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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The day ahead: July 13, 2020

I’m most reachable mid-day and late afternoon. (How to contact me)

It was a restful and somewhat productive weekend. Today I’ve got 2-3 hours of internal meetings, some urgent emails to answer, and then I’m going to continue doing a bunch of website updates, mainly at colombiapeace.org.

The day ahead: March 6, 2020

I should be reachable much of the day. (How to contact me)

I’m around all day. I’ve already been up doing drive-time radio in Colombia because of the White House’s release of a 2019 coca cultivation estimate yesterday. This morning we’ll be putting out a statement about that, and I want to get into the habit of posting a short video to respond to these things, so I’ll be talking into a camera in my office. Otherwise I’ll be there in my office digging through documents and doing some writing.

The day ahead: February 24, 2020

I’m in near-constant meetings today. (How to contact me)

I’ve spent a lot of the last few days and nights making some big improvements to our underutilized “colombiapeace.org” website (read about those here).

I’d like to add more to it this week, but might not do much: it’s one of those “high season” weeks with 12 meetings (so far) and two speaking engagements on the calendar. I’ll be in New York on Friday giving a talk at John Jay College.

Today, I’ll be hard to contact because I’ll be in a morning staff meeting, a board meeting of the Andean Information Network, a coffee with the director of a Latin American think tank, and dinner with visiting Colombian human rights leaders who are giving a presentation at USIP.

The day ahead: January 8, 2020

I should be reachable much of the day. (How to contact me)

Other than lunch with a longtime colleague at another organization, I should be at my desk in the office all day. I’ll be doing a post about coca fumigation in Colombia, setting up a trip to El Paso/Juarez for the week of the 20th, and working on internal documents for WOLA’s annual planning process, which takes place next week.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Evan Vucci/AP photo at The Washington Post. Caption: “President Trump tours a 30-foot section of the southern border wall in the Otay Mesa area of San Diego on Sept. 18.”

(Even more here)

September 20, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

The 18 border projects listed a total of about 309 miles of new and replacement fencing, mostly along the western portion of the U.S.-Mexico border

Planning documents obtained by The Washington Post show the cost of building 509 miles of barriers averages out to more than $36 million per mile

Agents at Dilley are not wearing the Border Patrol’s well-known olive-green uniforms, and are identifying themselves to migrant families and children as asylum officers

The latest case-by-case court records through the end of August 2019 show the court’s active case backlog was 1,007,155. If the additional 322,535 cases which the court says are pending but have not been placed on the active caseload rolls are added, then the backlog now tops 1.3 million

The pair had recently entered the US and made a request for asylum but they were sent to Matamoros, Mexico, to wait for an immigration court hearing

Brazil

For more than a century, a series of Brazilian governments have sought to move into the country’s interior, developing — or, to be more precise, colonizing — the Amazon

Colombia

Uno de los antecedentes que influyeron en la posición del Gobierno en la mesa de negociaciones corresponde a las experiencias derivadas del Plan de Consolidación Integral de La Macarena (PCIM), el cual tuvo aplicación en el gobierno de Álvaro Uribe

Colombia, Venezuela

Por ser el principal paso desde Cúcuta hacia las grandes ciudades del país, el páramo es un paso obligado para los caminantes que emprenden la aventura. Por eso, a lo largo del camino existen 13 albergues

Organismos internacionales advierten que son decenas de miles los casos de migrantes que se encuentran explotados por bandas criminales de Colombia

Cuba

Aunque el Departamento de Estado no ofreció más detalles, la frase “operaciones de influencia” usualmente se refiere a actividades de inteligencia y reclutamiento de fuentes

Guatemala

The plantations are in remote stretches of the municipalities of Livingston on the Caribbean coast and El Estor

Haiti

Among the opposition’s demands are the establishment of a transitional government, trials for all those implicated in the PetroCaribe corruption scandal, prosecution of public officials accused of corruption, and organization of a National Sovereignty Conference

Mexico

The attorney-general’s office said it would reinvestigate “almost from scratch” what happened to the 43 after they clashed with local police on 26 September 2014

As of this week, 129 miles worth of projects in New Mexico, Arizona and California “has been obligated and is on contract,”

These are turbulent days for the migrants of El Buen Pastor. For the first time since World War II, the U.S. government is turning away thousands of asylum seekers regardless of their need for refuge

Seeking to relieve the pressure from asylum seekers in border towns, Mexico bused asylum seekers south. The country’s practices could violate international law

Nicaragua

La aplanadora de la bancada orteguista con sus setenta diputados aprobó este 18 de septiembre el acuerdo de protección de inversiones con el régimen islámico de Irán

Venezuela

But the depression that began here in 2013 has accelerated into a meltdown, the product of falling oil prices, failed socialist policies, mismanagement and corruption

Police and security forces have killed nearly 18,000 people in Venezuela in instances of alleged “resistance to authority” since 2016

By July 2019, however, only 23.9 percent of the funds needed had been raised

Santos explicó que la reunión se centrará en «la decisión de invocar y a partir de ahí poder tomar decisiones respectivas frente a sanciones». Dijo, no obstante, que de «ninguna manera quiere decir que se aprueba el uso de acciones militares»

There is no indication that the government is moving in the direction of Maduro’s departure followed by a genuinely competitive presidential election under international supervision

80 Homeland Security Agents to Guatemala? New analysis at WOLA’s website

Here’s a short analysis posted to WOLA’s website (Español). It jumps off from last Friday’s Washington Post finding that dozens of CBP and ICE officers may be sent to Guatemala to work as “advisors” at the country’s border with Mexico.

The piece is built around a listing of Homeland Security and Defense Department deployments to Guatemala in recent years, collected from my database. Those have had names like “Operation Citadel,” “Operation Regional Shield,” “Operation Hornet,” “Operation Together Forward,” and several others.

The point is that even if the past deployments brought some results, they made no difference in migrant and drug-smuggling out of Guatemala. And nor will any new 80-person mission.

They failed because Guatemala’s 600-mile border with Mexico is easily crossed at dozens of formal and informal sites. They failed because Guatemala—unlike, say, East Germany—doesn’t prevent citizens from leaving its territory. They failed because migrants fleeing violence and poverty, and the smugglers who charge them thousands for the journey, are adept at avoiding capture. They failed because seeking asylum, as tens of thousands of Guatemalan children and parents are doing each month, is not an illegal act.

They failed, too, because unpunished corruption within Guatemalan and Mexican security and immigration forces works to smugglers’ advantage, undermining the efforts of Homeland Security agents and their counterparts. And in Guatemala, where the government is slamming the door on the CICIG, a much-admired international investigative body, the corruption problem is only getting worse—just as more U.S. agents arrive.

There is no reason to believe that 80 agents, carrying out a similar mission on a somewhat larger scale, might make much of a dent. They will assuredly capture lower-ranking smugglers and block some unfortunate families from leaving. But migrants’ desperation and higher-tier smugglers’ sophistication will remain unchanged. And corruption will continue to erase gains as long as there is no accountability for those on the take. 

Read the whole thing here (Español).

The day ahead: April 30, 2019

I’ll be hard to contact today. (How to contact me)

I’m in an all-day staff training at WOLA. The family are out of town for 2 days, though, so I hope to get some writing and research done at home tonight.

Big JEP vote today in Colombia’s Senate

(Cross-posted from WOLA’s colombiapeace.org blog)

On March 11 Colombian President Iván Duque threw the country’s peace process into semi-paralysis. He formally “objected” to parts of the law underlying the transitional justice system that the accords had set up for judging ex-combatants’ human rights crimes. The “objections,” essentially a line-item veto, sent back to Colombia’s Congress a law that originally passed in November 2017. Today, Colombia’s Senate is to vote on the objections, a major milestone in this labyrinthine process.

Without an underlying “Statutory Law,” the transitional-justice system, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), can function but is badly hobbled. The JEP is a special tribunal, developed after 19 months of contentious negotiations between the government and the FARC guerrillas in Havana, to judge those on both sides who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. In exchange for full confessions and reparations to victims, the JEP sentences war criminals to up to eight years of “restricted liberty,” not quite prison. This was enough to convince 13,000 FARC guerrillas to demobilize, making the JEP the backbone of the 2016 peace accord. But the perception of leniency has made it unpopular and vulnerable to political attack.

For the 11,000 ex-guerrillas and 1,950 military personnel who have signed up to be tried in the JEP, President Duque’s “objections” cause more delay and more uncertainty. And more uncertainty—even the possibility that the JEP Statutory Law could collapse—raises concern among ex-combatants that they could be imprisoned or even extradited to the United States. That possibility could cause hundreds, or even thousands, of ex-combatants to take up arms again. This is serious.

What happened?

For readers coming to this story late, a bit of chronology is in order.

  • The government-FARC peace accord went into effect on December 1, 2016. That set in motion a 12-month countdown in which Colombia’s Congress had “fast track” authority to quickly pass legislation needed to implement the accord. Just before the “fast track” deadline, at the very end of November 2017, Congress finally passed the Statutory Law for the JEP. Legislators added some problematic provisions, but at least the JEP had a legal underpinning.
  • The law then passed to Colombia’s highest judicial review body, the Constitutional Court, to assess its constitutionality. In August 2018, the Court signed off on most of the law. In December 2018, the Constitutional Court published its 980-page decision.
  • That set off a three-month countdown for President Duque, who took office in August 2018, to sign the bill into law. Just before that deadline, on March 11, Duque sent the Statutory Law back to Congress with objections to six of its 159 articles. They mainly had to do with reparations, the definition of “maximum responsible” war criminals, and extradition procedures.

Duque’s objections drew an outcry from peace accord supporters, both within Colombia and in the international community. Opposition legislators, led by former government peace negotiator Juanita Goebertus, used a newly won “right of rebuttal” to broadcast a video laying out the dangers posed by Duque’s move.

The only international government to support Duque’s actions was the Trump administration, in the person of Ambassador Kevin Whitaker, who went on national radio and met with members of Congress to argue for the objections that would ease extradition to the United States.

What happens now?

The JEP Statutory Law went to Colombia’s Congress, which is charged with voting to accept or reject President Duque’s objections. Colombia’s House and Senate vote separately. As we understand it, there are three possible outcomes:

  1. If both houses of Congress uphold Duque’s objections, they go back to the Constitutional Court for review. That Court already approved the law’s provisions after exhaustive review in 2018, so it would be likely to overturn the objections again.
  2. If both houses reject the objections, Duque must sign the bill into law as is, which would be a huge political defeat for him.
  3. If the two houses of Congress split, it’s not clear what might happen, as this situation has never come up under Colombia’s 1991 constitution. Probably, the six objections would be “archived,” and the law would go to the Court’s review without them. But it’s possible that the whole JEP law could get “archived,” or shut down, which would be disastrous. The Constitutional Court will have to decide.

On April 8, Colombia’s House of Representatives dealt President Duque a blistering defeat, voting 110-44 against his objections, with moderate and centrist parties joining the left. (This owed partly to concern about torpedoing the peace process, and partly to an unwillingness to hand Duque’s party a big political victory six months before nationwide gubernatorial and mayoral elections.) That eliminated option 1 above.

It is now up to the Senate to decide whether option 2 or option 3 will prevail. The vote will probably be closer there, not least because a senator from Duque’s party currently holds the body’s presidency. Analyses in Colombia’s media, though, indicate a majority of senators is likely to reject Duque’s objections, which would preserve the Statutory Law as is and deal an embarrassing blow to Iván Duque.

Duque’s supporters know this, and they have used gambits and delaying tactics to delay the Senate vote. Opposition observers worry that the governing party has been using the extra time making promises of patronage, like party positions in ministries, in order to turn the votes of enough moderate senators to gain a majority.

The vote is scheduled for today, Monday, April 29. Unless there are further delays, by Tuesday we should know whether President Duque’s objections have succeeded in keeping the JEP, and the peace process, in a state of semi-paralysis. This is an important vote.

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Thursday, April 25

  • 8:30–10:30 at the Notre Dame University Keogh School: Venezuela: Humanitarian Crisis and Struggle for Democracy (RSVP required).
  • 9:00 at the Atlantic Council: Venezuela After Maduro: A Vision for the Country’s Future (RSVP required).

Friday, April 26

  • 8:30–10:30 at the Inter-American Dialogue: Institutions for Productivity: Towards a Better Business Environment in Latin America (RSVP required).
  • 9:00-10:30 at the Council of the Americas: Beyond Silk and Silver: China’s New Road in the Americas (RSVP required).
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