’s Civil War (2017, Cornell University Press).

In this episode, she discusses her work in Apartadó, in Colombia’s Urabá region, which saw forced displacement by paramilitary groups intensify after Colombia began direct local elections and leftist parties performed well. She calls what happened “political cleansing” or “collective targeting”: the paramilitaries targeted entire communities for displacement based on election results.

She explains this and other findings, particularly how communities have organized to resist the onslaught. She has a sharp analysis of the challenges that continue for the displaced—and for communities and social leaders at risk of political cleansing—today, in post-peace-accord Colombia.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

WOLA Podcast: “This is patently illegal”: The undermining of asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border

I do a lot of work at the border, but the skills I bring are more about the role of security forces like Border Patrol and the military, use of force, human rights, and accountability. I am not an expert in immigration law.

In the past few years, one of the main battlegrounds on border policy—more important even than Trump’s wall—has been on a key aspect of immigration law: the right to seek asylum. Since this isn’t my specialty, I’ve been shocked, and occasionally quite confused, about how the Trump administration has managed to systematically do away with asylum at the border, without changing a word of U.S. law.

I wanted to record a podcast with someone who could explain this clearly, to me and to WOLA’s audience. So I was delighted that Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, an immigration attorney who is the policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, agreed to join me and walk me through the complexity. If you’re on Twitter at all and follow the border or immigration, Aaron’s is probably a familiar avatar.

He explains why a right to ask for asylum exists in U.S. law, and how the asylum system is supposed to work, from arrival at the border through the U.S. immigration court system. He then explains the steps that the Trump administration has taken, at every step of the asylum process, to steadily decimate the right to seek protection at the US-Mexico border.

Aaron does a brilliant job here. As I say in the conversation, teachers should assign this episode in schools. Highly recommended.

Listen up above, or download the .mp3 file.

WOLA Podcast: Protecting Civilians from Harm

Here’s a podcast that I recorded last Wednesday and am pleased to post now.

How to minimize harm to civilians during armed conflict is a challenge WOLA faces frequently. That has especially been the case in Colombia, the only formally defined armed conflict in the Americas in recent years. But many Latin American countries are places where civilians are falling victim to violence in devastating numbers right now—even if the situation of insecurity doesn’t meet the international law definition of “armed conflict.”

How do we minimize harm to social leaders, human rights defenders, and all other non-combatants in these situations of violence? The Center for Civilians in Conflict, or CIVIC, is dedicated to this question. Founded in 2003 to advocate for civilian victims of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, CIVIC engages with armed actors and with communities to minimize harm. Virtually all of its work so far has taken place outside of the Western Hemisphere, but that may soon change.

To talk about what minimizing civilian harm could look like in Latin America’s not-quite-armed-conflict contexts, the Podcast talks to Protection Innovation Fellow Annie Shiel, who was a founding member of the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor’s Office of Security and Human Rights; and with Mike Lettieri of the University of California at San Diego’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, who is working with CIVIC to develop approaches to work in Latin America.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

WOLA Podcast: COVID-19, Communities, and Human Rights in Colombia

(Photo from Colombia Army Twitter account)

As of early April 2020, Colombia has documented a relatively low number of coronavirus cases, and in cities at least, the country has taken on strict social distancing measures.

This has not meant that Colombia’s embattled social leaders and human rights defenders are any safer. WOLA’s latest urgent action memo, released on April 10, finds that “killings and attacks on social leaders and armed confrontations continue and have become more targeted. We are particularly concerned about how the pandemic will affect already marginalized Afro-Colombian and indigenous minorities in rural and urban settings.”

In this edition of the WOLA Podcast, that memo’s author, Director for the Andes Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, explains the danger to social leaders, the shifting security situation, the ceasefire declared by the ELN guerrillas, the persistence of U.S.-backed coca eradication operations, and how communities are organizing to respond to all of this.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file here.

Podcast: Latin America and the Crisis of Globalization and Multilateralism

Here’s a tri-continental podcast that I recorded yesterday and posted today. It was fun to do, especially since the tech mostly held up.

paper published in March by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s Latin America Regional Security Program takes stock of the complicated geopolitical, institutional, economic, and social moment that Latin America and the Caribbean today. It examines the crisis of democratic institutions, the United States’ hard turn toward unilateralism, the growing roles of China and Russia, and the impending effect of phenomena like climate change, automation, and artificial intelligence.

This podcast talks about all of this with the paper’s three authors, scattered across three continents:

  • In Santiago: Marcos Robledo, co-director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation project, is a Chilean security expert who served in Chile’s defense ministry, including as a vice-minister, during Michelle Bachelet’s time as minister and as president.
  • In Washington: Rebecca Bill Chávez is a defense expert who served in the Pentagon as deputy secretary of defense for western hemisphere affairs during Barack Obama’s second term.
  • In Oslo: Mariano Aguirre, former director of the Norwegian Peacebuilding Center, NOREF, who has worked for the UN Resident Representative’s office  in Bogotá and managed research efforts in Spain, in the Netherlands, and elsewhere. Aguirre is a member of WOLA’s board of directors.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

Lars Schoultz: “I Wrote This Book for People Like You”: Lars Schoultz takes on U.S. “uplifters” of Latin America

I’ve been reading Lars Schoultz’s scholarship on U.S.-Latin America relations since I was in college, and I was delighted that he would record a podcast.

The longtime professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published an award-winning book in 2018, In Their Own Best Interest. In it, he takes to task U.S. policymakers and advocates who seek to “uplift” or “improve” Latin American nations, viewing them as part of a very long tradition going back to imperialists of the gunboat diplomacy era. He notes that some countries are hardly better off after a century of U.S. “uplifting,” and worries about how our grandchildren will view the policies that we advocate for today.

Is WOLA guilty of this? While I frankly don’t see much of myself in Schoultz’s characterization of our work, I really enjoyed engaging him in this lively and very thought-provoking discussion. I think you’ll like this one a lot.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

WOLA Podcast: Investing in Amazon Crude: Oil, Finance, and Survival

Despite the grim subject matter, I enjoyed recording this conversation with two colleagues whom I’ve known for many years. I also don’t know much at all about the topic, so a lot of their recent report was new to me. They handled my basic questions very well. Here’s the text from WOLA’s website:

Preserving the Amazon rainforest ecosystem is essential to slowing climate change, but that is getting harder to do. When you think about environmental destruction in the Amazon region, you may picture illegal logging, cattle ranchers, agribusiness, and devastating fires. But it turns out that at least the western part of the Amazon is sitting on a sea of oil as well, and companies are moving in. These companies are getting financed by some big banks and investment firms in the United States.

In early March, Amazon Watch published a report on oil exploration plans and global financial firms’ role, Investing in Amazon Crude. We talk about the report’s findings, and what can be done about them, with two longtime Latin America human rights advocates from Amazon Watch. Moira Birss is the organization’s climate and finance director, and Andrew Miller is the advocacy director.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

WOLA Podcast: “I Wish I Did More Positive Reporting About Colombia Because I Love the Place”

I got a kick out of recording this one with John Otis, from his home outside Bogotá. Since 1997, John has been reporting from Colombia, covering the Andes, for many news outlets. You may recognize his voice as National Public Radio’s correspondent in the Andes, or seen his many recent bylines in the Wall Street Journal. He is also the author of a highly recommended book about aspects of the conflict, Law of the Jungle (2010).

Here, John talks about some of the many changes he has seen in both Colombia and Venezuela during his tenure. The conversation also covers Colombia’s peace process, the difficulty of explaining the country’s complexity, and some places and people who’ve left very strong impressions over the years.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

WOLA Podcast: Soldiers and Civilians in Latin America Today

Here’s a conversation we recorded late Friday over a beer.

After nearly 30 years of movement away from military rule and toward civilian democracy, Latin America’s armed forces are again playing larger, more political roles. The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the trend, with the danger that having soldiers on the streets may again become “normalized” throughout the region.

Joining me to talk about this is Gregory Weeks, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Weeks doesn’t see a return to 1970s-style military regimes anytime soon—but he is not optimistic about civil-military relations in the region.

A political scientist, Weeks is the author of two volumes that appear very often in university Latin American studies curricula: Understanding Latin American Politics (available as a free PDF and for sale) and U.S. and Latin American Relations. He is one of the first Latin America bloggers, posting to Two Weeks Notice almost daily since 2006. And his Understanding Latin American Politics podcast is one of few other Latin America podcasts in English.

Listen above, or download the mp3 file.

WOLA Podcast: Searching for Mexico’s Disappeared

With two very good guests in two parts of Mexico, I’m really glad the technology held up on this one. It was well worth the high-wire act.

Here’s the text of the summary at wola.org. Listen above, or download the .mp3 file here.

More than 60,000 people have disappeared in Mexico since 2006. As a March 23 WOLA commentary by Maureen Meyer and Gina Hinojosa notes, the current government is taking some initial steps to address the crisis. A great deal, however, remains to be done, and victims’ groups trying to locate the disappeared continue to work very much on their own.

To discuss the crisis and Mexico’s incipient efforts to address it, Meyer and Hinojosa are joined by two guests from the frontlines of Mexico’s fight to locate and identify the disappeared. Mariano Machain is the international advocacy coordinator at SERAPAZ Mexico, a non-governmental organization working for peace and positive transformation of social conflicts. Lucy Díaz (seen in a December 2019 ABC News Nightline feature) is a leader of Colectivo Solecito, a group of mothers searching for the disappeared in Veracruz state; her son Luis disappeared in 2013.

WOLA Podcast: “There are 15,000 people waiting without access to asylum”

Savitri Arvey of the University of California at San Diego’s U.S.-Mexico Center has co-written a series of reports documenting U.S. authorities’ two-year-old practice of “metering” asylum seekers along the Mexico border, forcing them in precarious conditions in dangerous Mexican border towns for weeks or months at a time.

The quarterly reports that Arvey and colleagues at the University of Texas’s Strauss Center produce are an essential source for understanding the number of people waiting, the number whom U.S. Customs and Border Protection allow to cross and petition for asylum, who is running the “waiting lists” on the Mexican side of the border, and what risks asylum-seeking families face wile they wait.

With the current COVID-19 border closure, Arvey says, U.S. authorities aren’t letting anybody cross to ask for asylum, which is a violation of the United States’ international law commitments, and probably of U.S. law.

Listen above, or download the mp3 here.

WOLA Podcast: “Beyond the ‘Narco-State’ Narrative”

I’ll be going back to an interview format for tomorrow’s podcast (if all goes according to plan). Today’s episode, though, is the audio track of a March 20, 2020 WOLA webinar about criminality and corruption in Venezuela, and the viability of a political exit to the crisis. This event is based on a March 11 report by WOLA’s Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde, who look at U.S. data and find that drug trafficking and other criminality and corruption, while big problems, are not so severe as to rule out negotiating a political solution with the Maduro regime.

In this event audio, Ramsey and Smilde are joined by Jeremy McDermott, the co-director of InsightCrime, and investigative journalist Bram Ebus, a consultant to the International Crisis Group.

Listen above, or download the mp3 file here.

Newer Posts
Older Posts
Get a weekly update in your e-mail:




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