Adam Isacson

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



Podcast: “U.S.-Colombia Relations ‘in a Challenged Place'”

It’s nice to put one of these out again, for the first time in 2 1/2 months.

Relations between the United States and close ally Colombia have hit their roughest patch in years. The situation is aggravated by the Trump administration’s much darker view of the FARC peace accord, and open disagreement about how to deal with coca eradication. Messages from Washington, meanwhile, have been confusingly mixed. A better-briefed Secretary of State could deal with this more effectively, but that doesn’t seem to be Rex Tillerson’s style.

New WOLA Podcast: An Update on Venezuela with David Smilde

This one is really good. I can see why David Smilde’s analysis appears so often in media coverage of Venezuela.

David is a senior fellow who writes WOLA’s Venezuela blog, teaches at Tulane University and spends much of his time—including the tumultuous last few months—in Caracas.

He doesn’t pass through Washington very often, so it was great to have a chance to grab him with my microphone at our staff retreat. (You can occasionally hear some of our WOLA colleagues in the background.)

This fast-moving interview covers:

  • the risk to democracy posed by President Nicolás Maduro’s proposed constitutional assembly;
  • the opposition’s strategic opportunities, challenges, and mistakes;
  • the security forces’ role;
  • the highly politicized issue of humanitarian aid;
  • diplomatic efforts at the Organization of American States;
  • the possibility of sanctions, and why WOLA is skeptical of  this tactic under most circumstances; and
  • real hope for multilateral action to find a way forward.

WOLA Podcast: The Trump Administration Wants to Slash U.S. Aid

WOLA’s website will shortly post a written/graphical overview of the Trump administration’s dumpster-fire of a foreign aid budget request. But for now, here’s a very fact-filled conversation about it between WOLA’s program director, Geoff Thale, and me.

WOLA Podcast: The Central America Monitor

Congress appropriated $750 million in aid for Central America for 2016, and $655 million more for 2017. What’s in these aid packages? Which countries are getting what? What do U.S.-funded programs propose to do? Are they achieving their goals?

Next Wednesday (May 17) my colleague Adriana Beltrán, who runs WOLA’s Citizen Security program will join some partners from the region to launch the “Central America Monitor,” an effort to answer these questions.

This looks like a very cool project, collecting a lot of data both to document aid and to try to measure its results in the region. I talk to her about it here.

WOLA Podcast: Looking for Glimmers of Hope in Honduras

Here’s a conversation with Sarah Kinosian, a WOLA program officer who works with me on our Defense Oversight work. Sarah is just back from a weeklong research visit to Honduras. We discuss arms trafficking, police reform, gangs, drug trafficking, migration, U.S. assistance, and Honduras’s own reform efforts, looking for evidence that anything is “working.”

Podcast: “The Border Wall and the Budget”

The Trump White House came dangerously close to shutting down the U.S. government over funding for its proposed wall along the border with Mexico. Here I explain the budget process, what we know of the administration’s wall-building plans, and why it’s a bad idea.

I think this one came out pretty well.

WOLA Podcast: “Human Rights Trials in Guatemala”

Here’s a conversation with WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt, a professor of political science at George Mason University. Since 2012 Jo-Marie has closely monitored Guatemala’s judicial effort to hold military personnel accountable for crimes against humanity that they committed or ordered during the country’s 1960-1996 civil war. Despite some often severe pushback, prosecutors, investigators, and civil society are making progress.

Jo-Marie posts frequent updates about Guatemala’s human rights trials to the Open Society Justice Initiative’s International Justice Monitor website at

Podcast: “The Thing”

Here I talk about a new tool we’ve made for monitoring military aid programs, and why it’s important.

Did you know that the U.S. government now has 107 programs that it can use to aid foreign militaries and police forces? Neither did I, before we started working on what turned out to be a huge report, or project, or “thing,” that’s now nearly complete.

This podcast’s sound is acceptable, but not great. I’m traveling right now, so had to record it on my telephone in a hotel room in Bogotá.

The new resource I discuss here doesn’t have a name yet, but you can check it out in draft form at (In mid-April this will move to

I also discuss the Security Assistance Monitor program, which I highly recommend you visit at

(Here’s the mp3 file. And here’s the podcast feed.)

A “Trump Effect?”: New WOLA Podcast on migration and the border

I recorded a new WOLA Podcast this morning with colleagues Maureen Meyer and Hannah Smith from WOLA’s Mexico and Migration programs:

U.S. statistics showed a sharp drop in migration from Mexico, and especially from Central America, in February. WOLA’s Adam Isacson, Maureen Meyer, and Hannah Smith talk about what is happening and what now awaits migrants who seek asylum or refuge. They discuss observations from February and March travel to southern Mexico, the U.S.-aided Southern Border Plan, and the increasing number of Central Americans who, fleeing violence, are deciding to seek asylum in Mexico rather than enter the United States. They weigh the grave impact that the Trump administration’s proposed policies are having on refugees even before they go into effect.

(Here’s the mp3 file. And here’s the podcast feed.)

Podcast: Worrying about peace implementation in Colombia

I want this new blog to come with a podcast. I started the blog because so much of what I do all day is explaining: explaining what we’ve been learning, explaining what concerns us, and explaining what a better policy, strategy, or approach would look like.

The blog forces me to be a better explainer in writing. A podcast can force me to be a better explainer in “talking.”

The podcast I’m launching here is just me sitting at a microphone trying to explain something. No interviews or “produced” documentary content—that’s what the WOLA Podcast is for. This is less ambitious, and I don’t plan to promote it beyond the occasional tweet to let people know an episode exists.

Still, I hope you find it useful, especially because there is so little out there. I listen to a lot of podcasts, but I can’t find much in English about Latin America. (Especially since Rick Rockwell got promoted to dean at Webster University, leaving Latin Pulse almost as dormant as the WOLA Podcast has been.)

Speaking of the WOLA Podcast, expect a new one next week. I’m raising the priority of podcasting at work too. If all goes well, I’ll be posting a WOLA Podcast every 2 weeks, alternating with a “me sitting at the microphone” podcast every 2 weeks. (I’m sure travel and work schedules will interfere with that regularity, but I’m putting it out there as a goal.)

In this inaugural episode, I voice some gnawing concerns about whether, and how, Colombia is going to implement its peace accords. This may be a recurring theme.

I refer to a few documents here:

  • The UN monitoring mission’s latest report.
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report on 2016 (English | Español).
  • WOLA’s statement about the transitional justice bill.
  • Colombia’s peace accord.
  • Addendum, 3:00PM: Also, I mention that Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute has found “something like 560” individual things that the parties to Colombia’s peace accords have committed to do. I found the actual number: it’s 571 “observable, measurable actions.” Yikes.

Also see:

  • The “Post-Conflict Colombia” tag on this blog.
  • Links to every news article I’ve found useful about this: go to my online news database, click on “Tags” in the left column, then choose “Colombia Post-Conflict.” As of this morning, there are 393 links.

(Here’s the mp3 file. And here’s the podcast feed.)

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